• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

SPRING FUNDRAISER

Is it time for our Spring fundraiser already? If you enjoy what we offer, and have the means, please consider donating. The sooner we reach our modest goal, the faster we can get back to business as (un)usual. Please, stay safe and we’ll see you down the road.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

What War Films Never Show You

Newspapers on the other side of the world are calling it “the biggest U.S. cinema event of all time.”

Critical acclaim has poured in from all corners for the BBC production They Shall Not Grow Old, a technical and emotional masterpiece on the First World War — the war Woodrow Wilson said would “make the world safe for democracy.”

The way the film brings old footage, and therefore the soldiers, to life is almost magical and powerfully moving. But because of how director Peter Jackson defined his film, a critical element is virtually invisible: the wounded.

Jackson distilled the stories of 120 veterans who spoke on some 600 hours of BBC audio tape done in the 1960s and ‘70s. His goal was to have “120 men telling a single story…what it was like being a British soldier on the Western Front.” He artfully presents it, using no narration other than the archive of BBC interviews.

But since dead men tell no tales, nor do the severely wounded often live into their 70s and 80s, the film narrows its focus to the camaraderie and adventures of young men growing up with shared experiences of tinned rations, trench life, and rats. The dead flit across the screen in graphic but limited numbers of colorized photos of corpses.

The wounded receive mute witness with brief footage of gas attacks, and a classic photo of seven British troops carrying one wounded comrade through the knee-deep mud of Passchendaele.

Jackson’s team brilliantly turned herky-jerky, silent, monochrome youths into breathing, talking, living color, with compelling stories. But because of his cinematic goal, this assured award-winner misses the depth of feeling and realism it could have projected by giving similar treatment to the agony of the wounded.

Among the neglected images that failed to benefit from Jackson’s alchemy is footage of shell-shock victims filmed at Britain’s Netley Hospital in 1917. The footage would have retained its halting, jerking properties not from erratic frame speeds, but because the young men were tormented with nerve damage.

Nor did Jackson include footage of amputee veterans exiting Queen Mary’s Workshop, dozen upon dozen upon dozen, hobbling in rapid succession.

He might’ve added one or two photos from New Zealand doctor Major Harold Gillies’ groundbreaking book Plastic Surgery of the Face, showing how red-hot shrapnel can carve bone and muscle into monstrous forms.

My own experiences revealed the side of war that Jackson left out.

Ever since nursing GIs returning from Vietnam, I’ve firmly believed that no member of Congress should be allowed to vote on war funding until working for a month in the back ward of a VA hospital.

Let them vote only after emptying urine bags, turning sallow bodies, and daubing the bed sores of formerly healthy youths who will never move on their own again. Or after offloading wounded young people from a passenger jetliner with the seats removed and four vertical rows of stretcher hooks extending all the way down both sides of the aisle.

They Shall Not Grow Old allows the reminiscences of 70-year-old veterans to breathe life into the determined, youthful images Jackson shows us on screen. In so doing, we gain a much greater appreciation of “being a British soldier on the Western Front.”

But it could also have given movie-goers a glimpse into the part of war so rarely seen. It might then have been named, They Shall Suffer Horribly and Die Before Their Time. Hardly a formula for box office success… which is perhaps why war movies never go there, and why the next generation always signs up when their leaders beat the drum.

More articles by:

Mike Ferner is a writer from Ohio and former president of Veterans For Peace.  You can reach him at mike.ferner@sbcglobal.net

June 01, 2020
Joshua Frank
It’s a Class War Now Too
Richard D. Wolff
Why the Neoliberal Agenda is a Failure at Fighting Coronavirus
Henry Giroux
Racial Domestic Terrorism and the Legacy of State Violence
Ron Jacobs
The Second Longest War in the United States
Kanishka Chowdhury
The Return of the “Outside Agitator”
Lee Hall
“You Loot; We Shoot”
Dave Lindorff
Eruptions of Rage
Jake Johnston
An Impending Crisis: COVID-19 in Haiti, Ongoing Instability, and the Dangers of Continued U.S. Deportations
Nick Pemberton
What is Capitalism?
Linda G. Ford
“Do Not Resuscitate”: My Experience with Hospice, Inc.
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
Who Are the Secret Puppet-Masters Behind Trump’s War on Iran?
Manuel García, Jr.
A Simple Model for Global Warming
Howard Lisnoff
Is the Pandemic Creating a Resurgence of Unionism? 
Frances Madeson
Federal Prisons Should Not be Death Chambers
Hayley Brown – Dean Baker
The Impact of Upward Redistribution on Social Security Solvency
Raúl Carrillo
We Need a Public Option for Banking
Kathy Kelly
Our Disaster: Why the United States Bears Responsibility for Yemen’s Humanitarian Crisis
Sonali Kolhatkar
An Open Letter to Joe Biden on Race
Scott Owen
On Sheep, Shepherds, Wolves and Other Political Creatures
John Kendall Hawkins
All Night Jazz All The Time
Weekend Edition
May 29, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Tim Wise
Protest, Uprisings, and Race War
Nick Pemberton
White Supremacy is the Virus; Police are the Vector
T.J. Coles
What’s NATO Up to These Days? Provoking Russia, Draining Healthcare Budgets and Protecting Its Own from COVID
Benjamin Dangl
Bibles at the Barricades: How the Right Seized Power in Bolivia
Kevin Alexander Gray - Jeffrey St. Clair - JoAnn Wypijewski
There is No Peace: an Incitement to Justice
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Few Good Sadists
Jeff Mackler
The Plague of Racist Cop Murders: Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and the COVID-19 Pandemic
Joshua Frank
In Search of a Lost Socialism
Charles Pierson
Who are the “Wrong Hands” in Yemen?
David Schultz
Trump isn’t the Pope and This Ain’t the Middle Ages
Andrew Levine
Trump Is Unbeatable in the Race to the Bottom and So Is the GOP
Ramzy Baroud
Political Ambiguity or a Doomsday Weapon: Why Abbas Abandoned Oslo
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
A Growing Wave of Bankruptcies Threatens U.S. Recovery
Joseph Natoli
Conditions Close at Hand
N.D. Jayaprakash
No Lessons Learned From Bhopal: the Toxic Chemical Leak at LG Polymers India 
Ron Jacobs
The Odyssey of Elias Demetracopoulos
J.P. Linstroth
Arundhati Roy on Indian Migrant-Worker Oppression and India’s Fateful COVID Crisis
Melvin Goodman
Goodness Gracious, David Ignatius!!
Roger Harris
Blaming the COVID-19 Pandemic on Too Many Humans:  a Critique of Overpopulation Ideology
Sonali Kolhatkar
For America’s Wealthiest, the Pandemic is a Time to Profit
Prabir Purkayastha
U.S. Declares a Vaccine War on the World
David Rosen
Coronavirus and the Telecom Crisis
Paul Buhle
Why Does W.E.B. Du Bois Matter Today?
Mike Bader
The Only Way to Save Grizzlies: Connect Their Habitats
Dave Lindorff
Pandemic Crisis and Recession Can Spark a Fight for Real Change in the US
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail