Monday, December 21, 2015
Doing the laundry in the middle of the night. Watching an excellent old movie from the 1960's.
Although it's coming up on midnight, I am doing the laundry. In winter, I run the laundry at night because the dryer puts some heat and some moisture back into the air. I run the washing machine because it periodically runs some water through the lines and the pressure tank. There's also the fact that the ferrets are both asleep just now. Doing laundry with ferrets around is time consuming. They like nothing better than to sneak into a basket of dirty laundry and lay very still. It would be easy to dump them in and accidentally drown them in the washing machine. I still put every piece in one at a time, even though I have located them and I know they are not in the basket.
I watched a good old movie recently. Cast a Giant Shadow is about Israel's War of Independence. Specifically, it's about a Colonel in the U.S. Army who went over to help the Israelis in that war. This wasn't uncommon. A lot of the nascent Israeli Air Force was piloted by foreigners, Jewish and gentile. The only tanks they had at the start were British tanks either abandoned when the Brits pulled out of Palestine, or stolen from them as they did so. The drivers were British deserters, most of whom had Israeli girl friends and little or nothing to look forward to once they got back to Britain.
Israel had to form a government and fight off attack at the same time. This caused problems on the military front. Israel had the Palmach, centered around the kibbutz system. Good fighters, mostly young, good at low level tactics but hopeless at executing anything much above company level. The Israelis had the Haganah, a much more "regular" force, officered in many cases by men who had served in the British Army in World War II. There was a formation in the British Army that participated in the Italian campaign entitled "The Jewish Brigade."
Then, more harm than help, there were the Irgun and the Stern Gang. These guys were frankly terrorist in nature and deed, and a massive thorn in the side of Ben-Gurion and the legitimate government. Among other accomplishments they massacred the inhabitants of the Arab Village at Deir Yassin, and they assassinated the U.N. envoy tasked with partitioning the area, Count Folke Bernadotte. Eventually David Ben- Gurion and the Haganah "suppressed" them. Google "Atelana affair", that's a hell of a story. (*Ben-Gurion is the Israeli equivalent of George Washington.)
Cast a Giant Shadow has a great cast. Yul Bryner, Kirk Douglas, John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, Angie Dickenson, and a lot of other people the older viewer will recognize.
The movie was a big budget production, and the technical advisers went to a lot of trouble to make the details accurate. You'll see the Lee Enfield Mk.111, the Sten gun, the Czech produced Mauser k98, the German MG 34 and MG42, and a lot of other World War II favorites that the Israelis scrapped up from here and there. How they did so is such an interesting story that several books have been written on that subject alone. For firearms enthusiasts it's a good flick if only for that reason!
The script was written based on good history. It's a drama, but it's historically accurate, especially the scenes from the Battle of Latrun. Young men got off the immigrant ships, were given rifles, and sent right into the fight in the same clothes they wore on the ship. Many of them had never handled a rifle before, and after the fight numbers were found dead with the safety catches still in the "on" position on their rifles. They were never shown how to take the catch off.
If you like the movie and want to know more, Check the books Oh, Jerusalem and Genesis 1948,
It's also interesting to see what went on in Washington D.C. over whether or not to recognize Israel. President Truman was generally in favor. The State Department was not. The Pentagon supported recognition. The Pentagon and the State Department loathed each other (as they do today), but the final decision in the end was the President's.
The Secretary of State made a gentleman's agreement to support the British position, which called for a U.N. mandated partition of the region, and a halt on Jewish Immigration.
Truman knew the aristocrats at the State Department looked down on him. He came from humble beginnings and was only President because Roosevelt died and he was V.P. when it happened. He knew the State Department called him "Haberdasher Harry" because he had run a clothing store in Missouri before going into politics.
At the last minute, Truman over ruled the State Department and the U.S. recognized the State of Israel. As Wellington said of Waterloo "it has been a damned nice thing! The nearest run thing you ever saw in your life."
The pivotal characterh in the movie , played by Kirk Douglas, was a U.S. Army colonel named Micky Marcus.
Spoiler Alert: Don't read this if you don't want to know how the movie ends, but it's interesting in and of itself.
On the last night before a U.N. truce went into effect, Marcus left an Israeli camp, and walked out into an orange grove in the dark. He didn't speak Hebrew. Coming back into camp, he didn't answer when a sentry challenged him, and was fatally shot.
But there's more to the story. Ben- Gurion had been working feverishly to develop a united military command. Officers in the Haganah and the Palmach wouldn't take orders from each other, and the Irgun and Sternists were complete loose cannons as ready to kill a Jew as anybody else if it suited them, answerable to no one.
Ben -Gurion wanted to combine the Palmach and the Haganah, but the Palmach was vehemently opposed. Before Latrun, Ben- Gurion appointed Marcus overall field commander, a move that infuriated the Palmach commanders on the scene.
So back to the orange grove.
The official version was that Marcus was killed by accident, by a sentry armed with a Mauser 98K, chambered for 8 mm Mauser. Ben -Gurion smelled a rat, and sent a doctor down to do an autopsy. The Dr. found that Marcus was killed by 9mm Luger bullets, probably fired from a Sten gun. Coincidentally, the Sten was a weapon much favored by the Palmach.
The whole thing was covered up, because Ben -Gurion judged the time wasn't right to precipitate a fight with the Palmach. But he bore it in mind and did not forget.
Even if you don't know a lot of Israeli military history, it's a really interesting movie. There's very little "B.S." added for dramatic effect. About the only example I can think of is fixing Marcus up with a beautiful Israeli mistress. That's pretty much whole cloth as he was known to be a family man and not a skirt chaser. But it adds flair, I suppose.
In the clip below, there are some scenes where you'll probably think "nah, that would never happen." But it did. Remember the Israelis had to make do with whatever came to hand, and they really did do things like throwing pipe bombs and seltzer water bottles out of piper cubs early in the war.
In the whole movie, there's only one scene that's clearly wrong. It shows U.S. Paratroopers jumping on D Day carrying their weapons in their hands. That was lame, but scenes shot in Israel are accurate.
When you look at the scene where the Egyptians attack a kibbutz, remember that the Arabs received vast amounts of American equipment from the English before 1947. When you see the really incredibly stupid tactical use of the Egyptian Infantry, that's how it actually was. We aren't talking about Western troops here, and the Arab officers, with the exception of the Jordanians (who were mentored by British officers through the first part of the war) were truly terrible.
The Israelis made mistakes, too. They were new to building a country and new to organized warfare. They left the women and kids in Kibbutz settlements early in the war. The plan was to make fortresses out of the individual settlements, and leaving the women and kids was expected to stiffen the morale of the defenders. After a few Kibbutz were overun, they stopped doing that in a hurry. You can guess why.
It's a good movie, and showing right now on Turner Classics. It's also on the internet in 10 parts. I am going to order a DVD for my little favorite film library here on the mountain.