May 29th, Memorial Day three years ago, I gazed into Brandon Boyd’s eyes and nearly walked into Wes Moss, a fellow Emory alum and a contestant on second season of The Apprentice. It was such a surreal and thrilling day–so very popcultural. Due to a recent (incidental), revitalized interest in military history, I’ve decided that Memorial Day weekend 2009 will be devoted to reading more and contemplating about the armed forces–not necessarily limited to America’s–and in a more substantial manner (compared to something like this).
Learning history–any kind of history–is about as exciting as counting backwards from 100 for some people. For other people, though, history is fascinating. If we don’t know where we are until we know where we’ve been, if we can’t know what we will do if we don’t know what we’ve done, internalizing every kind of history should be a given.
I’ve always enjoyed reading (about) history. I’m more language arts-minded, but the scientist and pattern-seeker stands strong and curious. My present interest in military history was sparked by watching Black Hawk Down a few days ago. A day or so later, I bought the 3-disc special edition as well as the HBO series Generation Kill, which I’ve been enjoying immensely.
Ghost Soldiers was actually adapted into a film called The Great Raid (John Dahl, 2005), which was the subject of a term paper I wrote for my Masculinity & Violence seminar in grad school. Here is an excerpt:
Based on William B. Breuer’s book The Great Raid of Cabanatuan and Hampton Sides’s book Ghost Soldiers, The Great Raid takes place in the Philippines and charts five days from January 27 to 31 of 1945 in the lives of prisoners-of-war at Cabanatuan, the Rangers that rescue them, and the members of the Underground that risked their lives to make sure the POWs got medicine. Rather than tell the story of the rescue mission exclusively from the perspective of the Rangers, the film divides the goal-oriented narrative among three groups of characters, which results in competing narratives.
Firstly, the film follows the conception through to the execution of the rescue led by Lieutenant Colonel Henry Mucci (Benjamin Bratt), Captain Robert Prince (James Franco), and Captain Juan Pajota (Cesar Montano). Secondly, the film spends a considerable amount of time inside Cabanatuan with POWs Major Gibson (Joseph Fiennes), Captain Redding (Marton Csokas), Duke (Nicholas Bell) and Lieutenant Paul Colvin (Logan Marshall-Green). Thirdly, the film includes sequences detailing the kinds of risks the POWs and the members of the Underground—specifically Margaret Utinsky (Connie Nielsen) and Mina (Natalie Mendoza)—had to take in order for the former to help the latter…
As a combat film,* The Great Raid is doing too much. Three narratives compete for screen time and the viewer’s attention. In terms of scenes, the film alternates between the storylines, but because there is so much drama that occurs in the Prisoner and Underground scenes (Major Gibson’s malaria worsens, Captain Redding’s unsuccessful escape attempt leads to the deaths of nine other POWs; Margaret becomes the only survivor of this Underground group), one nearly forgets that there is going to be a rescue.
The reason that I felt compelled to articulate my thoughts on my rekindled interest in this subject is due to the concept of respect. Mrs. Aretha Franklin sang on those seven letters: R. E. S. P. E. C. T. Among my group of close friends, the words, “respect,” “integrity,” and “honesty” are dearly held beliefs. Integrity and honesty, yes, I hold them close as well. In terms of “respect,” though, I never thought about it. When most people would say, “I respect him very much,” I would say, “I’m in awe of him” or “I admire him very much.”
The Free Dictionary defines the word primarily as “to feel or show deferential regard for; esteem” and “Willingness to show consideration or appreciation.”
I can certainly apply those uses to external and objective conversations, but it wasn’t until I watched the documentaries and featurettes of both Black Hawk Down DVDs that I finally understood or figured out what “R. E. S. P. E. C. T. means to me.”
A year ago in January, I wrote an entry after I finished reading John Feinstein’s book about the Army-Navy football rivalry. Specifically, I had written, “I’ve never regarded the military with anything but deference, framed around a cognitive (historical) understanding of what they do and what they represent. Vietnam and the 21st Century haven’t been so kind to them in terms of PR, but I don’t hold them responsible for the way Middle Eastern relations have or haven’t gone. After reviewing a documentary called Occupation: Dreamland three years ago and recently watching a documentary called Combat Diary: The Marines of Lima Company, I felt more respect and gratitude, which were magnified after finishing“ Feinstein’s book.
My use of the word “respect” there is denotatively, linguistically correct. But, it only truly, truly registered yesterday when I was walking to my desk at work that the only people with/to/for whom I can genuinely say I respect…would be the military and firemen.
I Respect the military and firemen. It occurred to me this afternoon when I was driving home, after I had related this epiphany to a coworker, that the reason I would or could describe my thoughts/feelings about these groups of individuals with the R word is because… I cannot begin to imagine what it feels like to have seen, heard, smelled, and felt the things that they have. Thus, to be in awe of what they do and even to admire them for saving lives and defending the values of our nation and communities simply isn’t enough.
*And what do I mean by “combat film”?
In her book The World War II Combat Film: Anatomy of a Genre, Jeanine Basinger meticulously sets up the parameters for what she does and does not consider to be a combat film. Military Biographies is one of four kinds of films that feature war in a visual or tangentially narrative way but are not combat films. Basinger excludes them because while “many true combat films are based on the…experiences of real-life war heroes…, the biographical war film about events from War World II tends not to be about combat, but about a personal sacrifice…or a human crisis of some sort..;” and when there is combat, it is “used as a remembered event…or is presented as the basis of the problem, one section of a larger, noncombatant story” (12).