Teaching War opens with a simple, but deep quotation from two American sociologists whose ‘Thomas theorem’ became a standard concept in 20th century sociology: «If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.»
When the film opens in a school gym – the kids clustered on benches as a couple of large, uniformed men fuss around a toy cannon to demonstrate an “eight pound shot” – it is clear where this definition of reality is going.
To anyone who grew up in Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union before the Wall came down, military training at school will be a familiar memory. A Russian friend once boasted of how she could, blindfolded, «strip an AK47 down and reassemble it in less than a minute». I never put her to the test, but had no reason to doubt her dexterity.
Display of force. Adela Komrzy’s film is a welcome and timely warning of the creeping remilitarization of education and society in Europe, as the post-Cold War optimism of a brave new world united by capitalist consumption crumbles beneath refreshed super-power friction (and alleged collusion) and fears of a renewed Russian threat rise again.
If the opening shot – pun intended – seems like, well, child’s play, the sequence that follows the titles leaves viewers in no doubt about how the Czech Republic’s Civil Defence Programme (CDP) for schools views reality. A group of heavily armed men enter the gym and aim their automatic weapons at the kids as the teacher asks what they know about NATO. It is uncomfortable viewing, particularly for those of us who grew up in the post-war years with parents and relatives who had served in World War II. As a child I remember my father refused to buy my brother and I toy guns, and when we made our own, forbade us to ever point them at anyone.
It was a wise warning, and, as many youngsters in America, for example, will have learned to their cost in fatal encounters with the police, one worth observing.
Teaching War is filmed in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s seizure of Crimea and the outbreak of civil war in Ukraine’s eastern Russophone provinces, when NATO put on a display of force by sending armoured brigades across central Europe to . . .
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