The Human Costs of World War II

On June 6, 1944, more than 160,000 Allied troops landed along the coast of Normandy, France to fight Nazi Germany. Many died or were wounded that day, including 9,000 Allied soldiers. One cannot think about D-Day without thinking of the great loss of life, and a new video explores the human costs in military and civilian lives during the Second World War.

This new 17-minute documentary, The Fallen of World War II, does an excellent job of conveying the sheer numbers of the human loss during World War II. The video by Neil Halloran is an enlightening look at the cost of war.

The Fallen of World War II first examines the number of deaths of people in the military, then it calculates the deaths of civilians, including those killed as part of the Holocaust. Finally, the video compares WWII with other world conflicts, comparing recent years to the historical record. Check it out.

You may also explore this information through an interactive video. Halloran also accepts donations to help support his work on this film.

Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Springsteen’s “Spill the Wine”: Is This Just a Dream?

    Bruce Springsteen fans have noted that the singer has been making some interesting song choices on his latest tour. Recently, a friend directed me to Springsteen’s February performance of “Spill the Wine,” originally a 1970 hit for Eric Burdon (the former lead singer of The Animals) and War on their album Eric Burdon Declares “War” (1970). This February 23 opening performance at the Hope Estate Winery in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales, Australia was the first public performance of the song by Springsteen and the E Street Band. I am not sure there is a better song to open a show at a winery.

    “Spill the Wine” is one of those songs you have heard a million times even if you may not recognize the song’s name. The tune often appears in movies set in the 1970s, like Boogie Nights (1997) and Remember the Titans (2000), because the song sounds like the 1970s. You will recognize it once you hear the opening riff. It’s a cool song too, and Springsteen does it justice (with some lyric changes for the Australian locale), here leading into his own song, “Seeds.” Check it out.

    “Seeds” is about a family struggling to survive in the Southwest. As for “Spill the Wind,” you may read the different theories about the song’s meaning around the Internet. AllMusic, which gives its own interpretation of the song, notes that the song is so unique that few folks — like Springsteen and the Isley Brothers — have ever covered it. And, like a number of other one-off songs performed by Springsteen, so far he has only performed it once.

    Although Springsteen’s performance is a lot of fun, it is of course impossible to top the original. The first album of two collaborations between Burdon and War created this song that became War’s first major hit and Burdon’s last. Watch this performance by Eric Burdon and War of the shaggy dog story, “Spill the Wine.”

    What do you think? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Where Is the War of 1812 Bicentennial Celebration?

    In the years leading up to July 4, 1976 in the United States, you could not escape American Revolution Bicentennial fever and celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. There were parties, celebrations, ships, special coins, speeches, Bicentennial Minutes every night on television, and much more. But there is very little this year to mark the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, which officially started 200 years ago today when the U.S. declared war on Great Britain on June 18, 1812. Basically, we had a bicentennial and all I got was a website.

    Several years ago I worked with some young people from England and I was surprised to learn that they had never heard of the War of 1812. It is probably true that today most Americans know very little about the war, which makes it understandable that there is little about the bicentennial of a war that accomplished little. Even with some rewriting of history it is difficult to make the War of 1812 about lofty principles such as we do with other American Wars like the Revolution (freedom), the Civil War (freedom), and World War II (defeating Hitler). The 1976 Bicentennial events, in many ways, were not celebrating war but celebrating ideas. The date corresponded not to a war but to the signing of a document about equality — even though we continue to work on expanding what “equality” means.

    By contrast, the War of 1812 was largely about sea rights, land rights, and the seizing of American sailors. The war involved a lot of complicated issues, such as U.S. expansion into Native American lands, that are worth exploring but beyond the scope of a short blog post. At the end of the war when the U.S. and England signed the Treaty of Ghent on February 17, 1815, many questions were still left open. Neither side won the war, but many Americans saw it as a victory that they had held their own against the powerful British Empire.

    The war did have some lasting musical influences. A battle at Baltimore’s Fort McHenry gave Americans its national anthem “The Star Spangled Banner,” which we wrote about in a previous Chimesfreedom post. Another War of 1812 battle inspired a pop hit in the 1950s when Johnny Horton sang about the war’s most famous fight in the song “Battle of New Orleans.” The humorous take on the battle in the song is reflected in The Ed Sullivan Show performance below of the song that was number one on both the country and pop charts in 1959.

    We fired our guns and the British kept a’comin;
    There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago;
    We fired once more and they began to runnin’ on,
    Down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

    The actual Battle of New Orleans was a big victory for the U.S. over the British, but it happened after the war had officially ended. One outcome of the battle is that it helped launch the political career of future president Andrew Jackson, referred to by his nickname “Old Hickory” in the song.

    Regarding the song, Jimmy Driftwood (1907-1998), an Arkansas school principal, wrote “The Battle of New Orleans” in 1936 as a way to get his students interested in history. Driftwood, who was born James Corbitt Morris, initially recorded “The Battle of New Orleans” but radio stations would not play it because the original version had “hell” and “damn” in the lyrics. For example, in Horton’s cleaned-up version, he sings, “We held our fire ’til we see’d their faces well./ Then we opened up with squirrel guns and really gave ’em … well.”

    Driftwood wrote several hits throughout his career, including “Tennessee Stud.” For the music to “Battle of New Orleans,” he used an old American fiddle tune called “The Eighth of January,” which is the date of the famous battle. Here is a lively rendition of that tune:

    Johnny Horton (1925-1960), who had the biggest hit with “Battle of New Orleans” in 1959, was a country and rockabilly singer who had other historical hits with songs such as “North to Alaska.” He also married Hank Williams’s widow Billie Jean Jones, and the couple had two daughters.

    If you want a video with a little more history than Horton’s song, check out this short summary of the war:

    Finally, while there is little U.S. national celebration of the War of 1812 Bicentennial, that does not mean the event is being ignored. For example, Ohio, whose own history was affected by the war, has several events over the next few years. Meanwhile, Maryland issued War of 1812 license plates and plans for a three-year commemoration. Also, Canadians recognize the war as playing an important role in their country’s national identity. But wherever you are, have a safe and happy bicentennial!

    Painting of Battle of New Orleans by Edward Percy Moran (public domain) via.

    Why do you think most people are ignoring the 1812 Bicentennial? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Last Surviving U.S. WWI Veteran Passes

    Dixie Chicks – Travelin’ Soldier Live

    {Travelin’ Soldier (live) – Dixie Chicks }

    Frank Buckles — the last surviving U.S. veteran of the World War I forces — passed away Sunday at the age of 110. He enlisted in 1917 at the age of 16, lying about his age so he could serve his country. He later told a reporter, “I thought, well, ‘I want to get over there and see what it’s about.'”

    The WWI time period is a fascinating time and is not often covered in popular culture these days. Movies and popular culture pay little attention to WWI partly because that war was so long ago and partly because it does not have the heroic triumph over evil theme that World War II has. But there are several lessons to be learned from World War I and its time, and we hope to revisit the topic in the future on Chimesfreedom, especially because I just started reading Robert Graves’s memoir of the time period, Good-Bye to All That. For today, we wanted to make sure to note the death of Frank Buckles so it is not lost in less important news like the Oscars.

    Today, we remember Frank Buckles and all of the other soldiers who served in “the Great War.” The above Dixie Chicks song, “Travelin’ Soldier” is off their 2003 Top Of The World Tour Live
    CD. The song was written and originally recorded by Bruce Robison, and The Dixie Chicks’s studio version of the song is on their 2002 Home album. In “Travelin’ Soldier,” the singer tells about “a girl with a bow” meeting a young man off to serve in the Vietnam war who asks her if she will write him because he has nobody else.

    I cried
    Never gonna hold the hand of another guy
    Too young for him they told her
    Waitin’ for the love of a travelin’ soldier
    Our love will never end
    Waitin’ for the soldier to come back again
    Never more to be alone when the letter said
    A soldier’s coming home.

    They exchange letters and she falls in love. But then she attends a football game where they read the names of the fallen. “And one name read but nobody really cared / But a pretty little girl with a bow in her hair.”

    It is ironic that this beautiful song about a woman supporting a man off to war was the victim of a campaign in the name of some sort of “patriotism.” The studio version “Travelin’ Soldier” was number one on the country charts as the U.S. was preparing to invade Iraq eight years ago this month on March 12, 2003. Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines told an audience in London: “Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence. And we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.” A number of country radio stations stopped playing “Travelin’ Soldier,” and the song dropped off the charts.

    Many, like Merle Haggard defended Maines and her right to speak her mind. But as of today, “Travelin’ Soldier” is their last number one country song. The three made one more album together and went on hiatus. The 2006 documentary Dixie Chicks: Shut Up & Sing
    covers the reaction to the Bush quote and the impact on the group.

    Fortunately, unlike the soldier in the song and so many others, Frank Buckles returned home from World War I and lived a long life, outliving the almost five million Americans who served in the war. Only one Australian man and one British woman survive Buckles of all of the 65 million people from around the world who served in the war. Not only did he live through WWI, but he saw more than a century’s worth of history, even serving as a civilian prisoner for 38 months when Japanese soldiers captured him in 1941 while he was traveling around the world. In his later years, he campaigned to get the government to refurbish a neglected World War I monument in D.C. and rededicate it as a national memorial. You may donate to the cause at the World War I Memorial Foundation website.

    The West Virginia Congressional delegation from Buckles’s home state is proposing a plan for his body to lie in the U.S. Capitol. Buckles already had special government approval to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. It is good that he is so honored, because this honor is really about respecting all of the people who served in World War I, and hopefully the honor will continue to the WWI monument in DC. As for Frank Buckles, he is already home.

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    The Tillman Story (Mad Movies)

    The Tillman Story (2010) is one of those movies that reveals information about a story you thought you already knew. As you probably recall from extensive media coverage, Pat Tillman was an Arizona Cardinal football player who enlisted in the U.S. Army after the 9/11 events in June 2002. Director Amir Bar-Levi’s movie delves into the story behind Tillman’s life and his death in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004.

    At the time of his enlistment and after his death, Tillman was portrayed by the government and the media as an American hero who gave up a lucrative NFL contract out of patriotism and then died as a hero saving the lives of other American soldiers. The truth, however, was something more complex.

    Much of the movie focuses on the struggle by the Tillman family to discover the truth about Pat Tillman’s death. Tillman was a hero, but he did not see himself as anything special and he did not want his life or death used for propaganda purposes. Similarly, his family is interesting, colorful, intelligent, and sympathetic in their attempts to cut though all of the government deceit.

    The movie is both heartbreaking and uplifting. You can see the pain in the faces of the Tillman family members when several government officials appear before Congress to lie about the cover-up regarding Tillman’s death. It is frightening to see people with power who are incompetent, dishonest, or both. But you also admire the determination and love of the family to seek the truth, no matter what the costs. The family worked hard to honor Pat Tillman as a real person, not as a cartoon character created to serve the government’s purpose. Among their efforts, there is the Pat Tillman Foundation, developed to assist veterans through education and community.

    I have intentionally avoided revealing too much about the movie, because you should see it for yourself and find your own outrage.

    The Tillman Story, which many people missed when it played in theaters, is narrated by actor Josh Brolin and was recently released on DVD and Blu Ray.

    Missed Movies is our series on very good movies that many people did not see when first released.

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