American History: Memorial Day Weekend Movies

When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today”

              Inscription on the memorial to the dead of the British 2nd Infantry Division at Kohima.

A few films to help remember that there is much greater significance to Memorial Day than sun and fun:

 

 

1.  American Sniper (2015)- A grand tribute to the late Chris Kyle and to all the other troops who served in Iraq.

“I am a strong Christian. Not a perfect one—not close. But I strongly believe in God, Jesus, and the Bible. When I die, God is going to hold me accountable for everything I’ve done on earth. He may hold me back until last and run everybody else through the line, because it will take so long to go over all my sins. “Mr. Kyle, let’s go into the backroom. . . .” Honestly, I don’t know what will really happen on Judgment Day. But what I lean toward is that you know all of your sins, and God knows them all, and shame comes over you at the reality that He knows. I believe the fact that I’ve accepted Jesus as my savior will be my salvation. But in that backroom or whatever it is when God confronts me with my sins, I do not believe any of the kills I had during the war will be among them. Everyone I shot was evil. I had good cause on every shot. They all deserved to die.”
Chis Kyle

2.   Hamburger Hill (1987)- A moving film about our troops in Vietnam who served their nation far better than their too often ungrateful nation served them.

3.  Porkchop Hill (1959)-Korea has become to too many Americans The Forgotten War, lost between World War II and Vietnam.  There is nothing forgotten about it by the Americans who served over there,  including my Uncle Ralph McClarey who died a few years ago, and gained a hard won victory for the US in one of the major hot conflicts of the Cold War.  This film tells the story of the small American force on Porkchop Hill, who held it in the face of repeated assaults by superior forces of the Chinese and North Koreans.  As the above clip indicates it also highlights the surreal element that accompanies every war and the grim humor that aspect often brings.

 

4.   Hacksaw Ridge (2016):  Mel Gibson fully redeemed his career as a director with this masterpiece.  A film that goes far beyond mere entertainment and illustrates what a man of faith can accomplish when he stays true to his beliefs and cares so much more about helping others than he does about his own mortal life.  Incredibly, the movie does justice to Desmond Doss, a true American hero.

 5.   Sergeant York (1941)-A film biopic of Sergeant Alvin C. York, who, during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive  on October 8,  1918, took 32 German machine guns, killed 28 German soldiers and captured another 132.  Viewers who came to see the movie in 1941 must have been initially puzzled.  With a title like Sergeant York, movie goers could have been forgiven for thinking that Sergeant York’s experiences in World War I would be the focus, but such was not the case.  Most of the film is focused on York’s life in Tennessee from 1916-1917 before American entry into the war.  Like most masterpieces, the film has a strong religious theme as we witness York’s conversion to Christ.  The film is full of big questions:  How are we to live?  Why are we here?  What role should religion play in our lives?  How does someone gain faith?  What should we do if we perceive our duty to God and to Country to be in conflict?  It poses possible answers to these questions with a skillful mixture of humor and drama.  The entertainment value of Sergeant York conceals the fact that it is a very deep film intellectually as it addresses issues as old as Man.

The film was clearly a message film and made no bones about it.  The paper of the film industry Variety noted at the time:  “In Sergeant York the screen has spoken for national defense. Not in propaganda, but in theater.”

The film was a huge success upon release in 1941, the top grossing film of the year.  Gary Cooper justly earned the Oscar for his stellar performance as Alvin C. York.  It was Cooper’s favorite of his pictures.  “Sergeant York and I had quite a few things in common, even before I played him in screen. We both were raised in the mountains – Tennessee for him, Montana for me – and learned to ride and shoot as a natural part of growing up. Sergeant York won me an Academy Award, but that’s not why it’s my favorite film. I liked the role because of the background of the picture, and because I was portraying a good, sound American character.”

The film portrays a devout Christian who had to reconcile the command to “Love thy Neighbor” with fighting for his country in a war.  This is not an easy question and the film does not give easy answers, although I do find the clip above compelling. (more…)

American Sniper: A Review

“I am a strong Christian. Not a perfect one—not close. But I strongly believe in God, Jesus, and the Bible. When I die, God is going to hold me accountable for everything I’ve done on earth. He may hold me back until last and run everybody else through the line, because it will take so long to go over all my sins. “Mr. Kyle, let’s go into the backroom. . . .” Honestly, I don’t know what will really happen on Judgment Day. But what I lean toward is that you know all of your sins, and God knows them all, and shame comes over you at the reality that He knows. I believe the fact that I’ve accepted Jesus as my savior will be my salvation. But in that backroom or whatever it is when God confronts me with my sins, I do not believe any of the kills I had during the war will be among them. Everyone I shot was evil. I had good cause on every shot. They all deserved to die.”
Chis Kyle
My wife and I, the kids are back in college and law school, saw American Sniper at a movie theater in Morris, Illinois on Saturday January 24.  It was the second performance of the day, beginning at 1:00 PM, and the theater still was almost full.  After seeing the movie, the one term that seems to me to apply is stunning, in every sense of the word.  Clint Eastwood has made a masterpiece, the finest of his movies as a director, and made a film biopic that perfectly captures the man Chris Kyle and his times.  It is not a film for kids due to intense combat scenes and frequent use of the f-bomb by troops.  My review is below and the usual caveat as to spoilers is in force.

The movie opens with scenes from Kyle’s childhood.  He and his father are hunting and Kyle kills his first deer.  We then see him as a young boy at a church service listening to a minister preaching a sermon.  The minister notes that we see our lives as a series of events and that we do not see the pattern of our lives that God sees, especially since we do not see as God sees.  During the sermon Kyle fingers a blue bound Bible that he will carry for the rest of his life and which appears in many scenes in the movie.  The sermon establishes the method of the movie which consists of vignettes as Kyle proceeds through life.

When he intervenes in school to defend his younger brother from a bully and beats the daylights out of said bully, his father explains to him that night that people are divided up into three groups:  sheep, predators and sheepdogs who protect the sheep from evil and harm, and that he and their mother are not raising either sheep or predators.

As a young man we see him as a rodeo performer, marking time in his life.  A television news bulletin about an overseas bombing of a US embassy enrages him.  We next see him enlisting in the Navy to be a SEAL.  SEAL training is displayed with humorous touches emphasizing how rigorous it is.  After he becomes a SEAL he meets his future wife and their relationship stateside is the counterpoise throughout the film to the War in Iraq.  They are married shortly after 9-11.

The bulk of the movie consists of his four tours in Iraq, interspersed with scenes at home.

 

In Iraq Kyle quickly becomes a legend.  In fact, that is the nickname he is given by the Marines he serves with:  “Legend”.  As a sniper he provides cover for the Marines as they go door to door in the type of urban fighting that typified much of the Iraq conflict.  My guess is that this film will give most Americans their first true understanding of what the fighting in Iraq was like.  Nineteenth century writer Ambrose Bierce, “Bitter Bierce”, once observed that wars, he was a combat veteran of the Civil War, were God’s way of teaching Americans geography.  Sometimes a good film can perform the same function of teaching the general American public the grim realities of combat, and American Sniper does that for the fighting in Iraq.  Peaceful settings can become deadly in an instant, and the line between enemy combatants and innocent civilians is thin to non-existent.   The fighting is shown as being intense and deadly, albeit usually brief.  Kyle eventually joins the Marines in their house to house fighting to show them SEAL techniques that might help save some of their lives.  Kyle is the very essence of a hero:  someone who goes into danger for others, in spite of the risk to his own life.  The Iraqi Jihadists, who called him The Devil of Ramadi, put a bounty on his head.  When it reaches $120,000 in the film Kyle jokes that it might tempt his wife on one of his bad days at home.

We see the moral quandaries that arose for Kyle as women and kids are used by the Jihadists against the American troops.  We see Kyle shooting one boy and a woman as they attempt to attack an American convoy.  Later in the movie we share Kyle’s relief when a boy puts down an rpg and runs away.  Kyle notes however that he regrets none of the shots he made.  What haunts him are the American troops he was unable to save.

There is almost no politics in the film.  Kyle is an uncomplicated patriot who views the US as the greatest nation in the world and sees it as his duty to defend her.  Some of his friends do come to question the Iraq War, viewing it as not worth the cost in American lives.

That such an apolitical film has aroused the ire of the Left is unsurprising however.  The American fighting men in this film are depicted as ordinary men performing heroically in very tough circumstances and that does not play into the stereotype of the Left of American troops being losers, victims or monsters.

The tours in Iraq take a toll on Kyle and eventually his wife convinces him to leave the SEALS, his War finally coming to an end.  In civilian life, he volunteers to help troops with physical and mental problems.  On February 2, 2013 he was slain by a 25 year old former Marine he was attempting to help.  No explanation exists for the slaying.  The film ends with scenes from the funeral of Kyle.  No one moved in the theater until the film was completed.  I think most of the audience was just as stunned by the film as I was.

Bradley Cooper gives a career making performance as Kyle, portraying him as a complete human being.  It is a three dimensional performance that causes us to care about Kyle as we view the arc of his life.

Men like Kyle deserve to be remembered.  American Sniper is a fitting tribute to a man who went into harm’s way for the rest of us.

Published in: on January 27, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on American Sniper: A Review  
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Chris Kyle and Alvin C. York

“I am a strong Christian. Not a perfect one—not close. But I strongly believe in God, Jesus, and the Bible. When I die, God is going to hold me accountable for everything I’ve done on earth. He may hold me back until last and run everybody else through the line, because it will take so long to go over all my sins. “Mr. Kyle, let’s go into the backroom. . . .” Honestly, I don’t know what will really happen on Judgment Day. But what I lean toward is that you know all of your sins, and God knows them all, and shame comes over you at the reality that He knows. I believe the fact that I’ve accepted Jesus as my savior will be my salvation. But in that backroom or whatever it is when God confronts me with my sins, I do not believe any of the kills I had during the war will be among them. Everyone I shot was evil. I had good cause on every shot. They all deserved to die.”
Chis Kyle

 

 

I hadn’t planned on seeing American Sniper, the story of the late Chris Kyle, but with it shattering box office records and driving the Left insane, something that director Clint Eastwood has been doing effortlessly for the past four decades, I will have to go see it this weekend and review it for TAC.  Awarded two Silver Stars and numerous other decorations, Navy Seal Kyle always stated that his motivation for being perhaps the deadliest sniper in American history was to protect his fellow troops.  This resonated with me since it was the same motivation for Corporal Alvin C. York in 1918 during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive to take out several German machine gun nests and to capture 132 German soldiers:

 

 

The paradox of war for any good man who fights in one:  taking lives to save lives.  I will report back as to whether the film American Sniper is successful in addressing this paradox.

Published in: on January 25, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Chris Kyle and Alvin C. York  
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