Fall on your knees. O hear the angels’ voices.
Fall on your knees. O hear the angels’ voices.
It can be bemusing to think about the tiniest of decisions and how they change the course of the world.
Thirty-years-plus-one-week ago today, the government of East Germany was struggling with the changes rocking the communist world. Mikhail Gorbachev had been trying to salvage communist rule through reform programs, which he intended to pacify the currents pushing against the Soviet system. As freedoms were granted, however, the wave of protests seem to build on them. The East German government determined that a new travel policy which seemingly offered fewer restrictions on movement between the two Germanies, without making any practical changes, would mollify critics.
On November 9th, a press conference was held to announce the new policy. For almost an hour, a party functionary droned on about the process that led up to the changes. It finally culminated in a description of a new policy, supposedly to making it easier to obtain travel permits. Realizing that there was finally something of substance, a reporter asked if this meant East Germans would be allowed to travel. Thrown off from his script, the spokesman said that it would be possible for every citizen to emigrate. He then attempted to clarify his statement by reading from the briefing, which detailed an application process. He was interrupted by another question, “When does that go into force?” Still struggling with the written statement, the party spokesman replied “Das tritt nach meiner Kenntnis…” (as far as I know), reading the words “immediately” and “without delay” from his papers.
Without ever intending to, the government of East Germany had apparently declared unrestricted travel to the West. East Germans, hearing the statement broadcast, rushed to the checkpoints to see if the border crossing were, in fact, to be “immediately” opened. At the Bornholmer Straße border crossing, it fell to the passport control officer supervising the night shift to decide what to do with the masses. He had watched the press release and realized its implications, calling his superiors to receive appropriate orders. From up the chain of command, he was told that nothing had changed and it was business as usual. Facing the crowds, he knew that it was far from “usual” and demanded orders. He was finally told that he was allow the noisiest of the protestors to cross into the West but that their passports should be stamped for “no return.”
As the guards began letting people through, some wished simply to cross into West Berlin for the sake of doing it, intending simply to go an come back. One married couple did just that and then were told they were barred from returning. They had actually left behind their children, at home and asleep in the East, and begged for mercy. At that point, the supervisor decided that it would be best to simply allow two-way transit, and the border was effectively opened, at 11:30 PM on Thursday, November 9th.
Over the following days, people would freely cross the border and, in a festival-like atmosphere, the citizens of the two Germanies began physically dismantling the Berlin Wall. Within a year, East and West Germanies were no more, reunified into a single country. In less that a year-and-a-half, the Soviet Union itself would collapse. All because of a botched phrase at a press conference and an on-the-spot decision to disobey orders.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, 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 for the United States of America.
Constitution Day nearly passed me by. Fortunately, the Wall St. Journal published an editorial by Assistant Professor Adam Carrington of Hilsdale College.
He suggests that those who would invoke and defend the Constitution mostly focus on the Bill of Rights or on one of the later amendments. Instead, he suggests, we might find wisdom in the preamble; wisdom that would help us to answer the political questions that plague us today.
Alas, he does not show us those answers. But he does ask some good questions. We should be aware that “domestic tranquility,” “the blessings of Liberty,” and the sovereignty of “We the People” are truly at risk. It is a holiday worth our remembrance.
Nearby, the Journal’s editorial staff commentate on the renewed attack on Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh’s past life. They conclude that this is either an attempt to pressure Justice Kavanaugh into altering his positions when making decisions and/or question the very legitimacy of the institution.
Connecting these dots is left as an exercise for the reader.
From depths of hell Thy people save
and give them victory o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
When the boys come back
They will not be the same; for they’ll have fought
In a just cause: they lead the last attack
On Anti-Christ; their comrades’ blood has bought
New right to breed an honourable race,
They have challenged Death and dared him face to face
Yesterday was Memorial Day in the United States. Or perhaps tomorrow is, if you follow the old ways.
Memorial Day was an ad hoc tradition from the days of the Civil War. It was sometimes known as “Decoration Day.” The decorations, in this case, being the ones that would be taken to the graves of fallen soldiers. A few years after the war’s end, consolidation of the holiday occurred. The date of May 30th was supposedly chosen for its lack of significance to any particular battle.
In 1971, the official date was changed, along with other Federal holidays, to make it the last Monday in May, thus creating a 3-day weekend. The holiday had also long become, not a Civil War memorial, but a memorial for all servicemen killed in the line of duty.
The tradition of lamenting those who fail to remember the true spirit of the holiday also goes back at least 100 years. The Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization of Civil War Veterans, was one of the strongest proponents for the holiday and its observation. They used the date to help push their political agenda (pensions, mostly) as well as urging a solemn and dignified celebration (family were urged to keep their war veterans sober). By the turn of the century, they are on record as complaining about the “younger generation” who “forget the purpose of Memorial Day and make it a day for games, races and revelry, instead of a day of memory and tears.” This is one tradition we keep strong.
For myself, I did not engage in races and revelry yesterday. I cannot credit this to a superior character as it was a little too cold out for merry-making. My celebration of Memorial Day consisted of rewatching the film We Were Soldiers.
I have seen it said online as well as heard it from Vietnam War veterans that We Were Soldiers is the best Vietnam War film yet made. Hal Moore has spoken favorably of Mel Gibson’s portrayal of him. I cannot speak to that. However, young me spent some years on military bases around that time and there are a handful of scenes that, despite being mere actors doing their thing, absolutely capture the mannerisms and bearing the 1960s American officer.
Since the film was released, both General Moore and Sgt. Major Plumley have passed on. May they, and all those who died in America’s wars, rest in peace.
Patris aeterni Verbum caro factum.
Venite adoremus. Dominum.
Clocking in at 2 hours and 58 minutes, The Longest Day is hardly the longest movie Hollywood has made. Heck, it’s not even the longest movie I’ve watched this week. However, the 1962 movie hasn’t aged so well and can at times seem a bit endless. Of course, that is part of the point – to show the massive scale of the Normandy invasion.
The Longest Day was released in what is called the Roadshow format. This is where movies, generally very long ones, were given limited releases. First to only the major cities and then to limited theatres after that. Showings were restricted to, perhaps, only 2 shows per day and perhaps less on off days. Reservations might be required and often an intermission was granted. All of this, in addition to creating a “buzz” for the film, also was accompanied by a premium ticket price.
The film was very popular and did quite well for itself. It features, quite possibly, every major male actor of the time and covers the entirety of the D-Day landing operation by focusing on the details. The writing of Cornelius Ryan is, to me, very obvious featuring as he does little details an vignettes. Ryan also authored the script, which based on his own book. It came out at a time when America’s Second World War heroes were growing older, but were still among us. The next generation was asking “What did you do in the great World War Two?”
The first thing that hit me, as I watch this week, is that the actors are all too old. With very few exceptions, the soldiers are not played by teenagers (as our soldiers so often are) but by middle aged men. The real kick in the teeth was General James Gavin. At the time of his film, he had recently turned 37. He had been promoted to Brigadier General at the age of 36, making him one of the youngest generals in the army and, in fact, upon his promotion to Major General before Market Garden was the youngest U.S. Division commander in the war. So imagine my horror when he is portrayed by an actor, Robert Ryan, who is barely younger (in real life) than the general and is trying to portray the man nearly 20 years younger than they are.
My image of General Gavin was shaped by the “other” Cornelius Ryan’s book-turned-film, A Bridge Too Far. In that film, made fifteen years later, the 6-months aged Gavin is played by actor Ryan O’Neal (so many Ryans!). That choice was also criticized as Ryan O’Neal was not only a year younger than the Gavin he was portraying, but he retained a particularly youthful look. While Gavin did not necessarily look like Ryan O’Neal, he did look youthful (as he was) for a general officer.
Perhaps more egregious, although less obvious, John Wayne plays (then) Major Vandervoort, who was (at the time, mind you) ten years his junior.
I’m also ruined by modern special effects. Saving Private Ryan has forever altered how we’re going to view D-Day, and 1962 special effects technology just falls flat. In particular, I notice how many of the outdoor combat scenes are obviously filmed on an indoor soundstage. It makes everything look claustrophobic and peculiarly geometrical. The fighting ends up and unreasonably close range and with the then Hollywood effects. Of course, there are other major battle scenes which are very impressive, and all the more so for having been created before computerized special effects.
Finally, to add insult to injury. One special characteristic of the film at that time is that it foreign characters (German, French) were played by foreign actors who spoke in their native language. The trend at the time, particularly for World War II films, was for the Germans to speak German-accented English. The film was released in the theater subtitled. However, in the Netflix version I elected to watch this week, they are using an all-English language cut (which was also made at the time).
I feel like I’ve been cheated out of one of the saving graces of this otherwise aged film.
All my complaints aside, the film is still popular today and remains unique in its scope, attempting to capture the full scale of the multinational Normandy operations. Such a thing, like the massive invasion itself, may never again be attempted.