A Southerner’s Movie Guide, Part XIII

18.  World War II and Other Wars

“To deliver examples to posterity, and to regulate the opinion of future times, is no slight or trivial undertaking;  nor is it easy to commit  more atrocious treason against the great republic of humanity, than by falsifying its records and misguiding its decrees.”      –Dr. Samuel Johnson

American wars are started by bankers and Northeastern “intellectuals,” but they are fought by American “deplorables.”  All glory to the many, many brave and patriotic Americans of all regions who fought in WW II.  Southerners did our part, perhaps a little more, but unlike every other group got no credit for it as far as Hollywood was concerned.  There is some reason that the Brits referred to the American air arm as “the Royal Texas Air Force” and the Japs yelled “To Hell with MacArthur!  To Hell with Roy Acuff!”  before a banzai charge.

In Hollywood’s vast output of World War II movies there is occasional favourable portrayal of Southerners.  This doubtless reflects the good will with which the American public entered the war and its recognition that we were needed and doing our part or more. On the other hand, war movies also exhibited a relentless buildup of hostility to Southerners. 

This is due to the fact that in the 1930s refugees from Central and Eastern Europe, most of them Communists or fellow-trevlers, became powerful in Hollywood as directors and writers.  They of course neither knew or cared anything about Americans, then or now, but only wanted to promote leftwing causes.  They sensed that Southerners were the enemy.  The South is the part of the U.S. that is most alien to them and which has been their first target in their ongoing decimation of all-American heritage.  The hostility has continued to the present. 

The highly regarded films (X)A Walk in the Sun and (X)The Big Red One are supposedly about the celebrated Army 1st Division, also known as the Texas Division.  In A Walk in the Sun the only Southern soldier is portrayed as stupid and the good soldiers are from Rhode Island, Brooklyn, Jersey City, and Ohio. These two films were directed by immigrants who were Communist fellow travelers.    

In general, war movies follow the usual pattern of Hollywood.  Real Southerners are not identified as such and only bad people have Southern accents. You would never know from (T) Darby’s Rangers that the founder of American Special Forces was from Arkansas.   Or from **We Were Soldiers that Gen. Hal Moore was from Kentucky. 

There is a whole library of malicious or incompetent Southern officers in WW II movies: (X)The Bridge at Remagen, (X)Between Heaven and Hell, (X) Attack! and (T) The Thin Red Line (1998 remake) for just a few.  Such Southern officers usually have to be saved from their deadly mistakes by Yankees. In (T) Objective Burma!  and (X)Away All Boats!  the only Southerners who appear are hopeless bumpkins.  In (T) Battleground the only Southerner is a tacky loutish fellow named “Abner.”  I’ll bet that name is a lot more common in New England than in the South.   In (X)Guadalcanal Diary the only Southerner is a fool, although he is a good marksman.  The director did not have a clue about real Americans.

Then there is the crazy Southerner image.  In Hollywood’s fictional version of the famous bomber (X)The Memphis Belle (1990) there is one Southerner in the crew, a gunner.  He is described as his father having lost the family farm in a card game and having connections with a New Orleans brothel.   No such person existed.   The real commanding pilot was from North Carolina.  After all, the plane is named “the Memphis Belle,” not “the Brooklyn Broad” or “the Cleveland Playmate.”  In the celebrated **Saving Private Ryan (which contrary to common knowledge is not a wholly true story) there is one Southerner in the unit:  a sniper who quotes Bible verses as he kills the enemy.  There was no such person.  But at least we are considered good marksmen.

While I am complaining, I might as well mention **Patton.  It is an excellent film about a real American hero.  But Patton was a lean, mean Southern Celtic type, and George C. Scott does not work for me.  He plays Patton more like an urban tough guy in 1940s crime films.

There is similar disdainful treatment of Southerners for Korea, Vietnam, and our recent endless filibusters in the Middle East.

Hollywood’s presentation of war heroes has been and will become even more so mostly a matter of ethnic spoils distribution (affirmative action without regard to history), with Southerners left at the hind tit, as always.   In many World War II movies, one gets the impression that most of the fighting was done by short swarthy ethnics with Brooklyn accents.  That does not square with authentic photos and films from the time, which show mostly tall fair men from the Heartland, the West, and the South.  There are likely millions of people who falsely believe, thanks to Hollywood, that most of the combat in Vietnam was done by black soldiers. 

Movie representations of combat units almost never match reality.  And that has been true for a long time.  In (X) Bataan (1945) a small American squad wiped out in a last stand includes one black and one with a Jewish name (played by an Irish actor).  This seems rather unlikely.  The movies are full of affirmative action heroes with Southerners, as always, the losers.  The most recent egregious example is **12 Strong, a generally well-made film about the first American team into Afghanistan after 9/11.  There are a black and a Mexican on the Hollywood team, and they are given more screen time and character development than all the white soldiers except the leader.  There were no such persons in the real “12 Strong.”  They were all white men from the Heartland and a few from the South. To distort history with the intent to control perception of the present and thus control the future is a grave offense against truth.

The fact is, the masters of Hollywood can say anything about the South without any attention to truth. That is what it means to be a conquered people.

Keep this point in mind when you watch those war movies, old and new, and see if I ain’t right.

A few suggestions:

**Sergeant York (1941) Gary Cooper received the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Alvin Cullum York (1887-1964) and the film got 10 other Academy Award nominations during the patriotic fervour of 1941.  York, from the Tennessee mountains, was the most highly decorated U.S. soldier of World War I, having, astoundingly, single-handedly captured a large German machine gun position and its men. The film is good, although a little condescending, on York’s early life–first as a drinker and fighter, and then, after being struck by lightning, a devout Christian who unsuccessfully sought conscientious objector status before being drafted and sent to France. When York comes back to the U.S. he is greeted in New York by bands playing a celebratory “Dixie.”  Randolph Scott is said to have coached Cooper on the accent.

**Gung Ho (1943).  A serious and realistic work with Randolph Scott as the tough Marine officer.  There is a little bit of leftist “popular front” propaganda stuck in the end, inappropriately.

(X) To Hell and Back (1955). The most decorated U.S.  soldier of World War I was Alvin York of Tennessee. The most decorated soldier of World War II was Audie Murphy of Texas. He went on to become a good and popular actor in many Westerns and other films, but I do not recommend his first autobiographical film on the war.  It is excessively focused on his alleged white trash upbringing and the fighting is not very real.

**Black Hawk Down (2001).   This is a vivid account of the Somaliland disaster.  No concessions are made to portraying the Army Rangers in the interest of affirmative action, and some of the Rangers even talk like Southerners.  There is a subtle   lesson given that probably few have noticed.  The most featured Northern soldier sees his mission in the backward and war-ravaged country as doing good.  Another soldier, played by the Australian Eric Bana with a perfect Southern accent, quietly knows better.  He is a warrior doing his duty without illusions.  Of course, Black Hawk Down was created by a Brit, Ridley Scott.  No American with the power to make a movie could have or would have done it that way.

(T) Pearl Harbor (2001).  Quite surprisingly to anyone who has observed Hollywood products lately, this flick has as its central heroes two pilots from Tennessee.  They are played by non-Southerners Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett who make a good try at the right accents.

**We Were Soldiers (2002).  This good Vietnam film is based on a book by the Southerner Joseph Galloway, who is portrayed with the correct accent.

** The Pacific (2010).   This series about the 1st Marine Division (the “Old Breed”) in the worst fighting of the Pacific is very good.  I recommend it partly because it is based on With the Old Breed:  At Peleliu and Okinawa, the memoir of Eugene B. Sledge of Alabama.  Sledge and another Marine from Louisiana are important characters.  And the Marine hero General “Chesty” Puller appears with a proper Virginia accent.

**Hacksaw Ridge (2016).  The interesting story of the Christian Virginia private who would not fight, but was highly honoured for his courage tending the wounded under fire.

In yet another John Wayne World War II production, (T) Operation Pacific, (1951), the Duke goes out of his way to praise the Southern sailors in the fighting Navy and show the Confederate flag of one who is a casualty.  The Italian War Devils (1969) has American soldiers whistling “Dixie” as a signal.  In **The Story of G.I. Joe (1945) an American soldier plays “Dixie” on his harmonica on the road to liberate Rome.  For the Korean War I might note (T) Men of the Fighting Lady (1954) in which Keenan Wynn has a Confederate emblem on his fighter plane and a Southern flag at his funeral. 

By the time of the Vietnam War, America had one foot in the revolutionary era, yet I have seen in a number of films fighting men with Confederate symbols. The television series **China Beach is a serious treatment of Vietnam experience, even though at times it seems more about affirmative action than about the war.  But now and then you have Confederate flags and Southern accents without arousing much negative reaction.

The soldiers’ music of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam was country with a little old-fashioned pop.  The movie music of our military ventures since Vietnam is rap–rather incongruous, I would think, and Hollywood’s obsession with multiculturalism is in full bloom. Could that have anything to do with losing all our recent wars?

                                           Addenda

PART II: Jamestown (TV series, 2017-2019).   The **first season of the English series about the early days of Jamestown after the arrival of the first women is well done and pretty sound.  From (X) season 2 on it collapses into a ridiculously unhistorical account of African Americans and slaves.  Too bad.  It could have been an occasion to educate Americans on that subject.

PART IV: (T) A Rebel Born (2019).  This is an episodic biography of General Forrest.  The screenplay is by Lochlainn Seabrook, a good Southerner and good writer. The director is Christopher Forbes, previously director of the excellent **Firetrail.  We should be grateful that this has been done in the present time.  A good start but, of course, not the big budget epic treatment that Forrest deserves and will never receive until there is an independent Southern film industry.

PART XI:  **Where the Red  Fern  Grows  (1974) .   Don’t know why I overlooked this Ozark family story.   **Richard Jewell (2020).  I have not yet had the opportunity to view this, but the descriptions make it seem a good work on how a Georgia hero was falsely targeted by evil federal agents for a bombing at the Atlanta Olympics  

About Clyde Wilson

Clyde Wilson is a distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at the University of South Carolina where he was the editor of the multivolume The Papers of John C. Calhoun. He is the M.E. Bradford Distinguished Chair at the Abbeville Institute. He is the author or editor of over thirty books and published over 600 articles, essays and reviews and is co-publisher of www.shotwellpublishing.com, a source  for unreconstructed Southern books. More from Clyde Wilson

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