12

Our Second War For Independence

And what a disastrous Second War for Independence the War of 1812 tended to be for the infant US with the major exception of the Battle of New Orleans fought after the treaty of peace was signed.  Theodore Roosevelt in his magisterial The Naval War of 1812, written when he was all of 23, understood this:

 

 

In spite of the last trifling success, the campaign had been to the British both bloody and disastrous. It did not affect the results of the war; and the decisive battle itself was a perfectly useless shedding of blood, for peace had been declared before it was fought. Nevertheless, it was not only glorious but profitable to the United States. Louisiana was saved from being severely ravaged, and New Orleans from possible destruction; and after our humiliating defeats in trying to repel the invasions of Virginia and Maryland, the signal victory of New Orleans was really almost a necessity for the preservation of the national honor. This campaign was the great event of the war, and in it was fought the most important battle as regards numbers that took place during the entire struggle; and the fact that we were victorious, not only saved our self-respect at home, but also gave us prestige abroad which we should otherwise have totally lacked. It could not be said to entirely balance the numerous defeats that we had elsewhere suffered on land—defeats which had so far only been offset by Harrison’s victory in 1813 and the campaign in Lower Canada in 1814—but it at any rate went a long way toward making the score even.

Jackson is certainly by all odds the most prominent figure that appeared during this war, and stands head and shoulders above any other commander, American or British, that it produced. It will be difficult, in all history, to show a parallel to the feat that he performed. In three weeks’ fighting, with a force largely composed of militia, he utterly defeated and drove away an army twice the size of his own, composed of veteran troops, and led by one of the ablest of European generals. During the whole campaign he only erred once, and that was in putting General Morgan, a very incompetent officer, in command of the forces on the west bank. He suited his movements admirably to the various exigencies that arose. The promptness and skill with which he attacked, as soon as he knew of the near approach of the British, undoubtedly saved the city; for their vanguard was so roughly handled that, instead of being able to advance at once, they were forced to delay three days, during which time Jackson entrenched himself in a position from which he was never driven. But after this attack the offensive would have been not only hazardous, but useless, and accordingly Jackson, adopting the mode of warfare which best suited the ground he was on and the troops he had under him, forced the enemy always to fight him where he was strongest, and confined himself strictly to the pure defensive—a system condemned by most European authorities, [Footnote: Thus Napier says (vol. v, p. 25): “Soult fared as most generals will who seek by extensive lines to supply the want of numbers or of hardiness in the troops. Against rude commanders and undisciplined soldiers, lines may avail; seldom against accomplished commanders, never when the assailants are the better soldiers.” And again (p. 150), “Offensive operations must be the basis of a good defensive system.”] but which has at times succeeded to admiration in America, as witness Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Kenesaw Mountain, and Franklin.

9

American History: Memorial Day Weekend Movies

“When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today”

              Inscription on the memorial to the dead of the British 2nd Infantry Division at Kohima.

A few films to help remember that there is much greater significance to Memorial Day than sun and fun:

 

1.  American Sniper (2015)- A grand tribute to the late Chris Kyle and to all the other troops who served in Iraq.

“I am a strong Christian. Not a perfect one—not close. But I strongly believe in God, Jesus, and the Bible. When I die, God is going to hold me accountable for everything I’ve done on earth. He may hold me back until last and run everybody else through the line, because it will take so long to go over all my sins. “Mr. Kyle, let’s go into the backroom. . . .” Honestly, I don’t know what will really happen on Judgment Day. But what I lean toward is that you know all of your sins, and God knows them all, and shame comes over you at the reality that He knows. I believe the fact that I’ve accepted Jesus as my savior will be my salvation. But in that backroom or whatever it is when God confronts me with my sins, I do not believe any of the kills I had during the war will be among them. Everyone I shot was evil. I had good cause on every shot. They all deserved to die.”
Chis Kyle

2.   Hamburger Hill (1987)- A moving film about our troops in Vietnam who served their nation far better than their too often ungrateful nation served them.

3.  Porkchop Hill (1959)-Korea has become to too many Americans The Forgotten War, lost between World War II and Vietnam.  There is nothing forgotten about it by the Americans who served over there,  including my Uncle Ralph McClarey who died a few years ago, and gained a hard won victory for the US in one of the major hot conflicts of the Cold War.  This film tells the story of the small American force on Porkchop Hill, who held it in the face of repeated assaults by superior forces of the Chinese and North Koreans.  As the above clip indicates it also highlights the surreal element that accompanies every war and the grim humor that aspect often brings.

4.   Hacksaw Ridge (2016):  Mel Gibson fully redeemed his career as a director with this masterpiece.  A film that goes far beyond mere entertainment and illustrates what a man of faith can accomplish when he stays true to his beliefs and cares so much more about helping others than he does about his own mortal life.  Incredibly, the movie does justice to Desmond Doss, a true American hero.

 

 5.   Sergeant York (1941)-A film biopic of Sergeant Alvin C. York, who, during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive  on October 8,  1918, took 32 German machine guns, killed 28 German soldiers and captured another 132.  Viewers who came to see the movie in 1941 must have been initially puzzled.  With a title like Sergeant York, movie goers could have been forgiven for thinking that Sergeant York’s experiences in World War I would be the focus, but such was not the case.  Most of the film is focused on York’s life in Tennessee from 1916-1917 before American entry into the war.  Like most masterpieces, the film has a strong religious theme as we witness York’s conversion to Christ.  The film is full of big questions:  How are we to live?  Why are we here?  What role should religion play in our lives?  How does someone gain faith?  What should we do if we perceive our duty to God and to Country to be in conflict?  It poses possible answers to these questions with a skillful mixture of humor and drama.  The entertainment value of Sergeant York conceals the fact that it is a very deep film intellectually as it addresses issues as old as Man.

The film was clearly a message film and made no bones about it.  The paper of the film industry Variety noted at the time:  “In Sergeant York the screen has spoken for national defense. Not in propaganda, but in theater.”

The film was a huge success upon release in 1941, the top grossing film of the year.  Gary Cooper justly earned the Oscar for his stellar performance as Alvin C. York.  It was Cooper’s favorite of his pictures.  “Sergeant York and I had quite a few things in common, even before I played him in screen. We both were raised in the mountains – Tennessee for him, Montana for me – and learned to ride and shoot as a natural part of growing up. Sergeant York won me an Academy Award, but that’s not why it’s my favorite film. I liked the role because of the background of the picture, and because I was portraying a good, sound American character.”

The film portrays a devout Christian who had to reconcile the command to “Love thy Neighbor” with fighting for his country in a war.  This is not an easy question and the film does not give easy answers, although I do find the clip above compelling. Continue Reading

New Orleans Is Ready For Its Close Up Mr. DeMille

 

 

American history tends to be ignored by Hollywood and therefore it is unusual for a battle to receive treatment in a Hollywood feature film. It is doubly unusual for a battle to be treated in two Hollywood feature films, but that is the case for the battle of New Orleans, the two hundredth anniversary of which is coming up this week on January 8, 2015. The 1938 film The Buccaneer was directed by the legendary Cecil B. DeMille and had Frederic March, an actor largely forgotten today but a major star in his time, as Jean Lafitte. Two future stars have bit parts in the film: Anthony Quinn and Walter Brennan. Hugh Sothern who portrayed Andrew Jackson would also portray Jackson in 1939 in the film Old Hickory.

 

The 1958 remake was also to have been directed by Cecil B. DeMille, but he was seriously ill at that time, and relegated himself to the role of executive producer, turning the director’s chair over to Anthony Quinn, his then son-in-law, the one and only film that Quinn ever directed. DeMille was unhappy with the film and it received fairly negative reviews, although I think the battle sequences are superior to the first film. Yul Brynner plays Jean Lafitte and Charlton Heston is a commanding Andrew Jackson. Like Hugh Sothern, Heston would portray Jackson twice, the first time being in The President’s Lady (1953), the tale of the great love story of Rachel Jackson (Susan Hayward) and Andrew Jackson. Future stars in this version include Inger Stevens, Claire Bloom and Lorne Green. Adequate coverage of the battle is given in each film, although not much detail. The battle of course is merely an adjunct to the romantic tale of Jean Lafitte. Without the pirate turned patriot, I am certain the battle of New Orleans would have likely received the same indifference that Hollywood has shown for most of American history.