By: Kevin Jordan
What war really looks like.
A couple of weeks ago, thousands of high school students in Jefferson County, Colorado (part of the Denver metro area) walked out of school in protest of a proposed change in the curriculum of the AP History course. If you haven’t heard about this event, here is a direct quote from a Washington Post article published on October 5th covering the issue:
The school board plans to set up a new committee to review the curriculum with the goal of assuring that courses — in the words of board member Julie Williams — “present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage” and “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system.” Williams also wrote that “materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder [or] social strife.”
Hopefully, you had the same reaction after reading that proposition that I did – rage and disbelief followed by wanting to mail those ignorant school board members copies of George Orwell’s 1984 followed by a flaming bag of dog poop. I don’t bring this up to turn this into a political diatribe, but because the movie Fury is a perfect example of what those kids are protesting for.
As I get older and learn more things about history, I think back on my American history classes through elementary, middle, and high school and realize how truly whitewashed they really were. My wife put it perfectly – they are a clinical version or history (my adjective was sanitized), basically just teaching us that things happened on certain dates involving certain people without including much context, if any at all. Fury is a lesson that none of us were ever taught – unless you were lucky enough to have a teacher who actually cared about teaching history – that war is worse than you can possibly imagine, especially World War II.
If you are an American (like me), you came out of high school with the impression that World War II was a glorious struggle and victory by the Allied forces, led by the Americans who stopped the evil Nazis and Japanese, passed out candy bars and flags after liberating cities, and were on our absolute best behavior during the entire war. It’s that last part that those school board members want emphasized even though it’s complete horseshit because they refuse to believe that war affects Americans the same as it affects everyone else. These people will either never watch Fury or they will accuse it of being some kind of anti-American/communist propaganda even though it also depicts those positive aspects they are so desperate to convey.
Fury takes place in April 1945 and focuses on a single American tank crew fighting in Germany. The crew is made up of Staff Sergeant Collier (Brad Pitt) – the crew commander, Technician Swan (Shia LeBeouf) – the main gunner, Corporal Garcia (Michael Pena) – the driver, PFC Travis (Jon Bernthal) – the loader and mechanic, and Private Ellison (Logan Lerman) – the assistant driver/machine gunner/new kid. There is no lofty plot or mission or goal – for instance, like saving Private Ryan – it’s just the story of these five guys and what war does to them and everyone else. Like the better war movies, Fury doesn’t shy away from showing the horrific things that happen during and after the fighting, but ups the ante by showing some of the things that American soldiers most likely did that we don’t like to think about or admit. It shows what happens (mentally) to men whose whole purpose for three solid years was to kill the enemy while riding around in a giant steel cannon on treads. To believe that our soldiers were somehow immune to the psychological toll that purpose would inflict is a fantasy deserving of the nuthouse.
While Brad Pitt is billed as the lead, the movie is just as much about Private Ellison. As Ellison informs his new crewmates after failing to kill a German, he wasn’t trained for tank combat, he was trained to type 60 words a minute. It was just Ellison’s bad luck that Sergeant Collier needed a replacement crewmember and Ellison was available. As the movie goes on, Ellison initially represents that ideal of American innocence and only killing when absolutely required, but eventually becomes the killing machine his country requires him to be. By contrast, the other crewmembers, sans Collier, are exactly the opposite – killing machines likened to animals (at one point, literally). Collier is the balance between the two and even verbalizes the lessons of war, just in case you were still in denial about the realities of war. Sometimes, he is the hard-nosed commander, pushing his men beyond their limits to fulfill their mission, forcing them to kill the enemy even if the enemy has surrendered. Other times, he is the voice of reason, protecting German women from drunken soldiers looking to celebrate their victory (you don’t think millions of soldiers all contracted syphilis consensually, do you?). He is also the guy that his men will follow anywhere and Ellison must learn why as the film marches on.
As a student of history, I highly recommend seeing this movie if you are interested in getting a peak at what really happens at the worst moments of human history. The acting is great and the visuals are stunning (in ways both good and terrifying). If you have a weak stomach or want to remain under the delusion that World War II (and other wars) were romantic and adventurous, you should probably steer clear of this film and keep to such films as Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. And, if you still don’t quite believe me on what this film’s message is, I’ll leave with you two quotes from Collier:
“Ideology is peaceful. History is violent.”
“This war is going to be over soon, but a lot more people gotta die first.”
That’s the way history should be taught.
Rating: Don’t ask for any of your money back from the theater, but do ask for some of your tax dollars back for teaching you nothing.