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.
The movies have given us some of the most hateful, horrible paternal role models imaginable. Here are 10 films well worth watching—but not on Father’s Day.
The evil protagonist in a series of Sax Rohmer novels is perhaps fiction’s greatest bad dad that no one remembers. The East’s arch evildoer and his despicable daughter appeared in a number of film adaptations over the years. This 1931 film is easily one of the best, as the deadly pair races against British intelligence in the quest for the source of ultimate power: the mask and sword of Genghis Khan. Come on! What kind of respectable father teaches his daughter that conquering the world is cool? At the time, the film proved controversial. The Chinese government complained the film conveyed a hostile depiction of Asians. They had a point. During the film, Fu Manchu commands: “Kill the white man and take his women!”
“It is well that war is so terrible,” General Robert E. Lee lamented, “otherwise we would grow too fond of it.” On the other side of the Civil War, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman stated more simply that “war is hell.” They knew fighting for a cause always meant good soldiers suffer; some make the ultimate sacrifice; and often innocents get tragically caught in the crossfire. War always comes at a terrible cost.
Here are ten war films to watch this Memorial Day that will make you weep.
#10. Gunga Din
A 1939 adventure film “inspired” by the Rudyard Kipling poem follows the exploits of three British army lieutenants — Cutter (Cary Grant), MacChesney (Victor McLaglen), Ballantine (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) — on the Indian frontier. The movie is all dash and panache, except for the erstwhile native water carrier, Gunga Din (Sam Jaffe), whose only dream is to be a real soldier. In the end, it’s the regimental “beastie,” shot, bayonetted, but carrying on, who saves the day before he falls. Sob along at the end of the film when the colonel declares over the funeral pyre, “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!”
The last bobsled had barely finished its run when Vladimir Putin pounced in Ukraine, snatching Crimea and massing troops for his next move. The Russian “reset” was dead, as even its author, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, admitted.
Relations with Moscow look to get worse. That doesn’t necessarily mean that another Cold War will break out. But what if it does? Many Americans aren’t old enough to remember when the Iron Curtain was Moscow’s drapery of choice. It’s time for a refresher course.
Superpower rivalry started almost as soon as the “good” war, World War II, ended. Most Americans were indifferent, until the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. That really brought the Cold War home to Main Street.
Americans were worried that the invasion of South Korea was just the first skirmish in another global conflict. Having just saved the world a few years earlier, they weren’t excited about having to do it again, particularly since this time both sides had the atomic bomb.
The U.S. also had Hollywood, and Tinsel Town cranked up the cameras and marched off to the Cold War. Here are the 10 movies that give a very good feel for what that war was all about.
10. Invasion U.S.A.
This 1952 Cold War classic (not to be confused with the 1985 Chuck Norris epic in which he karate chops his way through transnational terrorists threatening the homeland) was one of the first films from a major studio to exploit emergent war hysteria. Columnist Hedda Hopper declared, “It will scare the pants off you.” At the time, she was probably right. In retrospect, the film, which cuts-and-pastes a lot of stock military footage, is pretty laughable. A great drinking game would be just pointing out all the scenes that don’t make sense, like when “enemy” paratroopers descend on Washington, D.C., jumping out of what are obviously U.S. military planes. Still, the film made its point. Americans couldn’t be indifferent to the menace from Moscow.
The ABC political thriller Scandal debuted in 2012. Nothing on television does a better job of illuminating how progressives think Washington works. That ought to make all of us really worried.
Now in its third season, the show has won favorable reviews, a strong following, and even some awards. But its popularity and longevity may say more about shifts in public sentiments towards politics than the quality of the scripts and the talents of the cast.
Last time, when a Hollywood favorite held the White House their show was West Wing, the NBC series that premiered in 1999. Most of the action focused on the president, a “white hat” named Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen), who played by the rules to make sure at the end of the day liberal causes ended up on top.
West Wing mostly focused on the business of government, with the writers making a good-faith effort to at least get the facts right. During one string of episodes, our make-believe president was brokering Middle East peace when terrorists attacked US peacekeepers. A writer from the show called and we went over in great detail what a realistic peace-keeping force would look like. They wanted the show to feel authentic.
This time progressives play by their own rules. Scandal is closer to Game of Thrones than West Wing.
Glenn Greenwald is at it again. His latest releases of classified documents provided by Edward Snowden reveal various spy tradecraft, a litany of “dirty tricks,” that agencies might use to get at an intelligence target. These latest revelations only show how far the un-caped crusaders have drifted from their messianic mission of uncovering “wrongdoing” by those who are supposed to be protecting us from wrongdoing.
In part, Greenwald panders to our dark desire to peer into the ugly side of intelligence work. The staring into the seamy side of spy-craft was a cultural fixture of the Cold War, enshrined in iconic films like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Released in 1965 when the Cold War was at its coldest, the movie told the story of a British secret agent sent to Communist East Germany to discredit a powerful enemy intelligence officer. With the assistance of an unwitting idealistic, pro-communist girlfriend he engineers a disinformation campaign against the East German operative.
The film was based on a 1963 book by the novelist John le Carre. The author’s real name was David John Moore Cornwell, who worked in British spy agencies in the 1950s and 1960s. There was more than a little real-life tradecraft laced throughout his books.