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Men Living and Dying by Their Own Rules

Greg Mannison

Men Living and Dying by Their Own Rules

“The Wild Geese” tells the tale of dangerous men and their complex code of values. Set against the backdrop of British colonialism and the daring escapades of mercenaries in Africa, it is both wildly entertaining and deeply revelatory. The movie appeals to our innate sense of adventure, camaraderie, moralism, and sacrifice. Released in 1978, it depicts what at the time was taken for granted, or at least not denigrated anywhere near as much as it is today—a sense of unfettered masculinity. The men are held in check by a natural hierarchy of skill, intelligence and brutality rather than by HR nudges, manufactured consensus and censorship panels. Women, if present at all in the film, serve as passing tropes—a bitter old housewife who can’t understand, or a lovely young trollop to be cast aside as fate or convenience dictates.

The movie begins with a harsh visual juxtaposition. While the introductory credits are rolling, a montage of scenes of panicked Africans fleeing riots, violence and massacres in their homeland segues into footage of a Concorde taking flight from a well manicured airport. Built jointly through a special treaty between British and French contractors and equipped with a Rolls Royce engine, the Concorde—the worlds first supersonic passenger airliner—was a symbol of European pride and dominance.

Without a word of dialogue spoken, the film justifies the necessity of European intervention into African chaos and brutality, or at least seems to. Wouldn’t it be immoral, for a culture capable of developing supersonic travel for leisure purposes, to sit idly by and watch the inhabitants of a massive continent be raped, starved and cut to ribbons with machetes? Why hoard the wealth of technological advancement for Europeans only, while Africans toiled in substandard conditions without the basic amenities of electricity, plumbing, or modern transportation and irrigation?

Colonel Faulkner, the leader of the mercenary troupe, is introduced as a hardened, scotch-drinking man not prone to manners or trivialities. He aces his job interview with Sir Mattheson, a reigning British merchant banker and aristocrat, despite treating his prospective boss with contempt. Sir Mattheson, used to deference and bows from his social inferiors, resents the discourteousness and returns Faulkner’s indolence with thinly disguised vitriol. Nonetheless, Faulkner is hired, because he has what it takes to fulfill the mission.

The values on display here are the polar opposite of the feminized managerial qualities espoused by the HR gatekeepers of nearly every institution in the West—corporate, academic or otherwise. What is valued in today’s professional environment is deference, consensus and agreeability. In short, obedience. Skill and mastery, if they surface at all in the contemporary workplace, are liable to arouse petty jealousies and insecurities. A man wishing to survive in that stifling environment is wise to keep himself under wraps. The careerist bureaucrats, groomed from a young age by mediocre teachers and overrated academics, are innately suspicious of those who exhibit courage, intelligence or innovation. The very existence of these qualities threatens to shatter the facade of their ineptitude. Instinctively, guided by hormones, without any trace of conspiracy, they gather to smother the challenge to their tenuous, unearned power. A brusque, taciturn yet masterful man like Faulkner has no place in our present society. Not even in the dilapidated military.

Rafer, Faulkner’s second in command, still wants to save Africa, but he’s convinced that it can’t be done without the leadership of a native. Faulkner assures Rafer that President Lumbani, the subject of their daring rescue mission, is that one bright African who, with the proper assistance, can save the entire continent. And just like that, Rafer is lured out of his comfortable middle-class existence and back into the mercenary enterprise.

Rafer is equally seduced by Faulkner’s appeal to his dormant mastery of logistics and strategic planning. Once a topographical map is placed in his hands, he can’t help but begin plotting entry and exit points and emergency escape routes. Like many unfulfilled men who are lucky enough to attain a level of material comfort, Rafer still longs for meaning, purpose and adventure. The adventure he seeks, however, isn’t simply directed towards the sensual gratification of excitement and adrenaline. The mission for him, is spurred on by his hopeless idealism.

I couldn’t help but feel a mixture of admiration and jealousy towards Rafer. He, like men of previous generations, still possessed the belief that he was capable of improving the world. Sir Mattheson and his class of aristocrats, whether they shared the idealism of the soldiers they employed or simply saw them as expendable pawns useful for securing copper and other precious resources, made sure to instill patriotic ideals in their subordinate countrymen. Rafer had the luxury of believing he was fighting and killing for the betterment of an entire continent and race of people. All that’s left for today’s adventure-seeking men of the West is the lure of a paycheck and the benefits of not doing a desk job. The plummeting recruitment rates of whites into the West’s military forces prove that material enticements alone do not suffice.

Rafer, a mercenary by trade, remains an idealist in action. He embodies something of the old, chivalric principle of placing others needs above one’s own. This disposition has all but vanished from the contemporary landscape. The mood in the USA, exemplified by our sneering elites, is to get while the getting is good because the clock  is abruptly ticking. The treasury is looted, profits are offshored, cities burn, and infrastructure deteriorates. Why bother with the illusion of goodness and decency since all values are relative anyway? There is no good. There is only what’s good for you and what’s good for me. Because Rafer chooses to live and die by a different set of values, once commonly held, his heartwrenching demise is the emotional apex of the film. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Once Rafer is on board, a few more notable characters emerge in the ensuing recruitment process. There’s the South African guy, the gay guy and the black guy. This is not a joke about three fellas walking into a bar. Lt. Pieter Coetzee, a veteran of the South African defense forces, wants nothing more than to return to his home country, purchase land and retire as a farmer. He remains unconvinced by Rafer’s idealism and offers an ideological counterpoint by framing their differing motivations as “killing to impose ideas upon mankind” versus his killing purely for pay.

Ironically, he intends to use the money to distance himself from mankind and work the land in solitude and peace. “I wonder how we stack up against each other morally,” Coetzee utters before accepting the position. It’s a question that resonates with anyone interested in political systems. Here, in passing, is another example of an employee acing a job interview while challenging his boss with a contrarian perspective.

The company medic, a flamboyantly gay male nurse, referred to jovially as “Queeny” by the rest of the recruits, confesses during his job interview that he’ll have to obtain a divorce before embarking on the mission. He regrets that it might come as a shock to his “husband”. This punchline causes a sudden uproar of belly laughs and chuckles from the commanders. Queeny gets the job, despite the faggotry.

Next up, a young black man with an imposing afro—nearly a foot high—puts his best foot forward. Sgt. Jesse Blake, earnestly refers to his experience, patriotism and desire for action. Then he mentions that he could really use a free hair cut. More good-natured laughs ensue.

1978’s happy version of tolerance and inclusion is on clear display in this recruitment scene. The three hiring bosses are straight white men who convincingly embody a natural approach to diversity. They hire a South African who voices a dissenting opinion (diversity of thought,) an openly gay man and a black man, but only because they seem right for the job. How different things are today.

The lone black mercenary, Sgt. Blake, plays an interesting role in the movie. I couldn’t help but wonder if his character felt conflicted about joining a colonial mercenary force engaged in a de-facto race war in his ancestral land. These potential doubts remain unexplored. Instead the lone black character functions mostly as a bit part player. However, he is bestowed with a unique moral authority with which he absolves Col. Faulkner after the Col. is forced to make a fateful and devastating decision in the climactic tumult. There doesn’t appear to be any reason why Faulkner or the viewer should place a high value on a grunt’s personal judgement in this particular scenario. But as is often the case, the black character is imbued with a powerful moral instinct.

The role of the magical negro seems to be necessitated by Faulkner’s, and by extension white people’s, desire to gain pardon and acceptance from blacks. As the film shows, this latent sense of white guilt is not new.

Without intending to, the movie demonstrates the hollowness of the boomer’s racial idealism. Rafer and Coetzee sacrifice their heroic lives for nothing in return. Even after the daring rescue, President Limbani teeters on the brink of demise. He requires emergency medical intervention from Queeny in the form of life-prolonging cardiac pills. Still, he remains too weak to walk and has to be carried through the jungle by Lt. Coetzee. Here the White Man’s burden is not metaphorical but a harsh physical reality. And—SPOILER ALERT—they all end up dead anyway. Might they have lived and fulfilled their dreams had they been spared the evil machinations of Sir Matheson and his henchmen? Maybe. But without the cunning interventions of imperial players like Matheson would Africa have fared better? Probably not.

Just look at South Africa. Decades after the greatest political evil of its day—racial apartheid—was brought to an end with much international fanfare and celebrity endorsements, South Africa lies in shambles. The pop singers seem to have lost interest. Only denial and embarrassment prevents the leftist media from admitting that their feel good movement led by St Nelson Mandela has been an utter disaster. South Africa is a failed state. White farmers are displaced through sham legal tactics, violence, and ongoing gang massacres, while the majority of black South Africans are worse off.

Apart from the small coterie of wealthy government officials, many black South Africans lack electricity, plumbing, and even running water. Beggars in the tourist centers of Johannesburg plead not for money, but for water. Their outstretched hands offer no wares or trinkets in exchange. Their compatriots drink from muddy puddles in the road. If you are white, and haven’t been murdered or chased off the land, you are either looking for means of escape or hunkering down and hoping to endure the apocalyptic doom. Or perhaps you’ve been convinced of your own inherent evil, have given up hope and are waiting to be brutally sacrificed, justifiably so, by the vengeful hordes. South Africa was obviously better for nearly everyone under apartheid rule.

Perhaps Coetzee, the film’s South African was better off to die quickly. He sacrificed his dreams of farming his own patch, for nothing. Not even the bandits who murder the farmers and ransack the land now will profit.

Politics aside, the most touching moment of the film arrives at its conclusion. Col Faulkner, the grizzled, often inebriated veteran, meets Emile, Rafer’s orphaned son. He tells Emile a story, the details of which we don’t overhear. But we can assume it’s a story of adventure and valor that glosses over certain aspects of the truth and spares the child the ugly details. Youth, after all, must be protected. Rather than tell our children remorseful tales about their cruel, selfish ancestors, we should once again regale them with tales of glory in hopes that it ennobles them to rise above the present day propagandizing. They may still have a fighting chance.

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