LIKE, UNLIKE

Oil, Meet Water — Of the people who are close to you, who is the person most unlike you? What makes it possible for you to get along?


Of the people close to me? That’s a tiny number of people. Back “in the day,” (whatever that means), I was popular. There were always people in my house. A perpetual party was in progress. I had so many friends, their relationships with each other was more than a little contentious as they vied for my free time.

At first it was flattering. Eventually, I felt tired and used up. So I left, moved to Israel, and stayed there nearly 9 years. When I came back, the party was over. Everyone had moved on. I hadn’t been forgotten, but my place in the scheme of things was gone.

Marilyn and Garry by Bette Stevens
Marilyn and Garry by Bette Stevens

Now? Those few who are close to me are like-minded people with whom and from whom I take comfort. We don’t argue about politics or even taste in books or movies. We share ideas and learn from each other, more alike than different.

I have no interest in abrasive relationships.

Who is the most different? Probably my husband because — gasp  — he’s male and I’m — gasp — female. He will watch sports when I would prefer reading a book. When he reads, it’s mostly about sports figures and movies while I want to read about vampires and werewolves. But he’s begun to enjoy the occasional werewolf and I’ve gotten serious about baseball. The last things that made us so different, other than plumbing, are gradually smoothing out.

Soon, no one will be able to tell us apart.

THE STORY OF VETERANS DAY

Veterans Day, originally Armistice Day, initially celebrated the end of the first world war. The fields in Europe where the war was fought were full of wild red poppies and for many years, red poppies were the symbol of World War I.

2014 VetsDay

Fighting ended between the Allies and Germany at 11 AM on 11/11 — November 11, 1918. This is accepted almost universally as the end of “the war to end all wars.” Sadly, this barely interrupted the progression of war — and the holiday was known as Armistice Day.

After the police action in Korea concluded in 1954, “Veterans” was substituted for “Armistice.” The holiday became Veterans Day and honors veterans of all the wars we have ever fought. Which are a lot of wars and a great many veterans.

The first Veterans Day under the new law was observed amid considerable confusion on October 25, 1971. On September 20th, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford returned Veterans Day to its original date of November 11, starting 1978.

From the Veterans Administration:

Veterans Day continues to be observed on November 11, regardless of what day of the week on which it falls. The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.

All honor to all our veterans, of all the wars we have throughout the years and around the world. Let’s hope in future years, we will have fewer battles to fight.

RED, WHITE, AND BLUE

It’s a red, white and blue kind of day … so here is a collection of red, white, and blue images taken over a long period of time by Garry and I all around New England.

A POPPY IN REMEMBRANCE

World War I (WWI) officially began on July 28, 1914, though its real beginnings were rooted in events beginning decades, even centuries earlier. An ugly, devastating war consisting of 4 years of slaughter ending on November 11, 1918, they day we celebrate today.

The official number of military casualties is 22,477,500 killed, wounded, or missing in action. The combined number of military and civilian casualties is more than 37 million. If, as I do, you consider World War II as chapter two of the same conflict, the number of dead becomes even more incomprehensible.

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) has celebrates Veteran’s Day each year, usually by inviting historians and military people to do introductions and closing comments on war films. General Wesley Clark has been doing TCM’s commentaries, most recently for Oh! What a Lovely War.

He referred to the movie as a musical comedy. While it has amusing moments, calling it a musical comedy doesn’t cut it. If comedy can be dark, this is totally black. It’s also surprisingly informative. I can date my interest in World War I and modern American history to having seen this movie when it was released in 1969.

In his closing comments following the movie, General Clark said he hoped we had learned our lesson from this and all the other wars of the past century. I turned to Garry and said, “And what lesson, exactly, might that be?”

“Obviously,” said my husband, making a sour face, “We have learned nothing.”

I agree. Well, we did learn a few things, though nothing good. We learned to build more lethal weapons. We can kill more people faster than we did 100 years ago. Much of our military technology emerged during and post-WWI.

I don’t see this as progress. If you want to know why I’m so cynical, why I have trouble believing in a benign deity, look at the casualty figures from the collective wars of the past century.

I love this movie. Not only because of its historical veracity — it’s accurate — but because the music is wonderful. The cast includes everyone who was anyone in British cinema at the time — Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Maggie Smith, Vanessa Redgrave, Dirk Bogarde, Ralph Richardson and more, all having a great time.

I’ve seen this many times and I guess so has Garry since we can both know the words to all the songs. Very catchy.


OH! WHAT A LOVELY WAR

Directed by Richard Attenborough (his directorial début)

OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR

Until I saw this movie, I didn’t get the connection between poppies and World War I.

All I knew was that veterans organizations gave red poppies to people when they donated money, but I had no idea why. After you see this movie, you will never forget why.

I originally saw “Oh! What a Lovely War” when it was released in 1969. It’s World War I — in song, dance and irony. Its catchy score sticks in your brain.

The songs were sung by the troops and the cast includes everyone who was anyone in British stage or screen in the 1960s. The credits are a who’s-who of English actors.

World War I is hard to understand. Its causes are rooted in old world grudges that make no sense to Americans. So many ancient hatreds — thousands of years of scores to be settled.

My mother summed it: “Everyone was armed to the teeth. They wanted war. They just needed an excuse. Europe was a giant bomb waiting for someone to light a match.”

Hers may be as good an answer as any other. When the war began, it was the old world. The crowned heads of Europe ruled. When it finally ground to a halt in 1918, the world had changed beyond recognition. The European monarchies were gone. A generation of men had been slaughtered. The death toll was beyond belief. The callous indifference to loss of life by those in command remains incomprehensible.

More than 9 million men were killed in battle. This does not include collateral damage to non-combatants and death by disease or starvation. It paved the way for major political upheaval throughout the world.

Says the movie at the beginning: “The principal statements made by the historical characters in this film are based on documentary evidence, and the words of the songs are those sung by the troops during the First World War.”

The first World War could be called an orchestrated, organized international effort to murder a generation of men. They did a good job.

The statements of the historical characters — all lodged a safe distance from the fighting — are ludicrous. General Haig, looking at the staggering loss of life on both sides, really said: “in the end, the Germans will have 5,000 men and we will have 10,000, so we will have won.”? He said it. And meant it.

The arrival of the Americans and their takeover of the endless war — bringing it to a conclusion while there was still something left to save — is a great cinematic moment. I wonder how long it would have gone on without American involvement? Would Europe exist or would it all be a wasteland?

The war is told with music and dancing. Songs mixed with pithy comments from generals, kings, Kaisers and soldiers. It’s a long movie — 144 minutes — and I can promise you that you will have a far better and more visceral understanding of this war and what those little red poppies the Veterans organizations give out (do they still do that?) to commemorate the war to end all wars. Until the next war. And the one after that.

The music is ghastly, funny, catchy. The movie is out of print. It was only in print for a couple of months. I had been looking for it for a long time and was thrilled to snag a copy. A few copies are still available through Amazon. If you are a history buff and love great movies, grab one.

Great directing, biting sarcastic humor, terrific music and informative, this movie is in a category all by itself. It was unavailable for more than 20 years. You won’t be disappointed and you won’t forget it. In the 45 years since I first saw it, I haven’t forgotten it.

If you are willing to pay an exorbitant price, Amazon has a few copies here.