Tag Archives: history

What to Do with Your Enemy after You’ve Won the War?

If you’re one of the Allied countries and you’ve got approximately 11 million German soldiers in your custody, what do you do with all of those prisoners of war?  The Armchair Historian discusses this very topic (don’t mind the bit with the video’s sponsor…it goes by quickly).

Did you know that there were German soldiers imprisoned in American facilities and were “leased out to farms and factories to serve as laborers”?  I definitely never learned about that in any school text book or class.  Moreover, “German laborers were treated on par or just slightly better than Black workers — recall that this was during the days of Segregation.”  It happened.

Behold this Smithsonian Magazine article and this tidbit:
As World War II raged, Allies, such as Great Britain, were running short of prison space to house POWs. From 1942 through 1945, more than 400,000 Axis prisoners were shipped to the United States and detained in camps in rural areas across the country. Some 500 POW facilities were built, mainly in the South and Southwest but also in the Great Plains and Midwest.

At the same time that the prison camps were filling up, farms and factories across America were struggling with acute labor shortages. The United States faced a dilemma. According to Geneva Convention protocols, POWs could be forced to work only if they were paid, but authorities were afraid of mass escapes that would endanger the American people. Eventually, they relented and put tens of thousands of enemy prisoners to work, assigning them to canneries and mills, to farms to harvest wheat or pick asparagus, and just about any other place they were needed and could work with minimum security.”


If you’d like to watch a dramatized version of what German POWs experienced in Europe, say, in Denmark, take a look at Land of Mine (Martin Zandvliet, 2015).

Talking to the TV again

Gregg Toland
made a thing
too controversial
to release
John Ford
got on board
made it shorter
won an Oscar

and their friendship was never the same again.

– yiqi 14 July 2021 5:40 pm

This poem was inspired by something I learned today about the World War II films that John Ford made.  According to the documentary Ford at Pearl (2021), Gregg Toland was working on a documentary called December 7th (1943) about the attack on Pearl Harbor, but his end-product included a lot of fiction (editing voice-overs and footage to make it seem like Japanese-Americans were all spies in cahoots with the land of the rising sun).  Toland’s film was shelved and Ford took over, winning an Academy Award for Best Documentary, Short Subjects in 1944.

GToland  JFord

Read more about the differences between the Toland and Ford versions at The Unwritten Record and archive.org.

Oh yes, I did talk to the TV…called out Gregg Toland by name too, and how did he think he could just make up stuff about the Japanese-Americans living in Hawaii in the wake of that day which will live in infamy?

Originally posted at my tumblr.

Pic creds: 20th Century Fox, mptvimages, IMDB

D-Day was 77 years ago

If you’ve been alive for more than a quarter of a century and think back on learning about World War II in high school; if you’ve known people who served in the military during WWII and have heard first-hand stories about life during the 1940s, then the memory of D-Day may not seem that long ago.  Upon doing the math, however, seventy-seven years actually does impress one has a long time.  A twenty-year-old soldier, medic, intelligence analyst, or translator would be pushing a century of living now.  Moreover, nearly eighty years ago, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe were both still alive.




I came across this article that Military.com originally published by John Orloff for Task & Purpose that delves into some of the details on how the TV mini-series Band of Brothers (2001) came together.  I found this passage particularly relevant to present-day work collaborations — and they did it without all the virtual collaboration devices, software programs, and high-speed internet that many people have been relying upon in the last year:

And then there was the concern (by the writers) of a certain unevenness in the show. There were seven writers, and surprisingly little communication between us. One lived in Paris, another on a boat in San Francisco, another in Carmel, and the rest in Los Angeles. We had exactly one “all hands” meeting, and barely talked story during any of it. We pretty much each focused on our own episodes, trusting that Tom [Hanks] and Steven [Spielberg] would make sure it all fit together.

Just like the freely moving camera of ER (1994-2009) forever altered how producers and audiences envisioned the possible behavior of TV cameras, Band of Brothers rewrote the visual conventions for both cable and broadcast TV programming:

Band of Brothers was one of the very first TV shows to be shot and broadcast in widescreen — at a time when very few televisions were made that way (most people originally saw the show with black bars on the top and bottom of their square TV screens). Same thing with the sound. Tom and Steven insisted that it be mixed like a movie, in surround sound, when very few people had home surround systems. I am convinced that if we had not done these things — at Steven’s insistence, by the way — that today, the show would look and hear antiquated, as if from another era. Instead, technically, it still holds its own against any movie or TV show made today.




Pic creds: Amazon, Art.com

The Greatest Beer Run Ever

I’ve started reading John “Chick” Donohue and J.T. Molloy’s book The Greatest Beer Run Ever: A Memoir of Friendship, Loyalty, and War and absolutely love it.  I wasn’t planning on getting this book when I saw it at Barnes & Noble.  No, my intention was just to procure Last Mission to Tokyo by Michel Paradis.  Chick Donohue’s book was sitting next to it and had such a smooth cover (I did read the introduction to make sure I’d be interested in the subject of what could constitute the greatest beer run ever).


As indicated by the title, this book is about a US Marine veteran who volunteered to go to Vietnam in late 1967 to bring beer and well-wishes to the boys from his neighborhood (Manhattan’s Inwood neighborhood).  In chapter eleven, Chick recounts that “the GIs were peppering me with questions about what was going on back home.  Is Vince Lombardi really going to retire from coaching? How short are the girls’ skirts now?  Do you think there’ll be another Summer of Love this year?  Are people still rioting?  Are they still protesting?  Did the Airplane come out with another album?  Does everybody have a color TV now?…And the big one: Do you think the war will be over soon?” (62).  I wanted to know the answers to these questions too, so I did a bit of research.  Chick spent about two months on the open ocean before arriving in southeast Asia in mid-January 1968.

~ Vince Lombardi took a break in 1968; he returned to football in 1969-1970.
~ People History and Time suggest that the miniskirt was pretty short in 1967.
~ Methinks there was just the one Summer of Love.
~ Anti-war protests were going strong in 1967 and became even more intense in 1968.
~ Jefferson Airplane aka the Airplane released After Bathing at Baxter’s in November 1967.
~ Maybe not everyone had a color TV in 1967 or 1969, but I’m willing to bet that by the time Monday Night Football debuted in 1970, households that could afford it got one.
~ The Vietnam War was not going to end until 1973 with a “cease-fire agreement in Paris.”

The content-proper is 239 pages long with thirty-six chapters.  There’s also an Afterword, a Where Are They Now, an Addendum, a Bonus Chapter, an Acknowledgments, a Bibliography, and Photo Credits.  If you’re dedicated, you could probably finish it in one day (the chapters go by very quickly).  Many sources report that Dylan O’Brien will play the central character in the film adaptation.

And now for an audiovisual aid:

Pic cred: Amazon

42’s Legacy

By the time Audrey Hepburn had made her Hollywood debut and won a Best Actress Oscar for her role in Roman Holiday (William Wyler, 1953), Jackie Robinson had played major league baseball for six years with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  When he was inducted into the Baseball of Fame on July 23, 1962, Marilyn Monroe was still alive, James Bond* was a few months shy of being introduced to the public as a cinematic icon, and by the end of the year prisoners from the Bay of Pigs incident in Cuba went back home to the US.

In case you haven’t guessed, I watched the sports biopic 42 (Brian Helgeland, 2013).  It depicts key moments in Jackie Robinson’s life between 1945 and 1947, though the extent of historical accuracy in the sense of X actually happened in the manner presented is up for disclaimers.  Please see SBNation, History News Network, and ESPN for more information in that regard.


The film opens with a historical context reel narrated by Wendell Smith (Andre Holland).  America might have saved the (modern) world from the horrible agendas of the Axis Powers but back home, a hero’s welcome is hard to come by…even harder if you aren’t white.  It is in this existentially fraught environment that Jackie Robinson (a terrific Chadwick Boseman) goes about doing what he was born to do: play baseball.

42 is a beautiful film; it’s wonderful to behold for its subtle humor and cinematography. The acting is excellent all around too (Nicole Beharie is especially impressive as Robinson’s fiancee, and it’s always good to see Christopher Meloni playing someone who isn’t doing detective work in a special victim’s unit).  The wardrobe department and set designers and decorators must have gone to great lengths to imbue the film with a historically authentic mise-en-scene.

Despite its visual splendor, it isn’t the tightest film.  When it ended, I wondered if it wouldn’t have been more effective as a series of vignettes juxtaposed against conversations from scholars, journalists, historians, and any surviving friend or relative of Robinson’s.  (Shameless, unaffiliated plug for the documentary about Jackie Robinson by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon that airs April 11 and 12 9pm and 11pm EST on your local PBS station — check your local listings!).  

As a sports biopic, 42 is formulaic, psychologically powerful without being excessively tense, and eager to fill you with hope.  The contrast between two specific sequences produces an effect that both clobbers and heals the heart.  The first ugly scene occurs when the Philadelphia Phillies are playing the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Phillies’ coach, Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk), hurls so many racist remarks at Robinson that one wonders if there will be any reprieve from or retribution for having witnessed it…as a film-goer.**

If you don’t come away from that scene feeling as though you’re ashamed to be in the same “room” as the Phillies coach and want to travel back in time to apologize to Jackie Robinson on behalf of a less bigoted future, then you have achieved satori and there’s nothin’ left to see here.  If, though, you do find it uncomfortable hearing those words and remembering that, “hey, are we any kinder to each other in 2016 than the people of 1947 were to one another?”  (Peut-etre un peu? Pas du tout?), then, you’re going to demand for some kind of pay-back.

As a much needed and pleasantly surprising challenge to that scene is the second, marvelous sequence when the Dodgers play in Cincinnati.  Pee Wee Reese (Lucas Black) puts his arm around Robinson.  The camera films in a high-angle medium shot as he smiles and you can hear the crowd gasp.***  That unassuming but profound gesture of Pee Wee walking up to Jackie and sharing in the human experience is what the 21st century needs to remember.  You see, isn’t your heart mending already?


And yet… what 42 and the Jesse Owens biopic Race have pushed me to consider is whether or not a person is worth a chance to be welcomed and accepted if a person doesn’t demonstrate a capacity for excellence in the performative, physiological, or intellectual achievements of being human.  Do the best and brightest have to take on the mantle of pathfinder before the lukewarm and decent can even have a place to get a better view?


*Dr. No (Terence Young, 1962), starring Sean Connery, was the first Bond film to be released.

**SB Nation has a good summary of this moment.  And, every time I see Alan Tudyk I think of Steven Weber.

*** Note: According to the Jackie Robinson documentary by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon, that gesture was a thing of myth-making; it probably never really happened.  If it did, the press would’ve reported it and surely there’d have been witnesses…still living witnesses.