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May 25, 2009

Ten Movies & TV Shows That Taught Me Something About War (Re-Post)

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This is a post I wrote for last year's Memorial Day.  After reading it over, I decided to re-post it.  Thanks to all our brave men and women in uniform.

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I'm lucky. I've never had to serve in a war or known someone close who's died in one. Even though I learned the facts and figures of war in school, the impact of war I learned from television and the movies. In honor of Memorial Day, this post is about what I've learned about war.

Tenko - (British TV Series:  1981-1984) This landmark series was about a group of British, Australian and Dutch women captured during the Japanese invasion of Singapore at the start of WWII and then spent the next three years in a POW camp. The characters were fascinating, the life and death struggles were harrowing and it was the first time the brutality of POW camp life, especially for women, hit me full on.

Courage Under Fire - (Film: 1996) This underrated movie stars Denzel Washington and Meg Ryan. It's about a Lt. Colonel veteran of the Gulf War (Washington) investigating the death of Karen Walden (Ryan), in order to determine her qualification for a posthumous Medal Of Honor. The questioning of the surviving crew members of her downed helicopter results in different accounts of her death, causing the Lt. Colonel to eventually uncover a terrible secret. This to me was one of Meg Ryan's best roles and it was the first movie I'd seen that showed a woman in such realistic combat. It co-stars Matt Damon and Lou Diamond Phillips.

A Town Like Alice - (British/Australian TV Mini-Series:  1981)  Based on the novel by Nevil Shute who also wrote the post nuclear holocaust novel, "On The Beach," this is a love story set in Japanese occupied Malaysia during WWII. He's Joe Harmon an Australian POW (Bryan Brown) and she's Jean Paget a British captive (Helen Morse). It was this series that made me understand some of what it must have been like to try and survive the hell on earth that was a death march.

Legends of the Fall - (Film:  1994) Most people remember this movie as the breakout film for a youthful Brad Pitt. What was more memorable for me however, was a scene set during WWI where one of the characters is trapped and killed in barbed wire on the field of battle. There's a Sting song called, "The Children's Crusade" and part of the lyric includes the line, "They're trapped on the wire, and dying in waves." I never understood that line until this movie, and I've never forgotten it.

Friendly Fire - (TV Movie: 1979) This TV movie starred Carol Burnett, in a rare dramatic role, and Ned Beatty as parents of a son killed in Vietnam. After being given evasive answers about how their son died, it's discovered that he died from friendly fire. Forgive me for being young at the time, but this was the first time the concept of someone in a war being killed by someone from their own side ever occurred to me.

Saving Private Ryan - (Film:  1998) The first twenty minutes of this film, the landing on Normandy Beach during WWII, have to be the most realistic scenes of war ever filmed. If you see it in a movie theatre, it's almost more than a viewer can bear. Intense doesn't even begin to describe it. It's inescapable for us, as it was for those young soldiers. I remember thinking after the movie was over, I didn't know how anyone could survive such an experience and then live out the rest of their lives "normally." How do you ever shop at a grocery store, how do you ever have a picnic, how do you ever sleep through the night again after such a horrifying experience? I still don't know.

Danger UXB - (British TV Series:  1979) The world of "Danger UXB" was a revelation to me. Starring Anthony Andrews, the series followed the progress of bomb disposal units in England during WWII. From the most rudimentary techniques of disarming bombs to trying to disarm bombs that were specially designed with booby traps meant for bomb disposal officers, this excellent series showed an aspect of WWII I knew absolutely nothing about. Sometimes the bombs were in the middle of a London schoolyard, sometimes on the roof of a private house. Wherever they were, the men of the bomb disposal units had to determine how to either detonate or disarm them safely so life for civilians could get back to "normal."

The War - (TV Documentary Series:  2007)  Ken Burns' documentary "The War" is a monumental work that brings WWII to life in a comprehensive way. It's an examination of four American towns and the experiences of their soldiers. It's told with authentic war time footage, much of which has never been seen before.

The Killing Fields - (Film:  1984)  This film tells the true story of American journalist Sydney Schanberg (Sam Waterston) and local photojournalist Dith Pran (Academy Award winner Dr. Haing S. Ngor) as they try to cover the rise of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. With the fall of the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, Schanberg, a writer with the New York Times escapes with the help of Pran, but Pran is forced to stay and fight for his own survival. The second half of the movie follows Pran and documents his encounters with "the killing fields."  My most vivid memories of this movie are the shots of rows and rows of skulls Pran discovers as he tries to evade capture.

The Diary Of Anne Frank - (Film:  1959) I read the book as a kid, saw the movie and the real Anne Frank house in Holland as a teenager and I'll never forget any of them. What more is there to say?

The Newreels Of The Bombing Of Pearl Harbor And The Television Coverage Of 9/11. These images of course were not a TV show or a movie, they were all too real and I felt the need to add them. One happened before I was born and the other did not. They were both declarations of war, the only difference being on 9/11, the soldiers weren't in uniform, they were in business suits and pumps. They didn't carry guns and grenades, but briefcases and handbags. They worked at coffee pushcarts and in restaurant kitchens and on fire trucks and in police cars. But for me, that terrible day, they were all soldiers. And don't let anyone tell you that day wasn't a day of war.

Finally, here's a video that commemorates women who serve in the military, as bravely as the men, but often with many more challenges. We all owe them and the men who serve with them a debt of thanks on this Memorial Day.

Related Links:

Military War Movies And TV Shows:  A very thorough list with descriptions.
Herstory:  A post about women in the military and the need to curb harassment and assault.

Cross Posted From BlogHer

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