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Peter Jackson’s Restored WWI Footage Underscores The Flaccidity Of Today’s Culture


“We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm,” Winston Churchill reportedly said. He knew a thing or two about combat as a young man, and as the leader of a great nation about facing annihilation as an old man. If Winston could only see us now. The contrast between those young people today who stand ready to protect us and those we protect has perhaps never been more stark.

A December 19 article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Failure 101: Teaching Resilience” reports many American universities feel the need to offer courses that teach “It’s OK to fail sometimes.” Really. The Journal reports that many colleges, including elites like Princeton and Vanderbilt, are offering workshops with vignettes showing students and staff “discussing their failures and moments of self-doubt.” The University of Central Arkansas, during “Fail Forward Week,” apparently hands out certificates giving students “permission to screw up ‘and still be a totally worthy, excellent human being,’” citing the document.

On the same page of the print edition of the Journal, below the fold, is a much shorter article. In fact, it’s not an article at all. It’s simply a photograph with a caption. The photo is of a flag-draped casket being carried from a church in Export, Pennsylvania by six soldiers in dress uniform bearing the body of their fallen comrade, Army Sgt. Jason McClary, who was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan last month.

How striking the divergence in these depictions of our youth.

The Journal devoted almost the entire above-the-fold portion of page A6 to discussing the delicate sensibilities of wealthy college students suffering the pangs of a poor grade on a test or having difficulty with a roommate. Or, to put it in professional counselor-speak: “We always painted failing a class or failing a test in a completely negative light, and we didn’t give the space to say if this does happen, it’s a moment in time, and here’s the process by which you learn from it.” So spake Amy Baldwin, the University of Central Arkansas’s director of the department of student transitions.

Now below the fold, we see McClary borne by his brothers-in-arms. Somehow, I suspect that McClary would be entirely comfortable with the Journal’s editorial decisions about covering these two stories. In my experience interacting with active-duty and retired servicemembers, I fully expect that they would seek no extensive reporting of their deeds, or of their struggles with the difficulties and failures of everyday life. No certificates needed to assure them that they are still “totally worthy, excellent human beings.”

I say this as the father of both an active-duty soldier and a civilian college student (as well as a recently graduated college student). I’ve seen kids from both environments.

The British offer an even clearer contrast between the rough men who have historically stood ready to protect us and modern, liberal man through two handy examples. First, the legendary British director and producer Peter Jackson has created an absolutely stunning new documentary that I hope every adult in the English-speaking world watches, called “They Shall Not Grow Old.” The film opened in theaters in the United States on December 27 but has been available in Britain for several months.

From the Imperial War Museum, Jackson obtained actual footage shot in World War I, much of which was reportedly previously unseen. He colorized the films, then used advanced computer-guided film techniques to splice in interstitial frames, transforming grainy, choppy, black-and-white original footage into smooth-flowing, color film that looks like it could have been shot by professionals today.

He also hired lip readers to determine what the soldiers were saying in the silent original footage, then dubbed in actors’ voices to replicate the original dialogue. He used sound effects like horses’ hooves clopping, wagons clanking, and artillery shells exploding to match what we see on-screen. The effect is breathtaking.

Imagine the impact the audience felt watching the black-and-white beginning of “The Wizard of Oz” transition to the colorized portion of the movie and you’ll get a sense of the impact you feel watching original World War I combat footage transform into video that you might expect to see of combat operations taking place today in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Jackson reportedly took no fees for making this masterpiece, which restored 100 hours of original footage. Rather, he dedicated the documentary to his grandfather, who had fought in the British ranks during the war. It was truly a labor of love and he did his grandfather proud, to say the least.

Perhaps my view is biased. I have a familial interest in the European wars of the twentieth century. My grandfather served in World War I (in the Austro-Hungarian army) and my father served in World War II (in the American army). I can appreciate Jackson’s appreciation of the bravery of the men who fought in those wars, on all sides. He captures with amazing beauty, and at times gruesome clarity using modern cinematography, the form that bravery took, as he follows British soldiers from recruitment to training to combat to victory (or death).

Adding particular poignance to the work are the interviews of actual British veterans that Jackson also obtained from the war, narrating their experiences. The crystal-clear descriptions these remarkable souls offer of the patriotism, fear, misery, horrors, and exhilaration they experienced brings the documentary to life in a way that no other method could achieve in making these men relatable to the viewer.

That brings us to the final point of comparison. Britain’s Telegraph recently reported that UK schools are teaching British children that “Trans boys and men and non-binary people may have periods” and that “menstruation must be inclusive of all genders.” You read that right.

In the span of 100 years, Britain has gone from producing men who were so eager to fight and die for their country that 16-year-olds lied about their age to enlist when the minimum age was 19, to teaching primary school boys that they can have periods just like girls and offering feminine hygiene products in boys’ bathrooms. This phenomenon isn’t unique to the U.K. U.S. colleges, like the University of Wisconsin, University of Minnesota, and Brown University offer menstrual products in their men’s rooms, in the name of “menstrual equity” and as a sop to a miniscule “transgender” population.

Can any culture—British, American or any other—raise “rough men” ready to defend it against a ruthless enemy when it cannot even fix in the minds of its developing youth what their sex is? What would Winston say? I’ll take Sgt. Jason McClary any day.