by COL (R) R. Brian Williams
If you have never watched a “war” movie with a veteran or service member, you are really missing out.
You have yet to experience a movie in the military genre until you have sat next to an Infantryman who squirms every time some guy does not reload after expending thousands of rounds in a “firefight.” Or you sit next to a military historian and have them shake their head and mumble something about an incorrect movie plot.
Going to the movies is something that should be enjoyed and is a great experience to share with someone you love. However, sharing it with the wrong person can be painful. The squirming, mumbling and outright comments of, “that ain’t right!” is almost a Pavlovian response to some of the silliness of Hollywood.
Directors of movies should be given some slack, as almost none have never really pulled a trigger on a firearm — much less experienced combat. In their world — movie world — machine gun barrels never overheat, 30-round magazines last forever and walking through mortar fire calmly and without a scratch are commonplace on the screen…but not so much in real life. For those who have been there, done that, it sometimes is hard to enjoy the writing with such tomfoolery going on in the picture.
Since the beginning of moving pictures, films have been criticized by combat veterans and the critic has been endured by the wives and girlfriends who mistakenly go to the movies with the service member.
Some movies get it close, with the tinkling of expended brass, the incredible thirst after an engagement or the phenomenon of silent slow motion of that first encounter that only lasts for a millisecond. Movies rarely show the hours spent under a rucksack, plodding along or the sucking of dust from miles and miles of sitting in the turret. To be fair the folks buying movie tickets don’t want to see the humdrum life of a Solider or Marine, but yearn to watch the excitement of a superninja-like warrior. They want to see the grenade go off and wipe out a hundred bad guys with a huge fireball of an explosion.
Perhaps it is better that real-life war is not shown in theaters. People would cringe at the dirt, loneliness, and the brutality of it all. The lack of sleep coupled with the pangs of hunger are not easily transferable to the screen, but those who have been there know, and find it hard to not guffaw at the silliness.
An old saying is that history is written by the victors, and this is true. If you control the narrative, you set the stage for what your perceptions were in battle, or worse, what you want to be told. Battles in the War Between the States that had brave bayonet charges that could possibly, perhaps and maybe even happened are now taken as the gospel. Fearless leaders who sacrificed regiments to gain territory in later wars were questioned boldly at the time, but now are seen as courageous leaders. Senior leaders who are shown as compassionate friends of the lowly dog-faced Soldier in movies perhaps were not such brilliant leaders, if you read the history books. Hollywood has canonized such men and now the truth is blurred on the big screen.
If you are fortunate enough to be sitting next to someone who knows a little bit about what the movie is about, give them some slack for knowing (and sharing) a few details.
But that is how it is and how it has always been. Just like with fishing, the stories get bigger and better as time passes.
For those who have been in the fray, step back a moment when you sit down in that cushy movie theater next time and just let the unrealistic scene pass by without comment. Same for you all who are just dying to point out the cannon being used wasn’t introduced until 20 years after the timeframe of the movie.
Let it go and enjoy the show. If you are fortunate enough to be sitting next to someone who knows a little bit about what the movie is about, give them some slack for knowing (and sharing) a few details. Both of you sit back, eat some popcorn and enjoy your time together — even as one of you may have some vibrant memories come rushing forward, remembering the sounds, smells and emotions that were felt a very long way away from the comfort of an air-conditioned theater.