On War Movies

W.J. Astore

The other night, my wife and I watched “1917,” a movie set during World War I. The Western Front was the setting, and the movie took pains to show the many horrors of trench warfare. Rotting corpses of men and horses. Rats and flies around those corpses. Huge shell craters. Barbed wire everywhere. Broken down tanks and other discarded military equipment. Nature itself blasted. It made you wonder how men could have slaughtered each other under such conditions for so long.

But it’s hard to sustain such horrors, even in a war movie crafted with such care. Because the overall story was a noble one about sacrifice, persistence, and endurance at the longest of odds.

Most war movies are like this. They may show the horrors of war, and do it viscerally and effectively, as Steven Spielberg did in his opening sequence of D-Day in “Saving Private Ryan.” But such horror can’t be sustained in what is ultimately meant as a form of entertainment, so in Spielberg’s film there is meaning and purpose. Sacrifice is ennobling. It is memorable and remembered. The hero does not die in vain.

I’ve seen war movies that have stayed with me, but no war scene in any movie captures the horrors of real life. And if somehow a movie could capture such horrors, who would voluntarily go and see it? Especially if they were not mere spectators but participants — with skin in the game, so to speak.

There are many good war movies out there, but has a movie ever stopped anyone from fighting and dying?

We make war into something larger than life. The irony is that war is most often the negation of life. Too many people die for no purpose and no reason. There is no dramatic arc. Only death and more death.

Yet we remain fascinated by war. Libraries are filled with books on war, and new war movies come out on a regular basis, promising drama and meaning and authenticity.

What was the last peace movie you saw?

76 thoughts on “On War Movies

  1. I think Johnny Got His Gun does a good job of stripping any illusions about the “enobeling” of war. Of course, I don’t think the movie made any money to speak of.-Marc Norton

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    1. “Johnny Got His Gun” (c. 1969?), another Hollywood cop-out! Not a bad movie, but they excised the passage near the end where the mutilated soldier puts a curse, in essence, on the Ruling Class war-makers. I believe Dalton Trumbo, author of the novel and famously blacklisted in Hollywood, got to do his own screenplay (he may even have directed?), but the compromise was forced on him.

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  2. My husband Joe, who served a year building roads in Vietnam 1968-1969, started to watch “1917” the other night but did not finish it as yet. However, your post did not bring that to mind so much as it did a documentary he was watching tonight, “Canine Soldiers: The Militarization Of Love.”

    I came in on it half way through as they were interviewing some of the military dog handlers who discussed their experiences of working with these canines, primarily in Afghanistan. This led into commentary on PTSD in the dogs, just like that experienced by humans–in some of their handlers as well. It was a depressing video, leading me to observe that, not only are we (collective) killing ourselves in many unresolved, and some often unwarranted, conflicts, we are causing the deaths of these animals also. They too have “skin in the game,” but not by informed choice; they do so because they want only to please/protect (?) their handlers.

    This is not to say I don’t understand the purpose of utilizing these canines for that purpose; I do. I just find it sad that we humans are so good at destruction and being purveyors of death, and more death. Just so very sad.

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  3. not only is war in any guise, whether deemed noble or ignoble, is not only sanctioned murder but also sanctioned terrorism. the promotion of war is sanctioned brain-washing and myth-making… as is religion.

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  4. oops, i meant to say: “war in any guise, whether deemed noble or ignoble, is sanctioned murder; it is also sanctioned terrorism. the promotion of war is sanctioned brain-washing and myth-making… as is religion.” [i’m an indolent editor.]

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  5. The horror actually serves to highlight the nobility. The nobility is perceived as great because of the scenes of horror. Without the horror there would be no nobility, only pointlessness.

    Gallipoli was one of the best war movies ever. It really got across the pointlessness of war and did so without blood and gore scenes.

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  6. While “Saving Private Ryan” may not have conveyed the true extent of the horror on D-Day, watching the first few minutes of those opening scenes was more than I could take. I only went because friends wanted to go, and I’ve never gone to any similar film since. Given such an unavoidable level of death and destruction, it’s all the more unconscionable for leaders to pursue endless wars for no reason at all.

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    1. Since being privileged to have combat veterans trust me enough as their doctor to share their experiences with me I haven’t been able to get close to a war movie or documentary or any “news” show. Nothing on any screen comes close to portraying the effects of war on the human soul.

      Our wars since 1945 have also been a betrayal of the soldiers who often went into the military to serve their country and instead were used as oppressors by an empire. A lot of damage comes from the moral injury associated with that. I recently was in session with a combat vet from Afghanistan who had seen a lot of pointless death. I pointed out that he had joined the Army because he wanted to be a guardian, to protect those who were defenseless, and he was betrayed by his government and forced to act as a warrior and kill pointlessly. That caused a severe moral injury but he was not to blame. He started shaking and said “Oh my God. I’m a guardian, not a warrior. ” His symptoms decreased significantly after that session.

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      1. Bravo! Kudos for having the perceptiveness to intuit the contradiction and then to be able to give voice to it for your patient. So many veterans must be going through the same mutually exclusive scenario that presents an unsolvable moral dilemma. They are duped into thinking their purpose is a noble one, and then, by the time they see the reality, it’s too late.

        I knew a Vietnam vet who went through the same scenario. He was slightly older than the average soldier, and was a highly intelligent, educated, extremely sensitive person who was drafted and then was put into a forward recon position. The horrible things he witnessed destroyed him mentally. He simply couldn’t function normally when he came home, and ended up essentially committing suicide by alcoholism. I was there a couple times when he had flashbacks, and his pain was unimaginable. I knew two other vets who went through very similar experiences and who ended up the same way. It just took them longer.

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      2. Yes, a big problem I’ve written about is the code of the warrior being jammed down the throats of our troops.

        I always thought of myself as a citizen-soldier (or, in my case, a citizen-airman), not as a warrior. Warriors don’t serve democracy; they live for war. Why would we want those?

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        1. The crux of the whole matter is on whose behalf, in whose real interests, are we being asked (pressganged when the draft was active) to be “warriors,” or mere citizen-soldiers(airmen)?

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  7. Actually, I just spun a “peace movie” in my DVD player tonight, listening to director Sir Richard Attenborough’s running commentary on his 1969 “Oh! What a Lovely War.” This quite long WW I movie, I’m sure, was under-viewed and underappreciated here in the States, as it came out near the peak of US violence against the peoples of Southeast Asia. It is also sort of a musical (started out as a stage production), which likely weirded out Americans, and I’m sure is still little known today. I cannot recommend it too highly!! Attenborough’s humanism shines thru in his commentary about the waste of that war, and all that have followed.

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      1. I only recently acquired “All Quiet…” on DVD. It portrayed the cynicism that developed in the enlisted ranks (same for “Oh! What a Lovely War”) after the war dragged on, for the glory of the generals and the counts, barons, kaisers, etc. A class consciousness that all but disappeared from Hollywood films long ago.

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    1. Ah-ha! I was enthralled at the claustrophobic portrayal of U-Boat daily life in “Das Boot,” but very disappointed with the ending. It struck me as some kind of liberal cop-out! (Can I be a harsh critic, or what?)

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    1. huh? i presume you are being facetious, silver apple queen. unless you are suggesting, subauditum, that war movies inspire anti-war movements and peace protests rather than the war-movie audience’s applauding and embracing blood-drenched mayhem, murder, and madness.

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    2. Sadly, war movies tend to glorify war and the idea of heroes with guns saving the day by killing lots and lots of “enemies.” It takes a savvy viewer to view a war film and walk away thinking that war is senseless destruction, a form of collective madness.

      That said, war can be necessary, as with the war against the Nazis, but it is always destructive madness.

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      1. This gives me a chance to “plug” a movie I’ve mentioned here before–“Downfall.” A German movie about the final days of madness in and around Hitler’s bunker.

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  8. I can’t remember the last war movie I watched, though I’ve seen many. Have watched Saving Private Ryan dozens of times, and Band of Brothers at least 10 times. I’m not sure what would qualify as a peace movie.

    The main understanding ordinary citizens should have about war ought not to be the violence and terror. It ought to be the wastefulness. When you calculate the expense in money and time and energy, war isn’t even very good at killing.

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  9. What you said is also something that I’ve been thinking for a long time. i suppose that the only way to make a pure anti-war film is to make it from the perspective of the civilians. In that aspect I would recommend “Barefoot Gen”, “Grave of the Fireflies” and “In This Corner of the World”, three Japanese animations movie about civilians during WWII.

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  10. I should point out that some war films are made with Department of Defense cooperation. In those cases, the DoD has input into the script, and will veto lines and scenes that reflect poorly on the U.S. military.

    But if you fancy weaponry, jets and aircraft carriers and so on, the DoD is happy to oblige, as long as you play along with what the DoD wants.

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    1. When Clint Eastwood made “Heartbreak Ridge”, he was receiving DoD support – until the scene where he shoots the presumably dead soldier on Grenada to make sure he was indeed dead. They pulled support after that. Apparently, Pentagon didn’t want a realistic portrayal about what soldiers sometimes do in combat.

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      1. I recall that the Marines didn’t like all the profanity — as if real Marines don’t swear up a storm! Plus, if I recall correctly, doesn’t the movie begin with Eastwood’s character in a drunk tank? The guy had issues — like so many of our troops do, especially those who’ve seen combat.

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        1. Ha! Mr. Eastwood himself obviously has issues! Though he occasionally amazes me with projects that seem to contradict his lust for violence. A conflicted guy, I guess we could say of Clint.

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      2. That’s one of Clint’s movies I’ve never had least desire to watch. But hell’s bells, me mates, in “Mutiny on the Bounty” (1935 version) Capt. Bligh orders the flogging of a sailor who was already DEAD!! Because, you know, gotta maintain discipline! I imagine that year’s moviegoers were more than a bit shocked, and it’s still a disturbing scene.

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  11. I agree with Andy Zehner about the “wastefulness” of it all… As a survivor of the horrors in Vietnam (68-69) my top 2 “anti-war” movies are:
    1. “The Americanization of Emily,” a 1964 American black-and-white romantic dark comedy-drama war film written by Paddy Chayefsky, produced by Martin Ransohoff, directed by Arthur Hiller and starring James Garner, Julie Andrews, Melvyn Douglas and James Coburn. (From Wikipedia)
    2. “Das Boot,” a 1981 West German war film written and directed by Wolfgang Petersen, produced by Günter Rohrbach, and starring Jürgen Prochnow, Herbert Grönemeyer, and Klaus Wennemann. It has been exhibited both as a theatrical release and as a TV miniseries, in several different home video versions of various running times, and in a director’s cut version supervised by Petersen in 1997. (From Wikipedia)

    “And Honorable Mention” to a great story that, as a movie, didn’t quite capture all the nuances of the book: “Catch-22,” a satirical war novel by Joseph Heller who (according to Wikipedia) began writing it in 1953 but wasn’t able to get it published until 1961. Often cited as one of the most significant novels of the twentieth century (per Wikipedia) “it uses a distinctive non-chronological third-person omniscient narration (if you can imagine that), describing events from the points of view of different characters” (which, in my opinion, the movie version did not quite capture the excellence of the written version).

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    1. “Catch-22,” the movie version (it turned 50 years old this year), I find a towering achievement, for director Mike Nichols, Buck Henry (screenplay), Alan Arkin and all hands involved. The inevitable variances from source novel don’t bother me.

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  12. A good older (1978) book in my personal library is “Guts & Glory: Great American War Movies,” by Lawrence H. Suid.

    Although not a war movie, “Little Big Man,” with its portrayal of Indian massacres and Custer’s last stand, is compelling and pro-peace (and pro-nature).

    Readers at our Facebook page mentioned “Come and See” (1985), a devastating film set on the Eastern Front during WWII that I saw many years ago, and a more recent film, “A Hidden Life” (2019), about an Austrian who pays the price of denying his service to the Nazis.

    One more film that I’d call a peace movie: “Sophie Scholl: The Final Days” from 2005. She and her brother, along with a few others, formed The White Rose movement against the Nazis. The film is excellent.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sophie_Scholl_%E2%80%93_The_Final_Days

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    1. Good recommendations. “Come and See” I believe was made in waning years of the Soviet Union. I rented “A Hidden Life” from Netflix, thought it dragged a bit (picky, picky, right?). “Sophie Scholl…” good, yes. Indirectly related was a movie called “The Nasty Girl” (also German), about the sudden unpopularity in her home town of a student who starts looking into its Nazi past.

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      1. “Nasty” — interesting that Trump uses this word often, especially against women whom he thinks are critical of him, e.g. calling female reporters “nasty” for asking (somewhat) tough questions.

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  13. My recommendation of a Viet Nam book is “Matterhorn” by Karl Marlantes. Recently he published a second book, “Deep River” about struggling loggers in the early 1900s in the Northwest.

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  14. “Twenty-four Eyes,” from Japan, (Niju-shi no hitomi), 1954. (With English subtitles) The film has been noted for its anti-war themes. Film scholar Audie Bock referred to Twenty-Four Eyes as being “undoubtedly a woman’s film, honoring the endurance and self-sacrifice of mothers and daughters trying to preserve their families”, and called it “a meticulously detailed portrait of what are perceived as the best qualities in the Japanese character: humility, perseverance, honesty, love of children, love of nature, and love of peace.” Bock wrote that “The resonance of Twenty-Four Eyes for audiences then and now is that Miss Oishi speaks for countless people the world over who never want to see another father, son, or brother die in a war for reasons they do not understand”, and posited that the film’s anti-war message is “aimed more directly at Japan” compared to films with a similar message by Yasujirō Ozu or Akira Kurosawa. https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6uajez?fbclid=IwAR32VlmV02a9dCbHFNtbe9pEqVdF-ufGgaGikp0s0XuFxwzBgGDGLt–8ZY

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    1. Never heard of this particular Japanese movie, but you jogged my memory to mention others, like “Fires on the Plain” and “Human Condition,” the latter a trilogy! Also, “Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams” has an anti-war segment featuring the ghosts of slain soldiers.

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  15. I saw ‘The Longest Day’ as a 15 yrs old teenager on a freezing cold, rainy, stormy Dutch November evening and contemplated swiming out into the icy sea in a spot known for its strong undercurrents, where changing my mind once in, would not save me. I did not do it and swore then that I never would contemplate such an exit again (now-or-never!) and have stuck to it :-).
    So maybe that film saved my life ? In the sixties there were two films by Alain Renais ‘Nuit et Brouillard’ about deportations to concentration camps and ‘La guerre est finie’ about the fight against Franco fascism, which – if I remember it correctly – might serve as a peace film of sorts.

    Nowadays I avoid war films altogether, apart from serious documentaries & ‘positive propaganda’ Hollywood & UK movies from the 1940’s, as they are an interesting view of civilian ‘war efforts’.
    The latest was Stage Door Canteen’ (rarely on Youtube as it has copy rights and disappears quickly : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBgvmX9b2uU). Russian and Chinese contingents are introduced in it as ‘our brave allies..’ Of course it’s all patriotism & self-sacrifice.
    I hope that Hollywood Canteen will appear too one day, which I once saw on TCM TV in Kabul, of all places. They are romanticised documentaries and are lovely as such, bless Bette Davis and a few friends of hers who started those canteens where enlisted guys could dine for free while mingling & dancing with the greatest cinema & music stars of those days.

    There’s one war film I love for personal reasons, about a myhtical WWII submarine whose building my father(a mechanical engineer) supervised and which was filmed on its identical sister ship, on which my father served (until it got interned by ‘neutral’ Sweden). So I can imagine my father on it, in the part of first mechanical officer. It’s a featurew film but most of it is based on facts. It used to be on YouTube, now there’s only a trailer (film from 1959, so cold war times, thus some barely veiled political contempt). No music, just human voices, the humming of engines, radio squeal and murmur of the sea when submerged.

    US historian about the submarine : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=361AL2pJkmQ.

    Sometimes there are positive glimpses in unexpected places, such as the Mannix TV series. He supposedly served in Korea and fellow ex-combatants appeared, one of which had been court marshalled for killing unarmed civilians. This must have been aired during the Vietnam war.

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    1. The Alain Resnais film, known in English as “Night & Fog”–which was the Nazi code name for “the Final Solution” [Nacht und Nebel in German]–is a renowned documentary on the concentration camps. It runs less than an hour. It contains some grim footage of corpses, but finds other ways to convey the magnitude of the Nazi crimes, like showing a mountain of human hair that had been removed from women prior to their entering the gas chambers.

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  16. The war movie that absolutely stunned me (back when I was much younger and still possessed some innocence now curdled into cynicism) was Apocalypse Now (1979). Its roots as an allegory of The Heart of Darkness are well known, depicting war (and the human psyche) as sheer, nihilistic madness.

    The only peace movie (an oxymoronic inversion) that springs to mind is The Mouse that Roared (1959), which I never saw. However, I read the book, which satirizes the absurdities of war better perhaps than Catch-22 (1970).

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    1. Yes, “The Mouse That Roared” has great fun with the shenanigans of diplomacy and “power politics” on the world stage. I agree that “Apocalypse Now” is a stupendous achievement. I call it the first, and hopefully last (!), psychedelic (anti-)war movie. Oliver Stone’s “Platoon” is also powerful. Stone himself went right from Yale to combat in Vietnam on a volunteer basis. He was less than gung-ho before long, which helped inspire him to make “Born on the 4th of July,” the story of Ron Kovic, another vet turned anti-war activist. We should also have “Coming Home,” directed by the wonderful Hal Ashby, in this discussion.

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      1. Vietnam resistance: Here’s an interesting zoom conference coming Sunday 17:00 hrs EST with Debra Sweet, who 50 years ago publicly confronted Nixon about that war and has never stopped fighting since. She’s an amazing person, one of the off-shoots of her organisation is the ‘We are not your soldiers’ project, which organises & finances veterans meeting with highschool kids, to dampen their go-hung enthousiasm to join the army, by explaining what it’s really like.
        http://www.worldcantwait.net/index.php/more-categories/179-special/9097-join-me-in-marking-50-years
        Their ‘NO WAR on IRAN’ button since many years blocks the camera on my laptop :-).

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  17. “What was the last peace movie you saw?”

    In consideration of the question, I thought of Slaughterhouse-Five, based on the novel by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. I hadn’t seen the film in many years and so to refresh my memory, I found a copy at “OK.ru/video” and I sat through it again this morning. I did so, not out of interest in the entire film, but mainly for the scenes having to do with Vonnegut’s experiences as a POW of the Germans in Dresden during the Allied firebombing (13–15 February 1945) that levelled the city in the closing weeks of World War II in Europe.

    Then I remembered back around the time of the “Gulf War” (2 August 1990 – 28 February 1991) when a colleague from work and his wife took me to UC Irvine to hear a lecture by Vonnegut in which he connected his own experiences in Dresden to the then-recent American “victory” over the vastly outgunned conscript Iraqi army. More than the film, which I did not find especially well made, this lecture put matters in proper historical perspective. Kurt Vonnegut gave many such lectures and, fortunately, I found a video of one that seems true to what I remember him saying almost thirty years ago. See: Kurt Vonnegut Interview – Part 2, WFYI Online (November 3, 2010). The first three minutes set the stage, then everything from [7:40] till the end at [11:05].

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    1. Transcript excerpt from first part of Kurt Vonnegut interview (1991):
      . . .
      Kurt Vonnegut: “You know, on our great victory in the Gulf, blowing the bejesus out of this third-world country that hardly shot back, killing all those kids, that’s what they were, you didn’t dare say a thing, a word, against it. Because Dan Rather thought it was all right. Peter Jennings, surprisingly, agreed with him. CNN agreed with them. McNeal and Lehrer looked into it and this was all pretty good. And then they took a poll and 87 percent of the American people thought this was pretty good. I mean, it was such a tragic thing. It’s always tragic when you kill a whole lot of people. It’s not fun. It’s tragic. But, you know, in a restaurant talking to somebody else about this, you had to be very careful because people around you could hear, you know?

      [1:24] Michael Atwood: “What is that balance between, like, the democratic principle, well, America was behind it, so in some way it was justified and then the ones in the minority, or whatever those few people that may have been against it, are sitting there and talking very very quietly. They don’t want it known to the general population that they are not . . .”

      [1:44] Kurt Vonnegut: “But they, like what? There’s CBS, NBC, CNN, PBS News – McNeal/Lehrer – there and all are at one with the government. It’s one big ball of wax. They always agree with the President. They won’t criticize him. They wouldn’t criticize Reagan, no matter what he said or how absurd it was. And so, you don’t really need any censorship.”

      [2:14] Michael Atwood: “We’re doing it ourselves.”

      Kurt Vonnegut: “Yeah. We’re all getting our news from one source. And the journalists who do some reporting about what’s really going on, about the rascals who cleaned out the savings banks, or whatever. You know, I catch [a lot of grief] as a big bad American [who] is criticizing the government and everything. Nobody criticizes the guys who got us to buy the damn black boomerang: what is it? Supposedly invisible. Turns out to be not invisible. Billions of dollars. Not if they’re good Americans, the guys who cleaned out the insurance companies and the savings banks. They’re just businessmen. They’re good Americans. The only bad Americans are the people who say, Hey! You know these guys are robbing us blind.”
      . . .

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      1. As a Vietnam Combat Infantry Veteran (draftee type) your opening paragraph struck a note with me.

        – > “You know, on our great victory in the Gulf, blowing the bejesus out of this third-world country that hardly shot back, killing all those kids, that’s what they were, you didn’t dare say a thing, a word, against it.”

        So true. At the time, I thought this whole run -up to Bush the Younger’s Gulf War 2, was carefully choreographed. It was a sloppy effort for those of us who remembered the “Gulf of Tonkin Incident” filled with gaping holes in the story. Colin Powell trying desperately to re-apprise Stevenson’s part at the UN, during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

        The Mc-Mega-Media was populated at this point by “reporters” who lived through the Vietnam propaganda era and should have been strenuously questioning Bush the Younger’s propaganda. I waited in vain. Instead the “Patriotism” of the numerous protestors against Gulf War 2 was questioned – Hell the Dixie Chicks were vilified too. The McMega-Media with very few exceptions were cheerleaders for the Gulf War 2.

        At some place between Vietnam and Gulf War 2 (there maybe no defining decisive battle) the McMega-Media become actors with the scripts provided by the MIC.

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        1. US hubris was on display, as pro-peace demonstrations globally by literally millions of people prior to launch of Gulf War II were gleefully ignored by Cheney, Rumsfeld, etc. I certainly don’t want to let the MSM off the hook, but we should note that it was in these recent wars that the Pentagon told the media: “If you want access to the war zone, you must ’embed’ your people with our military units.” Some independent journalists defied that arrangement, and some of them died.

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    2. Transcript excerpt from concluding part of Kurt Vonnegut interview (1991):
      . . .
      [7:35] Michael Atwood: “How do you characterize the moral consciousness of America today?”

      [7:40] Kurt Vonnegut: “Well, we used to be a merciful people. We used to be a humane people. The great generals during the Second World War: Omar Bradley, George Marshall, Dwight Eisenhower, their faces showed that war was a tragedy. There is a tragedy. They’re killing our young people. We’re killing other people’s young people. And the one nut we had in that war was George Patton who really seemed to enjoy it. But even he spoke of the courage of the German soldiers he was killing, and saying they were good men, you know? And they were worthy adversaries. And now it’s just fun.”

      [8:30] Michael Atwood: “Do you really think that?

      Kurt Vonnegut: “But, no. CNN does.”

      Michael Atwood: “That is what’s trying to be sold to America?”

      [8:39] Kurt Vonnegut: “Look at how happy General Schwartzkopf is and no tragedy on his face. No sense of tragedy. Look at Abraham Lincoln mourning all who died at Gettysburg. During the Spanish American War which was a jingoistic war. It was America’s most jingoistic. But when the cruiser Texas set the Spanish cruiser – I guess it was a cruiser, too – the Vizcaya on fire in the battle of Santiago Bay down in Cuba, the crew started cheering and the skipper said: ‘Don’t cheer lads. The poor devils are dying.’ Now that’s all over with. Now it’s all just a hell of a lot of fun. Even if you bulldoze them underground, you know, they’re hiding underground and you just send bulldozers over and suffocate him under there. And these are kids.”

      [9:38] Kurt Vonnegut: “And what I said last night – I spoke at the Indiana Roof, their word-struck party – and I said: I’m a Hoosier. Still talk like a Hoosier. And I’m sure each high school person will tell you, a purely Shortridge, purely Indianapolis, purely Hoosier reaction to our great victory in the Gulf, is:

      [10:00] Kurt Vonnegut: “I saw pictures of these Iraqi kids with their hands up, their heads ringing from this terrible shelling they’ve taken. Thirsty. Hungry. Well, I was in exactly that same condition during the Battle of the Bulge. The Germans had superior technology. Much better weapons. And we were just kids. And we wound up – They sent the best they had, everything they had. The best tanks. Everything. Unexpectedly. And so I was ragged. I was hungry. I had seen a lot of people dying. And I had the hell shelled out of us. And I was just a kid. And when it was all over, there were Americans like this as far as the eye could see. Kids. Dazed, disarmed. And so when I saw pictures of those Iraqi kids like this, my Hoosier response, my Shortridge response was: There are my brothers.”

      End Transcript excerpt.

      At the lecture I attended almost thirty years ago, Mr Vonnegut, after concluding his remarks, walked out from behind the speaker’s podium, put both hands behind his head, and silently assumed the stooped posture of those traumatized Iraqi soldiers. “There are my brothers,” indeed. More effective than just about any “anti-war” movie I’ve ever seen.

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  18. l am partial to Steve McQueen’s “The Sand Pebbles” as powerful, and thought provoking as any Anti. War Film IMHO! So many others too many to mention, but a few: Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, Catch 22, Go tell the Spartans. None of these Movies glorify War– which I think gives/ lends them their added power…!

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      1. “The Boys in Company C” is not well known. I actually rate it superior to “Full Metal Jacket,” even though I’m one of the world’s greatest admirers of Stanley Kubrick.

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    1. Well, Phil, there’s a “slight problem” with “Gone With the Wind.” The movie, after the novel, glorifies the Confederacy as a brotherhood of knights in shining armor fighting to defend the concept of White Supremacy. Yes, the movie depicts the devastation of the Civil War (the famous scene in Atlanta after Sherman’s campaign), but this is only to seek sympathy for the lost cause of the plantation owners.

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      1. Greg: When I first saw this Movie as a Young Teen with my Mother and best Friend in Downtown Brockton Late Sixties it made such an indelible impression on me!!! Still one of my all time fave. Pictures…Epic in every way for that epoch in time.

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        1. I confess I own “GWTW” on Blu-ray, and suffered to watch the whole bloody thing last year ‘cuz it was 80th Anniversary! IMHO the best thing about the movie is Hattie McDaniel, who always shines thru as a strong, strong human being despite the stereotypical treatment of black actors for so much of Hollywood history.

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          1. That’s where I saw it first, in Monterey, CA while in the Army. But it was 1970, so I guess it took a while for the 30th Anniversary revival to reach that smallish town.

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    1. This just in (sorry, posting it under this topic for convenience) on Biden’s Diversity Front: Biden has named a retired Army general who happens to be black (Lloyd Austin) to be Secretary for War (a.k.a. DoD, ha ha!). This is a first race-wise. So, again, diversity, yes, but NOT of viewpoint! Same old same old at The Pentagon.

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  19. I recall the 1985 movie Ran in which a man leaves his lands to his favorite of his three sons, the son begging him not to do so out of fear of what will happen. War ensues, the world becomes chaos and all is destroyed with the father going mad searching for the favorite son amid the ruins. Incredibly, the father finds the son and as reunited they start to ride off together on one horse, a sniper kills the son.

    Two soldiers who witness the assassination are standing nearby. One says to the other something like, “I curse the gods for bringing this down on us!” to which the other replies, “Do not blaspheme! The gods look down on us and weep for what we do to ourselves.”

    War is chance writ large. Bits of metal are flying everywhere and soft flesh is in the middle of it. Who lives and who dies is pure chance. The question survivors often ask, “why me?” is that one just happened not to be in the trajectories of flying metal, of no more import than that. That’s what is so hard to bear, that despite the stories we tell, life/death is a throw of the dice. While true of life at all times, war puts it in the most intense way. A sane person, called a coward, would avoid the exposure. To be a good soldier is to be insane and go into it. Combat training is a method of taking ordinary men and teaching them how to be insane while not losing the ability to kill others similarly trained; to deliberately add pieces of flying metal. Not surprisingly, as depicted in several notable movies, it can be difficult to return to sanity once acclimated to the opposite, with suicide too often the only way out.

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    1. I am overdue to watch “Ran” again, it having passed its 35th Anniversary this year. This movie is based on “King Lear,” but with the sex of the lord’s offspring switched from female to male. It is, as we would expect from Kurosawa, a feast for the eyes.

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  20. Die Brücke probably for me but I also read about Anthony Beevor’s favorite war movie in an interview. First he bashed Private Ryan’s and the like and then said his favorite is The 317th Platoon by Pierre Schoendoerffer. I’ve been meaning to check it out ever since but haven’t found it anywhere, yet.

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    1. “Die Brucke”–“The Bridge”? Not familiar with that one, but I think I may have been able to rent “The 317th Platoon” via Netflix. Hmm, that actually sounds unlikely, given what the low public demand for such an item would be. Perhaps I’m simply recalling that I read the review of this when it was released in movie theaters.

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  21. Another movie that sticks in my mind is “Cross of Iron” (1977) by Sam Pekinpah. It is about combat on the Eastern Front with James Coburn playing the German sergeant trying desperately to protect his men from the insanity and barbarism. While it was criticized by many of the mainstream reviewers at the time of its release, Orson Welles called it the best anti-war film since “All Quiet on the Western Front”.

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    1. That’s another one I haven’t seen. Now, I respect Mr. Welles’s right to offer his opinion, but 20 years after Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory,” how could he tag a 1977 movie as best anti-war flick since “All Quiet…”??

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    1. I highly recommend watching “Triumph of the Will.” Version on DVD I have has a scholarly audio commentary track that points out the ranking Nazi officials as they appear on screen, what their roles were, whether they survived to be tried at Nuremberg, etc.

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