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.
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.
“Is America a weakling, to shrink from the work of the great world powers?”
Having asked the question, Teddy Roosevelt proceeded to answer it: “No! The young giant of the West stands on a continent and clasps the crest of an ocean in either hand. Our nation, glorious in youth and strength, looks into the future with eager eyes and rejoices as a strong man to run a race.”
Teddy was chomping at the bit for America to go out into the world. But not everyone was “bully” about it. Between the Civil War and World War II, the U.S. had been involved in more than a few scraps. Often called “small wars,” few Americans were itching for bigger ones.
Hollywood hasn’t paid much attention to the Small Wars Era, a largely forgotten part of American military history. Finding 10 films was tough. Still, there is a cinematic and martial legacy worth noting.
10. The Wild West
Not all of America’s small wars occurred overseas. The U.S. military spent a good deal of its days after the Civil War conducting constabulary duties in the western territories. As military historian Andrew Birtle notes, “The Army has spent the majority of its time not on the conventional battlefield.”
Perhaps the most iconic movie of the “Indian Wars” period is Fort Apache (1947). This John Ford film stars John Wayne and Henry Fonda in a fictional story that borrows from historical events, including the Fetterman Massacre (1866) and Custer’s Last Stand (1876). An American classic, this film should not be missed.
Editor’s Note: 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.
“We must settle this question now,” Abraham Lincoln warned in 1861. Four years later, Honest Abe declared America had secured “a new birth of freedom.” But it came at dreadful cost. Over 600,000 soldiers died. And civilians, North and South, endured destruction, privation and misery.
Hollywood has had a long relationship with the Civil War. The 10 movies discussed below* present that terrible struggle quite differently, yet together they underscore the sad truism that “freedom isn’t free.”
10. The Battle (1911)
American moviemakers’ obsession with the Civil War predates Hollywood. D. W. Griffith filmed this 19 minute action-romance feature in his studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey. While many silent classic films from that period—like The Battle of Gettysburg (1913)—are lost, several film archives still hold copies of The Battle. It’s also available on DVD along with several other films the pioneering Griffith made about the Civil War era, including The Birth of a Nation (1915), in which he infamously glorifies the founding of the Ku Klux Klan.
In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville concluded that fractious republics were little good when a “nation must defend itself against other nations.” Still, he thought America would get along fine since in the new world, man “has no enemies other than himself. To be happy and free he has only to wish it.”
Boy, did Tocqueville miss the boat on that point! Even on a continent protected by two oceans, Americans have always found it necessary to fight for our freedom.
Most Americans give scant thought to the sacrifices made by the fighters who forged our nation. Filmmakers aren’t much different. But when it saw the chance to make a buck, even Hollywood couldn’t resist cranking out a few film gems that remind us of the heroism of the early republic.
10. The Shot Heard Round the World
Few Americans can name even one serious revolutionary war movie other than The Patriot (2000) with Mel Gibson. But four decades earlier, Hollywood produced a doozy: The Devil’s Disciple (1959). During the Saratoga Campaign, “Gentleman” Johnny Burgoyne (Laurence Olivier), the British general, takes time out from battling the Continental Army to root out revolutionaries in Websterbridge, New Hampshire. A brooding, black-sheep colonial (Kirk Douglas) finds his courage, risks his life, defies the British and puts the American cause above his own.
No matter what the dream, to make it come true takes leadership. Luckily, Hollywood can help. Here are 10 films that teach important lessons for leading in tough times.
10. How to Turn Failing into Winning
Twelve O’Clock High (1949) is set in the early days of the American daylight bombing raids over Nazi Germany. The Allied bombers are getting clobbered. Meet Gen. Frank Savage (Gregory Peck), who has just been put into command of a bomber wing that is falling apart. To make matters worse, the previous commander was well loved by all. Savage has to earn their respect, instill the unit with vision and purpose, and turn his beleaguered bombers into a war-winning machine. Because the film is a realistic portrayal of the dynamics of turning around a failing organization, the U.S. Navy and Air Force still use it in leadership training.
Bill Gates is much more than your run-of-the-mill multi-billionaire. He also recommends books for you to read. BONUS!—his list comes with a cute video.
Gates is, undeniably, a really smart guy. But his summer reading list leaves a lot to be desired. For starters, it’s totally predictable. If the East Coast and West Coast elites have such things as book clubs, there’s not a title on Gates’ list that wouldn’t appeal.
Doubtless everyone in Martha’s Vineyard will be reading what Bill is reading. But the rest of us might care for something other than what passes for orthodoxy with Bill’s crowd. So here is Bill’s list and my “unorthodox” alternative selections.
When it comes to the “land I love,” the movies that move us most happen to be based on the stories of real Americans. They get to the core of what America really means and show why this nation is truly exceptional.
America’s dedication to liberty makes it a nation like no other. That’s why, whether the setting is war, politics, courtrooms, sports, or science, when Hollywood makes movies about exceptional Americans they celebrate the true value and meaning of liberty. And that inspires us.
10. The Patriot
Farmer Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson), a peaceful, pastoral father of seven, pretty much winds up winning American independence all by himself. A composite character drawing from the biographies of several historical figures, the farmer Martin has been called “the Wayne Gretzky of the Revolution.” While it might not be a perfect history lesson, The Patriot (2000) is an exciting, moving and inspiring American war film — and easily the most entertaining movie ever made about the fight for independence.