Archives of War (1998)

Week of January 12, 2006

Old-time war movies

Before World War I, the toddler of a nation known as the United States held firm to a policy of isolationism when it came to international outbreaks of warfare — until foreigners attacked our submarines. So we jumped into the fray. Again in World War II, we were attacked in Pearl Harbor, so we rose to the challenge. The lesson here: You commit to war when fired upon — when the very fiber of your national security has been indisputably threatened. Only tyrants fire first.

The only people who opposed U.S. involvement in the two world wars were people who opposed war itself. While these wars were being fought abroad, they had very strong influences on everyday life and psyches stateside. Everybody kept tabs on these wars, labored to support these wars and felt these wars on a personal level each and every day — a stark contrast to how the current conflict in Iraq and the "war on terror" at large are processed by U.S. civilians today. Archives of War is a two-hour mélange of old-time war movies that span World War I and the run-up to the second big to-do. The latter half of the tape features a series of short films composed of jingoistic narration, cannon blasting and too much rag-tag music. It is nearly intolerable. But the first half — the half that features the "classic" silent film, The Battle of Ypres, is gorgeous and dignified. No words, just piano and frames of men dying in trenches and on horses. The Battle of Ypres makes you feel the war. The talkies amount to tiresome blather from the mouths of guys who've probably never been there.

Each week the author treks to the Schlafly branch of the St. Louis Public Library, where a staff member blindfolds him and escorts him to the movie shelves. After selecting a film at random, Seely checks it out and reviews it.

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