You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘United States’ tag.
There is something about It’s a Wonderful Life (IAWL) and its story of overcoming adversity.
So often, George Bailey’s near-tragic conflict has parallels in real life.
The link at the top of this post gives those who haven’t yet seen it more about the story. Yesterday’s post looked at parallels between Frank Capra’s and George Bailey’s lives with regard to dreams and ambitions.
Zuzu is the little Bailey daughter who so famously says at the end of the film:
Look, Daddy! Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.
IMDb has a great page with all sorts of trivia about IAWL, including the origin of Zuzu’s name:
According to an interview with Karolyn Grimes, the actress who played Zuzu, the name Zuzu comes from Zu Zu Ginger Snaps. George makes reference to this near the end of the movie when he says to Zu Zu at the top of the stairs, “Zuzu my little Ginger Snap!”
In 2011, Karolyn Grimes told the Telegraph‘s Sophie de Rosée a bit more about her IAWL experience. First came the audition:
During the Second World War my mother was afraid my father was going to be drafted, and she didn’t think she could live on the military pay so she decided to put me to work and took me to see Lola Moore, the only agent for child actors.
For It’s a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra hand-picked each person, including the 2,000 extras, but by this point I had already been in four films so I was an old hand at the auditions. He just said, ‘Now, show me how you would look if you had just lost your dog.’ I had to show him this expression and then a happy face and that was it. I was paid $75 a day for three weeks, which was a lot of money back then.
Jimmy Stewart was just a delightful person. He was 6ft 4in and very skinny. To build a little chemistry between us he spent a lot of time with me, talking and playing. I once messed up a line and he said, ‘Th-th-that’s OK, Karol, you’ll get it right next time.’ And I did.
Grimes had bit parts in 17 films between 1945 and 1952. However, IAWL (1946) meant a lot to her for a variety of reasons:
On set in California the fake snow was a fascination for me because I was born and raised in Hollywood and I’d never seen snow before. Everybody joined in throwing snowballs. I still have a bauble from the Christmas tree in the film that’s in my museum at home. I have all kinds of memorabilia, but mainly from It’s a Wonderful Life …
I’ve probably seen it three or four hundred times. It always makes me tear up a little bit. It’s just so beautiful how everyone comes together at the end.
However, Grimes never saw the film until 1979. A fortnight before she did the Telegraph interview — she was in London to help publicise the 65th anniversary DVD box set of the film – she spoke with the Washington Post (emphases mine):
“I never saw the movie before,” said Karolyn Grimes, 71, remembering living near Kansas City, Mo., in December 1979 and catching out of the corner of her eye flickering images on the television of familiar faces and places from long ago.
Working full time and raising seven children, the 39-year-old Grimes had no time to spare, much less to sit around watching television. But something tugged at her as she saw snatches of snow-clogged streets of small-town America and people she thought she knew.
“Then it hit me,” said Grimes. “I was in that movie. I was Zuzu.”
Though she had never seen it before 1979, her kids and everyone else seemed to be familiar with the sentimental chestnut from filmmaker Frank Capra. When the copyright lapsed in 1974, television stations worldwide began looping the movie into their schedules. It was free programming, a cash gusher with no royalties paid to its creators, and the widespread exposure informed the imagination of generations of families huddled around the television over the holidays.
“I never saw movies I was in because my mom told me that would be prideful, being stuck on yourself,” said Grimes.
I read elsewhere that children with bit parts appear on set, say their few lines and go. And, of course, get paid. You’ll see from her list of appearances that Grimes was not always credited; that depends on the director. Therefore, it is not altogether surprising that bit part child actors don’t even know the plot, never mind have a yen to see the full film. It’s a job. Where’s the next audition?
It is unclear whether her father was drafted to serve in the Second World War. She told the Post that her father managed a local Safeway and that her mother was a homemaker before suffering from early-onset Alzheimers. She understood that the money she earned was meant to help her parents:
she remembers being paid $75 a week — about $830 in today’s money — or nearly $10,000 over the 12-week shoot of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Despite family obligations, she was not alone in pursuing bit parts, nor did she mind:
It was just a job. All the kids in my neighborhood went over to the studios, Jimmy and Larry, and Carol and me. We walked over or were taken over by our moms, trying for crowd scenes or other work to make a little money.
Then, tragedy struck. When she was 12, her mother died. (Early-onset Alzheimers patients often die within a few years of diagnosis.) As if that weren’t bad enough — and now we enter the downward trajectory that George Bailey experienced in IAWL — her father died in a car crash when she was 15.
Things got worse. The court appointed an aunt and uncle in Missouri to be her legal guardians. They were fundamentalist Protestants who frowned on any amusement or entertainment. Sadly:
Her aunt cut all connections she had with friends and studio contacts.
However, like George Bailey, she had friends:
So with a lot of help from my high school teachers, I went to college and became a medical tech at a clinic outside Kansas City.
However, her trials were far from over. It wasn’t long before she was married with two daughters. However, her happiness was short lived. She and her husband were divorced, and he died not long after in a hunting accident.
Before his death, however, happiness returned as Grimes remarried. She had a daughter and a son with her second husband. She raised his three children from a previous marriage in addition to her two daughters from hers.
However, her son committed suicide when he was 18. Then, three years later, after her silver wedding anniversary, her husband died of cancer. She had devoted her time to taking care of him at home. After that, two of her daughters became mothers and lived at home, so she had grandchildren for whom to care.
It’s all very George Baileyesque except that her trials — punctuated by the joys of her children and grandchildren — lasted for much of a lifetime and involved five deaths. She was an orphan and then a widow. It must also be heartbreaking to lose a child through suicide.
It just shows how many people around the world can appreciate the sequence of events in IAWL. Little did Grimes — ‘Zuzu’ — know how much she would experience the same.
- Her move as an orphan from Hollywood to Missouri:
I started a completely new life as if I had never lived in California.
- The death of her first husband:
I was not allowed to grieve since we were divorced. We had both remarried but were friends. His death was very difficult to grieve without the support of others.
- Advice to other survivors of family deaths:
People have to go through the steps of grief to survive it. They have to feel the pain. There are no shortcuts. They have to experience the pain in order to heal.
The main secret I have learned for myself is that I have to give of myself to others to help them and to heal for myself. To give of myself gives me power to go on. Whether it is through volunteer work, talks with friends, or through my professional work, I listen to others and let them benefit from an empathic listener. I answer many letters either because people know about my experiences or through my movie work.
Incidentally, Grimes included her contact details at the top of her essay for the conference.
Since the 1990s, Grimes has been rebuilding her life — also see the recent photo — by creating an IAWL-derived cookbook, with all sorts of family-oriented recipes. The book includes photos and trivia from the film. Grimes hopes it inspires more families to cook and to share meals together:
Our lives are going so fast, so many things are going on! A family meal, at least once a day, is a time everyone can share their experiences and learn something about the other person. Even if it’s just breakfast — we’re together and we’re talking. It’s a good time to fasten the foundations of the family.
I hope that the rest of her life spent touring the country, giving talks and selling books is filled with many blessings and much happiness. She richly deserves them.
As for faith in adversity, she told the Washington Post how IAWL fits in to life:
“My life has never been wonderful,” she offered quietly. “Maybe when I was a child, but not after age 15.”
“And maybe that’s what makes the film so important for me and a lot of other people,” she continued. “The Jimmy Stewart George is suffering terribly in the movie — you can just see it. He’s in Martini’s café and saying to himself, ‘God, I’m not a praying man, but please show me the way.’ ”
“Gosh, it makes me cry,” she said.
“It’s not a Christmas movie, not a movie about Jesus or Bethlehem or anything religious like that,” she insisted. “It’s about how we have to face life with a lot of uncertainty, and even though nobody hears it, most of us ask God to show us the way when things get really hard.
“That was part of Capra’s genius,” she said. “Everybody has some sorrow, worry, and everybody asks God for help. One way or the other, we all do, and it can be in Martini’s, not a church on Christmas.”
As for her IAWL siblings, the other ‘Bailey’ kids:
After “It’s a Wonderful Life,” [Jimmy] Hawkins, whose father was an original Keystone Kop in the old Mack Sennett silent movie series, built a life in show business as Tagg, Annie Oakley’s kid brother in the popular 1950s television series, and had prominent roles in “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” “Petticoat Junction,” “The Ruggles” and other long-gone television series. He even played in two Elvis musicals, “Girl Happy” and “Spinout.”
[Carol] Coombs, who declined several interview requests, is a mother and retired schoolteacher, Grimes said, and [Larry] Simms grew up to became an aeronautical engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
Once, “Carol and Jimmy and I were in Portland visiting Target stores and we learned that Larry was living at his brother’s place in the country,” said Grimes. “We got a limo and some pretty ‘Target girls’ and drove way out in the sticks.
“Larry was living in a camper in his brother’s barn,” she recalled. “He didn’t want to have anything to do with promoting the movie but was happy to see all of us ‘kids.’ ”
“That’s the last we saw of him. I think he’s living in Thailand, but he doesn’t want to be bothered again.
“That’s okay,” said Grimes. “We’re just artifacts, leftovers from a great movie that will probably live forever. In a few years, when we’re gone, all you’ll have is the film.”
How true. Let’s hope that IAWL continues for generations to come. It’s a timeless story.
It contains a few items that even frequent viewers of the film might not know — including Capra’s original ending, which involved Potter.
Today’s entry looks more at Frank Capra’s life. Don’t think for a minute that Capra was a saccharine film maker. His own experience and faith no doubt informed IAWL.
Before I get to Capra, however, let’s look at what happened when IAWL was released in December 1946.
What the critics thought — not such great ‘BO’
IAWL opened to mixed reviews and a loss at the box office, what Variety has referred to for years as ‘BO’.
On a personal note, I never actually saw IAWL until I moved to the UK. Amazing, considering that I lived in the United States at a time when the film was shown up to six times a day every day in any given metropolitan area during December. This was because its copyright hadn’t been renewed. What a blessing for television stations looking for free programming. Anyway, my mother said of IAWL, ‘Oh, that. I wouldn’t bother.’ I doubt she ever saw it, possibly because of what she read or heard back in the postwar 1940s.
The following quotes come from IAWL‘s Wikipedia page. Although Time‘s critic was impressed:
It has only one formidable rival (Goldwyn’s The Best Years of Our Lives) as Hollywood’s best picture of the year. Director Capra’s inventiveness, humor and affection for human beings keep it glowing with life and excitement.
The New York Times‘s verdict was more representative — and typical of the paper:
the weakness of this picture, from this reviewer’s point of view, is the sentimentality of it—its illusory concept of life. Mr. Capra’s nice people are charming, his small town is a quite beguiling place and his pattern for solving problems is most optimistic and facile. But somehow they all resemble theatrical attitudes rather than average realities.
The FBI didn’t like it, either (emphases mine):
With regard to the picture “It’s a Wonderful Life”, [redacted] stated in substance that the film represented rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists. [In] addition, [redacted] stated that, in his opinion, this picture deliberately maligned the upper class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters.
It’s pretty clear that the heartless Potter character also reflects the WASP bias of the time of not trusting anyone whose ‘name ends in a vowel’. He calls the Italian customers of the Bailey Savings and Loan ‘garlic eaters’. Was Capra trying to say something here?
Interesting Ideas sums the film up for 21st century viewers:
Far from being the feel-good movie of 1947, It’s a Wonderful Life is in fact one of Capra’s most relentlessly depressing works.
it was perceived as a fairly downbeat view of small-town life.
Hindsight says that had the film been released a year later, it probably would have picked up an Oscar for Best Picture. Competition would have been less intense with Miracle on 34th Street being its nearest rival. As it was, The Best Years of Our Lives was the motion picture of the year, winning four out of six major Oscars. Its theme dealt with Second World War soldiers settling back into civilian life, more relevant to the American mindset at that time.
IAWL, however, did win an Oscar for Technical Achievement, which was the snow in Bedford Falls. Wikipedia explains:
Before It’s a Wonderful Life, fake movie snow was mostly made from cornflakes painted white. And it was so loud when stepped on that any snow filled scenes with dialogue had to be re-dubbed afterwards. RKO studio’s head of special effects, Russell Sherman, developed a new compound, utilizing water, soap flakes, foamite and sugar.
However, Capra did win Best Director in the Golden Globe Awards.
As for box office takings,
The film, which went into general release on January 7, 1947, placed 26th ($3.3 million) in box office revenues for 1947 (out of more than 400 features released) …
The film recorded a loss of $525,000 at the box office for RKO.
Film buffs speculate that Capra — whose films won over audiences of the Depression — was losing his grip with regard to the postwar zeitgeist. He was still creating films around the ‘poor little guy’ theme, when the American mindset had moved on to coping with a new reality.
From Sicily via steerage
Frank Capra was born the year my paternal grandmother was — 1897. Philip Van Doren Stern, the author of the story which inspired IAWL was born in 1900. Walt Disney was born in 1901. They all, Grandma included, had a certain way of looking at life with optimism in the face of adversity.
Capra was born in a village outside of Palermo, Sicily. He was christened Francesco Rosario but, years later, when he became a naturalised American citizen in 1920, he took the names Frank Russell.
Capra’s biographer Joseph McBride explains that the family name came from the word for ‘she-goat’. It expresses several of that animal’s characteristics which could also apply to the director himself: capriciousness, skittishness, emotionalism and obstinacy.
Capra’s father Salvatore was a fruit grower. He and his wife Sarah had seven children; Frank was the youngest. They decided to emigrate to the United States in 1903 when Frank was six.
Later, Capra described the crossing in steerage as follows:
You’re all together – you have no privacy. You have a cot. Very few people have trunks or anything that takes up space. They have just what they can carry in their hands or in a bag. Nobody takes their clothes off. There’s no ventilation, and it stinks like hell. They’re all miserable. It’s the most degrading place you could ever be.
Still, once they came in sight of New York and Ellis Island, where they would be processed, his father exclaimed when seeing the torch on the Statue of Liberty:
Look at that! That’s the greatest light since the star of Bethlehem! That’s the light of freedom! Remember that. Freedom.
Capra did remember — for the rest of his life.
The family made their way coast-to-coast to Los Angeles. Goodness knows how long that must have taken, especially with seven children in tow.
Parallels between Frank Capra and George Bailey
Aspects of Capra’s life parallel those of George Bailey’s. One wonders whether he was resolving some inner and familial conflicts through the IAWL protagonist’s:
- Once in Los Angeles, the family lived in a poor Italian neighbourhood. Capra’s father picked fruit. Capra himself sold newspapers for a decade. His siblings also worked to help support the family. Recall IAWL‘s Italian family who purchase a house, thanks to being able to bank at the Bailey Savings and Loan in Bedford Falls. George and Mary Bailey (James Stewart and Donna Reed) personally welcome them to their new home with Italian bread and wine, symbols of life and happiness. Perhaps Capra wished that the WASP population of Los Angeles had been as gracious. Instead, they might have met with more who were like Henry Potter (Lionel Barrymore), who called them ‘garlic eaters’.
- After Frank finished high school, he wanted to go to college. His parents, probably seeing the example of his siblings who were working, discouraged him. Consider George Bailey wanting to travel the world, attend university and become a worldbeating architect. Capra enrolled anyway. He attended the California Institute of Technology and worked after class in any job he could get. He graduated with a degree in chemical engineering in 1918.
- Of his university experience, he later said that it:
changed his whole viewpoint on life from the viewpoint of an alley rat to the viewpoint of a cultured person.
- Of living in an impoverished ethnic neighbourhood, he said that he:
hated being a peasant, being a scrounging new kid trapped in the Sicilian ghetto of Los Angeles … All I had was cockiness – and let me tell you that gets you a long way.
This is not dramatically different from George Bailey who says:
I just feel like if I didn’t get away, I’d bust.
Unemployment and depression
Unfortunately, a bachelor’s degree didn’t get Capra too far in the years immediately following the Great War.
The tension must have been great in his household when he, with the highest level of academic achievement in the family, could not get a job.
Things had started all right. Capra had been in ROTC in college and was stationed at Fort Scott, San Francisco, as a second lieutenant in the Army. There he taught mathematics to artillerymen.
Then, two things happened. First, his father died in an accident in 1919. Second, Capra caught Spanish flu, the strain of influenza which caused many fatalities that year; my grandmother remembered it well. Discharged from the Army, he had no choice but to return home to recuperate.
He looked on desparingly as his siblings were busy going to work every day. He became depressed, although that was not a clinical diagnosis at the time. Thank goodness, otherwise, he might have been pampered and put on psychotropes for the rest of his life. He also suffered from abdominal pain, which turned out to be a ruptured appendix. Oh, the pain — both mental and physical.
Once recovered, he left home and lived a hobo’s life along the West Coast. Once again, he took any job going. However, in leaner times, he didn’t hesitate to hop freight trains or sleep in flop houses. I bet his mother didn’t know that at the time.
Finally, when he was 25, he got a job selling books door to door.
Still scraping by, he found an advert in a San Francisco paper for job openings at a film studio there. He embellished his credentials, saying he had just moved to the area from Hollywood. As he said, all he had was the cockiness which got him a long way.
Capra’s first job at the studio, amazingly, was to direct a one-reel silent film which he did with the help of a more experienced cameraman.
Afterward, he worked at another San Francisco studio and eventually moved back to Los Angeles where he got a job with Harry Cohn’s studio — the future Columbia Pictures — and learned more about every aspect of film making.
I won’t go into a comprehensive study of Capra’s film career, however, a few aspects stood out during this time.
First, his knowledge of engineering helped him to adapt quickly to making films with sound. Cinema technology was moving quickly and sound washed many out of the industry. Some silent stars couldn’t really act other than with facial expressions. Technicians who understood how to edit silent films with dialogue frames had problems when it came to soundtracks imprinted into the film.
Second, Capra’s understanding of sound got him more directing jobs with Harry Cohn. He was forever grateful to Cohn for employing him at such a crucial time, for him and the industry.
Third, Capra was able to collaborate with the screenwriters in sharpening scripts with one-liners.
Fourth, Capra understood what was involved in directing films and could advise the cameramen on better ways or angles of shooting scenes.
Capra’s pivotal film of this period was the ‘talkie’ The Younger Generation (1929). Although Capra denied that the Jewish immigrant’s experience of America was far removed from his own, biographer Joseph McBride thinks the young director must have identified with some of the scenes:
Capra “obviously felt a strong identification with the story of a Jewish immigrant who grows up in the ghetto of New York… and feels he has to deny his ethnic origins to rise to success in America.”
… the “devastatingly painful climactic scene”, where the young social-climbing son, embarrassed when his wealthy new friends first meet his parents, passes his mother and father off as house servants. That scene, notes McBride, “echoes the shame Capra admitted feeling toward his own family as he rose in social status.”
The Depression Era and Capra’s messages
Capra hit it big with the comedy It Happened One Night (1934), starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert — a must-see road movie with the two sharing a cabin. Colbert, a young socialite, leaves home and meets a worldly reporter (Gable) along the way. Penniless, she has no choice but to depend on him for everything.
It has its provocative moments and, shortly afterward, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) began enforcing stricter codes with regard to what could be seen in mainstream cinema.
Capra must have been flabbergasted at the Academy Awards ceremony. The picture was the first to win five Oscars. That has happened only twice since with One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and Silence of the Lambs (1991).
After Broadway Bill, also made in 1934, Capra began thinking seriously about what he was filming and changed tack:
My films must let every man, woman, and child know that God loves them, that I love them, and that peace and salvation will become a reality only when they all learn to love each other.
About Mr Deeds Goes to Town, made two years later, Alistair Cooke (yes, that one!) wrote that Capra was:
starting to make movies about themes instead of people.
Capra’s films cropped up every year for Oscar nominations in the 1930s. He won Best Director three times and Best Picture once again with You Can’t Take it with You (1938). He also hosted the 1938 Academy Awards ceremony.
In addition to Christian values, Capra was also intent on portraying the virtues of patriotism. He also wanted to show that the good could overcome the corrupt. In 1939, he made Mr Smith Goes to Washington, which starred James Stewart.
Capra stated his reasons:
The more uncertain are the people of the world, the more their hard-won freedoms are scattered and lost in the winds of chance, the more they need a ringing statement of America’s democratic ideals. The soul of our film would be anchored in Lincoln. Our Jefferson Smith would be a young Abe Lincoln, tailored to the rail-splitter’s simplicity, compassion, ideals, humor, and unswerving moral courage under pressure.
This occurred around the advent of the Second World War. Capra took in world events:
And panic hit me. Japan was slicing up the colossus of China piece by piece. Nazi panzers had rolled into Austria and Czechoslovakia; their thunder echoed over Europe. England and France shuddered. The Russian bear growled ominously in the Kremlin. The black cloud of war hung over the chancelleries of the world. Official Washington from the President down, was in the process of making hard, torturing decisions. “And here was I, in the process of making a satire about government officials; … Wasn’t this the most untimely time for me to make a film about Washington?
Joseph P Kennedy, American ambassador to Great Britain and early financier of RKO Studios, thought so. He wrote to Capra’s boss Harry Cohn at what was by then Columbia Pictures:
Please do not play this picture in Europe.
Kennedy feared that the film would portray Washington as corrupt and weaken America’s position in wartime, even if the United States was not yet directly involved.
Cohn and Capra went ahead to release the film. It was nominated for 11 Academy Awards but won only one — Best Original Story. It was up against The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind. Enough said.
It’s interesting that Mr Smith Goes to Washington was the film the French most wanted to see that year. They said it gave them hope for the future:
perseverance of democracy and the American way.
The Second World War years
Capra helped the war effort by directing and co-directing a series of films for the American forces helping them to understand what they were fighting for.
The US government and army provided the content for the films, so they were not ‘propaganda’ but salient facts.
They were so good that the government had them shown in American cinemas. They were then translated into several European and Asian languages for export. Winston Churchill was so impressed that he ordered they be shown in British cinemas.
They are still used in the present day as a teaching aid and sometimes appear on television.
Frank Capra was at this time promoted to Colonel in the US Army. His Why We Fight series won an Academy Award.
Postwar endeavours and disillusionment
After IAWL in 1946, Capra’s last important film, those which followed never had the acclaim or box office takings of his earlier work.
America was recovering spectacularly from the Second World War and a new mood of prosperity was in the air. Cinema-goers were no longer interested in the good-versus-evil themes the way Capra portrayed them.
Hollywood stars were also becoming more important than the films in which they featured. This jarred with Capra’s philosophy about film making.
Nonetheless, a few events stand out from this period.
First, Capra still had clout as a director. The US Ambassador to India asked him to attend the International Film Festival in that country in 1952. The ambassador was concerned about Marxist and Communist politics encroaching in Asia.
Capra was stunned to find many of the speeches given at the festival favoured political and government control of film. He summarised his message to 15 Indian film directors:
they must preserve freedom as artists, and that any government control would hinder that freedom. A totalitarian system – and they would become nothing but publicity men for the party in power.
… Even intellectuals have no great understanding of liberty and freedom … Democracy only a theory to them. They have no idea of service to others, of service to the poor. The poor are despised, in a sense.
The ambassador was pleased with the result and Secretary of State Dean Acheson gave Capra a commendation for his sterling efforts in persuading the Indian film industry to remain independent of political parties.
Second, the aftermath of the McCarthy hearings on un-American activities, in which many in the film industry were implicated, bothered Capra. Although Capra was not called to testify, he knew many who lost their careers as a result. His feelings were mixed.
Third, he could see that the nature of American film was changing. In 1971, he wrote, rather bluntly, in his autobiography:
The hedonists, the homosexuals, the hemophilic bleeding hearts, the God-haters, the quick-buck artists who substituted shock for talent, all cried: “Shake ‘em! Rattle ‘em! God is dead. Long live pleasure! Nudity? Yea! Wife-swapping? Yea! Liberate the world from prudery. Emancipate our films from morality!”…. Kill for thrill – shock! Shock! To hell with the good in man, Dredge up his evil – shock! Shock!
And so it continues today, so many decades later.
By 1952, Capra retired from making mainstream films and went back to school, in a sense, by making scientific films for Caltech, the new name for his alma mater.
He also produced four science-based specials for television, sponsored by Bell Laboratories.
Looking back, today’s viewers might wonder if Capra’s America really existed or if it was purely his vision.
His tight editing and superb pacing carry us along through morality tales involving ordinary Americans against the forces of corruption and evil.
Although the movies often have a dark period of conflict and impossible odds, in the end, everything comes right.
Capra’s techniques and outlook have influenced subsequent directors, even if they might disagree with him philosophically. Among those who have borrowed from Capra in some way include Robert Altman, Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, David Lynch and François Truffaut.
Perhaps thanks to the frequent showings of IAWL, Capra retrospectives attract good audiences, particularly among younger film buffs.
Capra, if he were still alive — he died on September 3, 1991 — would have been delighted.
A conservative Republican, he had railed against Franklin Delano Roosevelt during his tenure as governor of New York State, and opposed his presidency during the years of the Depression. Capra stood against government intervention and assistance during the national economic crisis. A man that had come up the hard way, overcoming the disadvantages of an immigrant background, Capra saw no reason why others could not accomplish success through hard work and perseverance.
As he demonstrated in his own life and in IAWL.
And, this passage from his 1971 autobiography, The Name above the Title, indicates what he might have said about movements such as 2011′s Occupy versus the working man:
Forgotten among the hue-and criers were the hard-working stiffs that came home too tired to shout or demonstrate in streets … and prayed they’d have enough left over to keep their kids in college, despite their knowing that some were pot-smoking, parasitic parent-haters.
Thank you, Frank Capra. Who in Hollywood would say that today?
Tomorrow’s post looks at what happened to Karolyn Grimes who played Zuzu in IAWL.
Mary Poppins is a staple of British televsion programming at Christmas.
I remember seeing the film shortly after it was first released. As with so many Disney films (e.g. Fantasia) it was way too long and, frankly, somewhat boring. I fell asleep through part of it as I had done when going to several of his other productions.
Disney’s treatment of PL Travers’s Mary Poppins is far from her novel. According to English television presenter Victoria Coren Mitchell — daughter of the late Alan Coren who wrote for Punch and wife of comic actor David Mitchell — this children’s story is punctuated by episodes of uncertainty and fear. She has written about it in the latest edition of the Radio Times (30 November – 6 December 2013, pp. 20-22).
For centuries, children’s stories — oral and written — have introduced peril, myth, morality and loss to young people. Through them, we become acquainted with good and evil as well as what we can expect from life itself — endless uncertainty in a fallen world.
On this point, PL Travers’s book does not disappoint, Mitchell says. She read it as a child.
Also in this week’s Radio Times is an interview with actor Tom Hanks (pp. 24-27), who stars with Emma Thompson in Saving Mr Banks, the story of Travers and Walt Disney bringing Mary Poppins to celluloid.
What follows are aspects of the film as well the lives of Travers and Disney which are less well known. Saving Mr Banks explores some of them, although I have not seen the film.
As far as Mary Poppins is concerned, Travers objected to Disney’s sugarcoating the film by making the nanny a cheery, happy character.
Helen Lyndon Goff was born in 1899 to a bank employee and niece of a Premier of Queensland, Boyd Dunlop Morehead. Travers Robert Goff — originally from Deptford (London, England) moved his family from Maryborough to Allora — another town in that Australian state — in 1905. He died of influenza in 1907. His widow, Margaret, and three daughters moved to neighbouring New South Wales. Helen attended boarding school in Sydney during the years of the Great War.
Helen was known by family and friends as Lyndon. She wrote stories for her sisters as well as poetry. She also became interested in acting and toured with a Shakespeare company as Pamela Lyndon Travers. The troupe ended up in England in 1924, where Travers settled and became a writer. She and a friend Madge Burnand eventually moved to Sussex, where Travers began writing Mary Poppins in 1933.
Once in England, she made connections in the literary world. Her first publisher was the inspiration for Peter Pan, JM Barrie’s adopted son Peter Llewellyn Davies. She also visited Ireland and made friends with writers such as WB Yeats and a number of poets. They introduced her to mythology. An American publisher acquainted with that circle, Jane Heap, got Travers interested in Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way, a good works-based ‘universal brotherhood’ combining various religious traditions with gnosticism and mysticism.
Travers never married and is said to have had romantic relationships with both men and women.
At the age of 40, on one of her trips to Ireland, she visited the home of Joseph Hone, the first biographer of WB Yeats. He and his wife Vera had seven grandchildren living with them. Two of them were twin baby boys — Anthony and Camillus. Taking an astrologer’s advice, she adopted Camillus.
At the age of 17, it appears that Anthony discovered his twin was living in London. He went to Travers’s house there. Camillus tried to cope with this surprise discovery but, four years later, was in Stafford Prison, serving a six-month sentence for drink driving. He died in London in 2011.
Travers was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1977. She also earned royalties from Disney’s film Mary Poppins.
Travers died in London in 1996. Her ashes were scattered in the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin in Twickenham (west London). (This should not be construed necessarily as a conversion to Christianity; it is traditional for authors and actors — regardless of belief — to have a funeral and/or ‘resting place’ at Anglican churches.)
It is interesting that, during the Second World War, Travers worked in Manhattan for the British Ministry of Information. It was at that time that Roy Disney — Walt’s brother — contacted her about adapting the Mary Poppins books for film. After the war ended, she spent two summers travelling the American Southwest studying Indian tribes. She was also Writer-in-Residence at Radcliffe, Harvard and Smith before returning to England.
There are two versions of Walt Disney‘s origins.
The official one is that he was born in 1901 in the Kelvyn Grove (now Hermosa) area on the Northwest Side of Chicago.
His ancestor Robert d’Isigny was thought to have gone to England with William the Conqueror in 1066. (It is probable that he was from Normandy or La Manche. There are two towns in northwestern France which carry the name: Isigny-sur-Mer and Isigny-le-Buat.) The anglicised version of the name is Disney. Robert’s descendants were thought to have settled in Norton Disney, Lincolnshire. Walt’s branch later moved to Ireland before sailing to Ontario. In the 19th century, they relocated to Ellis, Kansas, where they bought a farm.
Disney’s father Elias was a gold prospector in California before returning to the farm. With the advance of the railroads, he worked for the Union Pacific, a principal railway company until the late 20th century when a number of mergers put paid to most of them.
It was during his time on the Union Pacific that Elias fell in love with Walt’s mother Flora (née Call). They married on New Year’s Day 1888 in Acron, Florida, 40 miles from Walt Disney World.
Elias Disney and his family moved back and forth between Chicago and Missouri at the turn of the century. Elias’s brother, Robert, lived in Chicago and helped them financially. In 1906, when Walt was four, Elias and his family moved to Marceline, Missouri, where another brother Roy had a farm. In 1911, they moved to Kansas City, where one of Walt’s classmates Walter Pfeiffer introduced him to cinema and vaudeville. Walt and Walter became firm friends, the former clearly intrigued by the Pfeiffer family’s entertainment interests and the arts in general. Walt took courses at the Kansas City Art Institute.
In 1917, Elias bought shares in a Chicago jelly company O-Zell and moved the family back to Illinois. Once back in Chicago — then an exciting city of commerce and culture, remaining so until the 1980s — young Walt continued supplementing his state school education with courses at the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the world’s best museums in its category.
As this was during the Great War, it is not surprising that Walt was absorbed not only by events in Europe but also America’s place in the world. He and a friend decided to join the Red Cross. However, Walt was initially refused because he lacked a birth certificate. I’ve highlighted that, because we’ll return to it below. Suffice it to say that it was not unusual for births to have gone unregistered. Women often gave birth at home with the help of midwives and it wasn’t until after that war that hospitals became a more mainstream, albeit not yet universal, place for an expectant mother to deliver a child. The state was also not as encroaching then as it is now, therefore, other records (e.g. school and work) could help to reasonably verify a person’s age.
Walt never did finish high school. However, he and his friend did drive ambulances for the Red Cross in France, after the Armistice in 1918.
Once he returned to the United States, he was certain about pursuing a career in illustrating. He moved back to Kansas City to work for an art studio and the rest is history.
The unofficial story of Walt’s early life is quite different — and contentious. I read it in Le Monde in 2001 and was shocked.
The Guardian also carried the story — nearly 12 years ago to the day now. Citations and references below are from the article.
Two American authors — Marc Eliot (celebrity biographer) and Christopher Jones (son of a Disney press agent) — were unearthing evidence which they claimed (separately) to prove that Walt Disney was actually born in Mojacar, Spain. He was purported to be the son of two local lovers, Walt’s putative mother eventually emigrating to the United States where she offered her son up for adoption and the Disneys supposedly taking the boy in as their own.
Indeed, Mojacar — a village of 5,000 people in Andalucia along the southeast coast — claims Disney as a son. However, their Wikipedia entry does not include this bit of information.
This story dates back to 1940, thanks to an article which appeared in a Spanish movie magazine Primer Plano.
Marc Eliot picked up on this article and the Mojacar connection in his 1993 biography Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince. The author claims that the entertainment company mogul was an FBI informer under J Edgar Hoover. The Disney family
hired William Webster, FBI director under George Bush Sr, to refute that and other claims about his role as a prized FBI informer.
If true — and it is difficult to find any follow-up online — Walt’s interest in his birth came about in 1917 when he asked his mother Flora for his birth certificate in order to apply as a Red Cross volunteer in Europe for the war effort. Flora signed an affadavit swearing that he was born in Chicago:
The fact that it concerned him seems to have been confirmed by Hoover himself. In a declassified FBI document, Hoover pledged to help Disney. “I am indeed pleased that we can be of service to you in affording you a means of absolute identity through your lifetime,” he wrote.
Eliot alleged that Flora signed a second affadavit in 1934 concerning Walt’s birth. This was two years before she died.
Eliot received over 600 pages of documentation from the FBI in 1992 relating to Walt Disney.
Recall that Walt’s brother Roy met PL Travers when the latter was in New York working for the British Ministry of Information during the Second World War.
The Mojacar connection started, according to the townspeople, in 1940 when, at the end of the Spanish Civil War, two Americans arrived. They were smartly dressed and, naturally, had suitcases.
Their arrival took the residents by surprise. Mojacar had fallen on hard times after the closure of local copper and iron mines. The village must have appeared primitive to the two visitors. There were no basic conveniences of the 20th century, including electricity. Women collected water from wells which they carried home on their heads. The people’s faith, whilst notionally Catholic, was syncretic, recalling Moorish (Muslim) occupation centuries before. The women wore veils which they held between their teeth when they were busy with their hands.
The Americans asked to see the village priest, the Revd Federico Acosta. Acosta’s nephew was visiting at the time from Madrid where, you will be interested to know, Snow White had just made its premiere. The nephew, Jose Acosta — a journalist and lawyer — was 71 in 2001. He remembered the encounter between his uncle and the Americans as follows (emphases mine):
“He told us that some gentlemen from the US had come to find the birth certificate of one Jose Guirao. They were shown the page in the register. Later, when he looked again, the page had been ripped out,” he recalls.
“He told me they had come not to find Jose Guirao’s birth certificate, but to destroy it,” says Acosta.
Jacinto Alarcon also saw the Americans in town. He later became Mojacar’s mayor. Although he died before 2001, author Christopher Jones was able to speak with him in his final years. Jacinto’s son Juan said at the time of the Millennium:
Jones has a taped interview with him in which he tells the story, agreeing on the basic facts with Acosta. “Virtually everybody is convinced he was born here. Only the Americans don’t want to admit it,” explains Jacinto’s son Juan, who now owns Mojacar’s tobacconists.
Even today, Mojacar families know the story of little Jose Guirao. It is not quite straightforward, as two men are involved. A poor young woman Isabel Zamora is acknowledged as the mother. A similarly poor man’s name appears on Jose’s birth certificate; we know only that his surname is Guirao and that he worked as a miner. However, people surmise that the child’s real father was the local physician, Gines Carrillo. Because he was a doctor, Carrillo was one of the few men parents allowed their daughters to see unaccompanied.
Mojacar residents viewed Carrillo benignly. Not only was he a doctor who lived in a magnificent villa — Torreon, by name. He was also profoundly interested in the arts and aesthetics. He added a Venetian-style theatre to the town and held rehearsals for plays at Torreon. The town’s children learned how to play musical instruments at his estate. Residents could also admire his collection of exotic birds.
Carrillo also constructed a beach house in Mojacar. Although his descendants had it razed, it bore similarities to Disney’s castle which features so prominently in the title sequence of his television programme and at his parks. Carrillo’s was:
a fantasy creation of his own, topped with towers. Its eccentric aspect adds extra weight, in villagers’ minds, to the idea that this man must have spawned Walt Disney.
In 2001, Torreon was a private guest house. The lady who owns it, Charo Lopez, told The Guardian:
“Disney certainly wasn’t born in this house. But this is where he was conceived,” she states. “This is like the existence of God. Either you believe he was born in Mojacar, or you don’t.”
Carrillo had a son, Diego, who is also a doctor. He told The Guardian that he did not wish to give an interview. He says that Carrillo would have gone along with the story as a good joke. He added:
If you think my father and Walt Disney look alike, you should see pictures of my uncle. He looks even more like Disney – and he did like the ladies.
One of the uncle’s grandsons — Diego’s nephew, also a physician — told the paper:
“Mojacar was a boring place then. My grandfather died when I was young but he was a lecher, a ‘ viejo verde ‘, in his old age and interested in the occult. The whole thing was cooked up by Jacinto [the aforementioned mayor] and him when those journalists arrived from the film magazine.”
Other variations of the Mojacar connection exist. One says that Walt Disney personally wrote the parish priest in 1925 asking for his birth certificate — that of Jose Guirao Zamora — when he was preparing to marry Lillian Bounds, his wife of 41 years. Another story says that Isabel Zamora worked for the Disney family and had an affair with Walt’s father Elias. Yet another has two Franciscans requesting the birth certificate in the 1950s.
The surviving Carrillos told The Guardian that they would be happy to take DNA tests to prove the veracity or otherwise of the Mojacar connection. However, it appears that the Disney family — perhaps rightly, under the circumstances — preferred to put this story behind them. The Guardian article does acknowledge that much of Mojacar’s younger generation thinks it is either gossip and doesn’t really care.
As for the other popular criticisms of Disney — anti-Semitism and insensitivity because of his father’s treatment of him — I have a few comments.
First, there were anti-American forces at work in the entertainment world at the time. This is why the McCarthy investigations were so criticised by far-left elements and why McCarthy continues to be vilified. Disney is long gone, although, unfortunately, lefty media types are still with us. He refused unionisation in his company, no doubt because he could see socialist or communist infiltration at work. His wasn’t the only animation or film studio in town. Dissatisfied animators and other employees sought employment elsewhere.
Second, I surmise that what the Left interprets as pure anti-Semitism was probably anti-Communism. It is a coincidence that these organisers for unionisation happened to be Jewish — and secular Jews at that. If Walt Disney were really so inclined, it seems highly unlikely that he would have befriended Walter Pfeiffer as a boy, especially as he spent more time at the Pfeiffer house than at home.
Third, Disney critics say he was hard-hearted and that this is because his father Elias beat him. Well, the reality is that nearly every child was beaten then by parents, teachers or nannies; that’s just they were brought up at the turn of the century. I also find it interesting that they mention that Elias was an ‘Evangelical’, as if, in and of itself, that were necessarily a bad thing. That’s every bit as bad as anti-Semitism. I’m also not clear how they arrive at this as being a certainty. If the Mojacar story has any veracity, Isabel Zamora might well have chosen a Catholic adoption agency in the United States, meaning that one or both of the Disney parents would probably have been Catholic. Catholic agencies then dealt with Catholics, not with all-comers.
Fourth, men of Disney’s generation were not touchy-feely postmodern types. You can read biographies of Fabians, Communists and other leftists of the period to find that they, too, were emotionally distant. However, because the Left control most of the media messages, you’ll be less likely to readily discover such facts.
In closing, Walt Disney was no better or no worse than many other men. He ran, with his brother Roy, a globally successful company. He was a husband and father of two daughters.
He brought a lot of people much happiness. Nearly every Westerner today remembers seeing their first Disney production, whether a cartoon or film. Millions have also visited Disneyland and Walt Disney World as well as his park outside of Paris.
Perhaps that is all that remains to be said.
Finally, I’ve been able to put together a few concluding thoughts on the Vietnam War, which ended 40 years ago this year.
- The Cold War demanded American intervention. The United States viewed the conflicts in Indochina, beginning with the Korean War, as Communist expansionism. Eisenhower’s administration put forward the domino theory which posited that once a nation fell to Communism, so would its nearby neighbours.
- The Republican and Democrat administrations of the day viewed intervention in different ways. Eisenhower, a Republican, was careful to send in several hundred ‘advisers’ instead of installing troops. His administration was also willing to see a unified Vietnam under the Communists provided that both North and South Vietnam held democratic elections to arrive at this result; the Soviets rejected the offer of this free and fair election. Eisenhower also warned Kennedy about Vietnam and Laos, but the new Democrat president vowed to ‘pay any price, bear any burden’ in the region. Kennedy believed the Green Berets could put out what he called a ‘brush fire’ war. Under the Johnson administration, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution of 1964 allowed a regular — and increased — installation of troops which rose from 2,000 in 1961 to 16,500 in 1964. Johnson also adopted a policy of ‘minimum candour’ in communicating military operations to the media. It was Nixon (Republican), who, in his second term, ended the war in 1973 — 40 years ago this year.
- Despite his ending of the war, Nixon — prior to Watergate (1974) — was criticised by both sides. This was partly because of Henry Kissinger’s policies. Kissinger, incidentally, was an adviser to Hubert Humphrey’s 1968 presidential campaign until he saw that Nixon was likely to win. My reader Michael J McFadden, who was following the progression of the war and politics, sent me this comment recently. It sums up the complexity of Nixon’s situation (I’ve left out the references to Watergate, because that came to light later):
Nixon was vilified for other things more so than for “ending the war.” He tried to save himself by carrying through on the war-ending pledge, but it wasn’t enough, while at the same time it lost him some of the support he had from the conservative hawk-minded population. Nixon was vilified because he’d run against the “peace” candidates (Humphrey and McGovern) …
And yes, it was partly because he didn’t end it fast enough, but he was walking a very tricky road, trying to end it without an outright perception that we’d “lost.” Kissinger was vilified because he liked things like the MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) doctrine and the anti-nuke people (and most sane people) agreed that it was indeed a MAD policy.
- The Vietnam War was a class-defined war as, although conscription was still in place, a number of deferments were available for middle- and upper-class young men. The Kennedy administration established a number of them which were devised to preserve social cohesion (e.g. a male presence at home and in the education system). Few middle-class parents, especially, mothers wanted their sons to be drafted; this war was for ‘other people’. As a result — later exacerbated by the middle-class anti-war movement — Americans began to view complying with law as optional. My reader undergroundpewster put it this way:
That they got away with it is what I believe to be the legacy. The fact of the matter is, that once you learn that you can skirt authority, you become as one with those who openly defy authority. The breakdown of authority in the U.S. extends to all sorts of institutions, not just governmental ones.
- Those young men who did not serve in Vietnam shaped the nation whilst lower and working class men fought overseas. Therefore, the former have the impression that the latter were somehow stupid. This continues today, four decades later. By way of illustration, this is what James Fallows, the Harvard-educated journalist for the Atlantic, wrote about his draft assessment in Boston (emphases mine):
… It was, initially, a generalized shame at having gotten away with my deception, but it came into sharper focus later in the day. Even as the last of the Cambridge contingent was throwing its urine and deliberately failing its color-blindness tests, buses from the next board began to arrive. These bore the boys from Chelsea, thick, dark-haired young men, the white proles of Boston. Most of them were younger than us, since they had just left high school, and it had clearly never occurred to them that there might be a way around the draft ...
We returned to Cambridge that afternoon, not in government buses but as free individuals, liberated and victorious. The talk was high-spirited, but … We knew now who would be killed.
- The media shaped the public perception of the war. They continue to shape our perception of politics, particularly where conservatism is concerned. And, of course, a number of these opinion formers did not see active duty in Vietnam or, if they were there as reporters, had already decided to promote the anti-war agenda, ignoring what they saw. This was also the first war fought and decided on the television screen. The media-driven ‘Vietnam syndrome’ was the logical outcome. As the British-American journalist Robert Elegant — who was there — wrote (more at the link):
After each other, correspondents wrote to win the approbation of their editors, who controlled their professional lives and who were closely linked with the intellectual community at home ...
Reporting Viet Nam became a closed, self-generating system sustained largely by the acclaim the participants lavished on each other in almost equal measure to the opprobrium they heaped on “the Establishment,” a fashionable and very vulnerable target …
For some journalists, perhaps most, a moment of truth through self-examination was never to come. The farther they were from the real conflict, the more smugly self-approving they now remain as commentators who led the public to expect a brave new world when the North Vietnamese finally “liberated” South Viet Nam. Even those correspondents who today gingerly confess to some errors or distortions usually insist that the true fault was not theirs at all, but Washington’s. The enormity of having helped in one way or another to bring tens of millions under grinding totalitarian rule—and having tilted the global balance of power—appears too great to acknowledge. It is easier to absolve one’s self by blaming exclusively Johnson, Nixon, and Kissinger …
Any searching analysis of fundamental premises has remained as unthinkable to “the critics” as it was during the fighting. They have remained committed to the proposition that the American role in Indochina was totally reprehensible and inexcusable, while the North Vietnamese role—and, by extension, the roles of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the Pathet Lao in Laos—was righteous, magnanimous, and just.
At any given moment, a million images were available to the camera’s lens in Saigon alone—and hundreds of million throughout Indochina. But TV crews naturally preferred the most dramatic. That, after all, was their business—show business. It was not news to film farmers peacefully tilling their rice fields …
The initial inclination to look upon Hanoi as a fount of pure truth was intelligently fostered by the Communists, who selectively rewarded “critics of the American war” with visas to North Viet Nam …
The legacy is that the media has continued moving further leftward. Certainly, Watergate helped to drive this, but, that, too, took place 40 years ago next year and much water has passed under the dam since.
And although the US has had Republican presidents post-Nixon (Ford, Reagan and the Bushes), with the Clinton administration, the media began to overlook and rationalise every shady act from the Democrats. This was in full flow by 2008.
The media — part of the new left-wing Establishment — tell us that the Left is good and the Right is bad. What makes them worse than the Establishment of the 1960s is that they allow no opposing viewpoints.
That makes their brand of ‘democracy’ particularly dangerous.
That is the legacy of the Vietnam War. The totalitarianism the media and intelligentsia so loved then is at our doorstep not only in the United States but elsewhere in the West today. A ‘soft’ totalitarianism possibly, but a controlling one nonetheless.
Thanksgiving, sadly, has undergone revisionism over the past few decades.
Some of my past posts for the day have explored the historical significance as many Americans know it: British Calvinists and American Indians together, George Washington’s First Thanksgiving Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation of Thanksgiving, a biblical perspective with a call for personal priorities and, lest we forget, a USMC chaplain’s poem remembering the troops who are serving the United States at this time. War zones do not recognise holidays; it must be indescribably difficult to be so far away from home on such a family-centred national day.
Besides the iconic feast at Plymouth, other American regions (e.g. Virginia and Florida) also had feasts of Thanksgiving which took place but none have captured the imagination or spirit of the holiday as vividly as that in Massachusetts in 1621.
National Geographic has a fascinating report on the history of Thanksgiving, including the feasts which took place in other early American settlements.
Excerpts follow, emphases mine.
Note the mention of a Calvinist fast beforehand:
Everything we know about the three-day Plimoth gathering comes from a description in a letter written in 1621 by Edward Winslow, leader of the Plimoth Colony. The letter had been lost for 200 years and was rediscovered in the 1800s.
In 1841 Boston publisher Alexander Young printed Winslow’s brief account of the feast and added his own twist, dubbing the 1621 feast the “First Thanksgiving,” though the letter describes a one-time event that was more harvest celebration than thanksgiving, which in the 17th century would have actually included fasting.
But after its mid-1800s appearance, Young’s designation caught on—to say the least. U.S. President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving Day a national holiday in 1863. He was probably swayed in part by magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale—the author of the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb”—who had suggested Thanksgiving become a holiday, historians say.
In 1941 President Franklin Roosevelt established the current date for observance, the fourth Thursday in November.
As for turkey:
Pilgrims had been familiar with turkeys before they landed in the Americas. That’s because early European explorers of the New World had returned to Europe with turkeys in tow after encountering them at Native American settlements. Native Americans had domesticated the birds centuries before European contact.
A century later Ben Franklin famously made known his preference that the turkey, rather than the bald eagle, should be the official U.S. bird, explaining in a letter to his daughter that it was “a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America.”
But Franklin might have been shocked when, by the 1930s, hunting had so decimated North American wild turkey populations that their numbers had dwindled to the tens of thousands, from a peak of at least tens of millions.
Today, thanks to hunting regulations and reintroduction efforts, “rafters” and “gangs” (never “flocks”) of wild turkeys are back in abundance. (Watch a video of wild turkeys.)
Some seven million wild turkeys are thriving across the U.S., and many of them have adapted easily to the suburbs—their speed presumably an asset on ever encroaching roads.
Wild turkeys can run some 10 to 20 miles (16 to 32 kilometers) an hour and fly in bursts at 55 miles (89 kilometers) an hour. Domesticated turkeys can’t fly at all.
When they’re not being the center of a Thanksgiving feast, turkeys enjoy quite a diverse spread themselves. The omnivore birds eat everything from nuts and berries to insects and snakes.
Turkeys digest this diet with what becomes a prize portion for many a human feast—the gizzard. The gizzard is the muscle that enables turkeys to crush and chew their food, helped along by small stones the birds swallow.
What was served at the first feast at Plimoth (original spelling of ‘Plymouth’) Plantation?
“We don’t have a lot of information about what was actually on that table,” said Kathleen Wall, culinarian at Plimoth Plantation.
We do know that the Wampanoag killed five deer for the feast, and that the colonists shot various types of wild fowl such as turkey, geese, ducks, quail, or passenger pigeons—which darkened the skies in the millions before going extinct a century ago. Some form, or forms, of Indian corn were also served. “This maize was a new product for them, and they were just learning how to use it,” Wall explained. “They cooked it into porridges much like modern grits.”
Wall said the feasters ate seasonally and likely supplemented their venison and birds with fish, mussels, eels, shorebirds, and nuts, as well as vegetables such as pumpkins, squash, carrots, and peas.
Like many modern holidaymakers confronting a groaning sideboard, the pilgrims were surprised by the amount and variety of food confronting them.
And what about sport? Enjoying some sort of competition on the day dates back to the very beginning:
During the Plimoth Thanksgiving—which was not one giant meal but three full days of feasting, Wall explained—sporting events were part of the celebration. Target shooting figured prominently among the male-dominated crowd. And teams took to the field to compete in stool ball. “There are several different versions” of stool ball, Wall explained, “but it’s kind of a proto-cricket where teams throw a ball around and try to keep a stool safe.”
Wherever you are enjoying your Thanksgiving feast today, have a delightful and safe holiday.
A few days ago, James Higham — the co-founder of the British site Orphans of Liberty — featured a quote from John Fitzgerald Kennedy, shortly before his assassination.
November 22, 2013, marks the 50th anniversary of that fateful day. I was in nursery school at the time and will never forget the expression on my mother’s face. It seemed the world would end. She passed a quiet word to my teacher, whose face went ashen at the news.
Ten days before his brutal slaying in Dallas, Kennedy spoke before an audience at Columbia University in New York City. There, he allegedly warned, not unlike his predecessor, Republican Dwight David Eishenhower (emphases mine):
The high office of President has been used to foment a plot to destroy the Americans’ freedom, and before I leave office I must inform the citizens of this plight.
Eisenhower’s wording was more oblique — a warning about the ‘military-industrial complex’. Heavens, we have certainly seen the results of that come to pass in our lifetimes.
On November 2, 1963, the South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem — a Roman Catholic — was overthrown and executed. It would seem that the CIA were working with their peers in the military to effect his removal.
It is interesting that Kennedy was surprised by these events. He had not asked for Diem’s removal, despite the latter’s disdain for the native South Vietnamese Buddhist faith and practice.
that Kennedy “rushed from the room with a look of shock and dismay on his face.” He had not approved Diem’s murder.
Yet, other Kennedy advisors attempted to assuage the president’s anguish by saying that his removal would shorten the Vietnam conflict.
Kennedy would live for only another 20 days. Were people out to get him? It was a perfect assassination in that we’ll probably never know the truth.
James Higham has researched other aspects of statecraft during that period, including the story of popular music relating to Los Angeles’s Laurel Canyon, which I covered the other day. Unfortunately, since the author of that saga, David McGowan, has since published a book on it, most of the links have been removed. It was a compelling read.
Nonetheless, Higham has presented us with another dimension of statecraft and national power, courtesy of one Democrat president and representatives from the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Quotes follow from his post:
On June 28, 1945, President Truman said:
“It will be just as easy for nations to get along in a republic of the world as it is for us to get along in a republic of the United States.” On October 24, 1945, the United Nations Charter became effective.
On July 1948, Sir Harold Butler, in the CFR’s “Foreign Affairs,” saw “a New World Order” taking shape:
“How far can the life of nations, which for centuries have thought of themselves as distinct and unique, be merged with the life of other nations? How far are they prepared to sacrifice a part of their sovereignty without which there can be no effective economic or political union?”
On Feb. 7, 1950, International financier and CFR member James Warburg told a Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee:
“We shall have world government whether or not you like it – by conquest or consent.”
On Feb. 9, 1950, the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution #66 which began:
“Whereas, in order to achieve universal peace and justice, the present Charter of the United Nations should be changed to provide a true world government constitution.”
Perhaps this is what Eisenhower and, sadly, Kennedy were referring to. Perhaps Eisehnower, because of his more temperate verbiage, was left alone. Perhaps also it was because he was no longer the leader of the free world.
We don’t know.
That said, may we remember these words, for better or worse. May we also be diligent in watching what our leaders — our elected servants — say and do, and vote accordingly.
That is the only voice we have.
It is now forty years since the Vietnam War ended and many of us still have questions about the most long-lived war in American history at that time.
When we read of Henry Kissinger, we think perhaps of Dr Strangelove. Our opinions are further obscured by those on the left who say that Kissinger was right-wing and those on the right who say he supported the left.
What are we supposed to think of this man, who jointly won the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize with the North Vietmamese Le Duc Tho for negotiating the cease-fire and the withdrawal of American troops?
It is interesting that Le Duc Tho declined the Peace Prize and Kissinger did not collect his in Oslo because of the threat of anti-war demonstrations.
A 2003 article in the Smithsonian magazine, ‘Henry Kissinger on Vietnam’ is largely a review of his book called Ending the Vietnam War. It was his 14th. He describes his time as Nixon’s national security adviser and then as Nixon’s and Gerald Ford’s secretary of state.
However, as the Smithsonian notes, Kissinger does not provide many clear answers.
Excerpts from the article follow, emphases mine.
One question relates to the length of the war. Should it have lasted as long as it did? The Smithsonian observes that Kissinger supported the 1968 Democratic nominee Hubert Horatio Humphrey until Nixon, his Republican opponent, seemed to be the favourite in the latter stage of the presidential campaign that year.
It would appear, then, that Kissinger was an opportunist, eager to be on the winning side. He:
began to ingratiate himself with the Nixon camp, and even, according to Stanley Karnow’s history, Vietnam, clandestinely supply it with information about Humphrey’s plans.
After Nixon won the election — the first of two, although he stood down in 1974 because of Watergate — Kissinger became a prominent advisor whose name appeared in the media almost daily.
Their new slogan for ending the Vietnam War was ‘peace with honour’. Although this was a difficult war to understand, the American public were intelligent enough to know that such a pledge would be difficult to achieve. For a start, some questioned the strength and integrity of the South Vietnamese president Nguyen Van Thieu, who, incredibly, remained in that post until 1975 — a period of ten years. Not only was Thieu’s government inept, it was also corrupt. Those who had been following the war through a South Vietnamese lens wondered if Thieu was a figurehead. Prime Minister Nguyen Cao Ky was considered to have run the government in reality.
As Kissinger was drawn to the winning side of an American presidential election, he was similarly attracted to powerful leaders. One might say that he had neo-classical and historical training which informed his adoption of this stance:
Kissinger, not unlike some American presidents, including Nixon, had a myopic affinity for strongmen—the Shah of Iran, Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos. A student of Metternich, the 19th-century Austrian statesman, Kissinger was a practitioner of the “realist” (or realpolitik) school of diplomacy, which places emphasis on the state’s interests and the use of military power to achieve them, and he preferred to deal with the strong leaders of nation-states who could deliver.
Kissinger, by the way, was not at all interested in the lives of American troops. His was a strategic, opportunistic, high-level game.
In fact, he could not understand why ordinary Americans opposed the war and why some Senators — among them, Mark Hatfield and Mike Mansfield — pressed for withdrawal.
As for Nixon, who was a Quaker, Kissinger wrote about his puzzlement with the President’s leadership. Why did he dislike giving direct orders? Why did he issue some in the hope that no one would follow through on them?
One of the biggest controversies which I remember was when Vice President Spiro Agnew turned hawkish. As the Smithsonian recalls, Nixon supported his call for an attack on the North Vietnamese, then promptly excluded him from the next meeting concerning the war.
Kissinger had his own spin on the war, then and later in 2003:
There was the futile hunt for the elusive COSVN, supposedly the North Vietnamese military headquarters in Cambodia—and a leading rationale for U.S. military incursion into Cambodia in 1970. The South Vietnamese troops and their American advisers found only deserted huts. Nevertheless, Kissinger describes the attack as a success, leading to the capture of documents, arms and ammunition, which, according to Karnow, were quickly replaced. There was also the raid by American commandos on the Son Tay prison in North Vietnam, which was believed to hold American prisoners of war but turned out to be empty. U.S. intelligence had said the prison was “closed,” Kissinger says, which it interpreted as “locked.”
Kissinger’s book does not venture into Watergate, although he does say that Nixon felt ‘unappreciated’ about his ending the war:
that antiwar sentiment “touched Nixon on his rawest nerve” and that he saw enemies all around him and so engaged in “methods of all-out political combat.”
According to the Smithsonian, Kissinger was disappointed by the way US military actions in Cambodia failed:
more than a million Cambodians [were] slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge. One justification for U.S. military actions in Cambodia was that Vietnam might overrun Cambodia—whether it actually intended to do so isn’t yet known—which would have jeopardized the plan for turning the war over to the South Vietnamese.
Even that did not convince Kissinger that it was time for the US to pull out of Southeast Asia. In his book, he blames the anti-war effort for scuppering American chances of victory.
In the end, Saigon — now Ho Chi Minh City — succumbed to the North Vietnamese. Even though the unified Vietnam is now lauded as being somewhat capitalist, it is still a Communist state.
American troops might have bought Saigon some time in the 1970s, but, in the end, were their 50,000 casualties worth it?
What follows is a very brief excerpt from James Fallows’s “What Did You Do in the Class War, Daddy?” from October 1975.
Fallows is a journalist who writes for the American magazine, the Atlantic.
Here he describes his moment as a Harvard undergraduate going for his medical exam in Boston in 1969 as part of the draft assessment for the Vietnam War.
Working class boys come for their exams as he prepares to leave with his deferment. He and his classmates had practical help at Harvard.
The way Fallows words his impression of the boys from Chelsea, north of Boston, supports my hypothesis (Parts 1 and 2) about the class divide which began in earnest during the Vietnam War and continues to this day.
Those lads didn’t have any support or way out, yet Fallows pretty much blames them for their own predicament.
Middle-class superiority is clearly in evidence.
First, ‘shame’? Lasting shame? Really?
Second, ‘white proles’? Would he have dared to write ‘black proles’ or ‘Hispanic proles’? I very much doubt it.
Third, ‘it had clearly never occurred to them’ that there was a way to avoid the draft? Well, I bet they wanted to go to Southeast Asia in troop transport as much as Fallows and his mates did.
The ‘white proles’ couldn’t help that they didn’t have a guy at their school telling them to starve themselves or lie.
I find his last sentence particularly chilling.
I was overcome by a wave of relief, which for the first time revealed to me how great my terror had been, and by the beginning of the sense of shame which remains with me to this day.
It was, initially, a generalized shame at having gotten away with my deception, but it came into sharper focus later in the day. Even as the last of the Cambridge contingent was throwing its urine and deliberately failing its color-blindness tests, buses from the next board began to arrive. These bore the boys from Chelsea, thick, dark-haired young men, the white proles of Boston. Most of them were younger than us, since they had just left high school, and it had clearly never occurred to them that there might be a way around the draft. They walked through the examination lines like so many cattle off to slaughter. I tried to avoid noticing, but the results were inescapable. While perhaps four out of five of my friends from Harvard were being deferred, just the opposite was happening to the Chelsea boys.
We returned to Cambridge that afternoon, not in government buses but as free individuals, liberated and victorious. The talk was high-spirited, but there was something close to the surface that none of us wanted to mention. We knew now who would be killed.
For those who wonder how a dead soldier’s body is collected and transported home, this post on Answers.com explains in frank terms — no doubt by someone who has seen active duty — how it was done during the Vietnam War. Emphases mine below:
During the Vietnam War, dead US Soldiers/Marines/Sailors, when the fighting was bad, were piled up onto tanks or swift boats (alpha boats, monitors, PBYs, etc), and taken to a collection point where their bodies were tagged and bagged.
During short or isolated firefights in distant mountains/jungles, dead GI’s were dragged or carried by other men, again, to a collection point (a designated spot on the ground to place the bodies). Other than the fireman carry (a dead man carried across your shoulders), the most common method was tying the dead man’s boot laces together (this forms a handle), then dragging him by his boot laces to a collection point. The biggest problem with dragging dead servicemen on the battlefield is that their uniforms (clothing) come off during the dragging process. Plus personal belongings are spread out over the area traversed during the movement; becoming lost (wallets, watches, dog-tags, rings, photographs, eye-glasses, can openers, knives, etc). Once the clothing rips off (pulls off) MOST men, for reasons as yet un-explained, are hesitant upon grabbing (touching) any part of the actual dead GI; BUT it becomes necessary to grab the deceased man’s hand, wrist, arm, leg, etc. in order to CONTINUE transporting him to the collection point. Sometimes a little bit of yelling and profanity is used to get the carrying men in motion (instead of just staring or freezing up), after a few dead bodies have been dragged away, your mind goes numb and a man can continue touching (handling) dead men without much hesitation.
Once at the collection point, the dead men are placed onto a chopper (any chopper), if there’s too many dead, and the place is still hot (dangerous), the bodies are thrown onto the bird, to expedite the evacuation of casualties. From there, they’re flown to a large US Military base in country to be processed by the medical corps for shipment home. They’ll arrive home in aluminum coffins.
My hypothesis — which I have not seen elsewhere — posits that those who stayed behind via one of the many deferments on offer to the middle classes changed the face of the country … for many decades to come. And, possibly, not for the better.
The numbers — Vietnam War statistics
There is an interesting section on conscription and what prompted the end to it in the Wikipedia article on the Vietnam War. Photo credits also go to Wikipedia. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:
There were 8,744,000 servicemembers between 1964 and 1975, of which 3,403,000 were deployed to Southeast Asia. From a pool of approximately 27 million, the draft raised 2,215,000 men for military service (in the United States, Vietnam, West Germany, and elsewhere) during the Vietnam era. The draft has also been credited with “encouraging” many of the 8.7 million “volunteers” to join rather than risk being drafted ...
Of the nearly 16 million men not engaged in active military service, 96% were exempted (typically because of jobs including other military service), deferred (usually for educational reasons), or disqualified (usually for physical and mental deficiencies but also for criminal records including draft violations). Nearly 500,000 men were disqualified for criminal records, but less than 10,000 of them were convicted of draft violations. Finally, as many as 100,000 draft eligible men fled the country.
I touched on the last group briefly yesterday.
In 1968, one of the planks of Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign was a pledge to end the draft. The Republican saw the problem that middle class resistance had created with regard to the Vietnam War:
He had first become interested in the idea of an all-volunteer army during his time out of office, based upon a paper by Martin Anderson of Columbia University. Nixon also saw ending the draft as an effective way to undermine the anti-Vietnam war movement, since he believed affluent youths would stop protesting the war once their own probability of having to fight in it was gone. There was opposition to the all-volunteer notion from both the Department of Defense and Congress, so Nixon took no immediate action towards ending the draft early in his presidency.
Instead, the Gates Commission was formed, headed by Thomas S. Gates, Jr., a former Secretary of Defense in the Eisenhower administration. Gates initially opposed the all-volunteer army idea, but changed his mind during the course of the 15-member commission’s work. The Gates Commission issued its report in February 1970, describing how adequate military strength could be maintained without having conscription. The existing draft law was expiring at the end of June 1971, but the Department of Defense and Nixon administration decided the draft needed to continue for at least some time. In February 1971, the administration requested of Congress a two-year extension of the draft, to June 1973.
With the end of active U.S. ground participation in Vietnam, December 1972 saw the last men conscripted, who were born in 1952 and who reported for duty in June 1973. On February 2, 1972, a drawing was held to determine draft priority numbers for men born in 1953, but in early 1973 it was announced that no further draft orders would be issued. In March 1973, 1974, and 1975, the Selective Service assigned draft priority numbers for all men born in 1954, 1955, and 1956, in case the draft was extended, but it never was. The last drafted soldier retired from active duty in 2011.
A Republican president ended conscription.
One wonders how many students learn that in history class these days.
Those who had no choice but to serve
Before that, a number of men who were working class and poor had no choice but to enlist.
One of them was the son of my paternal grandmother’s neighbours two doors down, Mr and Mrs W. They had but the one son; their other two children were daughters.
Mrs W was beside herself when the young man received his ‘Greetings’ letter. Her husband had seen active duty, so he told his son to man up and meet the task at hand.
My grandmother didn’t know quite what to say, especially as the nightly news broadcasts were faithful in giving an aggregate body count. We all knew the latest casualty figures.
The Ws didn’t have a person who could ‘fix it’ for their son, and, even if they did, Mr W would have been opposed on principle.
His parents couldn’t afford to send him to university or seminary; instead, he found a job.
And so it was that another terrified young man went to Southeast Asia.
About a year later, my mother and I walked past the W’s house. There was a small photo-sized flag on display, hanging from the top of their front porch. I couldn’t figure it out.
My mum explained that the government sent the families of American soldiers who died overseas a small flag to display when they were killed in action. This was to indicate that the household had a family member who died for his country; it was also a quiet means of letting neighbours and passersby know what happened. I do not know if this is still done, but I did see a few more in the years that followed; often, the flag was in the front window.
Afterward, the Ws became quite reclusive. Mr W’s health began to fail. My grandmother went to see them a couple of times and, although they were very polite, they gave her the impression they wanted to be left alone in their grief. After a few months they took the flag down and, sadly, that’s where their story ended as far as I knew it.
It made me think about my grandmother’s tenants, the Kennedy Husbands and their families (explained in yesterday’s post).
Recently, I began giving more thought to those who served in Southeast Asia. In the 1980s I met a few and was surrounded on occasion by others.
After I got a job away from home, one of the secretaries where I worked was dating a Vietnam veteran. The man was full of rage. Although he directed it against the Vietnamese — yes, all of them — in vulgar, jaw-dropping terms, I can’t help but wonder if he was really angry at the American middle classes but couldn’t bring himself to say so, otherwise he would have lost it completely — on them.
He seemed to be at boiling point whenever I saw him, and this was in the early 1980s. Did he feel irrevocably let down by his own country for their lack of support? He couldn’t avoid the draft, either: no university, no seminary, no marriage, no children.
Another man I know has been filled with class rage ever since he was drafted. That’s been over four decades now, but he was very aware that the sons of the middle class with whom he went to secondary school didn’t have to serve in Vietnam. Yet, he, as a son of the working class did. Fortunately, he got as far as a base in Europe and never had to see active duty in Southeast Asia.
Then I worked for a highly successful executive who mentioned the Vietnam War once. He said he was so angry — at comfy middle class anti-war protestors — that he was only going to discuss it that one time. He initiated the subject because something in the news or another conversation jogged his memory. He’d just finished university and was called up. Fortunately, he’d just finished basic training in the US when the war came to an end. He didn’t have a Mr Fix-it, either.
In case you are wondering, these men all vote Democrat. The Democrats escalated the Vietnam War. These men are not Tea Partiers or Republicans or particularly ‘conservative’ as Democratic Underground might define the term.
Two men who didn’t serve
What makes the rage of these veterans all the more understandable is the way those who stayed behind made names for themselves in business, industry, politics, media and entertainment.
The Smoking Gun has two stories on men — supposed ‘conservatives’ — who did not serve in Vietnam.
Donald Trump, like my cousin (see yesterday’s post), claims he just ‘got lucky’ with his high draft number. Yet, the site claims otherwise:
Selective Service records show that the purported presidential aspirant actually received a series of student deferments while in college and then topped those off with a medical deferment after graduation that helped spare him from fighting for his country, The Smoking Gun has learned.
… Trump–who spent his high school years enrolled at the New York Military Academy–said, “I actually got lucky because I had a very high draft number. I’ll never forget, that was an amazing period of time in my life” …
Trump obtained his first two Class 2-S student deferments in June 1964 and December 1965, when he was student at Fordham University in the Bronx. He was briefly reclassified as 1-A–or “available for military service”–in late-November 1966, but that classification was switched back to 2-S three weeks later.
Another 2-S deferment is dated January 16, 1968, just months before his graduation from UPenn (to which he transferred following his sophomore year at Fordham).
Following his UPenn graduation, Trump–no longer qualified for a 2-S deferment–was again briefly classified as available for service on July 9. However, three months later, on October 15, his classification was switched to 1-Y, which was given to men deemed qualified for military service “only in time of national emergency.”
The 1-Y classification came a month after Trump underwent an “Armed Forces Physical Examination,” according to Selective Service records, which note the results of the exam as “DISQ.” While the military records do not further detail why Trump was granted the 1-Y deferment, a 1992 biography of the businessman by journalist Wayne Barrett reported that Trump received a medical deferment following the September 17, 1968 exam.
Trump’s 1-Y classification stayed in effect until February 1, 1972 when it was changed to a 4-F classification (which covered registrants not qualified for military service). The change in classification was likely prompted by the military’s December 1971 decision to abolish the 1-Y classification.
Another is libertarian, pro-America, gun enthusiast Ted Nugent. I’ve written about him before but to profile a first-person testimony as to his modern-day squeaky clean image.
Yet, Americans of a certain age will remember a rock ‘n’ roll group called the Amboy Dukes. Ted Nugent was the mainstay of the band during its existence between 1967 and 1975.
Their most memorable hit was April 1968′s ‘Journey to the Center of the Mind’. Enjoy the YouTube and note the clothes (Nugent’s on the right with the guitar; Steve Farmer is singing). This was what Ted Nugent was up to when lads like the aforementioned young W boy were coming home in body bags:
Nugent (lead guitar, vocals) co-wrote the song with band member Steve Farmer, who also shared guitar and vocals. You can read the full lyrics here; what follows is an excerpt:
Leave your cares behind come with us and find
The pleasures of a journey to the center of the mind
Come along if you care
Come along if you dare
Take a ride to the land inside of your mind
Beyond the seas of thought beyond the realm of what
Across the streams of hopes and dreams where things are really not …
Like Donald Trump, Nugent, The Smoking Gun says, received more than one deferment:
Theodore Anthony Nugent first received a high school 1-S deferment in February 1967, when he was 18. After briefly being reclassified as available for service, Nugent got a 2-S college deferment when he enrolled in Oakland Community College in Michigan.
In August 1969, Nugent took his draft physical and was rejected for service. He was classified as 1-Y, indicating that he was qualified for service only in time of a national emergency. The 1-Y classification was usually issued to candidates saddled with significant medical or mental issues.
In interviews, Nugent has provided varying accounts of how he avoided a seat on a troop transport to Southeast Asia. In a 1977 High Times interview, he claimed to have stopped bathing a month before his draft physical, adding that he showed up for the exam with pants “crusted” with urine and feces …
But while Nugent would subsequently disavow his defecation claim, he did cop to snorting a line of crystal meth before the physical because, “I wanted to see the look on the Sergeant’s face.”
Five weeks after the exam, Nugent received his 1-Y deferment on October 7, 1969. Nugent’s 1-Y deferment remained in effect until 1972, when the classification was abolished. He was then reclassified as 4-F …
It would be fascinating to read more of these deferment exposés of people who rode to fame and fortune whilst others were losing their lives or coming back with post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Who ruled the roost while they were away? Those with deferments.
Who continue to rule the roost today? Those with deferments.
Film and the Vietnam War
Many films made during the Vietnam era carry an anti-war statement and some made afterward attempted to redress the balance.
The Deer Hunter is a film I’ve seen many times and still enjoy it. It perfectly captures snapshots of the lives of the type of people who served in Vietnam and the families and friends they left behind. Every character is portrayed as realistically as possible. The war scenes are equally unforgettable.
Platoon, which came out in 1986, seems to be very popular amongst Vietnam veterans. I hesitate to return to the aforementioned rage angle, but, when it premiered, I reluctantly went with a friend to see the premiere in the city where I then lived, which, by the way, votes heavily Democratic.
That was one of the scariest nights out ever. There were very few people there who were not veterans of that war or married to one. My friend and I happened to be two lifelong civilians in the audience.
The vets were angry. So were their wives. Almost all of them shouted the ‘g’ word throughout the film. Every time a Vietnamese appeared on the screen, their shouts were deafening.
Again, as with my colleague’s boyfriend, I wondered if they were angry at the Vietnamese or really angry at the American people who scorned them when they were drafted and dumped them upon their return.
I do believe they were, in reality, angrier at Americans, but it would have broken their hearts and probably destroyed them to admit it.
Yes, the Vietnam War was pretty pointless and/or incorrectly engineered. However, that is no reason to denigrate or ignore the men who served their country through no choice of their own.
Furthermore, it’s also no reason to raise those who opted out onto a pedestal.
America on life support
Therefore, I contend that the Vietnam War was the occasion for draft dodgers (or whatever you want to call them) to lay the foundations for the America of the future.
With regard to politics, news media, entertainment and culture, what we are seeing now really is a by-product of those who never cared to serve their country, even as conscientious objectors.
While the true heroes were overseas worrying about whether they’d see another day, these guys rewrote the script for the once-Great Republic whilst getting high and living it large.
This self-centredness, which many, including Nixon’s ‘silent majority’, thought would disappear has instead morphed into the pleasure-seeking, leftward leaning, selfish society we know today.
And that is the sad, unvarnished truth of the matter to which no one, especially Americans, will ever admit.