I was 16 years old before I knew of my father's affliction from World War II. When I came across an odd blue bottle of quinine in our medicine cabinet, my mother explained that my father had contracted malaria in North Africa during the war and still needed the tablets. I had seen my grandmother's photos of him in uniform, but my father never spoke of the war.
My father is a man of his era. He is not unlike the late Jimmy Stewart who gorged himself on spaghetti the night before his physical in order to weigh just 1/4 pound more than military requirements. Stewart then refused to allow movie studios to use his war hero status in ads and promotions. Stewart reflected my father's attitude about war and its horrors with simple eloquence, "Everybody was scared. You just had to handle that. I prayed a lot."What my father has shared, for as long as I can remember, were stories of history, freedom, human dignity and equality. I learned from him that there is right and wrong and that we have an obligation to stand intransigent at any cost in defense of right. He took me to the battlefields of Valley Forge and Gettysburg where we stood together in a silence compelled by the same ground that had witnessed the valor of those who gave life itself for freedom. My father was outraged by anti-war protesters and simply could not abide the "spineless" draft dodgers of my era. Without ever revealing his personal pain, my father taught me of war's significance in the course of human events: War is unconscionable but inevitable for the preservation or restoration of rights usurped by the conscienceless.
Steven "Jaws" Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" has been met with praise for its 25 minutes of "cinema's most graphic war footage ever." This, to the media elite and Spielberg, is the movie's merit. Seeing the horrors of battle will somehow prevent war in the future. The New York Times opined, "Distrust - call it an awareness of artistic conventions - is measured by the realization that there was, for tens of thousands of men 54 years ago, a place and time where art's ultimate usefulness - the ability to shape experience - was utterly lacking."
Are we to believe that if Spielberg had graced 1930's Hollywood instead of the likes of Frank Capra and George Cukor we might not have had World War II? Spielberg has the audacity to make an anti-war film as a follow-up to his acclaimed film, "Schindler's List." In case he has forgotten history and human nature, the Nazis were not of a mind to respond to Madeleine Albright visits. Even Saddam Hussein assurances that all was well were not on the agenda of this brutish regime. Spielberg and his adoring critics fail to grasp the notion that war is sometimes worth its costs. Are they con-clud-ing that the loss of 400,414 lives in the Civil War was unnecessary? Could a mere apology have won back human rights then?
Spielberg makes films from and for the minds of young boys (although he could have used some self-restraint on the language in E.T. and the violence in the Indiana Jones series). Spielberg makes memorable films in the box office sense, but he becomes an artist in the Hollywood and critical-recognition sense only when he hits the hot buttons. He hit one such button with "Schindler's List," and Ryan hits the antiwar button.
So obvious are these hot buttons that even bikers in movie audiences are sufficiently perceptive to spot them and their acclaim potential. I sat behind two such gentlemen when the previews for Philadelphia, a story about a fired gay lawyer, were shown. With their wallet chains, webbed elbow tattoos, and scarfed heads, they commented after the preview, "That'll win a ---load of Academy awards."
Ryan and its acclaim result from an agenda. It's not art, it's the hot-button message. If Spielberg and the Times wish to see art influence conduct by showing horror, Spielberg's next movie could include 25 minutes of abortion footage, in utero and otherwise. Or perhaps he could incorporate actual child pornography video clips in a moving story on their first amendment protection.
Spielberg, CNN and its nonsensical, albeit fictional, antiwar reports, and other media elite will never understand my father and the men of WWII. That war is horrifying was clear to me from my father's hesitancy to discuss it. He chose, rather, to teach, without complaint, that there are principles for which no sacrifice is too great. War is hell. Those who have been through it don't need Steven Spielberg to show them that. But the message they do have for their children and the artists of my generation and subsequent ones is "Handle it. There are some things worth fighting for."