Friday, November 09, 2007

I think World War II just started! ...'cause I'm dumb as a bag of hammers

I was in the process of looking something up yesterday when I came across this:



In case it comes out too small to read, it says, "World War II December 7, 1941 – September 2, 1945". Can you guess which country this comes from?

I can't decide if this is simple ignorance, outright arrogance, or some combination of both. But it's not the first time I've seen stuff like this. Take, for example, this one:


Again, the dates say 1941-1945. This is from Ken Burns, no less. This is extremely offensive. Now, you can say his documentary was focused on the US experience of the Second World War (yeah, of course it was... I'll come back to that later). But so what? That's not what the title says. It doesn't say anything like that. It just says "THE WAR". 1941-1945.

In the movie Pearl Harbor, as the bombs are falling around him, Josh Hartnett's character Danny actually shouts, "I think World War II just started!" Keep in mind that he's yelling this in the company of a buddy who's just come back from being shot down over the English Channel in a Spitfire helping defend Britain from the Luftwaffe. (Note: according to one site I checked, only ten Americans actually took to the skies in the Battle of Britain. Compare this with tiny New Zealand, whose contribution was an astonishing 98, ten times as many. And yet, the story has to focus on an American. Why didn't they tell the story of the bombing in Hawaii from the point of view of a Royal Navy swabbie on exchange or something?)

I've even seen it suggested — by Americans — that it really wasn't a "world" war until that point, and that no one called it that until then or later. That would come as a surprise to The Calgary Herald, which reputedly used the words "Second World War" on its front page on September 3, 1939. Well... let's consider that claim.

By 1941 (more specifically, by December 7th of that year), Poland had been conquered and divided... France had been overrun and surrendered, the Allied Expeditionary Force barely escaping via the Miracle of Dunkirk... The Blitz was underway, and the Battle of Britain had been fought and won... The Battle of the Atlantic, with its massive losses of shipping and men, had been raging non-stop for over two years... Leningrad had been under siege for three months already, and people were starving... Malta had been under siege; war raged across North Africa and the Balkans... Millions had already died, in dozens of countries in myriad campaigns on a half dozen fronts. And yet, by every indication from the opinions you see above, the Second World War didn't begin until 2,350 people died in Hawaii under forty-eight stars and thirteen stripes.

And on it goes. The public perception, even the rewriting of history, is legion (pardon the pun). In the movie Saving Private Ryan, not a single Allied soldier of any other nation is seen. The only mention of them at all is an attack on the character of Montgomery, and a sly calling into question of the fighting ability and dedication of the British. In the movie The Great Escape, the story focuses largely on an American played by Steve McQueen. The real Great Escape took place in the Commonwealth section of an Allied POW camp; there were no Americans involved. The movie U-571 portrays the capture of the Enigma machine as an American undertaking; an outright revision of history: it was accomplished by a British submarine, HMS Bulldog, in May, 1941, seven months before Pearl Harbor even happened (and the US did not match this feat itself until the middle of 1944). David Ayer, the screenwriter, acknowledged this, but the implication was that an American audience would not be interested in this story if it were not "Americanized". So it's not enough that Americans will tell no one's stories but their own... now they have to steal the glory that rightly belongs to others as well. At this rate, the 7th Cavalry will be winning the Battle of Waterloo any day now.

This is not acceptable. These are insults to millions upon millions, living and dead, military and civilian alike, in other countries.

3 comments:

L-girl said...

Excellent post.

"In the movie Saving Private Ryan, not a single Allied soldier of any other nation is seen. . . . In the movie The Great Escape, the story focuses largely on an American played by Steve McQueen. "

Saving Private Ryan, The Great Escape, even Ken Burns's films, are all commercial products aimed at an American audience.

It's a self-perpetuating loop. Most Americans aren't taught anything about a history beyond their borders (and are only taught a sanitized, twisted history of their own country, but never mind that). So popular entertainment such as you're citing, if it's to be sold to Americans, has to be about them and their world view, or they're not buying. (Or so the producers believe.) So those products reinforce the history they've been taught.

It's not unlike all the Hollywood movies in which the civil rights heroes are white. That's who it's being marketed for, and if they feel good about themselves, they're more likely to buy the product.

Also, the people making those films are largely a product of the same UScentric culture. It perpetuates itself that way, too.

loneprimate said...

It's not unlike all the Hollywood movies in which the civil rights heroes are white.

That's a good point... I liked Mississippi Burning, but then it was pointed out to me that the message of the movie was that powerful white men will come from Washington to defend timid black folks... not a message of empowerment and a sort of denial of the way blacks took power for themselves by actually having the courage to stand up... and fall, violently, all too often. It was a feel-good movie for white people. Even the victims were mostly white; of the three, only one was black.

So popular entertainment such as you're citing, if it's to be sold to Americans, has to be about them and their world view, or they're not buying.

I think the one that made me angriest, though, was My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The woman who wrote it and starred in it was born and raised in Winnipeg, and the film was shot in and around the Danforth in Toronto... but it had to be set in Chicago (Chicago, as ersatz Winnipeg? How ironic...) or, as you say, no one would bite. How would the movie have been materially different or less interesting if it had simply been told in its native element? The amazing thing is that this was due to supposedly liberal and big-picture guys like Tom Hanks (the same guy cutting up Monty's guts in Saving Private Ryan, incidentally). I don't mind one bit the US telling its own stories, but if they're going to option ours, then they could at least tell them as such.

L-girl said...

I liked Mississippi Burning, but then it was pointed out to me that the message of the movie was that powerful white men will come from Washington to defend timid black folks...

That's exactly the one I was thinking of, although I couldn't remember the name!

The heroic white guy in that movie is based on a real person, John Doar, who worked for the US Dept of Justice, and who did actually move justice forward. But the movement itself - obviously - was mostly black people risking everything to help themselves and future generations (and the whole country). But pick out one little white guy from a sea of black faces, and tell his story.

I didn't know that about Fat Greek Wedding. Very interesting. Another reason to dislike that movie and its fake-quirky-independent-wannabee ethic. Bah.