Tuesday, January 8, 2013

"The Winds of War"

On a truly different note.   In early Nov, responding to my wife's complaints of boredom one evening, I went through a box of old VHS tapes for something to watch when I stumbled across a nearly 30 year tape I made of Episode 1 of 7 of Herman Wouk's "The Winds of War".  She had never seen it, and was quite engrossed.  "We can watch the next episode tomorrow night!" she exclaimed.  Wrong answer.  It was the only episode I had, but I immediately ordered the DVD set for both "Winds" and the sequel "War and Remembrance" to be delivered to our daughter's to pick up when we got there for Thanksgiving.  If you haven't read the books or seen the miniseries, do so.  Very well, done.  It's a pair of major works, entailing about 15 hours of screenplay for the first and about 30 hours for the second!

Now, why I bring this up:  Back in 1983, while on leave visiting family in NY, I watched episode 7 with some aunts and uncles.  My Uncle Joe, who served in the Infantry in the ETO commented about the ending of the episode, which was scripted as shortly after 7 Dec, with Navy CAPT Pug Henry (Robert Mitchum) standing on a Hawaiian bluff overlooking the sea, watching his Aviator son's carrier set out to sea and saying a simple prayer.  Joe said, and the rest of the family agreed, that that scene truly captured the feeling of absolute uncertainty they felt at that time, and for some time to come.  Not fear.  Not anger.  Just uncertainty.  Profound uncertainty.

When the wife and I got to episode 7, I mentioned the family's remarks, and she agreed that the final scene indeed captured the emotion.

We finished episode 6 of 12 of "War and Remembrance" tonight.  Wouk and producer/director Dan Curtis did an amazing job of capturing the history of events from early 1939 through the end of the War, not just historically, but emotionally.

So, that's my truly unabashed plug for the books and videos.  A truly delightful change from most of the drivel on TV and the big screen these days.  And, no glorification of war, but more properly, the grim reality and uncertainty of war and the horror of the Halocaust.


  1. Al-

    Nice post. Mitchum was such a great actor and I enjoyed the series, especially Winds of War, as well . . .

  2. Thanks for the plug Al. I never read the original and only saw just part of one episode. But you sold me, I'll get copies.

  3. Al,
    Thanks for the heads up.

    I just watched the series I Claudius for the first time. It was an eye opener. Not bloody like Tarantino movies but my, what evil was done! I won't buy the DVD but rather watch on You Tube.


  4. Mike-

    We haven't read the print version, which have both received rave reviews. Plan on getting the eBook versions, as Wouk uses a slightly different approach to the handling of fictional German General Armin von Roon. In the books, apparently written as a "memoir" by Pug Henry, Henry is reading and quoting von Roon's book on the War to see the view from withing the German General Staff. In the film verson, von Roon is a character that Henry meets in the opening scenes and thus you "experience" much of the material through his eyes and involvement. von Roon is painted as a one of the "principled German Generals", and thus a somewhat sympathetic character ultimately (and not surprisingly) in the von Stauffenberg camp.

    The DVDs are much pricier than the books, but for "War and Remembrance" we found a reputable source on eBay that offered the complete set of 12 episodes ( careful- also comes in two parts at about the same price each) with the usual "bonus" materials, for about $60. The "bonus materials" were interesting viewing, but for different reasons.

    I am also finding Wouk's presentation of the enormity and barbarity of the Halocaust much more all encompassing than, say "Shindler's List". Of course, he had more film time to do so, and included American "reluctance" to address it at the time, as well.

    As a "university history professor" stated in a review of the books and DVDs, Wouk "elevates the understanding of the period from typical historical facts and figures to an involvement in the human experience, both as participant and direct observer. The 44 hours of video probably deliver more visceral understanding of the 'real' events than my 3 credit hour (48 classroom hour) undergraduate course."

    OK, so I'm hooked, but having done a fair amount of historical digging on the complete extermination of the maternal side of the family in Kobryn, Belorus, along with all but 100 of the other 9,3000 Jews of the city, I'm biased.

  5. Al - I remember loving the books as well; Wouk as a writer has an incredible capacity for combining grand historical sweep with genuine humanity. I actually cared for his characters as at the same time I enjoyed his broad painting of the wartime era.

    My mother, a wartime kid, said that she felt that he'd caught the feel for the times.

    I will say that he did make a good choice to make his first-person focus on a navy family; Wouk had been a sailor in WW2 and he really knew the details of a the life. His Caine Mutiny is also a terrific book; I can recall being really actually frightened by his description of the storm that became known as "Halsey's Typhoon".

    I still remember reading the part - and this was probably twenty years ago, mind - where his fictional crew of the destroyer-minsweeper Caine is fighting like hell against the gawdawful wind, rain, and ginormous waves when one of the bridge crew reports "something" in the water ahead of them.

    And they watch as this immense, reddish "thing" bears down on them through the huge swells, getting bigger and bigger, finally as long as the DMS itself, and they stare at it in horror as one of the sailors shouts "Holy Christ, it's the bottom of a ship!"

    And, no shit, I actually shivered just reading it.

    Now THAT's writing.

  6. We were assigned The Caine Mutiny to read in 11th Grade. Most of us had seen the movie, which had been released a couple of years prior, and thought the book would be less entertaining (no less "more work"), since we "knew" the plot, and this was probably the first time any of us ever read a novel after seeing the screen play. WRONG, but then, isn't school supposed to be a learning experience? As our teacher later pointed out, dispelling such preconceptions was among the reasons the book was assigned. I'm sure his service as a destroyer XO in WWII was another factor in assigning it.