Actors & patriotism

America is a weird place. In America it’s one generation from liberals like Henry Fonda joining up to serve the country in war–like everyone else, at one in heart & mind with their conservative friends, like Jimmy Stewart–to liberals like Jane Fonda running off to Vietnam to help out some of the most atrocious murderers available at the time with the hot blonde part of PR. The old man did not chastise his daughter publicly, so you can see how great the change was & I’m sure you all have thoughts on what’s happened–I’d like to talk about it, but it does not entirely seem proper right now. Maybe this weekend?

At any rate, I would not presume to speak to you about 9/11. I take it seriously, but it is not my business, being a foreigner. I make it my business sometimes to talk to other foreigners about it. I only write today because I ran into a heartening video post by Mr. Chris Pratt. I know others have tried before to tell Ricochet, he’s one of us!, a good, decent man who is not a liberal! Here’s another piece of evidence. There is a hashtag to go with it: #thankaveteran. It seems the right thing to do. He shares briefly the story of Navy SEAL Mike Day, whose story might be common among the damned few, but is shocking for the rest of mankind, & pledges & asks for donations for the damned few.

It has set me thinking both about the changes in what makes an actor popular today & what contributions actors can make. In WWII, about a dozen million people served America in uniform.

In WWII, about a dozen million people served America in uniform. Many actors signed up, as well as directors, including men who were not young. In his first biography, Reagan talks about how he had to cheat on the eye tests to get into the cavalry & how things came to a crisis in his lieutenant test–cavalry exercise in the rain, & his poor eyes were about to cost him dearly, but he was providently preserved. Instead, he went & made movies for the army, to prepare bombing missions. He writes seriously, but modestly about his service & is pleased to report that fliers found the work he coordinated useful.

Others, most famously John Wayne, did not go off to war. I’m young enough to have learned filmographies on imdb–one always sees the 1941-5 gap with actors & some directors–not with John Wayne. For reasons I do not know–take it up with Mr. McVey, between the two of us, we know everything about movies…–he did not sign up & instead made another fortune in Hollywood. But at the end of the war, one of the directors who did serve, John Ford, hired him for a war movie–They were expendable (PT boat crews in the Philippines try to do something to keep the Japanese Imperial Navy at bay). The credits famously list everyone’s rank, from the director on down–one of them, however, is a civilian. Before the credits roll, the movie ends  with Gen. MacArthur’s famous phrase, We shall return! as the chorus to the Battle hymn of the republic is sung.

It does not seem likely that America will soon fight a war where millions will have to serve. Someone who makes war movies & talks up the cause of patriotism like Duke did will have made his mark. One sees war movies rarely nowadays & almost no good movies has come out of the long decade of war in the Middle East, same as the brief Middle Eastern war before. Neither famous people nor anyone else, neither established studios nor anyone else believes America wants or needs to see serious stories about war. In some way, it is far more difficult to make war movies now–that, I believe, reveals a lack of political will.

Then again, there does not seem to be anyone who can tell Americans something meaningful about patriotism & the political situation right now. This worries me somewhat. America does not depend on movie-makers for patriotism or policy, but they do help people reflect on their beliefs & the crises they confront. In the far more democratic, far less political situation in which you find yourselves, stories are far more important & correspondingly less likely to be made in the first place.

I don’t believe Mr. Pratt is going to be America’s next John Wayne, although I believe America–& not just America–does need someone like him. He might decide not to go crazy with the movies & instead spend time with the missus & kids. Private life is decent, reasonable, & attractive. But I do hope someone will take up the challenge. Patriotism does depend on stories, in the sense that if you do not tell your children about your past, they will never know. & war requires stories, too, because it is the strangest of all things known to man & few have any experience of it–by the time it is upon you, it is too late to start preparing. America seems to Americans beyond this old opinion, beyond horse sense–whatever catastrophe, it will come & go & soon be forgotten. That attitude, I fear, has hurt some crucial part of the interest in telling stories about America’s bloody past & bloody future.

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19 Responses to Actors & patriotism

  1. DevereauxDevereaux says:

    ?American Sniper

    • titus says:

      Yeah, that’s about the only one to mention. The Lone survivor movie was ok, but nothing like what it was supposed to be.
      Two of Miss Kathryn Bigelow’s movies made a splash, The hurt locker & Zero dark thirty. I don’t have time to talk about what philistinism is on display in those titles. I especially dislike the use of 0d30–it’s dishonest & fetishistic. The latter is the better movie, but the former got all the celebration, which strikes me as typical.
      I’d say, the problem even with half-way-there movies is, they do not say much about the war. Poets have learned that they have no standing in America & they should not even dare to say something serious…
      Then there were all those liberal movies–not really worth mentioning; they were flops, to boot; apparently, not even liberals liked them.
      Then there are the documentaries–for example, Mr. Sebastian Junger’s–made by journalists embedded with units.

  2. DevereauxDevereaux says:

    There is a whole generational gap between the people who fought WWII and those who exist today.

    I am sort of the leading edge of the “new wave”. I fought in Viet Nam. I didn’t complain about going, nor run off to Canada, nor burn my draft card. But I’m not in the norm of my time.

    I believe today people have shifted even farther than “my generation”. Perhaps it’s partly because of my generation and how badly they often behaved. Jane Fonda was a product of the times. But she was a product of the elitists of the time; the run of the mill men went and fought. Not happily, not joyously, but doing their duty.

    The sense of duty is missing often today. If you look at the South, there is still the martial spirit there. But they are often the progeny of the original cavaliers who lost the English Civil War – and the Scots-Irish. Indeed, since the Civil War much of our combat power came from there. But that sense of duty was what drove the actors of the time to volunteer. John Wayne spent the time making propaganda movies, to bolster the troops and strengthen the home front and maybe even intimidate the enemy some.

    But he wasn’t alone. Other actors who couldn’t get in did the same. I even recollect a story of a famous English liberal who wass totally anti-Nazi during the war – only to revert to form when the war was over.

    Strange how people behave.

    • titus says:

      I think you’re right about the change–it does have something to do with what happened in the ’60s. A democratic revolution hit American society. Everything that smacked of formality disappeared, including how people dress & talk.
      This was good for civil rights, but it was terrible for the war. American foreign policy had not had this power to divide the nation since the war of 1812! Both rights & war are understood politically to require certain forms & formalities. Because rights & democracy went the same way, the forms were not destroyed; but war went against them, so there the formalities suffered unspeakably.
      I am told that American soldiers were just shipped back to America on planes. Nothing was done to tell them the war was over for them & how to deal with peace, so to speak. There were no parades. There was nothing to tell them what they had done for the country & what the country thought of them. That must separate the men under arms & the citizenry at large.
      After Vietnam, mostly in the ’80s, the movies turned against the people & the men under arms. Another attack on formality…
      I also agree that the South is more martial than the rest of the country–I think you’re right to point out, it has to do with its history, but it might have to do with the poverty, too.

  3. DevereauxDevereaux says:

    Your comment on being shipped back on planes is spot on. There was no decompression time, no comrades to swap stories with, no sense that the war was over.

    And often it wasn’t. I came home in late 70. The war still went on, albeit not as fiercely. But I was simply sent to my next duty station, with a leave at home. I spent several days on Okinawa, waiting for the plane that would take me home. I remember the crazy feeling of being able to walk up and kick a can on the street – while all the while feeling this terrible sense that I SOULDN’T – because that was how the gooks hooked booby trap detonators; you kick the can, the bomb goes off. I remember hearing shots while in my car standing at a light, and was out of the car and on the ground before I realized it was the kid in the car next door shooting a cap gun. Felt foolish, but the reaction was not a conscious one. I remember walking the streets of Laguna Beech and feeling I had nothing in common with the young people there; they were SO immature. They had NO SENSE of freedom of even life.

    The only place I found “acceptance” was home and in church. There was a Friday night dinner and mostly my parents’ crowd gathered to have traditional foods. I would walk in in my Marine uniform and had instand respect. But they were all Serbs. And they had mostly fought WWII. Anywhere else I went, mostly I simply intimidated people, especially when they found out I had returned from Vietnam.

    • titus says:

      What stories! I am not sure there is any way around knowing that you are among the few, the damned few! I find it remarkable how much better Americans treat their veterans & how easily all the terrible things are forgotten. I am uneasy about it & I suppose those who know it intimately have a much harder time.
      You have on occasion said kind, approving things about what I write–you’re a man whose approval means something serious to me.

    • NandaNanda says:

      Thanks for trusting us with the stories, Dev! May an Angel Pup/Engel Hundchen say “Thank you!” and “Welcome Home!”?

  4. DevereauxDevereaux says:

    “The death of formality”. And with it often civility. After the 60’s, anything went.

    A lot of this was the democrats and the East Coast elitists. I am not at all convinced that poverty had, or has, any effect on the Southern martial spirit. I think it’s the people. Southerners are simply more patriotic. They simply step up when the country needs to be defended. No questions. The North has similar poverty, but what it often lacks is “family”. Southerners feel connected; Northerners don’t. Your reference to 1812 highlights just this – that the Northerners were far more concerned with their pocket books. They did, after all, threaten secession, and averted it only by the skin of their teeth.

    • titus says:

      Democracy is both too natural & not natural enough for civility. It is very hard to deal with people as people, even though people are all in all much nicer–massive drops in crime rates to historical lows at this point!
      I am not sure I have a good grasp on the peculiarly un-democratic & rather more warlike character of the South. The historical habits of the people play a big part in it. What I mean by poverty is, people who are wealthy or have wealth on their minds are far more inclined to the habits of work & enjoyment of the fruits of labor & to commerce. Like Ben Franklin wanted!
      Then, too, the Puritans of New England–they were not warriors…

  5. DevereauxDevereaux says:

    I might suggest that the liberal movie makers got suckered into thinking that “reality” was all you needed to make a war movie. So they went to showing all the nastiness of war.

    Truth is, there IS a lot of nastiness. But men fight anyway, not because of the nastiness but because of the unit cohesion. Somewhere there is a drive for the war, a concept that the people in general support. But at the front, it’s men joined together.

    Combat is completely different from peaceful civilian life. The usual rules of community don’t apply. Many things that are not allowed in civilian life are normal in combat.

    Therein lies the drama. But the movies have gone for “special effects” instead of good writing and good story. Unfortunately no amount of special effects will ever actually give you the experience of being IN combat; all they do is make scenes unnecessarily gristly. Usually to the detriment of whatever story is being told – if any is anymore.

    • titus says:

      I think you’re right on every point.
      But I would like to add something: The soldier in the fight is not in fact the only cause of his being there. Why do soldiers end up fighting for the guy next to him? Because someone sent him there. Soldiers are under orders & they are not in a position to know all there is to know about war.
      Americans have become very much unable to understand the political character of war. There is some grasp on various parts of this character, but not the basic grasp of the whole.
      This is happening in movies & politics at the same time–giving Americans a serious account of serious things has become almost impossible in public!

    • NandaNanda says:

      Where’s a LOVE or even a LIKE button for this, Dev? :-)

  6. DevereauxDevereaux says:

    Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear; the sentence was kind of buried in with the other about unit cohesion.

    Americans need some reason that vaguely makes sense to go fight. In the past, the media supported such efforts when they were extensive, and didn’t say much at all when they weren’t (like all the little Banana Wars in Central America). Marines fought there, but usually they were insurgent-type fights.

    RVN was an insurgent fight on a very large scale. LOTS of foreign equipment flowing in from both the North and across neighboring borders, subversion of neighbors, etc. So the fight was larger. But its essential nature wasn’t much different than a fight in Honduras.

    One of the things that distinguished RVN from Honduras was that Honduras was fought for American interests, even if they were Dole Fruit Company. RVN was not. It was a chess piece war, fought against the overall enemy – communism. There were numerous such fights around the globe, and we got into many at varying degrees. It’s just that RVN was of greater scope. We had a very similar fight in the Philippines, against the Huk, who were basically communists, but in tribal clothing.

    The other essential ingredient for Americans is local involvement. In WWII EVERYONE either had someone IN the war or knew someone in the war. The whole country was geared to the war. In RVN, NO ONE knew anyone in the war. No reserve forces were utilized, so no locals were fighting. THAT problem was corrected in Dessert Storm and afterwards. I live in an affluent neighborhood. I and another were called up for Dessert Storm. The whole city knew that 2 of theirs went. It made it personal. It made the people back the fight. Recall all the stories of people welcoming home the soldiers from Iraq, the standing up and clapping when a unit walked back through an airport. That was spontaneous and from the people; that had been suppressed in RVN. We reaped the results.

    • titus says:

      Yeah, I did not get what you were talking about–I agree, it has become harder for people to figure out, what’s happening & why. Partly, that’s because of an idealism that seems to belong to the American character, but partly it is because of a political failure–a failure to explain who America is fighting & for what compelling reasons, while trying to help people think of the men actually serving as their own.
      Vietnam also lasted too long. It seems like there was a massive political failure there–up to ’65, there was no reason to think of the nation as being involved in the war. Afterwards, things changed & the politicians were remarkably blind. LBJ had no idea this would end his career. He had it coming, but it would have been better for things to go otherwise–to decide on what was worth fighting for, how to get it, & do it quick. Americans are not fans of long wars…
      Mr. Codevilla says, wars are the ultimate form of election: Everybody has got to decide what side they’re on & why & what they’re willing to do to win what victory.
      So that a war that poses no danger to America or the vast majority of Americans ends up threatening to tear the country apart, because people & politicians are not clear about what’s to be done & committed to doing it…

    • DevereauxDevereaux says:

      Spot on.

      One might suggest that one reason long wars are not “liked” is that America never got accustomed to them. Europe was involved, like it or not, in numerous long wars. America was not.

      Couple that with the fact that life has gotten easy. Wars are tough. That choice is relatively easy so long as one doesn’t have serious risks NOT fighting. But such risks need to be explained for the nation to get engaged.

  7. DevereauxDevereaux says:

    Part of the problem today is that we don’t seem to understand our interests. ?Is Ukraine our interest. ?Is anything in the Mideast our interest.

    Our politicians fight over stuff without any meaningful involvement of the people. Some of that comes from an educational system that has focused on stupid things while not teaching serious issues – because that would be counter-productive for the socialist state that the elitists are attempting to institute.

    Americans of old were not nearly as “highly” educated, but they certainly knew more stuff. Schools actually TAUGHT things. One should look at the New England Primer, the basic 1st grade book through most of the 19th century. You won’t find that level of teaching maybe anywhere, but certainly not in the first 2-4 grades.

    OTOH, it does seem that Americans are getting self-taught somewhat. There is more interest and involvement in learning and understanding things like the constitution. We might even find the country reverting to older ideals

    • MLHMLH says:

      Here’s a link to various Kindle editions of the New England Primer

      And to the 1914 California Sixth Grade Reader

    • NandaNanda says:

      So appreciate the sharing, teaching, and learning on this! This is what being self-taught ought to look like! Who we are…why we fought…Should we fight? Based on facts and/or actual accounts by people living it. I’m to the point now where I think *this* is vital! There is also the need to teach people how to think, not what to think.

    • DevereauxDevereaux says:

      Thanks for the links, M. I have looked at the New England Primer before, but the other was new. I note it has been published by Jerry Pournelle. Interesting guy. I once read his Chaos Manor column regularly.

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