A goodly amount of time has passed since my last contribution to this forum. A lot of water over the gate, so to speak. And aside from mentioning a couple of semi-serious physical ailments that have transpired during that time, not to mention a major crisis in faith, I won’t bore the collective readership of ADB with the particulars. Needless to say, it’s good to be back, and hopefully this perspective meets with at least a few nodding heads in discernment.
Super Bowl Sunday! At least it is as I begin this commentary. And here I sit at my crowded, cluttered desk, staring at my huge, antiquated 19-in. monitor that takes up about 1/3 of the space as the game winds down. Didn’t watch it. And that’s a first. I’ve seen them all – including the first one, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, in person, at a time when you could walk up to the box office on game day, purchase a ticket for $12, and take your place with the approximately 65,000 fans who should up to populate the then-near 100,000-seat capacity stadium.
My how times have changed.
So, this was something of a precedent-setting event for me. Normally, I will participate, if for no other reason than the Super Bowl is the last gasp of the current football season. Game, set and match. Fade to black, and we’ll see you next summer. No more fixes for us football junkies until August. And that’s reason enough t hoist a few non-alcoholic beers while downing several slices of pizza in the process, even if my interest in the whole circus has become diluted over the years.
Part of this is due, of course, to the fact that there is nary an NFL team to be found in the local environs of Southern California. The Chargers are too far away to get excited about, and with Marty-ball sapping the purity of essence of the Bolts’ precious bodily fluids these days (to paraphrase General Jack Ripper), they just don’t count. The Raiders were never an L.A. team, and they bugged out while the bugging was good. And, well . . . the Rams left town about five years before the Rams left town, if you get my drift. Add to this condition of ennui the fact that my season usually wraps up with whatever bowl game USC is playing in, in this case the Rose Bowl on January 1.
So, my interest this year’s wow-finish to the NFL season was at an all-time low going in. There remained, however, the question of what I was going to do with my free afternoon. Somehow, all the big TV extravaganzas designed to siphon viewers like myself away from the NFL elephant in the living room didn’t float my boat. Sifting through my extremely alpha-manly collection of DVDs did nothing to excite me either. You know you’re in trouble when you can’t come up with something suitable to watch from such choices as Braveheart, Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, A Few Good Men, not to mention a plethora of Arnold Schwarzenegger blow-em-up-beat-em-up movies for good measure. I was in one serious funk as game time approached.
So, off I went to the junk closet and dusted off a box of old VHS tapes my wife had recorded before we parted company. I was in serious trouble here. I was down to chick-flicks on home grown VHS cassettes and nothing was looking good as I wiped off about an inch and a half of dust from the top layer of tapes.
Now, I’m what you might call an enlightened conservative. I refuse to use the word “compassionate” in this context for reasons I’m sure many of you will find all too obvious. I was astonished that I actually liked The Bridges of Madison County. Either I’ve developed some heightened sensibilities, a serious drop in testosterone levels or I’m just going soft on my old age.
Eventually, I found a film that I vaguely remembered we taped off television many years ago. The White Cliffs of Dover. This was one of those WWII-era schmaltzy, sentimental movies characteristic of that time. But I also remembered it had a certain bite to it that made it appealing this afternoon as I looked for an alternative to a day of bone-crushing Chicago Bear tackles and spectacular last-second Peyton Manning touchdown passes.
So . . . as they teed up the football in Miami, I dusted off my aging VHS tape and popped it into the VCR and I was off to the Never-never Land of make believe.
Now, it came back to me. Irene Dunne, Alan Marshall, Frank Morgan, a very young Roddy McDowell, an even younger Elizabeth Taylor and a further concoction of 1940s Hollywood big and not-so-big shots all gathered together on one screen. Not a bad cast if I do say so myself.
Without giving away the dramatic climax of the tale, the story concerns a young American woman (Dunne) who marries into the English gentry while traveling in Britain in 1914. The film centers around her life over the next 30 years. Now that was a particularly lively period of history for the U.K., not to mention the rest of the world. The plot examines the tension between her status as an English lady and her American roots, her husband’s service in WWI, the Depression, her son’s service in WWII a generation later and so on.
There were two scenes that framed much of the story that stood out in my never-to-be-humble opinion. In 1917, she and her newborn son were standing on a balcony, overlooking a parade of newly-arrived American fighting men as part of the Allied Expeditionary Force. She held her newborn baby in her arms all the while telling him that these were American fighting men, that they were his countrymen (he was, after all, half American), that they would fight well, destroy the barbarians, and bring a lasting peace.
After all, the context of this film was 1944. And the question always comes up – does the culture of the time influence the artistic representations (in this case film), or does the film influence the culture? Cultural historians can rage until dawn on this question. Regardless of the actual influence the AEF brought to bear toward a lasting peace, such sentiments did actually reflect the views of a good many Brits in 1917 after three years of carnage on the western front and nothing to show for it.
Well, the years went by, and at the film’s end, an aging Lady of the Manor – by this time a hospital matron tending the WWII battle casualties – stood on yet another balcony with her then British Commando son – recently evacuated following the abortive raid on Dieppe – and observed essentially the same procession of yet another generation of American fighting men, charged with the same task as their fathers half a lifetime before.
For all the schmaltz, sentiment and tragedy, it is a very powerful cinematic moment. But the point of this lengthy introduction is a line of dialogue that this woman delivers as the film reaches its climax, standing on the balcony, watching her countrymen once again stand up against the dark forces loose in the world.
She said, “God will never forgive us if we break faith with our dead ever again.”
That’s it. Fade to black. Buy war bonds in this theater.
Now, I can’t imagine anyone leaving a theater in 1944 with a dry eye in the house. I further can’t believe anyone made it past the box office without emptying their wallets to buy every war bond they could afford.
It was that kind of time.
It wasn’t so much the remark itself, but the demeanor of the woman as she made it. She spoke of a “peace that would stick” in the same context of the scene. But it wasn’t with the supreme confidence of the nations (America and Britain) or the peoples who know their cause is just. It was tinged with a sad lament.
Taking this to its illogical, fictitious conclusion . . .
Did she have any sense that the men who fought with such courage, resourcefulness and simple faith would age into complacent, arrogant couch potatoes, more concerned with their investment portfolios than the well-being of their children or their country?
Did she envision the massive rebellion of the generation that followed against their WWII-fathers, tearing down the societal foundations they had built, in a fit of self-absorbed generational rage, while offering nothing more enlightened with which to replace them?
Could she see the complacency of how we now live – fighting a global war for survival in an offhand, frivolous fashion, with no national commitment, with a population that, for the most part, does not notice and does not want to be bothered?
Could she imagine a spineless leadership – on both sides of the political spectrum – that will not protect the sovereignty of the country it has been elected to lead, has no interest in the protection of its citizens, will not mandate a national effort to defend the country from an enemy sworn to destroy it, and will sell its most precious national achievements to the cheapest foreign workforce?
Could she lament the erosion of her nation’s identity to the point that her great-grandchildren have no sense of who they are, where they live, or the heritage of their country?
And knowing this, would she think her sacrifices – indeed the sacrifices of all those souls who suffered through the dark years of her time – were worth it?
I’ve always made a habit of attending one of the annual Memorial Day services in my local area. It seems only right. We have a three-day weekend to honor the fallen. And the late-afternoon barbeque is merely a post-script made possible by the blood of those who actually valued the country. I’ve done this for more years than I can remember.
No more. I can no longer pay lip service to a ceremony that is followed by some local political hack wrapping himself in the flag and speaking about how America is merely a part of the global village, how cheap our consumer goods are thanks to Chinese manufacturing, how the avionics on our smart weapons are so reliable thanks to Indian engineering, and how illegal alien invaders are merely here to do the work Americans refuse to do.
I can no longer salute the flag on that day, only to be denied service at some of the more popular Mexican food stands in the area, because they reserve service for Latinos only.
And I can no longer shed a tear on the graves of the fallen – one of whom was among the first in my hometown to fall in Vietnam– when the nation produces a legal system of ambulance chasing shysters for whom a fast buck is their only motivation, and a national leadership that does not demand from this generation of young people, and the nation as a whole, the sober realization that we’re in a fight for our national survival, heritage, our soul, and that we may have to endure significant sacrifices as a result.
This is that kind of time, sad to say.
“God will never forgive us if we break faith with our dead ever again.”
Perhaps He won’t because perhaps we already have.
Maybe the main character in The White Cliffs of Dover knew something we didn’t, even without the perspective of history that we now enjoy. Maybe she had a foreshadowing of what was to come. The tone of her remarks at the end of that film was tinged with hope, pride and resignation at the same time. It was a rich cinematic moment, for all its sentimentality. Maybe she could see the immediate triumph in the offing and the slow collapse of the American soul that was to come.
So endeth another Super Bowl Sunday. Only this one I managed to navigate with the television off. Didn’t see so much as one down of football. Didn’t watch so much as one commercial. And I didn’t miss it. The Super Bowl is a pleasant diversion, but at the end, it comes time to wake up, smell the coffee and confront the troubles of this world once more.
I wonder who won? I wonder if the war-weary British Lady of the Manor in The White Cliffs of Dover wondered the same thing about her country?