Friday, May 18, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Battleground (1949) ***½

NR, 118 min.
Director: William A. Wellman
Writer: Robert Pirosh
Starring: Van Johnson, Marshall Thompson, John Hodiak, Douglas Fowley, James Whitmore, George Murphy, Ricardo Montalban, Jerome Courtland, Don Taylor, Bruce Cowling, Leon Ames, Guy Anderson, Thomas E. Breen, Denise Darcel, Richard Jaeckel, Jim Arness, Brett King, The Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne Division

“Now it's nearly Christmas... and here we are in beautiful Bastogne enjoying the winter sports. And the $64 question is: "Was this trip necessary?" I'll try to answer that. But my sermons, like everything else in the army... depend on the situation and the terrain. So I assure you this is going to be a quickie. Was this trip necessary? Let's look at the facts. Nobody wanted this war but the Nazis. A great many people tried to deal with them, and a lot of them are dead. Millions have died... for no other reason except that the Nazis wanted them dead. So, in the final showdown, there was nothing left to do except fight. There's a great lesson in this. Those of us who've learned it the hard way aren't going to forget it. We must never again let any force dedicated to a super-race... or a super-idea, or super-anything... become strong enough to impose itself upon a free world. We must be smart enough and tough enough in the beginning... to put out the fire before it starts spreading. My answer to the sixty-four dollar question is yes, this trip was necessary. As the years go by, a lot of people are going to forget. But you won't. And don't ever let anybody tell you you were a sucker to fight in the war against fascism. And now, Jerry permitting, let us pray. Almighty God... (sounds of shelling can be heard in the background)The organist is hitting those bass notes a little too loud for me to be heard. So let each of us pray in his own way, to his own God.”

                                                                                                            —The Chaplain

This speech by The Chaplain, who I believe only appears in this one scene in the 1949 war picture “Battleground”, sums up the necessity of war perfectly. It seems too often today we forget there are reasons for our actions as a country. I’m not really much of a flag waver, but it seems that too often we are too quick to criticize such patriotism today.

What struck me most about “Battleground” as a whole is that it is one of those rare war classics that show our soldiers questioning their purpose, complaining about their orders, and even questioning the reasons behind the war. Considering the horrendous conditions the 101st Airborne Division had to endure in The Battle of the Bulge, such negative attitudes can hardly be criticized. These men were isolated, without any sort of intelligence or communications about what was going on around them for months. They were enduring harsh winter conditions. They were short on supplies and rest before they had even arrived, and they had to hold their position with no support against a very aggressive German division of troops. Then the Chaplain arrives, whom some of the soldiers had also criticized in their frustration, and delivers this speech that lays it all out simply and in a way that is impossible to argue. Sometimes it’s time to shut up and do what’s necessary. I hope we haven’t forgotten that.

Watch the Chaplain's speech below.

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