It is far from the first time Twitter has taken to policing the Internet.
Recently Twitter deleted 10,000 accounts suspected of being linked to ISIS—in one day.
ISIS is fighting back—making death threats against Twitter founder Jack Dorsey.
Twitter argues it is trying to be a good citizen online. But, does it makes sense to tee-off terrorists and Game of Throne zealots in the same week? Probably. Otherwise the government will want to take over the job — then there could be a real information dictatorship.
DARPA, the military home for mad scientists, doesn’t think humans can think big enough for future wars. The agency is building a machine that can process 2.5 quintillion bytes (that’s 2.5 followed by 18 zeroes) and predict the future. FYI-that’s how much information is created each day—about what would fit on 57.5 billion Ipads.
The science shop famous for “out-there” projects (like building a real-life Terminator), has tried grappling “big data” before. Congress shut down the controversial Total Information Awareness (TIA) Project.
DARPA’s latest lab experiment raises all kinds of questions. Is it possible? Will the project (like TIA) get derailed over privacy problems? Does the Pentagon have any choice?
How else is it going to stay ahead in the information war? If the military can’t out compete enemies in cyberspace it will lose wars — and there will be no freedom left to protect.
Reports accuse the Mets of cutting its stadium security force by 1/3. Mets officials dispute. “The security of all who enter Citi Field is a top priority,” reads a press release. Maybe, but it’s impossible to find public safety info on the stadium web site.
And, its not just sports, in this post-9/11 world, any public event from college commencements to Taylor Swift concerts raises concerns. The short video above from the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing shows how quickly competition turns to chaos.
Major League Baseball’s response? Ordering stadiums to add metal detectors. Fans no doubt noticed longer lines.
Security theater alone won’t protect people against everything from gang-bangers to urban terrorists. Are we now faced with a choice between living in fortress America or staying home?
image illustration via here
Spring is the time “when kings go off to war.” It’s in the Book! Twice!! (2 Samuel 11:1 and Chronicles 20:1).
Springtime therefore has seen more than its fair share of military defeats. On April 1, 1865, for example, General George Pickett suffered a defeat far worse than “Pickett’s Charge” at Gettysburg. His troops were cut off and crushed at the Battle of Five Forks, Va. The loss of Pickett’s forces pretty much ended Confederate hopes of defending Richmond. The Confederacy surrendered just eight days later.
America has seen more than a few military setbacks of late. The administration’s latest reversal came this week, when it had to hastily pull our special operations forces from Yemen.
Americans prefer not to dwell on defeats, but they are worth pondering. Sometimes the worst setbacks can be the best teachers. Here, courtesy of Hollywood, are six cinematic accounts of thumping failures that are worth revisiting.
6. Khartoum (1966)
You think Obama has an Islamist insurgency problem? In 1883, the “Madhi” leads a revolt that overruns much of the Sudan. The British government dispatches Major General Charles George Gordon (Charlton Heston) to Khartoum. Gordon decides to defend the city. It doesn’t end well for the Brits: the garrison is slaughtered, 4,000 civilians are put to the sword and the general loses his head (literally). Gordon hoped that if he refused to retreat, the British would send reinforcements to crush the Madhi. They didn’t.
The lesson: Hope is not a strategy.
5. Zulu Dawn (1979)
In 1879, the British dispatch a column under Lord Chelmsford (Peter O’Toole) to beat back the Zulu tribes. The Brits are armed to the teeth with the most modern military weapons of the time including rockets, field artillery, and breach-loading rifles. Yet 1,300 of Chelmsford’s 1,800 troops are cut down by spear-carrying warriors.
The lesson: God isn’t always on the side of the biggest or best-equipped battalions. Never underestimate your enemy.
4. Gallipoli (1981)
During World War I, Winston Churchill had an inspired idea: “Let’s outflank the enemy, attack Turkey and seize a key maritime chokepoint—the Dardanelles. How hard can that be?” ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand) troops land on April 25, 1915. They are joined by forces from Britain, France, British India and Newfoundland. Lacking accurate maps or solid intelligence, the invading army has no idea what it is in for. Eight months later, the allies withdraw in abject failure. They have taken 180,000 casualties. The film shows the futile campaign through the eyes of young Australian trooper named Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson).
The lesson: Know your enemy before you pick a fight.
3. Hamburger Hill (1987)
America may have lost the Vietnam War but our troops won most of the battles. One of the bloodiest was the assault of Ap Bia Mountain, aka “Hamburger Hill,” in 1969. In a 10-day fight for the summit the US troops suffered over 400 casualties. In the film, future television and movie stars including Dylan McDermott, Steven Weber, and Don Cheadle are part of a platoon that fights its way to the top. In real life, after the troops took the hill—they abandoned it. Ap Bia Mountain had no strategic value.
The lesson: Even victories can be blunders. Winning wars is about imposing your will on the enemy—that is not always measured in how much you territory take or how many enemy you kill.
2. Diên Biên Phu (1992)
In 1954, the French had the bright idea that they could hold on to Vietnam by seizing a base deep in enemy territory, then launching attacks to control the surrounding area. Unfortunately for the French, they seized a base in a valley. The enemy occupied the surrounding high ground. Cut off, after a 55-day siege the last of the garrison were overrun, surrendered or fled. The film provides a docu-drama history of the battle, in part recounted by an American reporter, Howard Simpson (Donald Pleasence,) based in Hanoi.
The lesson: Don’t cede your enemy a decisive competitive advantage.
1. They Died with Their Boots On (1941)
It’s 1876. An over-confident, over-zealous George Armstrong Custer (Errol Flynn) leads a punitive expedition along the banks of the Little Bighorn River. They are all wiped out—Custer, two of his brothers, a nephew, a brother-in-law and 261 other soldiers. The movie is horrible military history, but Custer’s reckless, vainglorious leadership made for a horrible military operation, so maybe it was a good fit.
The lesson: Hubris hurts.
The force is back with us. On April 10, Walt Disney Studios, Lucasfilm Ltd. and 20th Century debut “digital” downloads” of the Star Wars saga.
They will be looking not only to cash in, but to heighten the frenzy for a new slew of films starting this summer.
Are movie-goers again ready to travel to a galaxy far far away?
Certainly, Star Wars still has a hold on our popular culture. After all, Americans petitioned the White House to build a Death Star.
But the real magic of Star Wars was the imaginative mythology and original character-driven story lines. Reloading the franchise might be a cash cow, but it’s no more inspiring than Fast and Furious 7. If audiences are content with Xerox cinema, maybe it’s a sign we have lost our mojo–more new movies may not mean imagination and innovation are the core of American culture anymore.
In 2013, Roma Downey and Mark Burnett produced The Bible, a television miniseries that drew a cable audience of over 13 million. They then recut the miniseries into a successful theatrical release: 2014’s Son of God.
Late this March, the National Geographic Channel attracted a record-breaking audience with its adaptation of Bill O’Reilly’s best-selling book, Killing Jesus.
The Christian ratings rampage seems a bit of a head scratcher. The statistics say our nation is rapidly becoming less religious. The Pew Forum finds, for instance, that “[w]hile nearly one-in-three Americans (31%) were raised in the Catholic faith, today fewer than one-in-four (24%) describe themselves as Catholic.” And, for the first time, Protestants are on the verge of becoming an American minority.
Yet, the Almighty’s resurgence on screen is not restricted to niche cable channels. A.D. The Bible Continues, a sequel to Burnett’s original mini-series, has a primetime broadcast premiere on Easter Sunday. The suits at NBC wouldn’t green-light a project like this unless they thought it would pull a broad audience.
Maybe the Bible is back because it never left. While Americans may be less likely to self-identify with a particular formal religion, they are part of a nation whose roots are grounded in a strong religious heritage. “We ignore at our peril,” writes scholar Mark David Hall,
“the Founders’ insight that democracy requires a moral people and that faith is an important, if not indispensable, support for morality.”
The Judeo-Christian faith has always been entwined with American culture, even in hedonistic Hollywood. Here are seven of the most significant Bible-based movies from Tinseltown.
7. The Ten Commandments (1923)
Cecil B. DeMille was, as one paper wrote, “the Golden Age of Hollywood in a single man.” He knew the kinds of films the American public would hand over their hard-earned cash to see. DeMille delivered a string of films based on the Bible, beginning with this silent screen epic depicting the exodus from Egypt (as well as a modern-day morality tale showing the wisdom of following the 10 Commandments). At the time, it was one of the most expensive movies ever made—and a huge box-office hit.
6. The King of Kings (1927)
DeMille followed-up with a film based on the life of Jesus. He enlisted a cadre of religious advisors to help steer clear of charges of antisemitism. However, not everyone was satisfied on that score. The resulting controversy, in part, led Hollywood to adopt the 1930 Production Code provision that barred “[w]illful offense to any nation, race or creed” from the silver screen. Still, it was a good film on the final days of Jesus’ ministry, better than many of the “talkies”—such as The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)—that followed.
5. The Ten Commandments (1956)
DeMille returned with a remake of the story Moses, this time on an even grander scale (and in Technicolor!). It was the height of the Cold War and Americans craved a shot of moral courage. With Charlton Heston in the lead, the film was a phenomenal success at the box office and nominated for seven Academy Awards. One wonders how Ridley Scott thought he could top that. His 2014 remake was a disaster for the Egyptians and moviegoers. Many consider it the worst movie Scott ever made. Stick with Heston and DeMille.
4. Barabbas (1961)
Not every Bible-themed movie was made by DeMille. Indeed, some of them—like Barabbas—have precious little to do with the Bible. In this gritty, action-packed movie, Anthony Quinn plays the thief Pontius Pilate freed instead of Jesus. The movie imagines the rest of Barabbas’ life, including his own confession and redemption.
Similar films like The Robe (1953) and Ben-Hur (1959) also played on themes related to the life of Jesus Christ, part of Hollywood’s effort to cash in and be bigger than the Bible. Barabbas also marked the beginning of the end of Hollywood’s Bible craze. After the upheavals of 1960s, the only way God could get on the silver screen was in rock-n-roll musicals like Godspell (1973) and Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) or an irreverent comedy like Life of Bryan (1979).
3. King David (1985)
Trust me, this movie is not on the list because it’s particularly good. Making heartthrob Richard Gere the king of the Israelites must have seemed like a good idea at the time but the movie bombed. Gere was nominated for the Golden Raspberry Award for worst actor (though he lost to Sylvester Stallone). What was significant about the film was that the Bible was back after a long hiatus in Hollywood. Hollywood’s anger and post-Vietnam War, anti-establishment angst mellowed in the Reagan era.
The Bible was once again okay—although King David’s dismal box office dampened the suits’ enthusiasm for Bible epics for a good while.
2. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
Another not very good film that needs to be on the list. “Artsy” types liked the Martin Scorsese movie, but the box office was just so-so. For years, this and other films that played with the Christian story were disconnected from Americans. As a result,they received little attention.
1. The Passion of the Christ (2004)
It’s hard not to respect this controversial and disturbing film by Mel Gibson. “The violence aside,” wrote the film critic for Christianity Today, the movie conveys “the divinity and humanity of Christ, respectively; and, more than any recent director, Gibson captures the grand supernatural conflict which gives the death of Christ its meaning.”
Compare this movie to recent “big” Hollywood productions like Scott’s Exodus or the unwatchable Noah (2014) and you’ll see why films that try to tell the Christian story touch something in Americans, while those that try to cash in by turning the Bible into another Fast and Furious sequel flop with most movie-goers.
The Duke basketball team sailed into the Sweet Sixteen. That may be ho-hum to Blue Devils fans. The hoopsters have been there 28 times before. Twenty-two — think about that for a moment. Twenty-two times the team has been to the regional semifinals under Coach Mike Krzyzewski.
The first Division One basketball coach to win over 1,000 games, Coach K is no stranger to coming out on top.
His passion for winning b-ball goes back to his days playing as a West Point cadet. Later, he ran the program at the military academy. Coach Krzyzewski called the academy his “leadership laboratory.”
Would Krzyzewski have ever become one of the game’s greatest if it weren’t for the foundation of discipline and excellence ingrained in him at West Point?
Great coaches and great generals have a good deal in common. They have to put together a team and a campaign plan. As my fellow West Point classmate General Rick Lynch wrote, they have to “adapt or die.”
In sports, as in war, no plan survives contact with the enemy.
West Point has produced many of America’s finest field generals—including most commanders on both sides in the Civil War.
Eisenhower and MacArthur were academy graduates, as were many senior Army offices overseeing battles from Normandy to Kabul.
But, not every great American combat leader passed through West Point. George C. Marshall, the “architect of victory” during World War II, graduated from the Virginia Military Institute.
Regardless of where they went to school, however, the best ones lived the ideals of West Point — the dedication to “duty, honor, country,” but also the passion never to finish further behind than first.
It is no different at the elite levels of sport. John Wooden may have gone to Purdue and John Thompson attended Providence, but they would have made smart cadets — and probably pretty decent field marshals.
San Francisco linebacker Chris Borland packed it in after one season.
The cash and fame, he claimed, weren’t worth the risk of retiring with a scrambled brain.
To be fair, we know a lifetime of being battered in sport can be debilitating. Famed Dallas Cowboy running back Tony Dorsett in a recent interview. acknowledged he suffers from memory, loss, depression and dementia—tied to years of head-banging in college and the NFL.
And, it is not just football. In 1984, Muhammad Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson, which could have resulted from the shots to the head during his long boxing career.
On the other hand, players like Paul Hornung, the “Golden Boy” of Coach Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers is still going strong at age 79. Here he is speaking in a recent interview with Fox News host Greta van Susteren.
In truth, while scientists know a lot more about what goes on inside the head than they did just a few years ago, they can’t predict with certainty how every brain handles taking a beating.
So what is an athlete to do—pursue their passion or play it safe?
And this isn’t just a dilemma for sports stars. Every Marine and soldier who goes in harm’s way has to worry about brain injury in combat—from the concussive effects of explosions to the stress of military service. They don’t have the luxury of taking a big bonus and then calling it quits. What are they to do?
Forty million Americans will fill out brackets predicting the winners and losers in the annual NCAA basketball tournament. What’s that tell you about the USA? Hint: It has surprisingly little to do with how we feel about shooting hoops.
Of course, whenever 40 million Americans do anything, that really says something.
Forty million of us use online dating services. No surprise. When was the last time you ran into a married couple who met in a bar? Americans hook up online.
Over 40 million Americans have unpaid medical bills. Well, we kind of suspected the White House was overhyping. Obamacare is just not cutting it.
Forty million Americans still smoke. Guess a lot of us still have a death wish.
And 40 million of us fill out the brackets all the way from the NCAA qualifiers through the Final Four. But why?
We know there are not 40 million die-hard fans of the hardwood. After, only 20 million watched the championship game last year. So what do they have in common with the other half? Answer: the love of competition.
Americans are instinctively competitive. That’s a good survival skill for any nation. Competition is the essence of understanding and prevailing in war.
General George “Blood and Guts” Patton understood Americans. “All real Americans love the sting of battle,” he growled in a motivational speech to the troops during World War II. “When you were kids, you all admired the champion marble shooter, the fastest runner, the big league ball players, the toughest boxers. … Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser,” he concluded. “Americans play to win all the time.”
Patton used sports analogies a good deal because they provided an apt metaphor for the essential characteristic of war. Like sport, war is a competition between two determined foes, a contest of action and counteraction that delivers winners and losers—not just points for participating.
Competition is about making choices and applying resources. Because of that, the side with the most resources doesn’t always win.
Americans get that. When pondering the brackets, they realize that just picking the team with the better record or the better statistics doesn’t guarantee a win in any particular match-up, much less a string of victories throughout the tournament. In any game, on any given day, it’s how the players compete that matters. That’s why seasoned bracket pickers typically predict a few upsets in the early David vs Goliath rounds of the NCAA tournament.
Of course when Patton talked about the American warrior, he liked to boast that the play-to-win mentality was why “Americans have not and never will lose a war.” Well, we have lost wars since then. Remember Vietnam? But was that conflict lost because Americans became poor warriors or because American warriors were poorly led?
Americans don’t love war, but they understand you have to compete—and compete well—to win.
When leaders fight wars badly, they start losing the confidence of the American people and they start arguing Americans are sick of war. That’s a lot easier than recognizing and admitting that they are simply bad war leaders.
Americans know the difference between a competitor and someone just going through the motions. That’s the real lesson of March Madness.
It is anybody’s guess why it is so all-American to be Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day. Maybe it is because so many Americans trace their roots back to the land of the four-leaf clover. According to Census Bureau data, there are seven times more Irish in America than in Ireland. Still, that doesn’t explain why so many of the other 300 million Americans feel compelled to drink green beer and eat corn beef and cabbage every March 17.
Not that everybody loves the Irish. Liberals often describe Irish-Americans as intolerant and small-minded. Last year, to “celebrate” St. Patrick’s Day, a Salon writer penned a piece titled “How did my fellow Irish-Americans get so disgusting?”
Despite the progressive pouting, most Americans can relate to the Irish ethos—the emotion, the energy, the passion for triumph and the familiarity with tragedy. Hollywood gets that. That’s why Irish-themed films have always been a staple of the cinema. Here are seven movies that will have you fist-pumping “Erin go Bragh.”
7. The Departed
Nothing bridges the Emerald Isle and land for people yearning to be free than this story of Irish gangsters run amok in Boston. Loosely based on the career of the infamous crime boss Whitey Bulger and featuring music by the Dropkick Murphys, this 2006 Martin Scorsese film is just this side of awesome.
6. Darby O’Gill and the Little People
Here is a heavy dose of Irish folklore, American-style. Darby is captured by the leprechauns, and the high jinks commence. This 1959 Disney flick wound up paving the way for cinematic history. When Darby came out, American film producer Albert Broccoli was casting about for someone who was ruggedly handsome—and would work dirt cheap—to play a spy in his next film. The actor playing Darby’s replacement caught his eye, and that’s how an “Irish” Sean Connery (who is Scots-Australian) became the consummate English gentleman spy, James Bond.
5. The Wind That Shakes the Barley
You can’t be Irish without a strong dose of pathos over the “troubles” leading up to Irish independence. This engrossing film shows all sides of the conflict as two brothers get caught up in the guerilla war that tried to throw off the yoke of British rule. It’s a haunting, beautiful, moving movie.
4. Riverdance: The Show
You can’t be Irish if you don’t have a musical soul. This hit song-and-dance-fest took America by storm with stage shows all over the country. Riverdance was also captured on film. A 1995 performance at the Point Theatre in Dublin, Ireland, is available on DVD.
3. Good Vibrations
Not all Celtic music is harps, raven-haired sopranos, and barrel-chested baritones. Meet Terri Hooley, a radical, rebel-rousing music lover in 1970s Belfast. In this 2012 film, Hooley’s record shop becomes ground zero for rekindling the spirit of a crumbling community and birthing Ireland’s punk rock craze. This film is a high-energy funfest.
2. The Angry Red Planet
Perhaps, the most schlocky science fiction film ever made. This 1959 movie-matinee mainstay features a trip to Mars where the intrepid crew faces giant bats, man-eating plants, and a massive, one-eyed amoeba. They just don’t make them like this anymore.
The ship’s misogynistic captain calls one of the crew Dr. Iris Ryan (Naura Hayden) “Irish” instead of Iris. Naura Hayden was actually born in Los Angeles and isn’t Irish. In fact, other than the nickname, the film has nothing to do with Ireland, but if you have been out celebrating all St. Patrick’s Day you won’t really care.
Nothing is more Irish-American than Notre Dame, and that storied university has inspired two immortal football films: 1940’s Knute Rockne All American (with Ronald Reagan as the Gipper) and this 1993 classic starring Hobbit Sean Astin as the kid who just won’t quit. At the end you will join everyone in the stadium chanting “Rudy, Rudy!”
From sports films to musicals to devastating dramas and silly films, it is all Irish cinema that’s not to be missed when all Americans celebrate Lá Fhéile Pádraig.
You’re reading a post for Preparedness Week, a weeklong series of blogs about disaster and emergency preparation inspired by the launch of Freedom Academy’s newest e-book, Surviving the End: A Practical Guide for Everyday Americans in the Age of Terror by James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. You can download the e-book exclusively at the PJ Store here.
I think about the worst things that could happen to average Americans, every day. It’s my job. My number one concern is trying to promote the sorts of policies and decisions that will prevent the worst from happening. But barring that, I want you to be prepared. That’s why I wrote Surviving the End: A Practical Guide for Everyday Americans in the Age of Terror. My new e-book is available today in the PJ Store. Every chapter is full of information on how to deal with a different disaster: EMP attacks, terrorism, biological warfare, and more. Preparedness is for everyone. You don’t have to have a bunker full of canned goods to survive – you just need the basic skills and info I outline in Surviving the End. Here’s a preview:
“Glenn Beck wants you.”
Not necessarily words everyone wants to hear.
For Washington “talking heads,” calls to jump in front of a TV camera with no advance notice is part of the job. Talking about the issues of the day—whatever those happen to be—is a daily occurrence. Having little or no time to think about the answer? That’s the norm. When it comes to live cable-news interviews, experts are supposed to show up shovel-ready.
But being with Beck took being put on the spot to a whole new level. Expect the unexpected.
In 2006, the popular radio talk-show host joined CNN Headline News. Anchoring a program that delivered breaking stories and commentary, Beck’s ratings shot up faster than a sprinter on a StairMaster. Everybody loved Beck (or loved to hate him). He delivered animated, irreverent, surprise twists on the news that other cable news programs couldn’t keep up with.
There was no telling where Glenn would take a story. That’s always been a puzzler for pundits. For the person on the other end of the interview, dialogue with Beck could be like mowing grass in a minefield.
Be prepared for anything.
This wasn’t my first time live with Beck. I figured I was ready for the roller-coaster.
I was wrong.
The producer titled the segment “Signs Pointing to Armageddon? Author Claims to Be Descendent of Christ.”
Beck kicked off the hour declaring, “Well, everybody is talking about politics today, and we will, too, later on in the program. But first I want to talk about something much more important. August 22 is the day that Israel might be wiped off the map, leading to all out Armageddon.”
“August 22 could be the day that makes people who are the most skeptical about my World War III theory say ‘Holy Mother of God, what’s happening?’” Beck warned. “August 22 could be the day that agnostics get down on one knee and start to pray, ‘Sweet Jesus, are you coming today?’”
Princeton University scholar Bernard Lewis, the anchor reported, “is suggesting that Iran’s Islamic end of times prophecies could be fulfilled on August 22 …13 days from now.” That day marks the occasion of the great night journey in 671, al-Isra wal-Mi‘raj, when the Archangel transported the Prophet Muhammad to the Aqsa mosque and then to heaven and back again. It is also the date celebrated for Saladin recapturing Jerusalem in 1187. “So to Muslims, I guess,” Beck surmised, “August 22 is like Christmas and Thanksgiving and New Year’s all rolled up into one.”
“Here’s what is truly frightening. My theory,” Beck declared straight to the camera. “President Ahmadinejad [of Iran] has repeatedly stated that he wants to personally bring back the 12th imam by destroying Israel. That’s Armageddon. He says that he would respond to the West’s question about his country’s nuclear program at the end of August.” Perhaps, Beck fretted, that announcement would unveil Iran’s nuclear breakout, in turn leading to inevitable war and the beginning of the end of it all.
“Now here’s what I don’t know,” Beck concluded. “I don’t know if anything’s going to happen on August 22, and honestly I really hope and I believe that nothing will happen. But we no longer live in a world that makes sense. I mean, anything can happen.”
So, was something going to occur or not?
Then the camera swung to the security expert—me.
What to say to an audience of millions when the anchor wants to know if the clock is ticking toward the end of times?
There is no place for dead air in cable news. Even before Beck asked the question, everyone expected an immediate answer.
“Well, I’ve got to tell you one thing,” I blurted. “For 2,000 years people have been predicting the end of the world, and some day somebody’s going to be right.”
It was kind of an answer.
It might not have been the answer Beck was looking for.
It also might not have been the last time I was on the show. (Time will tell.)
In retrospect, perhaps a flippant comment wasn’t the best way to kick off the discussion. But that’s not why this particular media moment proved hard to forget.
Having done thousands of interviews for television, radio, film documentaries, and the Web, everywhere from ESPN to Al Jazeera, it is pretty impossible to remember the particulars of what was said in each of them. But that night with Beck was different.
It revealed an important truth to all of us who really care about protecting our families from harm by doing what we can, when we can, to keep them safe.
It is also the reason for this book.
Beck was right. “Anything can happen.” We should never, ever forget that.
Not only can the most improbable events materialize, they often do. And we are usually ill-prepared from them.
The unthinkable occurs all the time.
I spend my days thinking about the unthinkable. Now it’s time for you to, too. Download my new e-book, Surviving the End: A Practical Guide for Everyday Americans in the Age of Terror here.
Consider the president’s track record. He’s told us that Libya was a triumph, al Qaeda was dead, the war in Iraq was over, the war in Afghanistan was won, relations with Russia have been reset and China is our friend. Given those credentials, it’s fair to conclude that Mr. Obama has about as much to tell us about foreign affairs as the Syfy channel has to say about science.
So where can you find some truly educational television tonight? Here’s some alternative programming that can teach us some important lessons about how to keep America safe.
5. Marco Polo
The Netflix series tells the story of famed adventurer at the court of Kublai Khan. Bloodthirsty, ruthless, cunning barbarian at heart? Yes. Presidential material? No. On the other hand, the great Khan was a strategist who understood the wisdom of China’s greatest military philosopher,
If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer. … If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
Compared to a White House that even seems to struggle at parsing friend and foe, this entertainment is refreshing fare.
Looking back over the last year, here are the stories that we will probably still be thinking about in the years ahead. In some cases these headlines will be recalled as warnings of the troubles to come. Others are reminders of the one constant advantage America holds—that every generation of Americans is the greatest generation. We are blessed by the men and women who every year put themselves in harm’s way to safeguard us.
10. Farewell Robin Williams.
Remembering the service and sacrifice of those that serve is important. The comedian and actor Robin Williams, a staple of the USO circuit, lived that commitment. After 9/11, for example, Williams toured with the USO a half-dozen times, visiting 13 countries including Iraq and Afghanistan. During one memorable performance in Kuwait in 2007, he started the show early and had to stop when retreat was sounded. All the troops snapped to attention, facing away from the stage. Afterward, Williams quipped, “I am not going to forget that. I’ve never had an entire audience say, ‘Forget you.’” The troops will miss him.
Check out the previous installments in James Jay Carafano’s ongoing series exploring war films: The 10 Best Movies to Watch to Understand the Cold War, 10 War Movies Guaranteed to Make You Cry, America’s First Wars in 10 Movies, 10 Movies For Understanding the Civil War, A 10 Film Introduction to America’s Turn of the Century ‘Small Wars,’ America Over There! A 10 Film Introduction to World War I, Telling the Story of World War II in 10 Movies, 10 Films that Tell the Future of War, and 10 Films That Show Respect for the American Veteran. Also visit the PJ Store where Victor Davis Hanson presents “World War II,” a six episode video lecture series.
Watching Sony cave to threats over screening a film ridiculing North Korea leader Kim Jong Un, it is hard to imagine that once Tinseltown was a very different place. After Pearl Harbor, Hollywood went to war. A string of A-listers put their talent in the service of the nation. In some cases, they put themselves in harm’s way to tell the story of the fight for freedom. Here are 10 largely forgotten examples of patriotic cinema at its best.
10. The Battle of Midway
The legendary John Ford, director of the classic western Stagecoach (1939), found himself and his camera crew filming in the middle of one of World War II’s biggest naval battles. The result was a stunning, 18-minute technicolor film. The riveting live-action combat scenes earned the film a share of the 1942 Oscar for best documentary.
Editor’s Note: See James Jay Carafano’s article from yesterday for the opposite of the films on this list: 10 Tinseltown Turkeys That Make Real Men Choke.
10. Straw Dogs (1971)
Dustin Hoffman made his bones as a misfit Hollywood Holden Caulfield in The Graduate (1967). Who would have thought of him as an action hero? “Bloody Sam” Peckinpah, that’s who. The director of the Wild West’s wildest tough guy movie, The Wild Bunch (1969), followed up with a controversial film starring Hoffman as a meek math professor on sabbatical in rural Cornwall. When a bunch of rowdy locals storm his home, Hoffman goes all Rambo proving his “manhood” in an orgy of violence. Even Hoffman’s character can’t believe what happens. “Jesus, I got ‘em all,” he mumbles at the end of the movie. This film cemented Peckinpah’s place as the king of his generation’s tough guy moviemakers. For some unfathomable reason, the movie was remade in 2011. Stick to the original.
Sometimes Hollywood serves up some pretty indigestible fare. Some films, such as Howard the Duck (1986), are impossible to swallow—so terrible they become synonymous with “bad cinema.” (Who can forget Gary Larson’s The Far Side cartoon depicting “Hell’s Video Store,” its shelves stocked solely with copies of Ishtar (1987)?)
But not every bomb reaches such heights of notoriety. Here’s a list of movies that are every bit as bad—and leave “real men” with extra heartburn. They degrade the genres that “real men” love best.
10. Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
All right, this utterly dreadful sci-fi schlock is, admittedly, no stranger to lists of worst movies ever. And justifiably so. Written, directed and produced by the world’s least talented filmmaker, Edward D. Wood, it’s a bijou of awfulness. What twists the knife in this celluloid sacrilege is the sight of Bela Lugosi, one of Hollywood’s greatest horror stars, shambling through what was to be his last appearance on the silver screen. Rather than try to sit through this sad excuse for a film, better to watch Tim Burton’s engaging biopic Ed Wood (1994), which tells the story behind the movie.
They are veterans not victims. Every once in a while, Hollywood captures the nobility of the American veteran. Coming home may not always be easy, but those who have worn their country’s uniform have done much to nurture, shape, and enrich this nation. Here are 10 movies that tell their story.
1. The Searchers (1956)
This story of a complex and conflicted veteran “hero” fighting his personal demons and a savage frontier is widely regarded as one of the greatest American films ever made. It’s based on a novel by Alan Le May which draws from actual events that occurred in 1836. On film, the story is moved to after the Civil War. John Wayne plays one of the three million veterans who came home after the conflict. When his niece is abducted during an Indian raid, Wayne embarks on a violent 10-year search to find her. In the end, he rides off into the sunset, triumphing over both hatred and adversity.
Most Hollywood science fiction isn’t really all that “out there.” Take the computers on the original Star Trek. They operated a lot more like creaky 1960s IBM mainframes than 21st century iPads. Nevertheless, Hollywood has often been the inspiration for how militaries think about future wars. Here are 10 films that impress by their ability to presage the next weapons of war.
1. The Fabulous World of Jules Verne (1961)
The 19th century novelist pretty much single-handedly invented science fiction—and in the process he forecast military weapons from submarines to super bombs. The single best effort to bring his imagination to the screen was a 1958 Czech film, later released in the U.S. and dubbed in English. What makes this film so engaging is a unique visual style called “Mystimation” which combined flats that looked like Victorian engravings with live actors.
In Iraq, ISIS threatens the Baghdad airport. Meanwhile, in the U.S, theatergoers get to watch people frantically scrambling to be on the last flight out of Vietnam.
Not everyone is eager to relive America’s last great foreign policy disaster—even cinematically. But Rory Kennedy’s new film, Last Days in Vietnam, offers a stunning history lesson as it depicts the anguish at the end of a badly waged war. The documentary revolves around the last chaotic days before the fall of Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam.
In 1973, under the Paris Peace Accords, the U.S. agreed to withdraw all its combat forces. In turn, North Vietnam agreed to “respect the independence” of South Vietnam.
Peace didn’t last long.
U.S. President Richard Nixon promised the South Vietnamese government he would rush in support if conflict resumed. But, with Nixon’s resignation in the wake of the Watergate scandal, North Vietnam decided to test Washington’s resolve, launching a major incursion into the central highlands. When Congress refused to support additional aid, the invasion expanded rapidly south. By May 1975, enemy troops closed in on the capital.
Wanting to show a brave face of support for the South Vietnamese, Graham Martin, the American ambassador in Saigon, pushed off evacuation planning until the last minute. Even then, the official policy was to remove only U.S. citizens, leaving behind many thousands of Vietnamese officials and their families who worked closely with the Americans.
Screenwriters are not known for being sticklers for facts. And when it comes to disasters, writes University of Texas Professor David A. McEntire, “many of Hollywood’s portrayals are based on myths and exaggerations….” That’s certainly the case when it comes to disease disaster films. Here are 10 “fun” movies that are of no use whatsoever in terms of helping viewers respond wisely to a pandemic.
10. Panic in the Streets (1950)
“Patient Zero” is carrying the pulmonary version of bubonic plague. A public official (played by Richard Widmark) has 48 hours to find him before the disease spreads throughout the city. Director Elia Kazan delivers a moody, atmospheric, underappreciated film. But if this is how the police, public health officials and reporters will really act during a crisis, well, we’re all doomed.
America has been at war for over a decade. In that time, Hollywood has managed to make only three films worthy of the people who do our fighting—The Hurt Locker, Lone Survivor, and Fort Bliss. In one way or another, all three stood apart from mainstream Tinseltown. They reached the big screen more because of the passion and vision of the filmmakers than the Hollywood suits who usually pick and choose what gets released to the corner cinema.
Take the The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow’s story tracing the harrowing experiences of a three-man bomb disposal squad in Iraq. Big studios were not that interested in it. As Bigelow noted in a 2009 New York Times interview, “I’ve never made a studio film.” But audiences loved this movie. The Hurt Locker won the Best Picture Oscar in 2008.
Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor (2013) performed equally well at the box office, but was snubbed by Oscar. Although Berg has made his share of standard Hollywood fare, this film was anything but mainstream cinema. The director struggled to find support and financing to bring the story of an ill-fated Special Operations mission in Afghanistan to the screen. “Nobody puts a gun to your head and makes you do something,” Berg said in one interview, “It’s just better when you care.” Audiences cared. It was one of the highest-grossing films of the year.
Less well-known is Claudia Myers’ Fort Bliss. It recently opened with only a very limited theatrical release. The movie follows an Army medic—a single mom who returns home and struggles to reconnect with her young son only to be confronted with the possibility of being deployed once again.
It’s a generational thing.
Distinguished historian Victor Davis Hanson was born in 1953, part of a generation that understands the importance of World War II every bit as much as “the greatest generation” itself.
Baby boomers—the sons and the daughters of those who had fought in Normandy and Iwo Jima, or served on the home front tending victory gardens and riveting B-17s in Seattle—were raised on black-and-white television. Selection was limited. There were only a few channels, and “content” ran heavily to old movies. World War II classics like Flying Leathernecks and Guadalcanal Diary were daily fare. Many of the new TV series—from The Gallant Men to Combat! to, yes, the small-screen version of Twelve O’Clock High—played up World War II themes.
The boomers were old enough to remember President Dwight Eisenhower, and to know that he was the same “Ike” who had led the great crusade across the battlefields of Europe. The war may have ended before they were born, but it was nevertheless a visceral part of modern memory for Hanson’s generation.
Professor Hanson’s passion for World War II history drives a fascinating, entertaining and enlightening six-part video lecture from PJ Media’s Freedom Academy. (View the first installment here for $9.90.) The series covers the story of the war that shaped the modern world from its origins to its aftermath.
Engaging scholarship and polished delivery combine with judicious multi-media that enrich rather than overwhelm the story. Three hours never seemed so short.
Check out the previous installments in James Jay Carafano’s ongoing series exploring war films: The 10 Best Movies to Watch to Understand the Cold War, 10 War Movies Guaranteed to Make You Cry, America’s First Wars in 10 Movies, 10 Movies For Understanding the Civil War, A 10 Film Introduction to America’s Turn of the Century ‘Small Wars,’ and America Over There! A 10 Film Introduction to World War I. Also visit the PJ Store where Victor Davis Hanson presents “World War II,” a six episode video lecture series. Available for a limited time for just $99!
10. For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943)
Even before the U.S. took on the Axis powers, American volunteers headed overseas to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). In the film adaptation of a best-selling Ernest Hemingway novel, Gary Cooper romances Ingrid Bergman while on a suicide mission to blow up an enemy-held bridge. For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943) is not the best history. As a New York Times review noted, the film’s “protagonists are plainly anti-fascists,” but the movie did little to explain the muddled politics of the war. Still, it’s a magnificent movie. It earned nine Academy Award nominations and was number one at the box office that year.
Check out the previous installments in James Jay Carafano’s ongoing series exploring war films: The 10 Best Movies to Watch to Understand the Cold War, 10 War Movies Guaranteed to Make You Cry, America’s First Wars in 10 Movies, 10 Movies For Understanding the Civil War, A 10 Film Introduction to America’s Turn of the Century ‘Small Wars’.
They called it the Great War, but not the good war. “The world must be made safe for democracy,” declared President Woodrow Wilson.
Others were not so sure. Many Americans were none too excited about Wilson’s war, Wilson’s peace or the anti-saboteur measures implemented at home that also swept up political dissidents, union activists and other innocents.
Over the years, American films have reflected a variety of views about World War I and its aftermath. After all, movies tell us more about the people who made them and their audience than the war they featured. Here are 10 examples of schizophrenic Hollywood in action.
10. The Lost Battalion (1919)
Wilson told Americans they were fighting the “war to end all wars.” America’s first filmmakers wanted to show America’s first movie audiences America’s doughboys in action. This silent film includes some of the real soldiers, including Medal of Honor recipient Lieutenant Colonel Charles W. Whittlesey, reenacting the true-story of a U.S. battalion, cut off and surrounded, that holds out for six days until relieved. Six hundred men went into the battle. Fewer than 200 marched out.