I first learned about the Alamo in earnest from the late John David Lewis. This Objectivist thinker and teacher demonstrated the central facts about the battle with passion, mastery and perfection. I had interviewed Dr. Lewis about the Alamo as a source for an article I was writing to compare Ron Howard’s and John Wayne’s Alamo-themed movies with the truth.
Centograph at the Alamo
This fall, I visited the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. I’m conducting research for fiction writing. What I experienced during my visit is both inspiring and alarming. The Alamo is a solemn, simple place. It’s surrounded by shops, bland corporate offices and a courthouse and post office. Docents and staff are as dim as I’d had every reason to expect. The tourists are brighter. The front line defense is especially sharp.
The grounds are haunting. I don’t mean this in a superstitious sense. Tragically, some visitors, guides and workers focus on ghost stories to the exclusion of philosophy, knowledge and history. The Alamo haunts in the best sense but only if you know why.
Every American ought to study and know the facts, grasp what happened and visit this sacred site. The experience stirs, affirms and regenerates one’s sense of what matters in life. Every shadow, stone and rustle of leaves evokes the distant yet pressingly relevant memory of what men knew, vowed and held until the end. As John Lewis taught, theirs is a uniquely American defense and they knew it. They were few, they were united and, ultimately, they were unconquered.
These early American heroes, most of whom were Texans, knew why exercising one’s free will to choose, stay and fight for individual liberty is vital.
The meaning of this revered ground lies in the barracks, the church (which had been secularized and converted into a fort with cannons) and at the walls, where the men defended themselves and took refuge against a tyrant who sought to dictate their lives. I found myself feeling free to linger, stroll and reflect. At every plaque, statue and memorial, at each historical demonstration, monument and cannon, I was at liberty to remember details of what they’ve done. The battle for the Alamo made America more viable as a republic.
In visiting here, I draw renewed strength, resolve and fortitude. I know that I, too, face the fundamental choice to summon these qualities in America’s darkest hours to come. Like Boston’s Tea Party insurgents on this date in 1773 and the patriots at Concord and Lexington and Black Tuesday’s passengers on United Airlines flight 93, the choice to live free or die — “VICTORY OR DEATH”, as William Travis wrote at the Alamo — is mine to make.
I found the one at the Alamo who understands this. This individual is not a cashier; the clerk who sold my ticket is uninformed about the place’s history. The person is not a guide; the guide is an officious, dogmatic and duty-bound dolt. The one is not among other Alamo staff, whom I found to be cynical, mindless and blank. The one is a police officer. In an effort to protect the innocent, to paraphrase the old Dragnet broadcast, I won’t divulge the identity or the exact job.
That the Alamo police officer alone thinks, acts and speaks with knowledge, passion and reverence shows that, as long as there is one who stands to know, understand and remember the Alamo, the Alamo can be be saved and left to inspire “all Americans in the world.”
The new year started with a turn of foreign events, as I wrote last week. Capitalism Magazine’s editor and publisher, without whom this blog, site and many articles would not be possible, asked to reprint it. Read my commentary on the day America’s impeached president of the United States ordered a pre-emptive and proper retaliation against Islamic Iran, the first serious strike against this enemy of Western civilization, here.
Iran attacks America, November 1979
Since the strike that killed a general for Iran’s army of Islamic terrorist proxy gangs and regimented soldiers of Allah, Iran has attacked America and a Ukrainian passenger jet carrying 176 innocents with missiles. The American president pledged this morning that, while showing restraint by declining to hit back for the moment, he will prevent the state sponsor of terrorism from acquiring nuclear weapons. When his predecessor brokered a deal with Iran that returned billions of dollars which were withheld after Iran attacked America and seized our embassy, capturing 66 Americans as prisoners of war in Iran’s jihad (“holy war”) against the West, I called it Obama’s death pact. Horrifically, for the Americans and others, including 63 Canadians on board the Boeing 737 Iran shot down in Teheran, death or its imminent threat became real thanks to Obama’s Iran deal. Barack Obama continued U.S. selflessness in foreign policy which, for decades, appeased Iran.
May appeasement end with military defense ordered and enacted by President Trump.
Thirty-five years after it debuted in theaters, I watched a notorious movie by director Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, One from the Heart). Read my new review of a restored version of Mr. Coppola’s 1984 motion picture, The Cotton Club, now available on Blu-ray, DVD and streaming for its 35th anniversary, here.
Though I never saw the original in either theatrical or home video release, I was not disappointed in The Cotton Club (encore edition). It isn’t perfect, as I write in the review. But its jazz and tap dance scenes offer rare and exquisite entertainment.
The Harlem-themed epic has an unusual history. This is Mr. Coppola’s first movie after a self-financed 1982 musical, One from the Heart, lost money. The Cotton Club was made and financed by a range of contentious principals, such as the late producer Robert Evans, and others, such as Orion Pictures, now owned by MGM, which Lionsgate purchased, acquiring its library years ago.
The nightclub, where in reality only Negroes were allowed to perform for an exclusively white audience, was a swank joint on Manhattan’s upper end. The film features a score by the late composer John Barry, leading performances by Richard Gere, Diane Lane, Lonette McKee (the 1976 original remade with Whitney Houston in Sparkle) and the late Gregory Hines. Also look for Mario Van Peebles, Gwen Verdon, James Remar, Maurice Hines, who appears in a home video segment with Mr. Coppola, Lawrence Fishburne (Boyz N the Hood) as a thug named Bumpy Rhodes, Jackee Harry (227), Jennifer Grey, Nicolas Cage, Bob Hoskins, Fred Gwynne and Woody Strode (Sergeant Rutledge) as a club doorman. Music by Fats Waller, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong is fabulous.
“This is the movie I meant you to see”, Mr. Coppola, referring to the additional 20 minutes, tells a New York audience in the Q&A feature in the bonus segments. The panel includes disclosures about lawsuits, attempts to steal the negative and a murder trial surrounding The Cotton Club, which debuted in the fall of 1984. Francis Ford Coppola also remembers reading and being influenced by Arthur C. Clarke’s science fiction novel, Childhood’s End, with a black character and Maurice Hines recalling his late brother, Gregory, and their grandmother being an original Cotton Club showgirl.
Read the article
Finally, my editor informed me this morning that my article about Pittsburgh and its connection to Ayn Rand (1905-1982) for the winter edition of the print publication Pittsburgh Quarterly, is featured on the online version’s cover. Read about Rand, who revered the Industrial Revolution, and the city of bridges, steel and progress, here.
President Trump apparently ordered today’s pre-emptive strike on Iran’s top military official for planning to mass murder Americans in Iraq. The Islamic dictatorship of Iran confirmed the death. The New York Times reports confirmation of both assertions.
The historic nature of this excellent act of U.S. self-defense is unmistakable. Donald Trump is the first American president to militarily counterstrike this evil enemy explicitly on the principle of saving American lives. Time and again, from President Carter, who refused to assassinate Iran’s first Islamic dictator, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, before the monster returned to impose a barbaric theocracy, to President Obama, who appeased Iran and brokered a deal which brought Israel’s prime minister and the late Elie Wiesel to plead to a joint session of Congress for U.S. rejection of Obama’s death pact.
“This is devastating for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, the [Islamic] regime and Khamenei’s regional ambitions,” Mark Dubowitz, who runs a think tank opposing appeasement of Iran, referring to the Iranian dictatorship’s ayatollah, told the Times, which reported that President Trump ordered the drone strike on Baghdad’s International Airport.
In the 40 years since Iran waged war on America by seizing our embassy in Teheran, capturing Americans as prisoners of war wrongly dubbed “hostages”, beating U.S. Marines, baiting Americans for a race war involving radical leftists including Rev. Jesse Jackson and waging war with mass murder on American Marines in Beirut and across the world, including sponsoring nonstop attacks on America from hijacked passenger jets to countless untold acts of war, not a single American government hit Iran back hard. Carter shrunk in defeat after his folly over Khomeini. Reagan retreated. Bush the pappy appeased Iran, letting the savages threaten a published Western author and bomb American bookstores. Clinton did nothing when Iran bombed the United States Navy. Bush the son ordered the Marines to stand down in Iraq when Iran’s mystics ordered a siege against America. Obama welcomed and appeased Iran over and over. Even when Obama ordered the U.S. military to kill the top Moslem connected to carrying out the attack on Black Tuesday, September 11, 2001, he did so with a sad, morose, somber tone and honored the monster, granting an Islamic ritual at sea. And pleading with the enemy by pledging that he had done so in accordance with the faith that moves the enemy to destroy the West.
On Friday, January 3, 2020, the third American president to be impeached by Congress, Donald Trump, hit Iran by taking out one of its top thugs. It’s even better that he did so on the grounds of saving Americans’ lives, contrary to all of his presidential predecessors combined, who
“General Suleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” the Pentagon said in a statement. “General Suleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more.”
At the beginning of 1917, the World War One movie by writer and director Sam Mendes (American Beauty), one British soldier is covered. One is not. This type of visual sets up 1917′s many stylized pictures that signal plot points to come. Most of 1917 is similarly structured, relatively predictable and visually, not conceptually, driven.
Indeed, there’s no historical context. The audience barely learns that the Germans are at war with the British, let alone that what was called the Great War irrevocably altered history, including the arts, as Ayn Rand observed in The Romantic Manifesto (1969). It is somehow fitting that this sensory-oriented, perpetually-driven film, co-written by Krysty Wilson-Cairns, only strives to immerse the audience in a selective depiction of war.
It’s a whole, not halfway, immersion. The British soldier characters played by George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman accept an assignment to save 1,600 Brits from enemy entrapment starting with a charge down the Western front’s winding trenches. The best line in the thrilling 1917, “we should think about this”, is the movie’s only effort to make the audience think about war; the rest of 1917 is more of a horror movie than an epic war movie.
Perhaps this is as it should be, though even the most horrifying great war films, such as Sergeant York (1941) and Saving Private Ryan (1998), both of which 1917 draws heavily from, go to tremendous efforts to dramatize and contextualize in detail war and the men who fought it. With Thomas Newman’s (Thank You for Your Service, Little Children, Bridge of Spies) electronic musical score, cinematography by Roger Deakins (The Goldfinch, 1984, Blade Runner 2049) and silhouettes, light and scenes of men running, Mendes fills 1917 with multitudes of arresting sounds and pictures to hold interest.
The cast, too, including Richard Madden (Rocketman), Colin Firth (The King’s Speech), Mark Strong (RobinHood) and Benedict Cumberbatch (War Horse), deliver fine performances, particularly MacKay in the lead as the knowing soldier in search of an elusive and faraway band of British soldiers.
Yet the upshot is that 1917 lacks emotional, if not visceral, power. Surely, there are symbolic moments, such as a running soldier against the charge of his comrades, desperately trying to halt the push in an impossible task. This is the perfect metaphor for the Great War, which one of America’s worst presidents, Woodrow Wilson, championed, sending countless Americans to be sacrificed.
That the audience never learns the cause of war, this war’s or any war’s, and sees only some of the carefully selected effects for the sake of horror, goes to 1917′s anti-war message. Such a message may emerge in any honest war movie. In 1917, a historic year for at least a few major reasons, gripping human peril, spectacular images and ominous music mask what at root is a cliched and oddly hollow message that war is bad.
I enjoyed this week’s top movie at the box office, Midway. Fortunately, in this case (because I think advance knowledge enhances, rather than diminishes, the cinematic experience), I didn’t know much about this movie in advance.
When I saw that Midway is directed by Roland Emmerich, a German-born moviemaker whose Godzilla (1998), Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow are among the most bombastic movies I’ve seen, I felt a cringe, though because I’d forgotten his forgettable films, I didn’t credit the cause. When I realized who he is, and learned that he also directed the unnecessarily bloody martyr-themed The Patriot, I cringed again. And, frankly, Midway begins as a loud, mammoth-scale behemoth that vibrates and shudders the audience in their seats.
Except for a few significant problems, Midway gets better fast and becomes an absorbing, old-fashioned American war movie. With one crucial omission, each plot point in the structure is properly planned, earned and executed, starting with the Japanese sneak attack on America (Japan initiated the use of force against America at Pearl Harbor, slaughtering thousands of Americans).
An innocent young American atheist or secularist sailor questioning a church service in progress on the deck of the USS Arizona swiftly finds himself fighting for life with his superior while “the Japs” (as the enemy were called in World War 2, a fact which is not treated with apology) bomb and gun down Americans everywhere in Honolulu. It’s a massacre.
This is the predicate for President Roosevelt’s stirring speech to rally the young nation to war, which some believe there’s evidence he knew about in advance. Then, comes a good exposition, which is extremely rare in Hollywood, with a string of leading male characters as top Naval brass, pilots and sailors, wives and Japanese sailors.
The timeline moves steadily and not too fast. This means that, for the first time in a major Hollywood movie in decades, the men who fought the war, who, appropriately for the picture’s Veterans Day weekend release, are both based on real sailors, pilots and officers and portrayed largely without historical revisionism, come off as real, developed, admirable characters. Midway in this sense puts the audience on the edge of their seats. Everyone in the theater, including those I suspect are real American vets, pilots, soldiers and sailors and their children and wives, was very invested in the characters and story.
The battle of Midway cannot be overestimated in turning the war in the Pacific toward the Americans and Midway depicts this hard-fought, deadly, epic battle with top production values. It doesn’t look fake like the Marvel movies. It looks more realistic. Whether Nimitz (Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards…) is ruminating about enemy movements at sea, musicians are pressed into service as codebreakers listening to Zenith radios or the only intelligence officer (Patrick Wilson, Angels in America) to forewarn about the Japs’ attack is nearly wrecked with tension and anxiety about the accuracy of his projections, Midway always keeps the action rooted in the drama of men’s lives at stake.
Screenwriter Wes Tooke gets certain details, such as America’s minisule and poorly prepared and equipped navy right. By the time the battle gets underway, with toe-tingling dive bombing and dogfighting and impossible aeronautic climbs defying the Navy pilots’ biological needs, every character, from Bruno the aircraft carrier crewman (Nick Jonas) to an arrogant American named Best (Ed Skrein, Deadpool) and Mrs. Best (Mandy Moore, This Is Us), is fully enlisted in the dramatic action. Look for Dennis Quaid (A Dog’s Purpose) as an aircraft carrier commander who makes a pivotal judgment, Darren Criss (The Assassination of Gianni Versace) as a pilot and Etsushi Toyokawa as Yamamoto (who said after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor that Imperial Japan had “awakened a sleeping giant”). Others include Luke Evans as a naval leader and others you may recognize as tailgunners, war widows and coders. Aaron Eckhart (Sully) appears as Jimmy Doolittle, who dared to bomb Tokyo when America desperately needed him to bomb Japan and ran out of fuel with his crewmen, crashed in enemy territory and tried to escape the bastards. Midway is an American epic that accounts for almost every important aspect of the Pacific theater.
Unfortunately, there are exceptions. While this may be Roland Emmerich’s best movie since Stargate (1994) and he does capture the sense of shock that the Japanese experienced at the depth and magnitude of American resilience and resolve, the director and writer fail to mention or refer to Douglas MacArthur, which strikes me as a key oversight. Worse, they evade the central, driving tenet of Japan’s dominant religion, Shintoism: self-sacrifice. A single scene of a kamikaze diving into an American ship is matched by an American pilot doing the same to a Japanese ship and a scene actually suggests that the Japanese war command discouraged sacrifice.
The opposite is true. The whole country, culture and deeply held belief system of Japan, down to every man, woman and child, was the total moral duty to sacrifice for the sake of one’s race, religion and state; with the emperor and empire being both state and religion. Also, the movie’s apparently been made with assistance from some shell branch of Communist China, so scenes in Japanese-occupied China emphasize Chinese suffering to the detriment of the Doolittle raid subplot.
Midway does, however, depict Japan’s barbarism which is absolutely crucial to any movie about World War 2’s Pacific theater. Also, the conflict between Japanese duty versus American desire to live is made clear. Though I would not have dedicated a war-themed movie to those who fought and died from both countries, some, especially Americans who fought, might see this as a magnanimous gesture.
In any case, Midway earns its excitement and does mostly right by the brave Americans who broke the code, planned, out-thought, outfought and crushed the enemy against all reasonable expectations and those who loved them. The best performances belong to Skrein as Best, Wilson, black-haired Moore struggling to remain as brave and composed as her husband, Quaid, Criss and, Nick Jonas in an important role showing that he’s a natural actor.
Everyone on cast and crew does good work on Midway, however. It’s a thrilling, intense two hours about the victory that stopped Japan from bombing California and invading the United States — the empire had devised plans to march to Chicago — buying America time to crush the enemy without equivocation and win the war. Which, thanks to the Americans of Midway, we did.
Hong Kong’s rejection of Communist China’s extradition rule and the governance of Communist China puppet ruler Carrie Lam is an unsurprising recent development. With its British colonial history, Hong Kong has been an outpost of Western civilization in the Orient; an Occidentalist center for trading food, especially seafood, goods and services bridging east and west. Much of the city’s population went along with Britain’s adherence to a pre-Communist agreement to return Hong Kong to China in 1997, which Leonard Peikoff once observed may have been influenced by Reagan’s refusal to back Thatcher’s withdrawal or refusal to recognize the agreement on the grounds that its terms were voided by dictatorship.
Hong Kong’s cosmopolitanism and independence endures. From freedom fighter and activist Joshua Wong to millions waving American flags and uniting to sing “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from the Broadway musical version of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Hong Kong yearns to be free, not ruled by the government that cracks down as I write this.
Privately, I’ve supported China’s liberalization to make progress toward capitalism. But I am proud to have never endorsed, let alone romanticized, the People’s Republic of China. This is true from my newspaper commentary calling for Bush’s secretary of state, the utterly incompetent Colin Powell, who is one of America’s worst military leaders and statesmen, to resign over his appeasement of China’s refusal to return a U.S. military crew and plane to my denunciation of China’s sponsorship of sporting spectacles. I think too many, including businesses such as Apple, artists and Objectivist speakers, and, of course, elected politicians, coddle, appease or ignore Communist China. It is in this sense that I think President Trumpis right to oppose China.
I am not a foreign policy thinker, though I’ve covered China in my writing and journalism. I am not a war, military or other type of historian. I do not study Asian history or military strategy for a living. I am certainly not an economist. I’ve read some books about the relevant topics. I’ve taken some courses. And I study philosophy. So, I recognize the implications of China’s threat to the West. Currently, I follow a range of several thinkers, commentators and scholars, including, in the past, the late John David Lewis, the forementioned philosopher Dr. Peikoff and Gordon Chang, among others. Accordingly, with Trump’s tariffs and trade war and Hong Kong as a potential flashpoint, I think China is in some sort of internal turmoil and poses a serious danger to the West. China recently allied with North Korea, a Stalinist state threatening nuclear attack on the U.S. and invasion of South Korea, which is currently governed by an anti-American who recently reneged on an agreement to share intelligence with Japan.
The U.S. has tens of thousands of troops in South Korea and not merely to protect that country, which, like Taiwan, Japan, Southeast Asia, Australia and U.S. Pacific territories and states, is crucial to sustaining America. China’s militarism, coddled by Nixon, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama, including its advancement on the South China Sea, like its ally Islamic Iran, is dangerous. This is to say nothing of China’s constant attacks on Americans’ property. To his credit, and I am among the first to critique the nation’s president, before he was elected president and before bashing him became an American cultural fixation and leftist dogma, Donald Trump’s is the first American government to stand up to China. Whatever Trump’s motives, mistakes and complete lack of principles, and whatever the ominous signs of what his presidency and its often mindless following means, Trump on China is a step in the right direction.
For the first time in America’s modern history, and this goes to the issue of America’s future and retaining or reconstructing what makes America great, the United States acts primarily in the interest of the United States with regard to China. Mine is not an endorsement of tariffs in general or in specific. I disagree with most of what Trump thinks, including his positions on Snowden, the surveillance state and health care as a right, to name a few. I’ve said so and under my own name. But I think his standing up to China, if and to the degree he does, is important, possibly crucial, and good. If progress means advancement of civilized humankind with living on earth as the standard and I think it does, Trump on China in terms of demanding certain terms and conditions for trade and military policy, is progressive.
This brings me to Trump’s detractors, the so-called ‘progressives’ running for president.
The 2020 Democrats are a band of goons, thugs and loons. Democrats want to rob Americans for slavery reparations. Nearly every Democratic Party presidential candidate seeks to ban, control or dictate property, livelihoods, medicine, exercise of speech and cars. Many endorse socialism, socialized medicine and fascism. The frontrunner says he wants to dictate the automotive industry and force Americans to drive electrical cars. One candidate seeks to impose a national collective income. The same candidate plans to install gigantic mirrors in outer space to fight the sun’s rays in the name of opposing a change in earth’s climate, which Democrats believe is a kind of apocalypse caused by humanity. Every Democrat running for president seeks total government control of the medical profession. Even an otherwise reasonable candidate such as South Bend, Indiana’s mayor, Pete Buttigieg, has come out for slavery reparations.
This fact alone makes Trump’s re-election more plausible and, while I didn’t support Trump in 2016 and actively spoke out against and oppose his protectionism and other anti-capitalism, I am willing to consider voting for the ex-Democrat as against a candidate who supports socialism, opposes pure capitalism and pledges to violate my right to speech, association and life to ban my car and confiscate my property for slavery reparations, a national income and socialized medicine, college tuition and whatever other lunacy they have in mind.
The premise of the Democrats’ totalitarian environmentalism and socialism is altruism. Why would you trust one who explicitly opposes egoism to defend the United States of America? Trump is bad, terribly anti-intellectual, and it’s true that he’s an authoritarian at least in psychological terms. However vulgar, nationalistic and anti-capitalist his presidency, which is marginally better than I forecast, he’s looking better than the alternative, each of whom shares the same moral premise and economic ideal as China.
As the West watches the world’s danger zones — Venezuela, Cuba, Sudan, Yemen, Israel, Seoul, Kashmir, Kabul, Taiwan, the Sea of Japan, Straits of Hormuz and South China Sea — especially Hong Kong, which once not long ago granted refuge to an American who defied the Obama administration to challenge the status quo and cripple the surveillance state, whose citizens seek to live in liberty, I think it’s important to stand up to China. For the first time in my life, the American president (an anti-intellectual made possible by his thoroughly anti-American predecessor) does.