5 Wartime Tearjerkers Millennials Should Know About

There are a lot of things about which many millennials are startlingly ignorant. For example, they haven't been taught about Communism: they know little or nothing about the Gulag and the Cultural Revolution, and think Che Guevara was a hero.

Alongside such gaps in their education, the fact that millennials, according to a recent study, are both ignorant of and indifferent to films made before their own time is a relatively trivial matter. But it bothers me. According to a recent article in The New York Post, fewer than half of millennials have seen Gone with the Wind (1939) and only 28 percent have viewed Casablanca (1942). The movies they're most likely to know are The Lion King (1995), Forrest Gump (1994), Back to the Future (1985), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Matrix (1999).

Not bad movies. But when you don't see films made prior to your own time, you're missing out on a lot. Millennials, unlike thousands of generations before them, have access to a marvelous treasure trove of moving pictures that provide living glimpses of what the world was like before they existed.

People who dressed differently, talked differently (but not so differently that they can't be easily understood today), and in many ways, thought differently. To live only in one's own time and place, innocent of history and of the world beyond America's shores, is to have no sense of which things are human constants and which are passing trends.

Old movies are an easy, entertaining escape hatch from that prison of ignorance. Among other things, they can introduce millennials to ways of thinking – and feeling that are alien to them.

Take love. We live in a time when popular culture offers highly vulgar images of what used to be called courtship and romance. To a very large extent, today's movies and music present sex as a matter of booty calls, hook-ups, and pick-ups – something that has little to do with affection or tenderness and everything to do with bling, cash, and flashy cars. There are exceptions, but they tend to be mediocre, formulaic, and short on conviction.

There used to be movies known as “tearjerkers.” If you look the word up online, you'll find recent lists consisting of movies like Titanic (1997), Stepmom (1998), Ghost (1990), and Beaches (1988) – all of them ancient by millennial standards. But if some of these movies are genuinely touching, most are pale shadows of the great tearjerkers of the past.