Movies Featuring Courage

Ruxandra Teslo wrote an interesting Substack post:  Intellectual Courage as the Scarcest Resource, which sparked a good discussion in comments. Which got me thinking:  What are some good films that feature courage, especially moral and intellectual courage?  Here are a few that I think fit, some of which I’ve seen, some of which I haven’t seen but have heard about, and some suggested by others to whom I asked this question.

The White Rose, 1982 German film about the anti-Nazi resistance group of that name. There have been several other good movies about the group and its members, especially Sophie Scholl, but this film is in a class all its own. It portrays the members of the group not as plaster saints but as the kids they actually were–albeit kids with astonishing levels of moral, intellectual, and physical courage. The film never made it to streaming, but VHS tapes and maybe DVDs are findable.  In German, with English subtitles.

There are several similarly-named films: this is the one with Lena Stolze as Sophie Scholl. Really, very highly recommended.

We The Living, a 1942 Italian movie based on Ayn Rand’s novel of the same name (which IMO was the best of her works from a literary & characterization standpoint).  The film was weirdly approved by the fascist censors but then called back when they belatedly realized it was broadly anti-totalitarian, not only anti-communist.  Very good film, except for the frequent display of white subtitles against a snow background…of course, you don’t need the subtitles if you can understand Italian.

A French Village--a French TV series set in a small town during the years of the Occupation. It does not make all French people out to be heroes, by any means, and portrays the difficulties and ambiguities that can exist in such situations, along with some portraits of genuine heroism.  I reviewed the series here, and Sgt Mom also reviewed it.  (Apologies for the weird and irritating typography, it is a WordPress problem which has recently shown up.)

Fueled–A strange Japanese movie, based on the fictionalized story of a man who built an oil-trading business from scratch, beginning when oil was a minor factor in Japan. The film & the book it is based on are apparently favorites of the militarist Right in Japan, and, indeed, there is no hint of an apology for WWII and its atrocities.  Still, I thought it was a good story about courage and determination in business.

(I saw this movie a few years ago, and was reminded of it by Biden’s policy of drawing down the Strategic Petroleum Reserve–which reminded me of the movie’s image of the Japanese oil people, after the end of the war, going down to the very bottom of the Japanese Navy’s deep storage facility to see what was left.)

Devotion–based on the true story of Jesse Brown, a black man who became a US Navy fighter pilot in 1946…and his (white) wingman, Thomas Hudner, who took incredible risks during the Korean War by landing his Corsair in enemy territory in a rescue attempt.  I reviewed the film last year.

No Highway in the Sky, a 1951 film based on the novel by Neville Shute.  A metallurgist, Theodore Honey, calculates that a new British passenger aircraft, the Rutland Reindeer, will be destroyed by metal fatigue of the tail after exactly 1440 flight hours on any particular airplane.  A vibration test-to-destruction is underway with an experimental model of the tail, in order to determine whether or not the airplane really needs to be removed from service,  but commercially-operated Reindeers are building up hours and some will reach the possibly-deadly number of 1440 before the test can be completed.

A crash occurs with an airplane which has flown 1407 hours, but the pilot is blamed.  Honey, the metallurgist, is sent to Labrador to examine the wreckage–traveling on a Reindeer which already has 1422 hours.  They do arrive safely in Newfoundland for a fuel stop…what, if anything, should Honey do before the airplane departs for the next leg of its flight to Labrador?  Certainly, not be on the flight is one option…but there are others, which will have quite negative consequences for him if he is wrong about the metal fatigue.

The movie was surely inspired by the disasters that hit the first commercial jet transport, the Comet, and has resonance with Boeing and the 737 Max MCAS failures.

12 Angry Men.  This 1952 movie, which I’ve somehow never seen, is about a jury in a murder trial, in which one member holds out for the acquittal which he believes is the right thing to do, against overwhelming pressure from the other jury members.  An extensive review is here.

The site that the above link goes through is focused entirely on heroism, in fiction, legend, and real life, and the authors have written some books on the subject.  I see that they describe Harry Potter as the ultimate fictional hero….they’re talking about the books, there have also been Harry Potter movies, has anyone seen them?  If so, any opinions?

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Technology, Work, and Society — The Age of Transition (rerun)

In 2017, I read an intriguing book concerned with the exponential advances in technology and the impact thereof on human society.  The author believes that the displacement of human labor by technology is in its very early stages, and sees little limit to the process.  He is concerned with how this will affect–indeed, has already affected–the relationship between the sexes and of parents and children, as well as the ability of ordinary people to earn a decent living.  It’s a thoughtful analysis by someone who clearly cares a great deal about the well-being of his fellow citizens.

The book is Peter Gaskell’s Artisans and Machinery, and it was published in 1836. The technology with which he is concerned is steam power, which he sees in its then-present incarnation as merely “Hercules in the cradle…opening into view a long vista of rapid transitions, terminating in the subjection of human power, as an agent of labour, to the gigantic and untiring energies of automatic machinery.”

What Gaskell sees this infant Hercules as already having caused is this:

The declension of the most numerous class of artisans in Great Britain, from comfort, morality, independence, and loyalty, to misery, demoralization, dependence, and discontent, is the painful picture now presented by the domestic manufacturers.  (he is referring particularly to the hand-loom weavers)  ‘The domestic labourers were at one period a most loyal and devoted body of men,’ says an intelligent witness before the Select Committee of Hand-Loom Weavers in 1834. ‘Lancashire was a particularly loyal county.’ (These men had been prominent among those who had volunteered to defend Britain from Napoleon.) ‘Durst any government call upon the services of such a people, living upon three shillings a week?’

Gaskell notes that prior to the introduction of automatic machinery, the majority of artisans had worked at home.  “It may be termed the period of Domestic Manufacture; and the various mechanical contrivances were expressly framed for that purpose…These were undoubtedly the golden times of manufactures, considered in reference to the character of the labourers.”  The man retained his individual respectability and was often able to rent a few acres for farming, thus diversifying his employment and (with the addition of a garden) his family’s diet.

The new automated mills had relatively little requirement for adult male labor; most jobs could be done more cheaply by women and children, who indeed were often preferred because of their more nimble fingers.  Those who continued as handweavers saw their incomes drop precipitously due to the competition from steam-or-water-powered machinery; it was John Henry versus the steam drill (although the birth of that legend was still in the future).

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Freedom, the Village, and Social Media (updated)

To what extent are ‘cancellation’ campaigns against people expressing unpopular opinions (unpopular, at least, in the view of some substantial number of people)–now a regular and unpleasant feature of social media sites–really a new phenomenon, rather than being just a modern incarnation of a kind of behavior which has long existed?

Hans Fallada’s novel  Every Man Dies Alone, is centered on a couple who become anti-Nazi activists after their son Ottochen is killed in the war;  it was inspired by, and is loosely based on, the true story of a real-life couple  who distributed anti-Nazi postcards and were executed for it.  I thought the book was excellent.  The present  present post, though, is not a book review, but rather a development of some thoughts inspired by a particular passage in the story.

Trudel, who was Ottochen’s fiancee, is a sweet and intelligent girl who is strongly anti-Nazi..and unlike Ottochen’s parents, she became an activist prior to being struck by personal tragedy: she is a member of a resistance cell at the factory where she works.  But she finds that she cannot stand the unending psychological strain of underground work, made even worse by the rigid and doctrinaire man (apparently a Communist) who is leader of the cell and she drops out. Another member of the cell, who has long been in love with her, also finds that he is not built for such work, and drops out also.

After they marry and Trudel becomes pregnant, they decide to leave the politically hysterical environment of Berlin for a small town where, they believe, life will be freer and calmer.

Like many city dwellers, they’d had the mistaken belief that spying was only really bad in Berlin and that decency still prevailed in small towns. And like many city dwellers, they had made the painful discovery that recrimination, eavesdropping, and informing were ten times worse in small towns than in the big city. In a small town, everyone was fully exposed, you couldn’t ever disappear in the crowd. Personal circumstances were quickly ascertained, conversations with neighbors were practically unavoidable, and the way  such conversations could be twisted was something they had already experienced in their own lives, to their chagrin.

Reading the above passage, I was struck by the thought that if we are now living in an ‘electronic village,’ even a ‘global village’, as Marshall McLuhan put it several decades, ¦then perhaps that also means we are facing some of the unpleasant characteristics that, as Fallada notes, can be a part of village life. And these characteristics aren’t something that appears only in eras of insane totalitarianism such as existed in Germany during the Nazi era. Peter Drucker, in Managing in the Next Society, wrote about the tension between liberty and community:

Rural society has been romanticized for millennia, especially in the West, where rural communities have usually been portrayed as idylic. However, the community in rural society is actually both compulsory and coercive.  And that explains why, for millennia, the dream of rural people was to escape into the city.  ‘Stadluft macht frei ‘ (city air frees) says an old German proverb dating back to the eleventh or twelfth century.

Consider: Going way back to 2013,  an assistant manager at a Wal-Mart store lost his job because of a post he put up on his Facebook page, in which he made some negative and slightly obscene comments about Muslim women wearing niquabs. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) complained, and the man was fired. (Having demonstrated their power, CAIR then kindly asked that he be rehired  (I don’t know whether he ever was.)

If, in the pre-social-media era, a Wal-Mart manager living in a large city had made negative comments about some group to friends in person, the odds that it would have resulted in his firing would have been pretty low. On the other hand, if a store manager living in a village were to repeatedly express opinions hostile to the deeply-held beliefs of the majority of the villageers–say, if a rural store manager in 1955 became well-known as hostile to religion,  it might well have had an adverse effect on his employment. The electronic village has to some extent re-created the social pressures of the traditional village.

Of course, the village culture doesn’t always reinforce and serve the values of the politically dominant . During WWII, for example, the people of  Chambon-sur-Lignon, a town in the France’s  Massif Central Range, saved more than 5000 Jews from the Holocaust. The village community can act as a bulwark for civil society against the over-reaching power of distant tyrants, and in some cases, as with Chambon-sur-Lignon, “the community culture will be of a nature that can accept, respect, and help  people whose beliefs from their own.

Certainly, the ability of the Internet to facilitate the distribution of information and opinion, beyond the control of the media gatekeepers, has been and is of tremendous value in preserving liberty. Without it, we as a society would be in even more trouble than we currently are. But the erosion of privacy, and the resultant fear of expressing oneself or acting in ‘unapproved’   ways that might harm your Permanent Record (to use the phrases with which teachers and school administrators used to threaten students) are factors whose influence in undeniable.

The widespread distribution and sharing of information enabled by technology becomes particularly dangerous when the national government is in the hands of people who lack respect for individual liberties and when the administrative discretion granted to individual bureaucrats is high. Can anyone doubt the high likelihood that information from Electronic Medical Records which were pushed as part of Obamacare will at some point be used to destroy political opponents of whatever Administration is in power at the time? (If, indeed, these records have not already been so used.)  Can anyone doubt that, with the ideology of  ‘progressivism’  becoming increasingly intolerant, ever-larger numbers of people have been and will continue to be denied jobs, promotions, college admissions, and tenure based on opinions that they have expressed in a Facebook or Twitter post or a blog post at some point in their lives? (and, quite likely, the other way around as the political winds shift and the ‘progressives’ themselves are under attack)  and that expressions of opinion will unless the climate changes markedly,  tend to become much more guarded, just as a village merchant might be reluctant to say anything to offend the small group of people on whose goodwill he is permanently dependent for his livelihood?

Special musical bonus

I (still) haven’t read it, but Roger McNamee’s book Zucked is subtitled Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.  The author is a well-known VC and was himself an early investor in FB.  (Although some have asserted that on-line cancellation campaigns have been largely a Twitter phenomenon, the early phases of this phenomenon predated Twitter popularity and used Facebook and other early social media as vehicles.  This all accelerated considerably with Twitter under its previous ownership; I’m hopeful that it may be damped down somewhat under Musk leadership, especially with the introduction of the Community Notes feature.

As an overall conclusion, I think that electronic cancellation in the global village is indeed the modern manifestation of behavior patterns that have long existed–but enabled by technology to operate both more rapidly and with much wider geographical scope.

Your thoughts?

Why Johnny Doesn’t Want to Read

The other day Instapundit linked an article on the role of public school reading assignments in discouraging boys from taking up reading for pleasure. The subject is familiar to anyone to anyone who read Christina Hoff Sommers’ book on the subject.  In short, K-12 reading assignments don’t match up with boys’ interests. Boys prefer activity-oriented plot-based stories, schools gravitate toward girls’ interests – quoting Sommers, “[p]ersonal narratives full of emotion and self-disclosure.” I’ll have more to say on that later.

This has me waxing (mostly unpleasantly) nostalgic about my own school-age reading assignments. The earliest one I can recall is of A Tale of Two Cities. I remember scarcely anything about London and a few highlights about Paris. Shakespeare is something I could take only in small doses due to the language barrier. I liked the plot synopses and some of the more memorable passages such as Polonius’ advice to Laertes (someone should CGI W. C. Fields into the role of Polonius). One junior high class assigned two entertaining movie scripts – Colossus: The Forbin Project and Escape from the Planet of the Apes. At home my literary gateway to the world was World Book Encyclopedia; I especially loved the maps and the articles on foreign locales and peoples and exotic animals. I did not grow up reading novels or even comic books. In my late teens I tried reading my mom’s Agatha Christie novels, but for some reason I couldn’t quite get into them. 

High school offered (ahem) textbook examples of what’s wrong with school reading assignments. I have finally gotten around to posting Amazon reviews for the three high school reading assignments that turned me off to reading.

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Best Eaten Cold

Revenge, as the old saying has it, is a dish best served cold. And revenge may not be the only – or the most dangerous – platter best dished up chilled. That would be the dish of anger – that ice-cold, sullen reservoir of fury in the hearts of every right-of-center, non-elite, law-abiding flyover-country middle American with Tea Partyish inclinations … a dish of anger ready to serve up in the wake of a just-barely unsuccessful political assassination attempt this last weekend.

You see, there is a considerable difference between hot fury and cold. Hot fury is impulsive, immediately violent, reactive and more often misplaced. It’s the unthinking destructive fury of the mob, lashing out indiscriminately. Cold fury, on the other hand, does not manifest itself in such spectacular fashion. Cold fury is focused, calculated, unspectacular; it takes its time, waiting for the optimum moment. Cold fury usually can’t be appeased, once unleashed. As I wrote some time ago, regarding the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance

“The image of a “vigilante” most usually implies a disorganized mob; lawless, mindlessly violent, easily steered but ultimately uncontrollable. The Vigilance Committee was something much, much worse than that. They were organized, they were in earnest, they would not compromise – and they would not back down.”

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