“Never forget that war is about destroying things and killing people.” So said Squadron Leader Teddy Haslam to the historian Peter Hennessy in 1978.* It is right to celebrate the downfall of one particularly odious dictator. But there were many more; and more no doubt to come.
The experience of war has been depicted so many times in films books, and comic strips, that it has become hard for us who have never experienced a war to know what it is like. This week, many will be selecting their favourite World War Two movie (why does that make us feel ever so slightly uncomfortable?) And so, for that alone , we will at least nominate one, by a master director. And we will try to be as brief as possible. I hereby nominate Cross Of Iron (1977) Director; Sam Peckinpah
Wars start because one side gambles that it can win. if you want to see the reasons why Hitler gambled, and how he lost, you can do worse than look at the credit titles of this film, which are all taken from Nazi newsreels of the time, that slowly merge into the action , which takes place during the German retreat in Russia in the autumn of 1943. Wars are hell, not only because of the killing and bad food, but also because they are fought by people. Which means that all the petty rivalries, jealousies and hatreds of office politics are simply transferred to the battlefield. You can never escape your adversaries whether they are the Other Side or your own Commanding Officer. And boy is Captain Stransky ( Maximillian Schell) a difficult boss! Aside from being backstabbing, authoritarian, homophobic, vicious and mean, he can attempt the same attempts at faux charm as a moray eel gently welcoming a school of angel fish into its lair for lunch. You will have seen the type. The only time that his rival, Sergeant Steiner (James Coburn) can really get out on his own is when Stransky betrays his own men, leaving them far behind enemy lines. Steiner has his own ideas about 360 degree performance appraisals, but we will not spoil the ending. Which, instead of being a happy one, dissolves into an unhappy anti idyll of the horrors of war, and this famous quote from Bertold Brecht:
Don’t rejoice in his defeat, you men.
For though the world stood up and beat the bastard back
The bitch that bore him is in heat again
*Peter Hennessy Never Again Vintage 1994 The author now is of course Lord Hennessy
#veday #hitler #crossof iron