Archives For May 2010

I confess that I am  a war movie junkie.  I understand why many of you are not.

It is brutal.  It frightening.  It complex. It’s definitely not a date movie.  It usually is not going to make you laugh.

When I was 8, all I wanted to be was a soldier.  Until I watched Oliver Stone’s Platoon.  God bless my parents in a way for letting me watch that movie. As a parent now, I’m not sure if I’d let my children watch it but if they expressed interest in wanting to know about what real combat is like, at the right time I’d show them movies like The Thin Red Line, Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, Hamburger Hill, The Hurt Locker, Gettysburg, Glory, Black Hawk Down, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima, Memphis Belle, Gallipoli , Enemy at the Gates, yes even Braveheart and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.  I acknowledge that some of these movies could be argued as propaganda or that they over-sensationalize war but they do teach us something to the core about our own lives.  And if you think your life isn’t interesting, open your eyes.

We are at war. We always are. We always will be.

In life, if we pay close enough attention to the details, it isn’t that much different.  There may not be actual bullets flying over your head but the metaphoric ones can still cripple or kill us from living life the way it’s mean to be lived.

We must stand and fight together.

The Thin Red Line, painted in 1881 by Robert Gibb. Painting showing the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders in battle with Russian cavalry at the Battle of Balaklava 1854.

Here is what I’ve learned in my years of closely observing what most war movies best communicate.  I recently read an article in PASTE Magazine  reviewing Sebastian Junger’s latest, WAR that got me pretty fired up.  I have not read the book yet but the journalist in his review challenged a core piece in the book; glorifying brotherhood in the midst of battle.  What if brotherhood in battle is reality?  Most people I know in the military who have seen combat do not talk about it much.  I can only understand why.  But from what I’ve read about war and the movies I’ve seen, there is a theme that exists in all.  I’ll explain further.

In the movie Black Hawk Down, Eric Bana’s character “Hoot” shared his perspective on why he does what he does: “When I go home people’ll ask me, ‘Hey Hoot, why do you do it man? What, you some kinda war junkie?’ You know what I’ll say? I won’t say a god**** word. Why? They won’t understand. They won’t understand why we do it. They won’t understand that it’s about the men next to you, and that’s it. That’s all it is.” -Hoot, played by Eric Bana.  What a simple way to put it.  I highly recommend this movie and how it represents brotherhood as well as the depiction of modern combat.  The book was incredibly detailed and written by the talented Mark Bowden, from Webster Groves, MO where I spent my high school years.

If you also saw the recent HBO Miniseries “The Pacific” produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, you witnessed one of the most honest and horrific portrayals of the war in the Pacific in World War II through the eyes of 3 Marines.

Eat your heart out, John Wayne, you won’t see many other movies portray war reality so well. The series predecessor, Band of Brothers, emphasized the role of brotherhood so well in combat but this one was different.  There is a critical episode when a core character, Leckie, was taken away from battle to “rest.”  In reality, he was placed with other soldiers dealing with what we now know as “post-traumatic stress.”   During WWII, my maternal  grandfather “Papa Jack” Martin had a difficult assignment at Fort Lee re-training these types of soldiers.  I can only imagine what the men he encountered went through.  Leckie and the other Marines in the film quickly recognized that the war’s idealism of fighting off imperial Japan was forgotten and it became more about fighting to protect the man next to him.

Memorial Day approaches. We are losing WWII, Korean, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Gulf War & Iraq War veterans everyday so if you see one, honor them well.  Listen to them.  Ask them if they want to share their story.  Try to understand what they have experienced.  You will appreciate this wonderful nation more.  If they don’t want to talk about it, honor that and ask what you can do for them.  My father spends a lot of his time volunteering with the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge in St. Louis, Missouri.  His father (my grandfather) received a purple heart while fighting in Battle of the Bulge in December, 1944.  My dad sees this as his part of honoring “Grandpa Branch” and those many others who fought for us.   My father shared a story with me today from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about some WWII veterans in their 90’s recently honored in St. Louis.  There are so many still serving today.  My cousin Shane and his wife Tiffany have together served 4 tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.  They have given much of their 20’s and 30’s to the military.  There are so many more like them still protecting us. Honor those who went before us this Memorial Day.

Thoughout life I’ve had several people whom I’ve felt are “the person next to me.”  Whether it was my best friends in high school and college when I was in Young Life or today’s amazing men’s small group I’m in, I recognize that we are all never alone if we fight together.

Brooke and I are celebrating our 6th anniversary on this weekend.  She is that person next to me when there is calm but also when the bullets start flying. We’ve been reading John and Stasi Eldredge’s Love and War this month. It has helped confirm that especially in marriage, we must rely on each other in this complicated life.

When the bullets of life start flying, who will be by your side? Who is the person next to you?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you would also like to share a story about a loved one currently serving in the military or is a veteran, please do so in the comments.

I cannot describe how frustrating it is that this blog took so long to put together.  It is sad because I manage other people’s blogs and other social media elements for my job.  It feels like life has been moving in fast forward since getting married 5 years ago, my wife and I having 2 kids, and in a job where there is little time to breathe.  I have recognized that I can either let life move on or get these thoughts out.  I’ve been writing for a long time but have been mostly a chicken to not share it with anyone.  This is an attempt to be as authentic as possible.  Expect me to make mistakes.  Expect me to share ideas about pop culture influence. Expect me to share my love for history.  Expect stories and lessons I’ve learned from my life in publishing.  Don’t expect me to sell you something you don’t want, expect me to share.  Expect me to share a little bit about my wife and two little girls and what they are teaching me. Expect me to be focused at times and scattered in others.  If it is okay, I’d like permission from you to fail but to fail big.  Ask anyone close to me, I don’t have it all together.  I am inspired by so many people; my lovely wife, my kids, parents, sister, other family, friends, teachers, and colleagues.

Direction Unknown

I’ll leave you with this story.  One of my favorite moments in life was when I moved to Scotland.  I had graduated from college early and desired to try something totally different before I entered the work world. It was a different world before 9/11 but I’d do it again in a heartbeat.  I moved there without a job and without a clear idea what I was supposed to do.  But, I knew in my prayers to trust God’s guidance and take these literal steps.  I left the comfort of Edinburgh with its numerous America tourists and ventured to Glasgow, which was a more genuine Scottish city without Yanks.  After arriving in Glasgow by bus, I took a cab to the local hostel.  They were full.  No room at the inn for this young naive American.  I could either find some nice hotel but that felt like cheating.  I was wearing a huge hiking pack and a smaller backpack on my front.  To top it off, I brought my golf clubs, yes my golf clubs with me (long story).  I stepped out of the hostel and looked over the foggy Kelvingrove Park and the other side was Glasgow University.  Hope was on the other side with the promise of a warm bed and a job.  It was time to take a step into the unknown adventure.  In time, I’ll share more of those stories, you will laugh and cry with me.  You will also soon understand why I have titled this blog “A Letter To America.”  It just edged out suggested titles from friends like “CrapMagnet.com, HiI’mRogerMurdochI’mTheCo-Pilot, or Cool-Writer (yes I may have liked Grease 2).”

Let all of us step out of our comfort zones, remove the mask and enjoy this life together.

By the way, you have probably noticed that this blog has lots of holes in it.  It is incomplete as is life.  But, as Steve Jobs says “Real artists ship,” I will not wait any longer and get this thing going.  I appreciate your help in advance to make it what it is supposed to be.