5.27.2008

I'm gonna sing the Doom Song now. Doom doom doom doom doom doom doom...

There’s been something on my mind for a really long time that raises a lot of questions I wish I could figure out the answers to. It doesn’t puzzle me continuously, but it does come up with somewhat regular frequency, usually but not exclusively at high school commencement exercises, baseball games or any other event where some singer, when nearing the end of the National Anthem, insists on going up to that high A flat at “o’er the land of the freee-HEEEE!!!” My questions are: Who told them to do that? Who ever convinced them that was a good thing to do? Why do they think anyone wants to hear them? How can we eradicate this behavior?


I don’t know if there are any answers. I suppose that, at some point in the last 30 years or so (because I sure don’t remember it from my childhood, and hearing that teeth-clenching rendition is something I would remember because it would have provided such scope for mockery), some famous four-octave-voiced singer who could actually reach that note while still sounding sane decided to show off a bit by hitting the A flat. And I suppose that, after such a demonstration, every two-bit singer eager to imitate the professional would naturally want to give it a go. Add in a few tone-deaf relatives to applaud and deceive those singers, and you have established the foundation for ensuing cacophony. Now it is a matter of course at public functions to hear that tympanum-rending rendition.


I bring this up because yesterday was Memorial Day. Late in the morning we went to the local cemetery for a program put on by the local VFW post. There was a lot of flag-waving, partly because there were about 75 flags there. Maybe more. And then there was the singing. Really, if we can’t replace the Anthem with a more rational song like “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”, then there has got to be a change made in the way it’s performed in public. Because it is currently not a beautiful thing.


Some people among my acquaintance think I'm unpatriotic because I'm overly critical of the National Anthem. Some people among my acquaintance think I'm unpatriotic because I don’t get caught up in the flag-waving paroxysms of patriotism that the public goes through on the holidays specifically set aside for such celebrations. Some people among my acquaintance think I'm unpatriotic because I believe men’s neckwear imprinted with the stars and stripes is a bad idea.



I don’t see much difference between a guy putting a flag tie around his neck and a guy putting a flag around his shoulders. Both are irritating, and if the guy doing it is at the Olympics, it's even more irritating. But that’s just me.


But I think I'm patriotic. While we were at the cemetery, watching all the flags waving and listening to bad national anthems, adequate speeches (I judge speeches at these kinds of functions on the “next to of course god america i” scale), and a touching rendition of Taps (played by Ian and echoed by Jeanette, a fellow trumpeter from the high school band), my DVR was very patriotically recording war movies back at home. I had very patriotically set it to record Bataan, They Were Expendable, The Great Raid, and The Guadalcanal Story. I was hoping they’d also show So Proudly We Hail, Cry ‘Havoc’, and Back to Bataan. With those movies (minus The Guadalcanal Story), you can get a pretty fair picture of the course of World War II in the Philippines.


Of course, I'm not saying you should rely solely on movies to give you your history, but I think it can help. I once read an article (non-fiction, so it’s true, but I can’t remember who wrote it) by a guy (I think he was a teacher) who said he was sitting there in the living room watching some World War II movie on tv. His high-school-aged daughter has her friend over, and while the daughter is doing something or other, the friend wanders into the living room and starts watching the movie. After a minute, she says, “What’s this?”

“A World War Two movie,” says the teacher.

“World War Two?” says the girl, sounding confused.

The teacher, a little surprised, but knowing that some students get historical facts mixed up, says, “You know, when we fought the Japanese and the Germans back in the 1940s.” He goes back to his movie, and the girl watches silently for a few minutes.

“We had a war with Japan?” she finally says. “Who won?”


Now you might not believe that anyone can be that ignorant, but I do. I had a friend whose daughter’s 19-year-old boyfriend was surprised to find out that Canada is located north of the United States. I was there, in person, and heard his very words when he expressed that surprise. He didn’t actually say he was surprised to find out that Canada was located north of the United States. What he said was, “Canada’s on top of the US? I didn’t know that!”

I didn’t know him. If I had, I would’ve found a heavy book, like an encyclopedia or a world atlas, and chucked it at his head in the hopes that some of the knowledge contained therein would, by momentum, make its way into his brain.

Books, I hope you will agree, are a great way of finding things out. Watching movies can even be useful, although I feel that movies should be a supplement to and not a substitute for books. Either way, though, I don’t understand how anyone who watches tv and movies as much as people do today cannot have at least a basic understanding of our nation’s history.

There is a danger in taking films too literally, though. I’ve heard a couple of people use Shakespeare in Love as proof that Queen Elizabeth attended the Globe Theatre to see Shakespeare’s plays. And there are those who think Sir Walter Raleigh was on board fighting the Spanish Armada because they saw it in Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

I once thought of writing a book about “History According to Hollywood”. I had part of a chapter devoted to the proposition that Ginger Rogers single-handedly saved America from Nazi invasion.


So I enjoy World War II films (as long as they have actors in them that I like), and I think they are important for getting some sense of how people back then experienced the war, but I sometimes question what I see. For instance, I was a little skeptical when I first saw Back to Bataan. In that film, John Wayne refuses to surrender to the Japanese with the rest of the Army and becomes a guerrilla fighter instead. Okay, I have no problem with that, because he did the same thing in They Were Expendable, which is based on a true story, so I know that not every American got herded into concentration camps.



He then rescues Anthony Quinn from the Bataan Death March and Anthony Quinn (playing the fictional grandson of a real Filipino hero) joins the guerrillas, too. All right . . . I'm still with them.


What made me look askance was that Beulah Bondi (most people know her as James Stewart’s mother in It’s a Wonderful Life), who portrayed an American school teacher in the Philippines in Back to Bataan, also hooked up with John Wayne’s outfit and lived, marched, and fought with them for the next three-plus years. I wasn’t sure I could believe that. First of all, can you just picture James Stewart’s mother slogging through the jungle with a gun slung over her shoulder?


Secondly, all the accounts I’d heard of before, both factual (I'm thinking of the woman who wrote The Drainpipe Diary, and the ex-Army doctor I knew back in Provo in the 1970s who spent the war with her two little children in a camp near Manila) and fictional (movies like So Proudly We Hail and Cry ‘Havoc’), led me to believe that American and pro-Allies European women and children in the Philippines were pretty uniformly rounded up and sent to camps.


All that changed for me a couple of weeks ago when I read Guerrilla Wife by Louise Reid Spencer. It’s an autobiographical account, pretty well told and extremely interesting, of a group of Americans in the Philippines – some attached to the Army, some (like Spencer’s husband) working for a mining company there, and some serving as missionaries – who all refused to surrender and who instead took their chances living in the jungle, moving around occasionally to avoid capture.



In addition to describing what they went through for two and a half years, the trials they faced and the loneliness, illnesses, and the losses they suffered, Spencer gives due credit to the Filipinos who sympathized with the Americans and helped them survive, even at the risk of their own lives. The book has humor and suspense and some really sad parts, and it opened my eyes. Now, indeed, I can believe in Beulah Bondi as a guerrilla fighter, right up there with John Wayne.


I have a small collection of World War II first-hand-account books, and Guerrilla Wife is a welcome addition.




I also have a collection of World War II movies, and I think it’s a little sad that Guerrilla Wife isn’t one of them. Really, this story would make an excellent film or, even better, a miniseries.


And I also think it’s noteworthy that, in all those patriotic films, regardless of all the flag-waving – and there’s a lot of flag-waving – no one ever screeches the National Anthem. Ever.

9 comments:

Shannie said...

hahaha. dad has several of those flag ties. i'm glad i finally know the deep meanings of your post titles :P

adrien said...

i still don't know the deep meanings of your post titles, but i feel like this one is very familiar. like invader zim or something.

it always really bothered me at football games when the singers would feel the need to kick up to that extra note during the national anthem. it made me want to kick them.

you have a lot of world war ii books. would i be interested in reading any of them now? (as opposed to when i actually lived at home...)

Janeite42 said...

it is invader zim! about the ww2 books, I don't know what aspect of the war interests you particularly, but I still recommend 'thirty seconds over tokyo', and of course 'guerrilla wife'. I also really like 'three came home' (the author was in a camp in Borneo), but it's mostly very sad. and my favorite john steinbeck book ever, more than his novels, is his collection of war dispatches called 'once there was a war'.

jared & megan said...

I liked your post. It was informative and I had a few giggles. My favorite kind. I wish you had taken a video of Ian playing taps. And I would totally watch a movie about the guerrilla wife. But I should probably read some more books first... and about the anthem kick-up thingy, I had noticed they do that so often, but mostly I've numbed myself to it - as I do with lots of stupid things people do.

Captain Faris said...

Hi! I've never "posted a comment" anywhere, but I just read Guerilla Wife and I loved it! It was very exciting and I liked the "innovative" idea (for these days) that the missionaries were decent cooperative and likeable people as opposed to the mad religious fanatics they're portrayed as these days.
Thanks for the oportunity to express myself!

Miss Read said...

So glad to find someone that has an appreciation for Guerilla Wife. I also wish someone would make a movie of this book, as it is written. It would do very well at the box office.

Miss Read said...

Leant a friend my copy of "Guerilla Wife" and it's still not found it's way home! Got on Amazon to see if they had a copy for sale and lo and behold if I didn't see your post of appreciation for the book!! Found my copy at a Salvation Army store. I have also thought the same thing, "this would make a wonderful movie".
Sincerely,
Miss Read

Cliff Schuring said...

I love the set of WWII books that you have shown is it possible to get a list so that I can read them. I noticed that you also have another Guerrilla Wife on the bottom row-- blue cover. With the web it is so much easier to get copy of the book, my first one was found for a dollar at Goodwill during years of searching. I keep loosing them as I loan them out for people to read. I am constantly looking for more information on that time and in that area of the war. My dad talks very little about it and my grandparents died a while ago. But if *I come up with a little info he sometimes elaborates on it. Look forward to seeing your reading list. Thank you

Cliff Schuring Jr.

Janeite42 said...

Cliff - I don't know if you'll see this response, since I didn't see your comment until 15 months after you wrote it (sorry about that), but just in case, here's a list of the books pictured in the photos:

The Drainpipe Diary, by Tressa Cates – a nurse who was a prisoner of the Japanese, she kept a secret diary during her captivity

State of the Nation, by John Dos Passos – he travels around the US interviewing people; sort of a “what’s happening on the homefront” approach

Of Men and War, by John Hersey, five true stories of WWII, but told from the participants’ point of view

Into the Valley, by John Hersey – Hersey’s account of the Marines on Guadalcanal

I Never Left Home, by Bob Hope – account of his travels entertaining the troops

Three Came Home, by Agnes Newton Keith- she, her husband and son were prisoners of the Japanese in Burma

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, by Ted Lawton – Dolittle’s raid on Tokyo from the viewpoint of one of the pilots

Up Front, by Bill Mauldin – newspaper cartoonist at the front in Europe

The Man Who Never Was, by Ewen Montagu– British intelligence fooling the Nazis about the invasion of Sicily

Ill Met By Moonlight, by W Stanley Moss – undercover operation (kidnapping a German general) on the island of Crete

Here Is Your War, by Ernie Pyle – classic dispatches from a correspondent

Brave Men, by Ernie Pyle – more dispatches

Last Chapter, by Ernie Pyle – final dispatches

Air Gunner, by Andy Rooney – Rooney’s experience in the air force

Flight to Arras, by Antoine de Saint Exupery – philosophizing during a reconnaissance flight over occupied France

Guerrilla Wife – you know about this one

Once There Was a War, by John Steinbeck – dispatches from London, North Africa, and Italy

Destination Chungking, by Han Suyin – Chinese woman’s early life and marriage, then the Japanese invade and she and her husband must escape

Guadalcanal Diary, by Richard Tregaskis – classic account of the fight for Guadalcanal

Wear It Proudly, by William Shinji Tsuchida – letters home from Tsuchida, who served as a medic in the 44th Division

Yours Is the Earth, by Margaret Vail – American woman who married a French count and is caught in the Nazi invasion of France; tells how she and her daughter survive and later escape France

The Incredible Year, by Donald J Willis – memoir of an infantry captain in the ETO

They Were Expendable, by William L White – story of the crews of Torpedo Boat Squadron 3 in the Philippines during the battle of Bataan

American Guerrilla in the Philippines, by Ira Wolfert– story of a PT boat officer who headed for the hills on Luzon after the fall of Corregidor, and how he and others organized a guerrilla outfit

Soldier Poetry of the Second World War – reprinted from a Canadian Army newspaper published during the war

Pilot Bails Out, by Don Blanding – poems related to WWII

Poems from the Desert, by members of the Eighth Army - written whil serving in the western desert in 1942-43