Category Archives: Art

Greatest Patriotic Films Ever #7 –1776

1776

“I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace; that two are called a law firm, and that three or more become a Congress! And by God, I have had this Congress! For ten years, King George and his Parliament have gulled, cullied, and diddled these colonies with their illegal taxes! Stamp Acts, Townshend Acts, Sugar Acts, Tea Acts! And when we dared stand up like men, they have stopped our trade, seized our ships, blockaded our ports, burned our towns, and spilled our BLOOD! And still, this Congress refuses to grant ANY of my proposals on independence, even so much as the courtesy of open debate! Good God, what in hell are you waiting for?”

Long before HBO brought us the genius of John Adams there was another movie that showed how loveable the obnoxious and disliked second President of the United States was.

Unnamed Delegate: “Will someone shut that man up”
John Adams: “NEVER! NEVER!”

It’s a crazy idea that actually works. Turn the Second Continental Congress into a musical. As a musical this is not the strongest film you’ll ever find. In fact the musical numbers are kind of weak overall, but the film itself is quite strong. Primarily because so much of the time is spent covering the debates that occurred in the Continental Congress on whether or not to declare independence.

I first discovered this film in high school and this is where I began to see Adams as one of my greatest heroes (he may not have been the greatest President, but I would say he is possibly the greatest of the Founding Fathers.) The movie portrays Adams as arrogant, stubborn, obnoxious, disliked, principled to the point of being unwilling to budge on anything…and always right. Can’t imagine why I felt an immediate connection.

John Adams to God: “A second flood, a simple famine, plagues of locust everywhere, or a cataclysmic earthquake I’d accept with some despair…but no, you sent us Congress, good god sir, was that fair?”

The film spends a great deal of time in the debate between Adam’s pro-independence forces and the pro-Royalist force spearheaded by Pennsylvanian John Dickenson (the only man who had the opportunity to sign the Declaration and refused to on objections that he couldn’t in “good conscience”…yes endorsing evil he used the words “good conscience”…If I believed in Hell I would guarantee you he would be sharing a spot with Brutus, Cassius, and Judas…oh, by the way, the man also refused to sign and was opposed to the Constitution. Why they didn’t shoot this treasonous SOB boggles my mind.) It is this debate that makes the movie so patriotic. We revel in the ideals and debates that gave birth to a nation of ideals.

Dickenson makes bizarre claims, as many loyalists did at the times, that there must be better ways to solve the problems with the crown (ignoring that when the government starts sending the army after you for pleading your rights, there are few options left. Dickenson even goes as far as questioning George III’s status as a tyrant.

John Dickenson: Mr. Jefferson, I have very little interest in your paper, as there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ve all but heard the last of it, but I am curious about one thing. Why do you refer to King George as a… tyrant?
Thomas Jefferson: Because he *is* a tyrant.
John Dickenson: I remind you, Mr. Jefferson, that this “tyrant” is still your king.
Thomas Jefferson: When a king becomes a tyrant, he thereby breaks the contract binding his subjects to him.
John Dickenson: How so?
Thomas Jefferson: By taking away their rights.
John Dickenson: Rights that came from him in the first place.
Thomas Jefferson: All except one. The right to be free comes from nature.
John Dickenson: And are we not free, Mr. Jefferson?
Thomas Jefferson: Homes entered without warrant, citizens arrested without charge, and in many places, free assembly itself denied.
John Dickenson: No one approves of such things, but these are dangerous times.
Dr. Benjamin Franklin: Those who would give up some of their liberty in order to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

(I know some Brits even object to this point, but if you ever get in an argument with anyone on this point you should remind them that Mad King George got so bad that he had to be effectively deposed and only ruled in name for the last 18 years of his reign. We Americans were just ahead of the curve in recognizing what a useless ponce he was).

Dickenson also made claims to tradition (a poor substitute to reason), “Do you expect us to forget Hastings and Magna Carta, Strongbow and Lionheart, Drake and Marlborough? “ (From a nation whose traditions also included The Anarchy, Richard II, Richard III, Bloody Mary, Charles I, James II, Cromwell, John…it’s also ironic that you would list the Magna Carta, a document creating new government restrictions on a tyrannical King…so really America was just living up to its British roots of not suffering tyranny very well.)

And of course the movie describes what makes America special among nations so well.

John Dickenson: Fortunately, the people maintain a higher regard for their mother country.
Dr. Benjamin Franklin: Higher, certainly, than she feels for them. Never was such a valuable possession so stupidly and recklessly managed, than this entire continent by the British crown. Our industry discouraged, our resources pillaged… first of all our very character stifled. We’ve spawned a new race here, Mr. Dickenson. Rougher, simpler; more violent, more enterprising; less refined. We’re a new nationality. We require a new nation.

One of the more ironic portions of the film is that when needing to take out the critique of slavery to get the South to sign on Adams advocates to not take it out as slavery is an abomination to the nation. But Franklin and Jefferson win the day arguing that they must have a nation first if they are to ever liberate the slaves, that to stand on principle on this issue will mean slavery for everyone.

John Adams: Mark me, Franklin… if we give in on this issue, posterity will never forgive us.
Dr. Benjamin Franklin: That’s probably true, but we won’t hear a thing, we’ll be long gone. Besides, what would posterity think we were? Demi-gods? We’re men, no more, no less, trying to get a nation started against greater odds than a more generous God would have allowed. First things first, John. Independence; America. If we don’t secure that, what difference will the rest make?

It’s painfully ironic that we have elevated them to Demi-god status. It probably was the wrong thing to do to take the line out, but it was the pragmatic thing, and it did lead to a nation that not only shed its own blood to end slavery within its own borders, but a nation that would shed its own blood to end tyranny in foreign lands because we do believe that “all men are created equal” and entitled to the right of liberty.

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Greatest Patriotic Films Ever #8 Yankee Doodle Dandy

“It seems it always happens. Whenever we get too high-hat and too sophisticated for flag-waving, some thug nation decides we’re a push-over all ready to be blackjacked. And it isn’t long before we’re looking up, mighty anxiously, to be sure the flag’s still waving over us.”

Nothing like good old, unapologetic flag waving.  This film is the story of the life of actor, writer, director, songwriter, producer George M. Cohan.  A stage-veteran from birth, born on the 4th of July, and a die hard patriot.  Writer of such songs as “Over There” and “Grand Old Flag” the man provided this nation with some of finest moments of patriotism in the first half of the century.

The film, made in 1942 and directed by Casablanca director Michael Curitz, the film is 2 solid hours of flag waving and joy.  Yeah, it’s a propaganda film for WWII—what’s a shame is that Hollywood no longer sees itself as having a duty to uplift the nation when times are rough.

I’d include clips from the film of Cohan’s stirring number “Over There” which he wrote to inspire and entertain the troops in WWI after they turned him down from joining the Army (at 39 he was too old)—yes the man was in the USO before there even was a USO—or a clip of the final scenes which are just as patriotic…but Turner pictures seems to have had the embedding function disabled on these, so you’ll just have to go to then links.

I can’t say too much about the film because it is all fairly blunt: America is the greatest nation on Earth.  However, I would like to point out that in addition to everything else, this is the usual great story of a man that started with nothing and made his fame and fortune on talent and drive.  Here in America these stories are a dime a dozen…in other nations they’re rather few and far between.

I can only say that if you’ve never seen this film, you should.

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Most Patriotic Films Ever #9 Casablanca

Yes, yes, it may be unquestionably the greatest movie of all time overall, but while very patriotic there are still, I think, 8 films ahead of it. But even if it isn’t the most patriotic film ever it is still very patriotic. Especially in a very broad sense.

Rick: Don’t you sometimes wonder if it’s worth all this? I mean what you’re fighting for.
Victor Laszlo: You might as well question why we breathe. If we stop breathing, we’ll die. If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die.
Rick: Well, what of it? It’ll be out of its misery.
Victor Laszlo: You know how you sound, Mr. Blaine? Like a man who’s trying to convince himself of something he doesn’t believe in his heart.

In the broad sense it suggests that patriotism is an attitude that everyone should have. Patriotism is often the only thing that stands between a nation and tyranny. Be it that those in Unoccupied France fighting to end tyranny were the only real patriots (and their numbers were far lower than has since been claimed) and those in the German underground were the only true German patriots (none seen in this film, but the German underground was actually larger than the French, who, as a nation, were a little too eager in welcoming their Nazi masters and far to eager to hand over ever Jew they could find). Any true patriotism isn’t a desire for your country to be the most powerful, it’s a love of country for the good it does and the good it is capable of…loving your nation for anything else is a violation of basic ethics and morals. It’s just easier to love America when you’re an American than it is to love other nations when you’re a citizen of those nations…it’s a side effect of being founded on the ideal of liberty rather than the land we live on/conquered or the race we come from. America’s just better that way. Must easier to love such a nation dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, which is why you would want to come here…or the nearest substitute, even if it’s only the Café Américain.


(the French have no right to have a song this powerful for a nation as pathetic as theirs…)

But this is a list of American patriotism in film. And as our resident American, Richard Blaine shows all the flaws and virtues

As with most things, everything only works out when you have the American on your side.

of the nation. Like America at the time he selfishly and foolishly wanted to be left alone, even though he clearly knew at one point what was right and wrong (fought for the loyalists in Spain, fought against the fascists in Ethiopia, earned a position on the Nazi black list). He shows that peculiar American sense of charity without thanks for a young couple. And of course by the end we understand what needs to be done and that evil needs to be fought. And by the end we love Rick, because once he gets over his cynicism he represents all that is good in America. And of course he points out to the Nazi’s the inevitable idiocy of trying to take on America

Major Strasser: Are you one of those people who cannot imagine the Germans in their beloved Paris?
Rick: It’s not particularly my beloved Paris.
Heinz: Can you imagine us in London?
Rick: When you get there, ask me!
Captain Renault: Hmmh! Diplomatist!
Major Strasser: How about New York?
Rick: Well there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn’t advise you to try to invade.

Another reason to love America—no one is ever going to take this nation by force.

And finally there is the fact that this film deals with how the rest of the world feels about America. There are some who recognize America’s virtues and like it, and at the far end of this spectrum they come here. There are those who just want what we have but disdain our culture and laws and either demand what we have in the form of foreign aid or come here in violation of our laws without taking a moment to realize the prosperity of this nation is because of our laws and our culture of individualism and reason and that you can’t have one without the other. And finally the extension of this second group is those who despise America and see us as nothing but a bunch of pompous, arrogant, classless, rubes…or as it is said in the film.

Major Strasser: You give him credit for too much cleverness. My impression was that he’s just another blundering American.
Captain Renault: We mustn’t underestimate “American blundering”. I was with them when they “blundered” into Berlin in 1918.

It should be noted that not only do we blundering Americans have a history of taking out tyrants from George III to

Is “American Blundering” one of the usual suspects?

Saddam…but that it was the blundering American who ended Major Strasser’s life. For some reason the world, and the American left, constantly underestimates the strength of character that America provides, always to their own downfall.  Our blundering, as they put it, is our determination in the face of unbeatable odd, our optimism in ourselves and the virtue of humanity, and our courage when others would turn back.  It may appear to be illogical blundering to those who don’t get it, but to us it the way to Happiness and success. And historically the results show we’re right.

“Welcome back to the fight. This time I know our side will win.”

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Most Patriotic Movies Ever #10 How the West Was Won

We begin the Top 10 Patriotic films with one of the better westerns ever made…

(old trailers are always interesting)

“This land has a name today, and is marked on maps. But, the names and the marks and the maps all had to be won, won from nature and from primitive man.[…] The west that was won by its pioneers, settlers, adventurers is long gone now. Yet it is theirs forever, for they left tracks in history that will never be eroded by wind or rain – never plowed under by tractors, never buried in compost of events. Out of the hard simplicity of their lives, out of their vitality, of their hopes and sorrows grew legends of courage and pride to inspire their children and their children’s children. From soil enriched by their blood, out of their fever to explore and be, came lakes where once there were burning deserts – came the goods of the earth; mine and wheat fields, orchards and great lumber mills. All the sinews of a growing country. Out of their rude settlements, their trading posts came cities to rank among the great ones of the world. All the heritage of a people free to dream, free to act, free to mold their own destiny.”

An epic film that spans three generations of American pioneers from the early days of westward expansion along the Erie Canal circa 1840 to the waning days of the West in Arizona circa the late 1870’s early 1880’s. The story is broken up into 5 parts telling the story of the farmers who traveled into what is now the Midwest to start a new life, of the wagon trains hell bent on gold in California, of the Civil War which seemed to halt westward expansion for a bloody moment, of the coming of the railroad which joined both halves of the nation and heralded the end of the wilderness, and finally of the last days of lawlessness in what was left of the West.  Every stage is shown to be filled with victories and loss, but each stage brings about something greater than what came before it.  From the earliest mountain men who first ventured east to the Marshalls who brought law and civilization to the wilderness, all of the characters are exemplars of what makes America what it is.

Patriotism or not it’s a great film.  It is the kind of all star epic that Hollywood doesn’t seem to make anymore.   Gregory Peck, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Debbie Reynolds, Henry Fonda, Eli Wallach, Robert Preston, to name a few but not all of the stars in this film, and to top it all off the narration of Spencer Tracy.  It’s kind of hard to top that…oh wait John Ford directed part of it.  Okay it’s kind of hard to top that.

But what makes this film patriotic?

Well first it is the simple story of who Americans are.  No matter what problems they are dealt, be it being literally stabbed in the back, literally going down the rapids without a paddle, war, Indians, stampeding Buffalo or being shot at, the heroes of this film always not only recover but pick themselves up and achieve a better life than anything they had before their temporary miseries.  They look at disaster, shrug it off and succeed in spite of misfortune and always with a constant stream of optimism….or as one character put it, “We made and spent fortunes together.  If he’d lived a little longer, we’d have made and spent another.”

Nothing could better exemplify what the heart of America was at its best. Yes, other nations have people who act like this, and other nations have had their day….but what is different about America is that other nations build themselves up to a great power, dominate for a while, fall and never seem to come back…America has been knocked down time (we started out as a bunch of rejects, criminals and unwanted) and time (crushing blows during early years of the Revolutionary War) and time (having our capital burned to the ground in the War of 1812) and time (a horrific Civil War…do I need to keep going?) again.  Any one of these events would crush most nations for all time, (remind me how long ago it was that Sparta conquered Athens, that Rome fell, that France was a nation worth giving a care about?) yet Americans don’t just recover from adversity, we thrive on it.  In a perverse way, as a nation, we embody the idea that what does not kill us only makes us stronger (which I guess will mean the term of 45th president will be the strongest years in American history). In this movie and in reality nothing seems to stop Americans from growing and getting better, even their own worst moments.

I could go on, there are a hundred little moments that I could discuss, but I think you would get a better impression watching it yourself than having me relate them.

“But that’s what I like about this country.  There’s always greener grass over the next hill.”

Not to spoil the ending,but the scenic views are breathtaking…

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The Most Patriotic Films #11 To Kill A Mockingbird

Now, gentlemen, in this country, our courts are the great levelers. In our courts, all men are created equal. I’m no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and of our jury system – that’s no ideal to me. That is a living, working reality! Now I am confident that you gentlemen will review, without passion, the evidence that you have heard, come to a decision and restore this man to his family. In the name of GOD, do your duty. In the name of God, believe… Tom Robinson.

 

Okay first off, I’ll admit the central theme of this film is not the greatness of America, there is no denying that, but the theme is there.

 

First off this is a great patriotic film, because as I have said before we Americans are able to admit our mistakes, own up to them, learn from them and then move on.  And this film makes clear some of our worst behavior without giving a blanket indictment to all Americans past, present and future.

 

Think about it, which other countries are so open about their flaws?

 

I looked around and I couldn’t find that there were any monuments in England to their treatment of Catholics or to their actions in India (I could be wrong and if I am please tell me).  And if you go to Japan try and find public acknowledgement of Nanking, Bataan, or Pearl Harbor…that has some very interesting selective amnesia.  And let’s not forget Russia seems on the verge of re-embracing their darkest days.  But as America is a nation that does not believe in pedigree or the idea that the sins (or virtues) of the father automatically fall to the son, we aren’t told to feel personally guilty for the actions of our ancestors (like the German education system seems to be based on a near daily dose of “We are terrible evil people”—I’m sorry but the children nowadays, while they should knows what happened, shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about something they didn’t do).  Only America has, more or less, a history of admitting their flaws and mistakes but not dwelling and wallowing in them—just as an individual should.  Yes there are people in this nation that want to make us likes the dregs of Europe either denying our wrongs or wallowing in them as if no redemption is possible, but these people never seem to gain any long term traction because ignorance and guilt are not the American way.

 

Now, as the opening quote suggests, this is a movie tied heavily to our legal system. Its flaws and its strengths.  Atticus’ speech speaks to the hopes of its strengths.  Its flawed verdict speaks to the weakness of depending on people who are by nature imperfect for justice (but you come up with a better system).  But I think there is a point missed in all the injustice here.  The majority of the people act within the rules of the law.  Atticus of course always follows the law to the letter (even to the point where he thought he would have to bring his son to court for murder charges)—but it is not just Atticus.  The Judge of the story, who could have given any lawyer to Tom Robbinson, ensures he gets the one lawyer in town who will not allow a man he knows to be innocent to be railroaded without even mounting a defense. Further the character of Sheriff Tate when limited by the rules of the law charges a man he doesn’t believe to be innocent, because a complaint has been filed and it is not for the police to determine guilt or innocence…but when it is in his legal power to determine what happened he makes it quite clear “Bob Ewell fell on his knife”…Arthur “Boo” Radley Who?  For all the flaws of the legal system shown in this film, it is shown that it is a system worthy of following in this nation because even when it has gross injustices it is still better than the alternative. (Further let us not forget this film was made in the 1960’s and worked as a powerful piece of propaganda to help pass civil rights reform that ended the kind of injustice seen in this film.

A man who stands up for what he believes in, even in the face of certain violence,is almost always to be admired (so long as his cause is right and just…which is a given in with Atticus.)

And then there is Atticus Finch.  A heroes hero whom we all wish we could be more like.  And he is a distinctly America kind of hero. He doesn’t care about what the community at large thinks, he doesn’t care what his neighbors say, he doesn’t care when he personally is threatened.  He care about his children and what is right.  There is no other consideration for the opinion of community or loyalty to society, only what is right.  Some countries may ask devotion to “king and country” others demand obedience to race or religion…but America is the nation that glorifies loyalty to self, to reason, and to right. Which is the reason why we love Atticus and admire him so deeply.

Also, a very subtle theme that is tied to the core of America is that action and principle must go hand in hand.  Yes Atticus Finch is a man of morals and virtue and character that we should all aspire to.  His guiding light of  “The main one is that if I didn’t, I couldn’t hold my head up in town. I couldn’t even tell you or Jem not to do somethin’ again” is a belief that far too many are lacking in the modern world (clearly no one in France or Greece has any conception of this kind of thinking).  But the fact of the matter is that there is a certain lack of action in his moral. He stands tall when a piece of filth like Ewell spits in his face and doesn’t give in to the provocation to fight…which if it were just Atticus who was in jeopardy would be fine…but he failed to take into account that Ewell had a history of attacking the defenseless and innocent. Which is why it is Boo Radley who shows the very American propensity for knowing that sometimes you have to put evil people down and make sure they can never get back up again.

 

—-

 

 

Oh, and not on the issue of patriotism…but a fun fact.  There is a portion of the movie (and it’s in the book too) about the arrogance of teachers who think that they know everything because they’ve been to college and that parents know nothing.  One might call it ironic that this is a book almost every English teacher loves, even though it is insulting the arrogant mentality of most teachers…but they would have to be bright enough to get that point, and, at the least most of the union hacks certainly are nowhere near that bright.

 

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The Best Patriotic Films #12 Cinderella Man

“I have to believe that when things are bad I can change them.”

If you’re a consistent reader of this blog, you’ll probably know that I am not the biggest fan of sports the universe has ever known.  But while most sports bore me, movies about sports can still be great. And Cinderella Man is one of those films.  (Also despite the very patriotic undertones of Far And Away and Apollo 13 I felt those were more centered on the characters than the nation that gave rise to those characters, but I really thought a great director like Ron Howard did deserve to be on this list somewhere).
For those who don’t remember this film, it is the story of Jim Broddock, a boxer who lost everything in the early days of the Great Depression, including his promising boxing career…only to make a miraculous comeback after being called on to fill in last minute for a fighter who had to bow out.

It is an American story for many reasons.  The least of which is that it is the story of an underdog.  Americans for all their strength in economics, military, this or that field, love an underdog, because that’s what we are.  We are band of misfits who created a great economic power.  We are a band of untrained militia who beat the most powerful military in the world.  We are the place where someone can through willpower and skill change their life for the better.  We are the place that gets knocked down time and time and time again, and always comes back stronger than before.  And we love to root for underdogs like ourselves.

But like any great underdog story, this is the story of a man who survives and excels because of willpower and drive.  The America Dream is not the American Dream because lots of people here can win the lottery or just find success by dumb luck—it is the American Dream because we have control of our own lives, power over our destiny—we don’t live as the victims of our circumstances but as the master of them (or at least that’s what we preach…but at least we preach this bit of truth, rather than some froggish countries that preach dependency.)

And it is again the simplicity of the American Dream that makes this movie stand out.  The final title cards show that Braddock did not just blow his money (it should be noted that according to the movie he didn’t squander the money he earned early in his career…he just invested it right before the crash), but rather lived the modest American Dream most of us have in mind for ourselves and one day for our children:

“Two years later Jim Braddock put his title on the line against Joe Louis. Jim knocked him down in the first round though Louis went on to win the bout. Joe Louis would always call Jim Braddock the most courageous man he ever fought.  Jim served honorably in World War II. He later owned and operated heavy equipment on the same docks where he labored during the Great Depression. In the early 1960’s he helped build the Verrazano Bridge. Jim and Mae bought a house in New Jersey with the winnings from the Baer fight. They raised their children in that house and lived there for the rest of their lives.”

Of course what really makes this movie stand out is Braddock’s behavior to the relief money (today we would call it welfare).  Yes he needed to take relief money to keep the power on so that his kids could stay with him and his wife.  There is nothing wrong with welfare when people are desperate and no one in this country would begrudge legitimate need (as opposed to making no effort to get on your own feet, to control your own life, to educate yourself, or to get a job…those lazy couch potatoes we have a real problem with).  But what makes Braddock’s story interesting is what he did when he was back on his feet:

Reporter: Bob Johnson, Boston Globe. Two days ago, we ran a story about you giving your relief money back. Can you tell our readers why?

Jim Braddock: I believe we live in a great country, a country that’s great enough to help a man financially when he’s in trouble. But lately, I’ve had some good fortune, and I’m back in the black. And I just thought I should return it.

While there may be cases like this elsewhere, it is only the most charitable nation in the world that you will see this as not being an act of insanity, but rather an example of the best that this nation has to offer.  We don’t glorify need, but we do glorify those who are able to pick themselves up to a point where they can help themselves and those around them.

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The Greatest Patriotic Movies: Tie for #14 The Outlaw Josey Wales

An icon of American individualism

Bounty hunter: You’re wanted, Wales.Josey Wales: Reckon I’m right popular. You a bounty hunter?

Bounty hunter: A man’s got to do something for a living these days.

Josey Wales: Dyin’ ain’t much of a living, boy.

This is as close as this list is going to get to an anti-war movie.  Liberals and isolationist libertarians, I don’t care if you’re offended by that, your foreign policy beliefs are an offense to everything this nation stands for.

Now, certainly an argument could be made that many of Eastwood’s movies (and I mean his work as a director) have a strain of patriotism.  The virtue of the common man as seen in Gran Torino, the somewhat dark take on the American Dream in Million Dollar Baby, the blatant patriotic high of Space Cowboys, the high and low points of war in Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, even his mildly sympathetic treatment of J. Edgar  showed Hoover, for all his faults, as being motivated by love of country.  But while I think Gran Torino is Eastwood’s masterpiece, it is a work that focuses more on the man than the nation…meanwhile The Outlaw Josey Wales is very much a film that looks at what makes America America.

Now, unlike some of the previous films, I feel this movie might be one of those some people may not have seen recently.  So a quick recap.  The movie begins with Josey Wales a Missouri farmer with a wife and young son being set upon by a Kansas guerrilla division known as the Red Legs.  The Union soldiers knock out Wales, kill his wife and son and burn his house to the ground.  When he recovers he takes out a gun and re-acquires the skill of using it in only a few hours and spends the rest of the Civil War attempting to get revenge.  His unit is the last to surrender at the end of the Civil War and are massacred by the Union, with only Wales making it out alive but chased by federal authorities.  As he tries to go South and West and stay out of the hands of bounty hunters, soldiers, Comancheros and the Comanche he acquires an odd family of an old Cherokee man, a Navajo woman, a Kansas woman heading west and her granddaughter.  Finally this small group settles in a ranch somewhere in the Arizona territory where Wales, just as he was about to head further southwest has a final battle with Union soldiers who killed his family.

Now so what makes this a patriotic film?

Well first off is it’s recognition of what makes America.  Near the end, after having avoided a battle with the Comanche, Wales’s group celebrates and revels in the new family they have put together.  By this point you have Northerners, Southerners, two different tribes of Indians, plus the most recent additions the local town folk which include an Irish prostitute, two Mexican gentlemen, and an Easterner.  It’s quite the American melting pot of people from all different origins and walks of life.  And Eastwood isn’t very subtle about making this melting pot imagery clear.

Now I said this movie is anti-war and to a degree it is.  It is not anti-war in the sense of all war is wrong and all violence must be avoided at all costs, as many liberals and libertarians (cough cowards cough) would have it, even if that cost is the liberty of others or themselves.  Wales is not afraid to fight to survive or to protect those he loves.  But the movie does not delude itself into portraying war as not having consequences (as Flags of our Fathers would do again many years later).  The fact that out of it come people who only know how to fight; the emotional scars and the all around suffering.   The last lines of the film between Wales and a man he thought had betrayed him recall the pain of war.

Fletcher: I think I’ll go down to Mexico to try to find [Wales] [at this point Fletcher is pretending to not recognize Wales]

Josey Wales: And then?

Fletcher: He’s got the first move. I owe him that. I think I’ll try to tell him the war is over. What do you say, Mr. Wilson?

Josey Wales: I reckon so. I guess we all died a little in that damn war.

And disgust at the horrors of war is actually one of the strengths of this nation.  The odd thing about America is that (1) we have the ideal of spreading liberty no matter the cost and (2) we have no stomach for war.  And that’s a good thing.  Probably more than any other nation we tire of war very quickly, even if we’re winning, even if we’re doing the right thing (for instance did you know that we never lost a battle in Vietnam?  Or that in some of the battles for every U.S. soldier we lost the VC lost 50+…logically it would be hard to portray a war like that as a loss or a hopeless cause, yet somehow we did it.)  Even in Eastwood’s Flags of our Fathers it’s pointed out that by Iwo Jima America had just tired of war (a whole 4 years in a battle against unquestionable evil) and just wanted it over.  (And the same is true historically of the Civil War).   For all the liberal BS that Americans love war and bloodshed, there is no historical proof of that.  Any war we get into we try and get out of it as quickly as possible.  It’s why American Imperialism (a silly term, when compared to the historical reality of European Imperialism) amounted to a few islands, most of which don’t want to leave the U.S.  And dare we forget that our biggest gain from our “imperialist” Spanish-American war was Cuba, which we immediately gave up so the Cubans could have self rule (that one worked out well).  And, I’ll admit, it’s a good thing we tire of war easily.  There are cultures that don’t tire of war quickly and just keep throwing wave after wave of people into suicidal assaults all for the glory of their county or their perverse ideal of God…can you imagine the bloodshed if it was mixed with an actual just cause from a country whose national anthem includes the line “and conquer we must when our cause it is just”…it’s a good thing we tire of war.  It allows us time to take stock of our losses, to let the world try and progress without us saving it every time, and hopefully, to learn from our mistakes (like next time we invade a country maybe we could have a plan on what to do after their military is defeated.

And finally the film is patriotic because it expresses what is best in both our foreign policy and our economic behavior, that we deal with everyone pretty much in the same way, we “hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.”  Or in the words of the film.

Ten Bears: These things you say we will have, we already have.

Josey Wales: That’s true. I ain’t promising you nothing extra. I’m just giving you life and you’re giving me life. And I’m saying that men can live together without butchering one another.

Ten Bears: It’s sad that governments are chiefed by the double tongues. There is iron in your words of death for all Comanche to see, and so there is iron in your words of life. No signed paper can hold the iron. It must come from men. The words of Ten Bears carries the same iron of life and death. It is good that warriors such as we meet in the struggle of life… or death. It shall be life.

Notice also the typical loathing of government in this conversation, and the mutual contracts of individuals placed as highest…the beauty of American Capitalism.

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The Best Patriotic Films: Tie for #14 Air Force One

 

“The dead remember our indifference; the dead remember our silence. I came here tonight to be congratulated. But today, when I visited the Red Cross camps, overwhelmed by the flood of refugees fleeing the horror of Kazhakstan, I realize I don’t deserve to be congratulated. None of us do. The truth is we acted too late. Only when our own national security was threatened did we act. Radek’s regime murdered over 200,000 men, women and children and we watched it on TV. We let it happen. People were being slaughtered for over a year and we issued economic sanctions and hid behind the rhetoric of diplomacy. How dare we? The dead remembered: real peace is not just the absence of conflict; it is the presence of justice. And tonight I come to you with a pledge to change America’s policy. Never again will I allow our political self-interest to deter us from doing what we know to be morally right. Atrocity and terror are not political weapons, and to those who would use them, your day is over. We will never negotiate. We will no longer tolerate and we will no longer be afraid. It’s your turn to be afraid.”

I will vote for anyone who speaks like this about foreign policy and has the courage to back it up.

This is the American ideal.  A country that does what is right not is what is convenient.  A nation that stands for principle not rank short-sighted avarice.

Dear god, have we failed to live up to that ideal.

The last good film Harrison Ford made.

But at least we have the ideal; whereas with most nations the majority considers only saving its own hide…we at least keep that feeling here in the majority (I hope.)

But the movie does point out that there have been times we have not acted in our self interest. The villain smugly remarks, “You who murder a 100,000 Iraqi’s to save a nickel on a gallon of gas are going to lecture me on the rules of war.”  This is a typical liberal piece of bull (Blood for oil) because it ignores the basic rules of economics.  Economics states that if you want cheap things you deal with dictatorships, as they somehow have much lower production costs (something about slave labor being very cheap).  Any idiot who has taken more than a nanosecond to think about it knows that if we really wanted cheap oil and only cheap oil we would have (1) let Saddam have Kuwait instead of driving him out and (2) lifted the embargoes on Iraq rather than invading it.  We in fact did the thing guaranteed to raise oil prices; we protected one nation and tried to bring democracy to another.  We stood on principle, not greed for cheap goods.  (Now if only we could stand on principle AND bother to come up with a plan for rebuilding the nation after we defeat the military, that last part was kind of lacking in Afghanistan and Iraq).

But it is not jus the speech that embodies the best in American ethics that makes this movie great.  It is its understanding of patriotism, and the interesting way it goes about showing how American patriotism is actually different than most forms of patriotism.

When justifying his actions of killing a defenseless man to the captured first daughter, the villain, Korshunov (played by the ever chameleon like Gary Oldman) states:

Korshunov: That’s the first time you ever seen a man killed, huh? You think I’m a monster? That I would kill this man? Somebody’s son? Somebody’s father? I am somebody’s son too. I have three small children. Does that surprise you?

Alice: Why did you kill him?

Korshunov: Because I believe. And when I shoot this man I know…how deep was my belief. That I would turn my back on God Himself…for Mother Russia. My doubts, my fears, my own private morality…it dissolves in this moment…for this love.

You may think this is extreme and farcically overblown…but then you realize that good little Nazis, and good little Brownshirts, and followers of Franco and Saddam and Tito, all probably decent people from supposedly Christian nations, did unspeakable things in the name of country. And the in the east, the Chinese crucified Tibetan monks for the glory of China, the Khmer Rouge created the killing fields for the greatness of Cambodia and the list goes on.

And up front, yes we’ve had our insane sons-of-bitches.  No doubt, no question, no argument there.  But we tend not to hold them up as our great patriots.

Our great patriots don’t “would turn [their] back on God Himself” and don’t put their “private morality” below country.  No our patriots tell their nation and their king, ‘Up yours George, we’re leaving the nation we loved with all of our heart and starting our own.’  Our patriots head north, saying, ‘my love of state is nothing compared to my love of what is right, and the Union is what is right.’  Our patriots go to Britain and fight the Kaiser and the Nazis when our country says no it’s not our fight.  Our patriots go to China and fight the Japanese when our nation says it’s not our problem.  Our patriots understand that when it comes to a choice between country and personal morals, it’s time to tell the country and its leaders something that ends with “…and the horse you rode in on.”  Because America isn’t a just a nation of borders and history, it is a nation not founded on where one race or tribe settled or conquered.  It is a nation of ideals and if the people that inhabit the land betray those ideals, a patriot’s duty is to the ideals before “king and country.”

Also the movie points out very important part of America:

“The Presidency is bigger than any one man.  Didn’t they teach you that at Yale?”

I don’t know about Yale but they clearly don’t teach it at Harvard these days.  Yes, the presidency is an important office (not really, it’s supposed to be the weakest of the three branches), but while the office is important, the person who holds is human and very easily disposable (we get rid of them every 4 to 8 years), and even the best of them are replaceable and flawed.

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The Best Patriotic Films #16 Glory

“There’s more to fighting than rest, sir. There’s character. There’s strength of heart. You should have seen us in action two days ago. We were a sight to see! We’ll be ready, sir. When do you want us?”


I mentioned in the honorable mentions films like The Tuskegee Airmen, Go For Broke, and Windtalkers as films that show that unique American habit of even people whom we treat terribly will still fight with all they have for America, because America is greater than her worst flaws.  But the problem with these films was that the production were REALLY lacking…and if you looked at some of the other items earlier on this list, well, then you know how my standards aren’t astronomically high.

But Glory is an excellent of this theme and it is done well.

And it is not  just that this is a movie showing that the those treated worst by the American government are still willing to fight to preserve it that makes this patriotic.

Glory acknowledges both the flaw (and dear God do we have them) and the strengths of this nation.

America has a relationship with it’s history that few countries.  We acknowledge, memorialize, and apologize for our mistakes.  Go around D.C. sometime.  You will find monuments begging our forgiveness for our treatment of Americans of Japanese decent during WWII, monuments begging our forgiveness for the treatment of slave, and I could go on.  We acknowledge our flaws.  Glory is very much proof of that.  Not even counting the slavery issues which is always in the background, there is the fact that the racism of the Northern side is not hidden in the least, nor is the often vicious behavior of the Union to Southern civilians that would nowadays be considered war crimes.

We don’t hide our flaws, like some cultures, but neither do we focus on them.  The movie is first and foremost a testament to the fact that even some of our darkest points we can make giant leap forwards and begin to treat all people as equals.

Colonel Robert G. Shaw: Sgt. Mulcahy!

Sgt. Mulcahy: Sir!

Shaw: I have no doubt you a fair man, Mulcahy. I wonder if you are treating the men a little hard.

Shaw: You may speak freely.

Mulcahy: The boy is a friend of yours, is he?

Shaw: Yes, we grew up together

Mulcahy: Let him grow up some more.

The movie shows that even some of the heroes of the film still had some of the paternalism that racism bred to get over…but that in the end they did.

But back to the original point that this movie shows that America is worth fighting for, even to those whom America has been less than just.  It says a lot when Broderick’s Col. Shaw announces that the Confederacy will not take prisoners of black soldiers but rather just kill them, he expects to see many of the men in his unit request discharges…none do.  And when the Union in despicable, but not unexpected for the times, move cuts the pay of black solider Shaw reciprocates this loyalty by refusing to take pay.  (I’m not sure the historical accuracy of any of this, but it makes for a great movie).

The last full measure of devotion…

Of course  anyone who has seen this film knows how it ends.  They all die.  It’s been two decades I don’t think I’m spoiling anything.  I do however think this is meant to parallel a line in the often forgotten third verse of The Battle Hymn of the Republic: “As [Christ] died to make men holy, let us die to make men free, our God is marching on.”  I have no proof of this, but he last scenes of text that suggested their sacrifice helped turn the tide of the war, it is not to far fetched.

Colonel Robert G. Shaw: So what do you want to do?

Trip: Don’t know, sir.

Shaw: It stinks, I suppose.

Trip: Yeah, It stinks bad. And we all covered up in it too. Ain’t nobody clean. Be nice to get clean, though.

Shaw: How do we do that?

Trip: We ante up and kick in, sir. But I still don’t want to carry your flag.

And finally this scene speaks for itself…

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Most Patriotic Movies #17 National Treasure

“To high treason.  That’s what these men were committing when they signed the Declaration. […] Here’s to the men who did what was considered wrong, in order to do what they knew was right…”

Okay it’s a silly and fun movie.  It’s lacking in depth and real history…oh who am I kidding it’s The DaVinci Code in America.  But that doesn’t change the fact that for all of historical inaccuracy (I’m being polite) it still places ideals of America first and foremost.

“Of all the ideas that became the United States, there’s a line here that’s at the heart of all of the others.  ‘When a long train of abuses and usurpations pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to render the under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government and provide new guards for their future security. ‘  People don’t talk that way anymore. […] It means that if there is something wrong those who have the ability to take action have the responsibility to take action.”

Americans in the early days of the nation through the hay day of the Monroe Doctrine and off and on since WWII has understood this principle.  All men are created equal and their rights aren’t tied to a Declaration or border, they are inalienable to all…and you have if you wish to be ethical and have the power to do something, you do it or you are not ethical.  This is why our government was one that in the early days laid to waste three nations that engaged in piracy and extortion of all of Europe, not just for our own shipping rights, but because it was the right thing to do.  And this why this nation above all others believes in personal charity, because it is not the duty of some government bureaucrat to help people, it is the ethical responsibility of people to determine not just need but also worthiness so we do not throw away money on those who would waste it.

And it’s nice to see that this movie understands that ethics are not some bygone passé idea that along with chivalry we have move past, but rather the guiding light and loadstone of our lives.

I will be honest I cringed every time they touch the Declaration in the movie. I know it wasn’t the real thing, but even the thought of putting the Declaration in harm’s way was a horrifying idea to me.

The movie also makes clear the true value of the Declaration.  The sanctity of the idea of bringing it back to Independence Hall, the willingness to do anything to protect it, going so far as when Abigail agrees that dropping her (possibly killing her) was the correct move to save the Declaration.  Now maybe it’s just me who understands this reaction to the Declaration, but then again I choke when I read it aloud, but I cannot find any holy book on earth, even my beloved Course In Miracles or Bhagavad-Gita, that seems to divinely inspired as to recognize the value of individual human life and the power it has.  And this movie, through the character’s reverence for the document, at least shows that I’m not alone.

The movie also shows the American way of thought in the character’s dialogue:

Ben Gates: “No, but I hope it’s real. I mean I’ve dreamt it’s real since my grandfather told me about it. But I want to hold it.  I feel like I’m so close I can taste it. But I just…just want to know it’s not just something I my head or in my heart. “

Abigail Chase: “People don’t really talk that way you know”

Ben Gates: “I know.  But they think that way.”

Thinking in these grand idealistic ways is a distinctly American trait.

And finally, even the treasure itself becomes just another way to show the greatness of America in the film:

Agent Sandusky: The Templars and the Freemasons believed that the treasure was too great for any one man to have, not even a king. That’s why they went to such lengths to keep it hidden.

Ben Gates: That’s right. The founding fathers believed the same thing about government. I figure their solution will work for the treasure too.

Agent Sadusky: Give it to the people.

That we have entrusted the people of the republic with an awesome power and responsibility (maybe they should try living up to it once in a while).

Overall for all of simplicity and flaws, it is a deeply patriotic film.  I’ll be honest I was less impressed by the sequel…but I always have hopes for the third which they keep promising.

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The Best Patriotic Films #18 A Few Good Men

Lt. Weinberg: Why do you like them so much?

Lt. Com. Galloway: Because they stand on a wall and say, “Nothing’s going to hurt you tonight, not on my watch.”

I know it’s an odd choice.  Yes, no one will deny it’s a quality film, and Cruise’s impersonation of Nicholson alone makes the movie priceless, but few would initially think of this movie as patriotic. Neither the writer, the director nor any of the actors are ever going to be on a who’s who of patriots (although the three lead actors might be on a who’s who of the mentally unhinged).  Yet strangely for the most part this movie shows parts of what makes this nation great, namely the admirable and honorable nature or our armed services.  (I also could go on about how this shows the beauty of our legal system, for all its flaws, but I’ll save that for a later film).

Specifically the idea that people join the armed services not because they can’t get jobs (which ignores the fact that your average enlisted man or woman is better educated than the average civilian, and doubly so for the officer corps…oh by the way, in case you’re an idiot who should never be allowed anywhere near the chain of command it’s pronounced “core” not “corpse”), or the violent brutes who just want to kill people, or whatever other lies and insults isolationists want to hurl on the military.  No as it is made clear people join because they believe in their country, they believe that they can serve something greater than themselves, or as one of the accused Marines puts it when offered a deal to get out of his trial,

“We joined the Marines because we wanted to live our lives by a certain code, and we found it in the Corps. Now you’re asking us to sign a piece of paper that says we have no honor. You’re asking us to say we’re not Marines. If a court decides that what we did was wrong, then I’ll accept whatever punishment they give. But I believe I was right sir, I believe I did my job, and I will not dishonor myself, my unit, or the Corps so I can go home in six months… Sir.”

And I don’t know if it was intentional or not by the writers but even the movie’s villain, Nicholson’s Col. Jessup did what he did, initially, out of right intentions.  He ordered what the movie calls a “Code Red” (although I think this is not really a term used by military personnel) or soldiers punishing their own for being screw-ups (minor beatings, hazing style humiliation, and in the case of the movie forcibly having your head shaved…oh the injustice, he inhumanity, someone call the UN Human Rights council).  It’s a time honored tradition in military organizations and I’m sure still going on to this day although officially looked down upon…probably because it works in ensuring the cohesive workings of a military organization.  And Jessup orders it because he wants to ensure that the Marines under his command are capable of doing their duty and defend the lives of Americans that they have sworn to protect.

“Maybe we as officers have a responsibility to this country to see to it that the men and women charged with its security are trained professionals. Yes, I’m certain that I read that somewhere once.  And now I’m thinking, Col. Markinson, that your suggestion of transferring Santiago, while expeditious and certainly painless, might not be, in a matter of speaking, the American way. Santiago stays where he is. We’re gonna train the lad! […] We’re in the business of saving lives, Matthew. That’s a responsibility we have to take pretty seriously. And I believe that taking a Marine who’s not quite up to the job and shipping him off to another assignment, puts lives in danger.”

The man may be a complete jackass, as are many people, but he was right.  The Marines have a duty to protect America, and as a Marine Colonel he has a duty to make sure every man under his command is able to do that. *

Hell, he even has a point, after his famous “you can’t handle the truth line”

“You can’t handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lieutenant Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom! You weep for Santiago and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives! You don’t want the truth, because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall! You need me on that wall! We use words like “honor”, “code”, “loyalty”. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline! I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it! I would rather you just said “Thank you,” and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to!”

Now what makes him the villain of the movie is that he says “We use words like ‘honor’, ‘code’, ‘loyalty’” but rather than living those words he only uses them.  Rather than fessing up to the fact that he ordered the punishment when it all fell apart and probably just getting a slap on the wrist and losing his impending high profile promotion, he chooses to dishonorably let two men under his command take the blame for something he ordered.  But the movie actually does make clear that the hypocrisy of those who hide behind these words is not the majority of the Marine Corp,

Kaffey: Oh, thanks, Jack. And I want to tell you that I think the whole fucking bunch of you are certifiably insane! This code of honor of yours makes me want to beat the shit out of something!

Capt. Ross: Don’t you dare lump me in with Jessup and Kendrick just because we wear the same uniform. I’m your friend and I’m telling you, I don’t think your clients belong in jail but I don’t get to make that decision! I represent the government of the United States without passion or prejudice and my client has a case! There you go.

Now some out there make this bizarre logical jump that if there is one bad apple in the military then all of them are bad.  Others seem to suggest that just by wearing the uniform you are in a rank somehow higher than sainthood.  The truth is there are assholes, criminals, and idiots in Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard.  The truth is also that, unlike some nations, these dregs of civilization do not even constitute a fraction our armed services—they’re the few and far between exception and their presence does not taint the honor of those who serve a higher purpose (which you’ll notice all the people you hate in this movie are only out for themselves and don’t care who they hurt…okay with the exception of Sutherland’s character, that guy was just crazy).

Now, I have some issues with some of the more liberal overtones of this film, but we can leave those for another day.

Kaffee: Harold.

Dawson: Sir?

Kaffee: You don’t need to wear a patch on your arm to have honor.

*The real villain of this movie is the doctor who through gross incompetence failed to diagnose early on that the victim suffered a serious and eventually fatal heart condition.  Every action that led up to the character’s death was based on the fact the doctor said all of whining about medical problems were just that whining and not based in a medical reason, and he just needed to toughen up (although given that the victim was willing to sell out a fellow Marine to get his transfer by falsely accusing him of a crime, I can’t see why the other characters wouldn’t assume he was dishonorable and weak willed). But the fact is, that in the context of this film, if the doctor had done his job, no one else would have come close to crossing any lines as the kid would be have given a medical discharge and that would be that.  But rather than own up to incompetence, the doctor falsely accused the two Marines of using a poison.

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The Best Patriotic Films #19 Star Trek—The Original Series: The Omega Glory

Jim Kirk, Constitutional Scholar

Now some may find this an odd choice.  Isn’t Star Trek a fairly liberal show?  No, as shown here, here, and here it understood conservative principles quite well.  But nowhere is it more conservative and more patriotic than the episode “The Omega Glory.”

Remember how when talking about comedy films, and I picked out the Star Trek episode “The Trouble with Tribbles” that original series Star Trek episodes tended to fall into one of two categories: Category A (mainly in the third season) crap beyond the telling of and Category B some of the greatest moments of science fiction television ever.  But there are some rare middle ground episodes, not spectacularly great, but with one or two really redeeming qualities…the patriotism of this episode is its redeeming quality.

The plot of the episode revolves around Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise finding a world that developed with the exact same history as Earth but with only a few differences (that might be a cool topic, if it wasn’t like the fourth time they used that plot…Star Trek may have been groundbreaking in many ways, but original plot points weren’t always their strong points).  On this planet, after an apocalyptic war between Chinese Communists and Americans most of the world has been destroyed.  Kirk, Spock, and McCoy come in just to find the final victory of the Communists, or Kohms, by the American Yankees, or Yangs.  And the most holy of holies to the Yangs is a document that over the years they’ve slurred the meaning of…luckily for them Kirk came just in time to explain what it really means”

KIRK: This was not written for chiefs. (general consternation) Hear me! Hear this! Among my people, we carry many such words as this from many lands, many worlds. Many are equally good and are as well respected, but wherever we have gone, no words have said this thing of importance in quite this way. Look at these three words written larger than the rest, with a special pride never written before or since. Tall words proudly saying ‘We the People’. That which you call Ee’d Plebnista was not written for the chiefs or the kings or the warriors or the rich and powerful, but for all the people! Down the centuries, you have slurred the meaning of the words, ‘We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution.’ These words and the words that follow were not written only for the Yangs, but for the Kohms as well!

CLOUD: The Kohms?

KIRK: They must apply to everyone or they mean nothing! Do you understand?

CLOUD: I do not fully understand, one named Kirk. But the holy words will be obeyed. I swear it.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.  In fact, did you know that there are legitimate college courses out there that use this scene to help teach the Constitution? 

“So he quotes the Constitution, what’s so patriotic about that” I’m sure some liberal out there is saying.

First it puts the primacy of the Constitution over all other attempts at democratically-republican government, “Many are equally good and are as well respected, but wherever we have gone, no words have said this thing of importance in quite this way.”  Unlike some of our dumber Supreme Court Justices, the writers of Star Trek, realized that for all of it’s flaws and places where it could be improved (let’s start by reaffirming the sacrosanct nature of property and contracts or maybe the limited nature of government, we seem to have forgotten those), the U.S. Constitution is one of the greatest documents ever produced.

It is patriotic because the writers understood that “They must apply to everyone or they mean nothing!” “We the people” through our representatives at the Constitutional Convention may have created this document for this nation in 1787, but its principles were not meant for just the citizens of the U.S.  The posterity they saw wasn’t just the future generations of the U.S. but hopefully for the world, that we would be the beacon for all to learn from so that all may have “secure the blessings of liberty” (or are you so foolish and closed minded as to think blessings, which the Declaration clearly points out come from God, are only for America.)  No, it was meant for all the people.  Liberty is a right, not just for Americans, but for all people.  Which is why in this episode Kirk skirts the Prime Directive and shows the people of this planet what the words mean.

Of course, as science fiction is best when used to make a point to the audience, one must ask to whom this episode was being directed at.  I would say it would be the bigoted, small minded, worthless excuses for Americans who say such unquestionably evil things like “our obligation is to defend Americans, not people under a different flag. Let those people fight for their own freedom and establish their own government” otherwise known as taking the side of tyranny and thus being morally guilty of all the evil which you choose not to stop when you have the power to do so.  Nowadays we call them liberals and Paulbots, and make no mistake they are as opposed to what makes the Constitution worthy of admiration as it gets.

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Most Patriotic Films #20 The Hunt for Red October

“If we meet the right sort, this will work.  We get some…buckaroo…”

Yesterday I discussed a film about immigration I wasn’t too thrilled about.  But also it was talking about the kind of immigration that most immigrants attempted, the kind that while there was risk the odds were in your favor.

Now onto a form that more or less is unique to the 20th and 21st century.  The kind where you are escaping a country so evil, and trying to get to a place so good, that it is literally a journey where death is the more likely outcome.  It says something about a country when people regularly climb into unseaworthy rafts (and that’s a generous term) just for the chance to get here.  With the exception of a few other Western nations, who pays smugglers to get them to any country but America?  And with those other countries (most of them also current or former members of the British Empire as we are—say what you will about the redcoats, but British Common Law is one of the most ingenious and ethical creations civilization has ever come up with).  They’re not risking life and limb because the American dream is a lie without basis.

And of course the most dangerous way of all…defection…and we do seem to get more than our fair share (even more when you figure we don’t know about most of it.  Let’s be honest, you ever hear of anyone defecting to Russia…I know of only one person who did that—Lee Harvey Oswald, not exactly the poster boy for mental stability.  I’m sure there have been others, but the fact of the matter is most people are defecting to liberty not away from it.

And that brings us to today’s movie The Hunt for Red October.

Yes I love Jack Ryan as much as the next person.  A man who was paralyzed because of an accident and battled his way back to walking through force of will.  What could be more American than the story of a lowly cubicle dwelling analyst through nothing but integrity and drive working his way up from his cubicle in Langley to the Oval Office.  But that’s the books and this is about the movie.

And while I actually prefer Alec Baldwin’s Jack Ryan to the other (I know I’m alone in that, I don’t care), this isn’t a movie about Ryan as much as it is about Captain Marko Ramius and the officers of Red October who are willing to risk going up against the entire Soviet Navy just to experience the American Dream.

And what is this lavish dream they wish for that is so superior to the highest echelons of Soviet existence (officers in the military were second only to high ranking party members in the USSR)?  What dreams beyond the wildest avarice?

Capt. Vasili Borodin: I will live in Montana. And I will marry a round American woman and raise rabbits, and she will cook them for me. And I will have a pickup truck… maybe even a “recreational vehicle.” And drive from state to state. Do they let you do that?

Captain Ramius: I suppose.

Borodin: No papers?

“I would like to see Montana…”

Ramius: No papers, state to state.

Borodin: Well then, in winter I will live in… Arizona. Actually, I think I will need two wives.

Ramius: Oh, at least.

Ignoring the polygamy joke at the end, think about how simple this “dream” is.  An RV, a wife, a house, some rabbits (tell me about the rabbits George…sorry couldn’t resist), and some interstate travel.

Granted it’s a movie, but this is the kind of dreams people come for.   You know it is.  To own a small business in a strip mall.  To be able to go where you want.  To have a place where your children will be better off than you.  Nothing grand and overblown…but something real, something that is worth fighting for (and maybe even dying for).

And this theme of what America offers permeates the whole movie from the first moments to the last scene with Ramius and Ryan.  America is a place that you would die for just the chance to get there.

And let us not forget that Ramius is looking for the American cowboy mentality of “I care about what’s right, not about the rules”…or in Ramius’ words “a buckaroo.”  Only in America do you not only get that kind of mentality with any regularity, but it is only here that this mentality is praised as the ideal we should all strive for.

Ramius and his “Buckaroo”

Now the rest of the film is just a great thriller and action movie, I don’t even have to discuss why, it’s pretty obvious.  Even without the patriotic undertones it would be a good movie, with them it’s really good one (can’t quite say great because I can’t honestly say this is in my top 50 of all time, but it’s up there).

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Most Patriotic Films #21 An American Tail


Papa Mousekewitz: In America, there are mouse holes in every wall.
Mama Mousekewitz: Who says?
Papa Mousekewitz: Everyone. In America, there are bread crumbs on every floor.
Mama Mousekewitz: You’re talking nonsense!
Papa Mousekewitz: In America, you can say anything you want, but most important – and this I know for a fact – in America, there are no cats.

 

…the point here is that while the myths about America are a bit overblown for immigrants coming here, there is a basis in truth for them.

I placed this at #21 because of what I remembered of the film.  I just watched it again for the first time in decades…in retrospect, it still belongs on this list…#21 may be a bit generous though.   I really had fonder memories of Fievel than was apparently warranted.  But too late to change it now, so on we go with the story of Russian Jewish mice coming to America.

 

Okay, so obviously I have some critiques, but I’ll deal with them later.

 

First why is this film patriotic?

 

Because it shows what America has been and that no other country can be what we are.  The nation of hope and dreams.  The nation of possibilities where, as the movie puts it, and I will spare you having to hear it, “there are no cats in America and the streets are filled with cheese.”  It shows that no matter how bad the corruption in our nation is (and the movie doesn’t shy away from showing that) it is no where as bad as the Cossacks, British in Ireland, or for that matter any other form of European corruption. It shows that despite all the poverty and exploitation immigrants faced in first coming to America, it is still a land of opportunity open to those who worked.  It shows that despite some possible initial misgivings, background and heritage were not as important and while people may have clustered into ethnic groups they would eventually get past that and form an entity called America.  And it points out quite clearly that people came to these shores for Freedom.

 

We all remember it and what makes it so fondly remembered.

 

Everything we should teach children, because it’s true, in a children’s film that we all remember fondly.

 

However, unlike some of its Disney counterparts which have clearly spoiled me there is little for adults to appreciate after years.  Most of the music makes “Small World” seem tolerable.  And again Disney has spoiled me with things like quality animation, character development and plot. Now they tried for something to appeal to adults…they had jokes about Tammany Hall…and I’m going to guess that most adults, even educated ones, wouldn’t immediately get this reference.

 

To be polite I’m going to cut short my critiques of this film (I’d probably have more nice things to say if I hadn’t watched the film last night, but oh well) because I still think it is an excellent patriotic film for children…even if it’s very lacking in staying power.

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Most Patriotic Films #22: Field of Dreams

 

“Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”[Italics added]

Now as anyone who has read this blog for a while knows, I am less than thrilled with most team sports.  I perfectly understand playing them, but most of the time they make no sense to me…I just do not find the fascination in watching a ball or puck moved back and forth on a field.  And then add to the fact that almost every professional sport exists almost entirely by sucking off the government teat at taxpayer expense (if schools started making sports paid for only by ticket sales and parent contributions, and cities no longer offered sweetheart deals on taxes and built stadiums at tax payer losses do you really think most professional sports would last for long?)…and then there is the philosophical aspect of sports.  The reason Miracle did not make this list of patriotic films, even though it’s on every other list of patriotic films, is because it glorified subverting the individual for the whole…which I fully admit is the central idea of all team sports…but while that is the philosophy that leads to successful teams in sports it is antithetical to the very core of the American spirit and poisonous to the fabric of society.  Rational self-interest, not subversion of the self, is how societies grow and prosper, that is not necessarily the idea behind winning teams.  So like I said, not a big fan of team sports…

…except for baseball.  Now there is a sport that perfectly models the nature of America.  Yes we are individuals out for our own ends, which are hopefully fully rational, but even the most rationally self-interested  person out there realizes that they are in a society and do need to work with others; it is that what is good for us is good for society at large, not the other way around—when you begin thinking of what is good for society must be good for me, well look at Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, LBJ’s Great Society and tell me if that line of thought works.  And no sport exemplifies this focus on the individual working within a society as well as baseball.

Every pitch begins as a battle between only two individuals, the batter and the pitcher, and it develops into a larger struggle of the batter versus the rest of the opposing team.  It is only when you take a further step back to a whole inning that it ceases to be strictly about the individual and achieves the level of one team versus another.  Hell, while I’m not sure it will ever be done, the two grandest achievements theoretically possible in baseball, a perfect game or batting 1.000 could theoretically be done by a single individual (it’s all but impossible you’ll ever get a professional to bat 1.000, but it is theoretically possible, though highly unlikely, for a single person to pitch a perfect game without the help of his team).  The importance of the individual is never far from any moment in baseball.

I can find no better metaphor in sports that balances the American emphasis on the individual than baseball.  And thus at least one baseball movie had to be in this list…

And while I think For the Love of the Game might be the greatest baseball movie of all time there is no denying that in addition to being a wonderfully patriotic film, Field of Dreams is without a doubt one of the greatest and most moving films of all time.

So what makes Field of Dreams so patriotic…I mean besides that James Earl Jones speech about how baseball and America are inextricable from each other.

The first are concepts of faith and will.  Americans have always been a more spiritual people than our counterparts in the old world that we left behind.  Not necessarily more religious, we often have no respect for the hierarchy of religion, but we are a very spiritual people.  And we may not be big on doctrine either, but we believe.  In any other country in the world a person hears a voice telling them “If you build it, he will come” if they are sane they’d probably check themselves in for observation…but here we have faith that there is a higher power out there guiding us.  Cynics, liberals, and skeptics might take this whole paragraph glorifying a weakness of America, but in reality, it is our faith and willingness to believe in something not only greater than us, but that we are a part of that infinite greatness, that makes us an exceptional nation.  And it is not only a quiet faith that sits in churches and prays but doesn’t act.  Part of America’s strength lies in the fact that we marry our beliefs and faith to our actions.  We actually don’t just hear the voice, we take the time to plow under the corn and build the baseball filed.

There is the repeated line “Is this Heaven?  No this is Iowa” (I even have a T-shirt with that on it that was bought at the field they built for the movie, which as far as I know is still there).  What is interesting about that line is that they later clarify it.  “Is there a Heaven?” “Yes, it’s the place where dreams come true.”  Now stop me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that America?  The America Dream?  The idea that this land above all others, that if you work and strive you will achieve your dream.  “Then maybe this is heaven.”

One of the lesser known points about this film (and the book it was based on) is that the character of Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham is a real person.  And I don’t mean they loosely based him on a real person, I mean that with a few date changes, every fact they mention about the man is an actual fact.  He had one of the shortest careers in baseball, the way they described him is taken from real interviews, he apparently really did have a closet full of blue hats he didn’t get around to giving his wife, and the passage they quote from his obituary in the film is from the real man’s obituary.

“And there were times when children could not afford eyeglasses or milk or clothing. Yet no child was ever denied these essentials because in the background there was always Dr. Graham. Without any fanfare or publicity, the glasses or the milk or the ticket to the ballgame found their way into the child’s pocket.”

Now I’m not going to go as far as to say that America is the only nation that breeds people of a saintly nature, as Graham appears to have been…but we do it with a greater propensity than others.  We’re the most charitable nation on Earth. And rich or poor we give more in money and in personal time volunteering .  Liberals hate the fact that the only nation founded on the individual and what was once the most capitalistic nation on Earth is also the most giving. On his own Doctor Graham is admirable, but it is the fact that the character of Terrance Mann observes that “half the towns in America have a Doc Graham” and more or less he’s right, that makes this a very patriotic idea.

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