World War II was a large factor in my early childhood. I lived with my grandmother. My father and his two brothers were in harm’s way (as were the uncles on my mother’s side of the family). We followed the newspapers and radio every day. Every day I took a 3-foot metal pipe, which was my rifle, into the adjacent woods to hunt Japs. One of my earliest clear memories is when Grandmother received the telegram that Uncle Paul had been killed in the Bulge.
So, I have an inclination to watch World War II movies. The best ones in the earlier days were British and the best ones today are Russian. There are some good and serious Americans films, but many of them have a comic book quality. I watched them all faithfully for several decades following the war. Like most Americans who were not actually there I learned World War II from the movies.
I noticed early on that the movies very seldom portrayed Southerners among fighting men, and when they did it was usually as bumpkins for comic relief. I know half a dozen films, almost the only ones with Southern officers, and in every case the Southerners are bad and defective and have to be corrected by their Yankee betters of lower rank. Of course, the Communists had already taken over Hollywood during and after the war. Presenting an accurate picture of American fighting men or of hated Southerners was not part of their agenda.
Box office required a favourable portrayal of Northern WASPS and ethnics, but general American opinion already regarded Southerners as ignorant and backward. Nobody cared about treating us fairly–despite the fact that Japs sometimes yelled: “To hell with Roy Acuff” before a banzai attack.
I recently saw a video on the battle of Peleliu, one of the most vicious actions in the Pacific in World War II. Some 5,000 “deplorable” white American Marines fought 9,000 deeply-embedded no-surrender Japanese. The interview featured four veterans of the battle. Three of them had Deep South accents. People who never did anything for America are busy wiping out the memory of these men’s Confederate grandfathers.
The postwar decades were also the period when Detroit and Chicago newspapers blamed “Southern hillbillies” for the rising crime rate and the riots between blacks and Northern ethnics. And when the heroes of the Alamo were all Midwesterners in the movie. Possession of a Confederate flag is a certain sign of depraved evil people.
It remains a dominant media theme to downplay the “deplorable” Americans who have carried much of the danger and sacrifice of American wars. It is an ironic commentary on Southerners who have long valued an honourable military tradition. Thankfully that kind of false “American” patriotism is now disappearing.
Since Vietnam we have had a new twist on our fighting history. Probably millions of Americans believe inaccurately that that war was fought mostly by black men, as the media have portrayed it. In a recent film about the first U.S. soldiers into Afghanistan after 9/11, one of the main characters is an African American. Such a person did not exist.
The same diversity devotion now dominates the portrayal of World War II. I recently saw a film in which an African American commanded a warship in combat with the Germans. And several others in which black actors were portrayed as valiant leaders and members of integrated combat groups. Whether you like it or not, such things did not exist in the 1940s United States. This approach, among other distortions, disguises how far black people have come since then.
But more importantly, it is wrong to make dishonest, misleading portrayals of history. It is a sign of a distorted national identity and in the long run not good for anybody. Might I suggest that it is a bad cause that has to be defended by lies?