Thursday, June 18, 2020


“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.” 

George Orwell, 1984

I had it explained to me earlier this week that the current movement in this country to remove or destroy statues and historical artifacts is in fact “good”, “necessary” and “fair.” It’s rather like a coast-to-coast fire sale.  From a statue of Christopher Columbus in Philly to Confederate generals on the side of Stone Mountain, Georgia to the old Spanish mission bells in California…”Everything must go!” Streets, bridges, buildings and army bases must be re-named. Our culture must be purged of past symbols of slavery, racism, and oppression.

Regardless how good the original intentions, it seems to me to be a very slippery slope indeed when we say that some history is “bad” and needs to be removed. Who decides and defines what is “bad” and what is “good” history? Who is the final arbitrator who decrees what can stay and what must go? What if our current rather chaotic and somewhat random standards of “good” and “bad” are viewed differently in the future? What if the history thus sanitized becomes unavailable to future historians, researchers, groups, or individuals? Where does it all end? Or does it? Will we tear down our entire past over the fear that someone will be “offended”?

I have a Lakota friend who knows first-hand that as recently as the 1970’s the teachers at his government-run Tribal school would whack the backs of their students’ hands with a long wooden ruler for the crime of simply speaking the language of their people. When he told me about this in 1992, I was shocked and horrified that it had gone on for so long and not a little pissed off that I had never learned of it in all my own years of schooling. At that time that it occurred, though, people in positions of authority in the government agencies administering these schools had decided the Lakota tongue was “bad” history and must be done away with. Do we leave the definition of good and bad history to unelected officials of some government bureaucracy?

From 1910 to 1945, the Empire of Japan occupied and ruled Korea as a vassal state whose people and resources were to be exploited for Japanese benefit. During this time only the Japanese language could be spoken or written in schools, courts, and public venues, some 200,000 irreplaceable ancient Korean texts, documents, and works of art and literature were burned, and the Korean people were forced to worship only in Japanese Shinto shrines. In Seoul, the 500-year-old Joseon Dynasty palace was deems a reminder of a more glorious Korean past, so the Japanese systematically demolished a large portion of the buildings and grounds to make room for them to build a massive and imposing new General Government Building to remind the people who now ruled. The Korean language, history and culture had been deemed “bad” history by the ruling power, which made strenuous efforts to eradicate it all. The emperor, the government, and apparently a considerable majority of the Japanese people approved of all this. By their era and standards, it was “good” and “necessary”. 

"Yes to decency and morality in family and state!"

10 May 1933: German “Student Groups”, actually puppets of the new Nazi Regime, marched in torchlight parades through the streets of 34 German university cities. With much fanfare, they gathered in the town squares to burn more than 25,000 plundered books that had been deemed “un-German” in order to “purify” or “cleanse by fire” the German language and its literature.  A crowd of 40,000 people gathered for Berlin’s book-burning, where Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels personally opened the festivities, shouting, “No to decadence and moral corruption! Yes to decency and morality in family and state! I consign to the flames the writings of Henrich Mann, Ernst Glaser, Eric Kastner!” Later, Nazi officials openly raided libraries, book stores, and publishers to confiscate and destroy “un-German” tomes. Naturally, a majority of the books destroyed were by Jewish authors, but the Nazis also sought to suppress such “corrupting foreign influences” as American writers Ernest Hemingway, Jack London and Helen Keller. Perhaps the most painfully ironic work burned was eighteenth-century Jewish poet Heinrich Heine’s play Almansor, which contained the eerily prophetic lines, “Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people.”

In Afghanistan’s Bamyan Valley two giant stone statues of Buddhas Vairocana and Sakyamuni, the largest one some 174 feet tall, had weathered in their cliffside alcoves all that the harsh weather of the mountains could dish out for centuries. They may have been as much as 1,700 years old. In March of 2001, Taliban leaders occupying the area decided to entirely destroy the giant Buddhas. After days of pummeling with artillery, anti-aircraft guns, and RPG rockets failed to obliterate them, the Taliban eventually lowered men on ropes to drill holes into the statues to insert dynamite charges to completely demolish them. Afterwards, they openly defended and justified their actions.  Mullah Mohammed Omar said, "Muslims should be proud of smashing idols. It has given praise to Allah that we have destroyed them.” Afghan Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawekel told the international press, “We are destroying the statues in accordance with Islamic law and it is purely a religious issue.”

Yes, admittedly these are rather extreme examples of what can happen when people seek to sanitize “bad” history. They do, however, show what can and has happened more than once in the past and just how fast a people can accelerate downhill once they step out onto the slippery slope. Today, viewed through the prism of our current standards, we naturally condemn these heinous examples.

Thus, it is worth considering how future generations might someday view our own current “righteous”, “good” and “fair” jihad against statues and symbols of generations past.

“War is peace.
Freedom is Slavery.
Ignorance is Strength.”

Monday, June 15, 2020


It all started when Ben, knowing my interest in WWII history, sent me this movie with the header “Some of the grittiest WW2 footage you’ll watch today!”

And it was! The Tiger tanks looked like Tigers, the Shermans looked like Shermans, even the 57-mm anti-tank gun looked good. I can let it slide that the bazooka looked like an M20 3.5-inch rather than an M9 2.36-inch weapon.
I commented, “It’s actually more historically accurate and has a better script than that Bulge movie with Henry Fonda and Telly Savalas.”
Ben said, “Didn’t Eisenhower come out of retirement just to denounce that film? Seems like I remember hearing that.”
Well, that was a new one to me, so I Googled it and damned if it wasn’t true. Ike did indeed put down the latest Zan Gray novel to come out and hold a press conference in which he condemned the film for “gross historical inaccuracy.” He also commented that, personally, the film, “Left a bad taste in my mouth, like a dog-shit C-ration.”
Since Hollywood’s present offerings are such pathetic, predictable cookie-cutter displays of political correctness…I can’t even remember the last time my wife and I went out to a movie…it’s easy to forget that they still made some real stinkers even back in the “good old days”. It wasn’t all Patton or The Longest Day or A Bridge Too Far.

So I got to thinking, was Battle of the Bulge really as Godawful BAD as I remembered it?
To answer that question, I took the time and trouble to locate and watch one of the three existing copies of Battle of the Bulge, The Director’s Cut. The Director’s Cut is indeed historical, having set a record for war movies as being the only film about a battle that lasted longer than the actual battle itself. The Director’s Cut runs 14,324 minutes, but Warner Brothers thankfully cut it down to 167 minutes for the theatrical release. Considering that all the action happens in the first and last few minutes, even that version is about 145 minutes too long.
It’s truly amazing how completely this movie squanders and wastes so many assets and so much potential. It had huge big-name star power for 1965: Henry Fonda, Telly Savalas, Robert Shaw, Robert Ryan, Charles Bronson. The best part was that they apparently rented every single armored battalion in the entire Spanish Army to make this movie, so there’s plenty of real tanks to see in action.
That’s very refreshing in these days of CGI battle scenes. Awhile back, we attempted to watch a new war movie called The Last Drop but couldn’t slog all the way through it despite some kind of cool CGI Focke-Wulf 190 strafing runs. Then there’s the John Woo school of CGI which apparently teaches that NO plot or character development whatsoever is necessary in a movie if you just shovel in enough CGI battle scenes.
In a really good war movie like Patton, I can overlook the whole “slap some field gray paint and an iron cross on an old American M47 or M48 Patton tank and call it a Panzer” thing. But in a really bad war movie like this one, it somehow just makes it worse. The “Germans” run around in their invincible M47 Patton “King Tigers” while the Americans get slaughtered in their M24 Chaffee “Shermans.” (Truth being stranger than fiction, that is just about what happened in the early weeks of the Korean War when the US Army threw in its only available armor in theater…four companies of M24 Chaffees…in toe-to-toe slugfests with the Norks’ Soviet T-34-85s which ended in predictably tragic results.) In the Bulge, the end result is something that begs for a military historians’ edition of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
I can almost hear Tom Servo doing a Movietone newsreel narrator voice: “Today, the German Army launched a surprise winter attack across the sun-baked desert plains of Belgium…”

"Today, the German Army launched a surprise attack across the sun-baked desert plains of Belgium."

Star power is wasted even more pathetically than the cast of hundreds of real tanks.
Telly Savalas’ character, US Army tank commander Sergeant Guffy, is so utterly devoid of any redeeming qualities as a human being he makes “Maggott” from The Dirty Dozen look like Mr. Rogers. Not even the US Army in 1944 would have been hard-pressed enough to actually make such a cretin a non-commissioned officer. It’s hard to root for such an utterly detestable “good guy” in a movie. If he had been my TC in an actual war, I would have put a couple of .45s into his back the moment the ramp dropped on Omaha Beach. The Tasmanian Devil would be a better tank commander, not to mention being more sympatico and coherent as a character.
Henry Fonda seemed like he would be a genuinely likeable guy in person, someone you’d like the pal around with, and as an actor he had some great performances before and after this stinker. The Grapes of Wrath, Twelve Angry Men, On Golden Pond. But in this one, his character, Lieutenant Colonel Dan Kiley, is so bland and mild and unmotivated that not even Henry can make him all that interesting or likeable. The best scene to watch for is when Kiley attempts to pick of the German panzer commander at a bridge crossing but can’t because his M1 Garand rifle has no rear sight!

In the Director’s Cut version, you do at least get to see the moment when Robert Shaw realizes just how bad this movie really is. A look comes over his face that’s a mixture of shell shock and an urgent need to projectile vomit. At that point, he breaks off singing Panzerlied, loses his Prussian accent, and starts colorfully telling a slightly slurred tale of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in an attempt to create at least one memorable screen moment in this film. Realizing that nothing can save this script, he gives up on that too and just chugs bottle after bottle of schnapps through the remainder of the movie.
Charles Bronson’s character Wolenski is so forgettable that I forgot Bronson was even in the movie.
The only remotely likeable character was Hans Christian Blech as Corporal Conrad, German Colonel Hessler’s old, disillusioned staff car driver. And he’s only likeable because he reminded me a little bit of Sergeant Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes.
In the end of this movie, the heroic resistance put up by General Anthony “Nuts” McAuliffe’s GIs and paratroopers in Bastogne did nothing to defeat the Wehrmacht. General George S. Patton Jr.’s 3rd Army apparently never got around to mounting a brilliantly successful counter-attack from the flank through snowstorms and over icy roads. The weather did not clear and allow General Elwood “Pete” Quesada’s feared Jabos to blow the shit out of round-bound German columns. In fact, you could get the impression that the US Army didn’t really do anything to defeat the Germans at all.
Nope. The panzers happened to simultaneously run out of gas, so every last German soldier in Army Group B just threw down his rifle and walked on home.
So, if you are fortunate enough to have never seen this movie, spare yourself and don’t lose 167 minutes of your life (it seems a great deal longer) that you’ll never get back. You'll get more out of four minutes of Lego action!