[Dixielandjazz] History by Hollywood

dhs at ev1.net dhs at ev1.net
Sun Sep 14 22:35:50 PDT 2003

Dear Listers:

PatL wrote (in part):

History as written by Hollywood.
There were no Brits in Burma,
There were no Brits on the Normandy beaches.

I don't know about the rest of you folks, but I am tired of this old
chestnut.  Objective: Burma has been unfairly maligned by the British since
its release in 1945.  In recent years, Saving Private Ryan and Band of
Brothers have come under attack for being insufficiently pro-British.  The
criticisms of SPR and BOB are equally unfounded.

All three of these productions were about small units, who happened to be
American.  Small-unit dramas have limited scope by design.  There were
American and British operations in Burma, and they tended to be separate and
unconnected.  For the Americans in Objective: Burma to make long-winded
speeches about the British in another part of Burma would have been
propaganda of the worst sort.  Objective: Burma in fact is a movie which
starts to get away from the propaganda which had marked (and largely ruined)
earlier war movies made during World War II.

In its treatment of Burma, Hollywood did make mention of the British.  In
Merrill's Marauders, General Stilwell notes that the Japanese have invaded
India, and asks General Merrill to move on Myitkyina despite the fact that
the Marauders are about used up.  That's fairly accurate--the Japanese did
invade India during the Marauder expedition.

I hold a degree in history, and my specialty was and remains World War II.
It's not the Americans who have forgotten about the British in Burma, it's
the British themselves.  The 14th Army referred to itself as The Forgotten
Army even during its campaigns, and General Slim is little remembered today,
despite the fact that he was the most successful British commander of World
War II.  He not only accomplished a lot, but did so with comparatively
meager resources.  Slim was a soldier's general, very popular with his men
even as they slogged forward in the monsoon.  Nowadays we hear a lot about
Montgomery and a little about Alexander, but Slim has slipped off the radar
screen.  It's a great story, but it probably should be told by a British

As far as Normandy goes, Hollywood went so far as to fictitiously mix
Americans and British soldiers in D-Day: The Sixth of June so that the
protagonists (who are chasing the same British lass) can be on-screen
together.  Never happened in real life.  The Longest Day, the only
large-scale Hollywood production about D-Day, gives full credit to the
British contribution.  The best scenes in Longest Day include the capture of
the Orne River Bridge by British glider troops, and their eventual relief by
Lord Lovat's Commandos.  Holland is a bit removed from Normandy, but A
Bridge Too Far fully covers the 1st British Airborne Division's attempts to
capture the bridges at Arnhem, at the expense of full coverage of the
battles fought to the south by the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions (the
101st is particularly slighted--they aren't shown fighting at all, whereas
in real life they had their hands full).

This brings us to Saving Private Ryan.  A Ranger Company is decimated on
Omaha Beach, and the remnants are sent into the Cotentin Peninsula to
retrieve a 101st Airborne trooper whom the brass want out of the fighting.
There are fictional elements in this story, but there are also historical
truths.  A 101st trooper WAS pulled out of battle because his brothers had
been killed in other units (though not pulled out by a Ranger patrol),
Rangers took terrible casualties on D-Day, and the US airborne divisions
were dropped all over the Cotentin and had to fight as ad hoc battle groups.
There were no British soldiers in the Cotentin, and therefore no need to
mention them.

Similarly, the 101st Airborne fought with the British in one
campaign--Market-Garden in Holland.  A Bridge Too Far correctly shows the
British building a replacement bridge in the 101st sector at Son, and Band
of Brothers shows British tanks rolling through Eindhoven and supporting a
101st operation against a smaller Dutch town.  After the failure of
Market-Garden, the 101st is correctly shown helping stranded Red Devils to
get back across the Lower Rhine.  The rest of the time, the 101st fought
with other American units, and Band of Brothers concentrating on the men of
one company is hardly anti-British.  It's a small-unit production!

It's not a perfect history, but Hollywood has done far better by its British
cousins than the contemptuous sniff that British contributions to World War
II have been ignored.   Let's hope we have heard it for the last time.

OKOM Content:  The Way We Were

Dave Stoddard
Round Rock, TX

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