Ed Driscoll

"NO, I MEAN, WHO IS THE REAL ENEMY?"

I don’t know about you, but I can absolutely picture this exchange between writer/producer/director Lionel Chetwynd and a Hollywood mogul:

When he was 17, Ike’s screenwriter and co-executive producer Lionel Chetwynd joined the 3rd Battalion Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment), spending two years in the Canadian peacetime military. During that time he met some veterans of Dieppe, a bloody but necessary dress rehearsal to D-Day that established the futility of invading a fortified European port.Now in his early 60s, Chetwynd is a longtime naturalized American citizen who was born in England and raised in Montreal. He’d remembered from Canadian regimental history that of the 4,400-odd Canadians sent to Dieppe, about 3,600 were killed. Although they knew it was basically a suicide mission, not one man failed to report for duty. Chetwynd asked one of the old soldiers in his regiment, Sgt. Gordon Betts, why.

“My generation had to figure out what we were ready to die for,” Chetwynd recalled Betts telling him. “You kids don’t even know what to live for.”

Many years later, when Chetwynd was a successful Hollywood writer specializing in historical dramas, he told the Dieppe story during a Malibu dinner party — as a sort of tribute to the men who died there so people could sit around debating politics at Malibu dinner parties. One of the guests was a network head who asked Chetwynd to come in and pitch the story.

“So I went in,” Chetwynd told me, “and someone there said, ‘So these bloodthirsty generals sent these men to a certain death?’

“And I said, ‘Well, they weren’t bloodthirsty; they wept. But how else were we to know how Hitler could be toppled from Europe?’ And she said, ‘Well, who’s the enemy?’ I said, ‘Hitler. The Nazis.’ And she said, ‘Oh, no, no, no. I mean, who’s the real enemy?'”

“It was the first time I realized,” Chetwynd continued, “that for many people evil such as Nazism can only be understood as a cipher for evil within ourselves. They’ve become so persuaded of the essential ugliness of our society and its military, that to tell a war story is to tell the story of evil people.”

Kind of puts it all into perspective when someone living in Hollywood is complaining about “the essential ugliness of our society” and thinks that during WWII the real enemy wasn’t the Nazis, but the men who fought them, doesn’t it?

2007 Update (10/4/07): Welcome those clicking in via StumbleUpon; please visit my much newer post on this topic to bring things up to date.