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What Do We Stand For? Hard Questions in the Trump Era from Judgement at Nuremberg

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have written about the classic film Judgment at Nuremberg many times. I am doing it again because I have been doing a lot of reading about some of the other war crimes trials conducted in post-World War II Germany, today I began reading Hitler’s American Friends: The Third Reich’s Supporters in the United States by Bradley Hart.

Today I am following those earlier writings up with another, albeit, short post regarding one of the most riveting monologues in film history, from Judgement at Nuremberg. Since Holocaust Remembrance Day was just a couple of weeks back it is appropriate to take the time, and never forget, for while we may not want to admit it, as human beings we are capable of the same inhumanity.

In this segment of the film, which is a fictionalized version of the Judges Trial, Spencer Tracy plays the role of Chief Judge Dan Heywood who gives his verdict is one of the most telling sequences in cinema regarding what it means to be an American. I used to show it in the first session of my military ethics class at the Staff College and since the majority of my students had never seen the film, it usually left them in silence. So tonight I am just going to leave it with you to watch, read, and contemplate. Ask yourself, who are we, and what do we stand for?

This is especially true when the President, politicians of the majority party in the legislature, pundits, and politically minded preachers make no bones that they have every intent of persecuting those who are of certain races, religions, or political beliefs that they abhor, often using the most scurrilous charges, and outright lies in order to demonize them, dehumanize them, and  open the door for normal, decent, and even brilliant people to justify government sponsored cruelty and injustice that defies the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and the Constitution itself.

Please, watch the video and read the text. Ponder it in your heart, because it speaks to something that is not a historical aberration, not just a dramatic film, but something that affects the human condition and is present right here and right now in our own country.

“The trial conducted before this Tribunal began over eight months ago. The record of evidence is more than ten thousand pages long, and final arguments of counsel have been concluded.

Simple murders and atrocities do not constitute the gravamen of the charges in this indictment. Rather, the charge is that of conscious participation in a nationwide, government organized system of cruelty and injustice in violation of every moral and legal principle known to all civilized nations. The Tribunal has carefully studied the record and found therein abundant evidence to support beyond a reasonable doubt the charges against these defendants.

Herr Rolfe, in his very skillful defense, has asserted that there are others who must share the ultimate responsibility for what happened here in Germany. There is truth in this. The real complaining party at the bar in this courtroom is civilization. But the Tribunal does say that the men in the dock are responsible for their actions, men who sat in black robes in judgment on other men, men who took part in the enactment of laws and decrees, the purpose of which was the extermination of humans beings, men who in executive positions actively participated in the enforcement of these laws — illegal even under German law. The principle of criminal law in every civilized society has this in common: Any person who sways another to commit murder, any person who furnishes the lethal weapon for the purpose of the crime, any person who is an accessory to the crime — is guilty.

Herr Rolfe further asserts that the defendant, Janning, was an extraordinary jurist and acted in what he thought was the best interest of this country. There is truth in this also. Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he loathed the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and the death of millions by the Government of which he was a part. Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial: If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe. But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary — even able and extraordinary — men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat at through trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen.

There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” — of “survival.” A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient — to look the other way.

Well, the answer to that is “survival as what?” A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult!

Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.”

Think about it…

Have a nice night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, holocaust, movies, nazi germany, News and current events

Blazing Saddles at 45: It Couldn’t be Made Today, but it Needs to be Seen by Everyone

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last Thursday, the 7th of February, was the 45th anniversary of an iconic film that even today challenges Americans about the evils of racism and prejudice. Since I was pretty much out of it following my surgery I didn’t write about Blazing Saddles was shocking in its humor which exposed the racism, sexism, and even the anti-gay prejudices that were common in the era. The use of racial invective and slurs by various characters is so shocking now that people who didn’t live during those times cannot understand the real intent of the film.

Mel Brooks used the parody of the classic America  Western Film to confront very real prejudices that ran rampant at the time, and still do, though most people are a bit more careful to disguise their public language and camouflage their prejudices without ever really given them up. In fact the language and terms used by Brooks and his co-writer, the late Richard Pryor are off limits in much of film. I remember showing the DVD to our younger enslisted personnel in Iraq and they were shocked. I had to explain how prevalent open racism was back when the film was released, and what Brooks’s intentions were. He used the humor of the film to bring to the surface the prejudices of many people, including many who later became his fans.

What is really hard for me to believe is that this masterpiece is unknown to many people. The fact that I lied about my age to get a ticket to see the movie when it came out, it was rated R and I had not yet turned 14, and that it remains one of my favorite films of all time, and not just mine, the film was nominated for 3 Academy Awards and is ranked number 6 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years… 100 Laughs list.

The fact is that Blazing Saddles probably couldn’t be made today because of hyper-politcially correct era. Anyone who knows me knows that I am exceptionally wary of ever using racial stereotypes or slurs and have enough empathy and concern for the sensibilities of people who have suffered through racial, ethnic, or religious persecution and prejudice not to want to see them used for cheap laughs. That being said, in certain times where racial prejudice is being driven from the top down, where the President of the United States can get elected by eliciting racism, sometimes it is appropriate to stick a finger in their eye through the use of comedy. Brook’s used that to drive home to people who otherwise wouldn’t recognize just how deeply racism and racist tropes are past f our society even today.

I think for me one of the most poingent moments in Blazing Saddles is in a scene where Chinese, African American, and Irish Railroad workers come to help the Balck Sheriff Bart, played by Cleavon Little and the self-described White God Fearing Citizens Of Rock Ridge save the town. All that was asked was that they would be able to live there. The late great actor David Huddleston, who played one of the town council members said:

“All right… we’ll give some land to the niggers and the chinks. But we don’t want the Irish!” 

When they all threaten to leave he changes his toon and says:

“Aw, prairie shit… Everybody!” 

The thing is that in those days the Irish were still a despised minority, even though they were white. I am about half Irish by my DNA, and I remember how upset my mom got when she heard that line. It offended her, but I think that such comedic barbs are helpful to all of us if they make us more sensitive to others and aware of our own racial, ethnic, religious, or social prejudices.

Besides the camp fire fart scene my friends, that is the continuing value of Blazing Saddles.

Have a great night,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under culture, film, History, movies, Political Commentary

Blazing Saddles at 39

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“I want rustlers, cut throats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperados, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, con men, Indian agents, Mexican bandits, muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswogglers, horse thieves, bull dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, ass-kickers, shit-kickers and Methodists.” Hedley Lamar (Harvey Korman) 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WiTKIbR69ss

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Today is the 39th anniversary of the release of the Mel Brook Western parody classic Blazing Saddles. I wasn’t quite 14 years old when it came out but somehow managed to get a ticket to the R rated movie. I didn’t have a fake I.D. like President Obama said was how he might have gotten into the theater to see it when he was 13, but I remember getting in to a lot of R rated movies back in those days without any parental supervision.

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To me the film is a cultural icon and classic. I watch it several times a year and if there is nothing else on and I want a good laugh there is a good chance that I will put it in my DVD player.

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The movie couldn’t be made today. It insulted everyone and was one of the most politically incorrect movies ever made. However, 1974 was a different time. It was a time of social and political turmoil as the Vietnam War wound down, the economy tanked and the Nixon Presidency teetered with each new revelation about the Watergate break in and cover-up.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upvZdVK913I

Mel Brooks used comedy to confront many of the evils still rampant in our society, racism, sexism, political corruption as well is simple ignorance were all targets of Brooks’ wit.

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Starring Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman, and Madeline Kahn it became one of the surprise hits of its era, surprising even Brooks in its acceptance and box office success. Unlike many movies it has endured and now at 39 years is considered one of the classics of American film.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6dm9rN6oTs

Brooks’ rich parody of the Western genre. Even John Wayne, though asked by Brooks to be in the film after looking at the script “Naw, I can’t do a movie like that, but I’ll be first in line to see it!” 

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Now when I see some of the same prejudice, racism, ignorance and corruption today I am reminded of Jim the Waco Kid’s (Gene Wilder) comments to Sheriff Bart when he experienced the racial prejudice of a little old lady:

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“What did you expect? “Welcome, sonny”? “Make yourself at home”? “Marry my daughter”? You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know… morons.”

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Now since it is getting late and I have things to do in the morning even though “My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives” I must prepare for bed.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under film, Political Commentary, purely humorous

Padre Steve’s Horrific Humor: Young Frankenstein

Horror and comedy, like peanut butter cups they are two great tastes that go great together. I think that the funniest of this genre are those based on the classics such as Frankenstein and Dracula. There are other films that fit this category such as Love at First Bite a Dracula film set in the late 1970s staring George Hamilton, Jill St. John and Arte Johnson.  Other twists on the Dracula story is Mel Brooks Dracula Dead and Loving It which starred Leslie Nielsen, Peter McNichol, Harvey Korman and Amy Yasbeck and Once Bitten starring Lauren Hutton.  I also like some that are new creations in their own right such as Ghostbusters.  However, for me the film that is the real classic among all of them is Young Frankenstein. So in the spirit of Halloween I submit to you Padre Steve’s favorite all-time Horror Comedy Young Frankenstein.

Of course the first on my list is Mel Brooks classic Young Frankenstein which came out in 1974, the same year as Brooks’ other classic of Western filmography Brazing Saddles. Young Frankenstein is the classic humorous take on the Mary Beth Shelley Frankenstein novel and subsequent films.  It starred Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, Terry Garr, Cloris Leachman and the late Peter Boyle as the Monster Brooks. Brooks used the original set from the original Frankenstein and brought the Frankenstein saga a hilarious twist. It is hard to forget some of the great scenes such as when Dr. Frankenstein discovers that he has implanted an abnormal brain in the monster, and the subsequent game of charades as Inga and Igor try to guess what the Doctor wants as he struggles in the grasp of the Monster “give him a sedagive.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wP5Gcuwp2Sg Of course after a “sedative” has been administered the conversation between the Dr. Frankenstein and Igor is classic.  The Doctor sits down and questions Igor about the brain about the brain and Igor tells the Doctor that the brain belonged to “Abby someone, Abby Normal.”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQ_pKqiB5Rg

There is the scene where the Monster escapes and comes to a small house where a blind monk played by Gene Hackman awaits.  The monk offers the Monster hospitality which turns into a horror story with the Monster as the victim.  The Monster has hot soup spilled on his lap, his mug of wine shattered and finger set afire by the well meaning monk and runs out in terror.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cw2IIU0a9qw&feature=related

Of course there all of the one-liners and gags interspersed through the film at a cyclic rate which leave the audience laughing.  I remember seeing the film for the first time when it came out in 1974 in Stockton California.  The opening scene where someone opens the crypt of the elder Dr. Frankenstein to retrieve his diary and has to fight the skeleton is just the beginning of the fun.  The fun continues with the young Dr. Frankenstein, a neurosurgeon saying that his name was pronounced “Fronkensteen” rather than Frankenstein when questioned by a medical student about his grandfather’s experiments.  One can’t forget the scene in the graveyard when the Doctor and Igor are digging up the body of the monster.  When the Doctor complains Igor utters the immortal line “it could be worse it could be raining” which of course was followed by a thunderclap and downpour.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHb7DJDCptA&feature=related

Of course we cannot leave out Cloris Leachman as Frau Blucher and every time that her name was said that the horses would “whiney.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-wTbNIsopg&feature=related

Then there is the sequence after Doctor Frankenstein’s arrival in Transylvania and rides to his castle with Igor and Inga.  The Doctor hears a wolf howling in the distance and asks “Werewolf” and Igor answers “there wolf.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQQtgx4iG8E&feature=related This sequence of course includes the part where Inga asks Doctor Frankenstein about having a “roll in the hay” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqClWdOcWog&feature=related and their arrival at the castle.  Dr. Frankenstein sees a large set of door knockers as he is lifting Inga off the wagon saying “what knockers” and Inga answering “well thank you Doctor.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9K9wiH2Lko

Likewise there is the segment where Madeline Kahn playing Dr. Frankenstein’s fiancé Elizabeth is abducted by the Monster. The Monster has fallen in love with her as he takes her she discovers something that leaves her singing “oh sweet mystery of life at last I’ve found you.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9K9wiH2Lko

Of course this is followed at the end of the film when the newlywed Doctor and Inga are in their bedroom and she asks him what he received from the Monster and then begins to sing “oh sweet mystery of life at last I’ve found you” when she discovers exactly what her husband received from the Monster.

This has to be one of the greatest horror-comedies of all time if not the very best.  Everything from the sets to the gags and great interactions among the characters makes this one of the greatest if not the greatest film of its genre ever made. The film is so stocked with great lines and scenes that there are too many to mention here, so if you never have seen this comedy classic go get it.

So Happy Halloween my friends and in the midst of all the blood and gore films, have a good laugh with Young Frankenstein.

Peace.

Padre Steve+

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