Joanna Bourke

Surrender Junkies

Cowardice: A Brief History

By

Princeton University Press 292pp £19.95 order from our bookshop

In October 1964, audiences all over America gathered to watch a film entitled The Americanization of Emily. Directed by Arthur Hiller, it starred celebrated movie personalities Julie Andrews (playing Emily, who enjoys living a decadent, ‘American’ lifestyle), James Garner, Melvyn Douglas and James Coburn. The film is a playful defence of cowardice.

Set in wartime London in 1944, its main male character, Lieutenant Commander Charles E Madison (played by Garner), is proud to admit that he is a ‘practising coward’. He is defiant, stating that cowardice is ‘my new religion. I’m a big believer in it. Cowardice will save the world.’ How? Cowards ‘don’t fight wars. They run like rabbits at the first shot. If everyone obeyed their natural impulse and ran like rabbits at the first shot, I don’t see how we could possibly get to the second shot.’ Predictably, he wins Emily’s love in the end, but only because of an act of moral cowardice.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Here's reviewing Rachel Kushner's novel about a woman caught in the injustice of the US prison system,… ,
    • 'Hart sets out to unsettle, startle and disturb. In this strange, disconcerting, radical version of a strange, disc… ,
    • Here is @MannJessica's June crime fiction round-up, discussing books by Georges Simenon, Jack Grimwood,… ,
    • John Stubbs reviews Stephen Greenblatt's latest, 'Tyrant: Shakespeare on Power' ,
    • RT : What happened when US military strategist Herman Kahn - one of Kubrick’s three models for Dr Strangelove - took LSD… ,
    • 'Pollan has no doubt that the use of psychedelics could have a powerfully beneficial effect on a range of condition… ,
    • A memoir about an Untouchable family and the 'formation of modern India': 'Ants among Elephants' by @gidla_sujatha… ,