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Old 07-05-2002, 03:31 AM   #1
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A Call to Virtue

Technically a day late, but hopefully no less poignant...

From National Review Online:

A Call to Virtue
The Spirit of ’77.

James S. Robbins
NRO Contributing Editor
July 3, 2002 8:45 a.m.

America celebrates its 226th birthday at a time of uncertainty and hope. While our enemies threaten attacks on our homeland, U.S. forces are engaged on far-flung fields of battle. So on this birthday as on our first; but on July 4, 1777 America was fighting for its survival. It had been a year since the Declaration of Independence — and in that time, our country had seen both victories and defeats. Many years of struggle lay ahead, and the end was not then certain. Yet, at home and abroad, in public ceremonies and moments of private reflection, Americans honored the anniversary of the sacred birth of freedom.

July 4 found Captain John Paul Jones in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, overseeing the outfitting of the 18-gun warship Ranger. He had been granted command by Congress on June 14, following the resolution that "the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white: that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation." Legend has it that young women of the town held a quilting party to fashion a flag for the vessel — the 13 stars being cut from the silk wedding dress of one who had been married the previous May to an officer of the New Hampshire militia. Jones raised the Stars and Stripes on that day; it was the first United States flag to fly over a U.S. Navy vessel, the first to be seen in Europe, and the first to be saluted by the guns of a foreign fleet.

Across the Atlantic, another Navy officer, Dr. Jonathan Haskins, sat in a cell in squalid Mill Prison, Plymouth, England. He had joined the crew of the ten-gun privateer Charming Sally the previous November as a junior surgeon, been taken captive by the British the following January, and shipped to England after five months of shipboard confinement. That day in his journal he absently noted the movements of merchant vessels in the harbor, and added, "this Day 12 Months the United States of America Declar'd Independent which they've Supported one year. God send they Ever May — "

In the British encampment at Portsmouth, Rhode Island, Captain MacKenzie of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers awoke to the sound of cannon fire from American Frigates based at nearby Bristol Ferry. They fired 13 shots, "one for each Colony, we suppose," he wrote. As twilight approached, the brazen Americans returned to repeat the demonstration. "As the evening was very still and fine," he noted, "the echo of the guns down the bay had a very grand effect, the report of each being repeated three of four times."

In New York, British troops under the command of General John Burgoyne shocked the American defenders of Ft. Ticonderoga by emplacing cannon on Mount Defiance, a feat thought impossible, and making the position of the defenders untenable. That evening American General Arthur St. Clair held a council of war, and concluded that the strategically vital fort had to be abandoned. He led his command to safety under cover of darkness, and while they avoided the ignominy of having to hand over the fort and be made prisoner, the surprise British victory was heralded with astonishment. Burgoyne was promoted, and when news of Ticonderoga's fall reached King George III he dashed into his queen's bed chambers exclaiming, "I have beat them! I have beat all the Americans!"

Ethan Allen, who had led the attack that had taken Ticonderoga two years earlier, spent July 4 as a prisoner of war in British-occupied New York. He reported that a "very ostentatious" proclamation from Burgoyne was read across the country on that day, condemning the Declaration of Independence and appealing to Loyalist sentiment. "I wish my countrymen in general could but have an idea of the assuming tyranny, and haughty, malevolent, and insolent behavior of the enemy at that time," he later wrote, "and from thence discern the intolerable calamities which this country have extricated themselves from by their public spiritedness and bravery."

In Philadelphia, Congressman Sam Adams was unimpressed by Burgoyne's bluster. He wrote his friend Arthur Lee of Virginia, who was then in Spain attempting to forge an alliance with the Spanish crown, confidently predicting that the British would fare poorly attempting to conquer "the whole Army of the United States together with the numerous, hardy & stubborn Militia of New England....Great Britain will ever show her self feeble in her Efforts to conquer America." Not far to the north, in his headquarters in Morristown, New Jersey, General George Washington was struggling to make good on Adams's boasts. Washington was engaged in a tense chess match with the British, trying to position himself to respond to potential moves by General Howe, whom he suspected would either attack Philadelphia, or move up the Hudson. "I am yet perplexed to find out the real intention of the enemy," he wrote to Major General John Armstrong, commander of the Pennsylvania militia. Whatever Howe was planning, Washington was at least confident that Ticonderoga would hold and his northern flank would remain secure. It would be days before he learned of the disaster that was then developing.

On the frontier, terror reigned. Burgoyne had raised the Iroquois against the Americans in June, and fear stalked the hill country and forestlands of the west. Isolated settlements far from the conventional theaters of war were forced to fend for themselves. In Boonesboro, Kentucky, on July 4, Daniel Boone and his settlers faced a desperate assault by 200 Shawnee Indians, the beginning of a siege that would last for two days. When it was over one townsman was left dead, two wounded, and seven Indians were killed. Boone noted laconically, "finding themselves not likely to prevail, [the Shawnee] raised the siege, and departed."

In Tennessee, on Long Island of the Holston, American soldiers were involved in negotiations with Cherokee Indians to convince them to join the Patriot cause. The Cherokee had been at war with the Americans since May of 1776, in confederation with the Shawnee, Delaware and Mohawk. The Americans suspended the peace conference to observe the holiday. Soldiers paraded and formed in six platoons, each firing two volleys, the 13th volley fired by all. The Declaration was read aloud and explained to the Indians, "who were invited to imbibe and join in the celebration. The day's festivities ended with a great dance in which both the Indians and whites participated."

Meanwhile the Congress, sitting in Philadelphia, had been through a busy week. The demands of running the war were incessant. They dealt with matters of pay and supplies, suppressing loyalists in Delaware, attending to foreign affairs, and commissioning emissaries to seek recognition from several European courts. No mention of the impending anniversary was entered in the congressional journal. Yet on Thursday the 3rd, Congress postponed business and adjourned until 10 o'clock Saturday.

On Friday, Thomas Wharton of the Philadelphia Committee of Safety petitioned the city justices on behalf of the true friends of liberty, who had "expressed a desire to hold public rejoicings and illuminations." The celebration began at one in the afternoon with cannonades of 13 shots fired from ships drawn up in the Delaware River. A feast was prepared for the Congress and other dignitaries; the wait staff were British deserters from Georgia, the music was supplied by the Hessian band captured at Trenton on December 26. The meal was followed by toasts and speeches commemorating great deeds of American patriots, by cannon and musket fire, and by boisterous cheers that echoed down the streets. Troops marching to the front were pressed into an impromptu parade. A local paper recorded that "the evening was closed with the ringing of bells, and at night there was a grand exhibition of fireworks, which began and concluded with thirteen rockets on the commons, and the city was beautifully illuminated. Every thing was conducted with the greatest order and decorum, and the face of joy and gladness was universal. Thus may the 4th of July, that glorious and ever memorable day, be celebrated through America, by the sons of freedom, from age to age till time shall be no more. Amen, and amen."

The first birthday celebration of the United States in Philadelphia was just as John Adams had invoked a year earlier, when he wrote that the anniversary of the Declaration would be "solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more." But a few days after the festivities, Adams wrote his wife Abigail that he was "wasted and exhausted in mind and body." He had recently observed his third year in service to the cause of liberty, and was six months separated from his family. "What sacrifice haven't I made?" he asked, to the person who more than any shared his longing to return to a life at peace. But peace was years in the future, and there were many more sacrifices to be made. Adams had written that America would suffer "calamities" and "distresses yet more dreadful" in the years to come. Yet, he believed that the experience would better his countrymen; the times of hardship would "inspire us with many virtues which we have not" and "correct many vices which threaten to disturb, dishonor and destroy us." The burdens they carried would build and refine the American character.

Freedom's road has stretched long from that day, and many calamities have indeed come to pass. Yet, in our response to them rest the seeds of our virtue. Periodically we are called upon to earn the right to be called Americans. Our current trial is both a test, and a chance for renewal. July 4 is the day when we come together to celebrate our freedom, but also to remember that there are times when we must be prepared to deserve it.

— James S. Robbins is a national-security analyst & NRO contributor.




To be honest, I had not planned on posting this - but then I watched Saving Private Ryan. I've owned a copy for well over a year, but this is only the second time I've seen the film; the first was when it was in the theater upon its release.

I made this observation then, and I will make it again now: no American under the age of thirteen should be allowed to watch this film, but every American over the age eighteen should be made to watch it once.

It is the greatest of all war films, it is among the greatest films of all time, and it had no business losing the Best Picture Oscar to Shakespeare in Love - no matter HOW good that movie was.

It is a very, very difficult film to watch.

And I finally understand what the film is trying to say.

As good as the movie is, I've always felt this nagging need to criticize that the film inserted into the Normandy invasion this fictional tale of finding James Ryan, the soldier who lost all three brothers at one time. To me, it smacked of Titanic, in which they inserted into one of the great civilian tragedies of the Twentieth Century a needless romance. But now, I see the light.

The film's central question is, why? Why risk the lives of eight men to save the life of just one? There is a sense that Mother Ryan has given enough to the country, but that matters little to Captain Miller and his soldiers; they have mothers, too. In a quiet moment in the film, Miller (Tom Hanks' character) just hopes that Private Ryan is worth the trouble - that he finds a cure for some disease or invents a longer-lasting lightbulb.

At the close of the movie, Miller emphasizes the point to Ryan:

"James, earn this. Earn it."

We are all Private Ryan.

The article above reminds us to be prepared to fight for our freedom. Saving Private Ryan reminds us to earn our freedom, whether we ever wear a uniform. In all of human history, very few men have ever truly lived free. We are among that tiny minority - thanks to the brave lives of those who came before us.

What are we to do with this freedom?

We should do the right thing. We should use our freedom, not as carte blanche to do what we want, but as an opportunity to do what we SHOULD.

Bubba
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Old 07-09-2002, 07:44 PM   #2
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Beautiful.

I am truly moved, Bubba. Thank you so much for that. It certainly isn't any less poignant whatever the date. Virtue is timeless.

John.
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Old 07-09-2002, 10:30 PM   #3
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Lawrence of Arabia, The Birth of a Nation, Dr. Strangelove, Platoon and Apocalypse Now all rank ahead of Saving Private Ryan. Writing and acting won out over directing and cinematography in the final choice for Best Film.

Saving Private Ryan in some ways reminds me of Full Metal Jacket -- whose brilliance left us at about the midway point, Ryan's was less abrupt, but a steady decline was noticable as the movie progressed through some very unrealstic sequences and scenarios, in order to remind us that life is precious and we must make the most of it; but isn't this element already in the forefront of the viewer's mind when watching a film of this nature? I see no need for such heavy-handed melodrama amidst the most important moments of the 20th Century , in short I was disappointed with this film, which was mired in mediocrity after staging one of the greatest opening scenes in cinematic history.
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Old 07-10-2002, 02:12 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally posted by The Wanderer
Lawrence of Arabia, The Birth of a Nation, Dr. Strangelove, Platoon and Apocalypse Now all rank ahead of Saving Private Ryan. Writing and acting won out over directing and cinematography in the final choice for Best Film.
Whose rank? And what does that matter? Are to we let some ranking dictate to us which films are better than others? Or are we going to debate the merits of the films involved?

And you're obviously referencing the '99 Oscars in comparing "writing and acting" to "directing and cinematography."

Saving Private Ryan won Best Director and Best Cinematography. Shakespeare in Love won Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress - and Best Picture.

Does that mean that Shakespeare in Love MUST be a better film? Hell no.

As I said in my first post (you apparently missed it): "it had no business losing the Best Picture Oscar to Shakespeare in Love - no matter HOW good that movie was."

Let me reiterate: The Oscars are NOT infallible.

The year before, Titanic, the most expensive shite movie ever made, won over As Good as It Gets and L.A. Confidential. The year after, American Beauty beat out The Sixth Sense. In both cases, I believe the Academy fucked up.

Need more definitive proof? Citizen Kane, considered by many to be the greatest film of all time, didn't even win the Best Picture Oscar. It lost in 1942 to How Green Was My Valley.

The argument in your first paragraph is flawed. Very flawed.

Quote:
Saving Private Ryan in some ways reminds me of Full Metal Jacket -- whose brilliance left us at about the midway point, Ryan's was less abrupt, but a steady decline was noticable as the movie progressed through some very unrealstic sequences and scenarios, in order to remind us that life is precious and we must make the most of it; but isn't this element already in the forefront of the viewer's mind when watching a film of this nature? I see no need for such heavy-handed melodrama amidst the most important moments of the 20th Century , in short I was disappointed with this film, which was mired in mediocrity after staging one of the greatest opening scenes in cinematic history.
Here, I think you miss the point. I believe the point of the movie is not merely that "life is precious" - a point that nearly every serious war movie makes - but that our freedom, being earned by the deaths of others, is precious and ought to be used for a greater good.

In the movie, Private Ryan won a ticket out of the war - through no doing of his own, and at the cost of the lives of other human beings. Because of this, it was imperative that he do something worthwhile with his "new lease on life," that he EARN what he was given.

Like Private Ryan, we have all been given unearned freedom. Our grandfathers went to war and we didn't - only because they happend to be born around 1930 and we weren't. Did those Americans who fought somehow deserve to live through such horrors? Certainly not. Do we somehow deserve a life of peace and prosperity MORE than they? Again, no. We have been literally given our freedoms, and that gift was brought about through our forefather's courage and blood. Thus, we should live a life worthy of such a gift.

THAT was the point of the film. Did that point require a fictional story added to the realities of D-Day? Probably so. Does that make the movie more melodramatic than, say, Apocalypse Now? Certainly.

But Saving Private Ryan had a more important message than merely "war is bad," and its message justified the way the story was told.
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Old 07-10-2002, 07:21 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally posted by Achtung Bubba


Like Private Ryan, we have all been given unearned freedom. Our grandfathers went to war and we didn't - only because they happend to be born around 1930 and we weren't. Did those Americans who fought somehow deserve to live through such horrors? Certainly not. Do we somehow deserve a life of peace and prosperity MORE than they? Again, no. We have been literally given our freedoms, and that gift was brought about through our forefather's courage and blood. Thus, we should live a life worthy of such a gift.

Hey, Judge, one whole paragraph w/ which I can heartily agree!!! Congratulations...

I am your opinion when you say that we don´t somehow deserve a life of peace and prosperity MORE than they. BUT my opinion is also that THEY would have deserved a life as peaceful and prosperous as our generation (And why didn´t they get this? Because some criminals and murderers in various economic and governmental circles from various countries - if you take the example WWII mostly Germany - had their interests and didn´t care of fellow countrymen - or enemies - dying in war).

"We should use our freedom - not as a carte blache to do what we want, but as an opportunity to do what we SHOULD."

And who defines what "you" SHOULD do? An opinion? Opinions are different amongst people. Your sense of honor? Different from other people´s. The human rights catalogue? This is a catalogue of rights, which doesn´t include "If those rights are not fulfilled, we..."

Now, the definition of how you act is defined by the acteurs who know they will be able to do what they want to do and sell it to the public as a thing that should be done.

Did you read the neverending story (not see the film)? There is a well written passage there about "true will".
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Old 07-10-2002, 09:29 AM   #6
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take it easy Bubba, I was merely expressing an opinion about the fabled "greatest war movie of all-time" (I mean, unless there is an absolute right answer to this question that I am unaware of), it just a coincidence that most people agree with that opinion

and my statement about writing and acting winning out over directing and cinematography, again, was merely stating the obvious thought-process in why voters chose Skakespeare in Love, now I happen to agree with them, does that make it a better film than Saving Private Ryan, that's hard to say, maybe, maybe not, depends on the individual's taste and perspective

and yes, I "get" the point of the movie, I don't think it's really that complicated, I over-simplified things when I said "life is precious, make the most of it," but doesn't that fall under the umbrella of "the gift of freedom should be validated" in "making the most of life?" I am really not sure if everyone is capable of extraordinary things though, so it's a tricky question

I'm not disputing the messege of Saving Private Ryan, but I think the movie had flaws in its progression and story-telling

we agree about Titanic, but we disagree about American Beauty, which rightfully won Best Film, but wait, that's my opinoin!

but you're definitely right about this: the Academy has shown zero consistency throughout the years, and winning largely depends on circumstances and timing, this is how Denzel Washington won Best Actor over Russel Crowe, voters clearly felt they needed to give Denzel Washington "his due" before there was an even greater p.c. shit storm -- and since Denzel is a worthy actor who has had many quality film, and Crowe had already won the year before, the voters didn't feel obligated to reward the best performance of the year
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Old 07-10-2002, 10:12 AM   #7
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the article, the movie

Grace.

Being blessed enough to live freely. That "eight is worth one" and that Ryan didn't have to do anything for his mates to rescue him. It all points to Grace.

Nice article, thx Bubba.
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Old 07-10-2002, 12:48 PM   #8
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Wanderer,

Didn't mean to overreact. In all honesty, my observation has been that most people think that Ryan is good but not great - mostly (I suspect) because it's not nearly as cynical as a movie like Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now.

About the Russell Crowe / Denzel Washington fiasco, some other guy (can't remember where) summarized it best by saying that Crowe won an undeserved Oscar the year before but lost an Oscar he deserved with A Beautiful Mind.

And returning to the main point, I too am unsure whether everyone is capable of the extraordinary. But while most can not achieve greatness, I believe most can achieve goodness.


whenhiphopdrovethebigcars,

I believe what people should do can be very easily defined: Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.

Ultimately, I can't show that that rule is the true rule of morality; such a thing can't be proved. But it certainly feels right, and it is probably too unpopular to be the result of other people "selling" their idea to the public.

Either way...

...please, quit calling me Judge. Call me Bubba, Achtung Bubba, or nothing at all.


Olive,

Thanks.
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Old 07-11-2002, 10:18 AM   #9
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One Love,

Bubba
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