Sunday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/27/18: On Bullies, Dogs, Signs, Cheats, And The Worst WWII Movie Ever

Good morning.

1. BOY, is that a lazy and inaccurate movie! As usual, they are playing every war movie they can dig up on Memorial Day weekend. I just watched the tail end of  “The Battle of the Bulge,” the 1965 Cinerama Hollywood portrayal of the decisive 1944 WWII battle in the Ardennes that reminds me of my dad, buried in Arlington National Cemetery, more than any other war film, and not because it was in that battle that my father earned his Silver Star. No, the film reminds me of Dad because he hated it so much. He regarded it as an insult to the veterans who fought the battle, and  a cretinous distortion of history in every way. His name for the movie was “How Henry Fonda Won the Second World War.”

The most striking of the endless misrepresentations in the movie is the absence of snow. The battle’s major feature was that it was fought in freezing, winter conditions, on snow covered terrain sometimes up to two feet deep. Some battle scenes are shown being fought on flat and bare plain, about as distinct from the mountainous, thickly forested territory where the actual battle took place as one could imagine. My father also started complaining during the film, loudly, about the use of modern American tanks to portray the German Tiger tanks.

Former President (and, of course, former Allied Commander) Eisenhower came out of retirement to hold a press conference to denouncing “The Battle of the Bulge” for  its gross  inaccuracies. THAT made my father happy.

2. Funny! But…no, it’s just funny. Scott Campbell, the owner of the Pell City Fitness gym in Pell City, Alabama,  put up a sign that says “tired of being fat and ugly? Just be ugly!” City officials told him to take down the sign or be fined, saying it is too big and needs a permit, but other business owners told the local news media that they have never heard of the ordinance the city is citing being enforced. The suspicion is that Campbell is being singled out because some have complained that the sign is “insensitive.” No, it’s just funny…

This is the ethical problem with excessively restrictive laws, rules and regulations that are not consistently enforced. Prosecution can be used for ideological and partisan discrimination. Not only is the sign benign, it is not even original: that same language is on fitness company ads all over the country. So far, it looks like the community is supporting Pell and that the city will back down, but this is Alabama. Call me pessimistic, but I doubt the sign would be allowed to stand for long in Washington State or California if an ordinance could be found to justify pulling it down.

The First Amendment dies in increments. Continue reading

My Father, Memorial Day, and Reflections

Jack Marshall Sr Army portrait

[In the last few years of his life, my father used to take my sister and me on a pilgrimage to Arlington National Cemetery on the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend. He was always strangely jolly about it, though appropriately reverent. We always visited the oddly inadequate Battle of the Bulge memorial, where my dad would usually tell us one new story of his horrible experiences in that conflict that he had previously suppressed. We always paid our respects to the humble grave of Audie Murphy, World War II’s most decorated American soldier. We did NOT visit the grave of my dad’s own father, whose betrayal of his mother he would never forgive, though my grandfather, a veteran of the First World War, was also buried at Arlington. Mostly we just walked around the beautiful surroundings, with Dad periodically admiring some grand monument and suggesting, tongue in cheek, that he wouldn’t mind being under something like that some day. Continue reading

What Rudyard Kipling Taught My Father

Jack Marshall Sr Army portrait

Today the Army buried my father, Major Jack Marshall, Sr., with full military honors. He had earned them, for he was a hero in World War II. Let me correct that: every soldier who serves in battle is a hero, but my Dad had a few special distinctions, like a Silver Star and a Bronze Star to go with his Purple Heart.  He  sustained a crippling wound to his foot from a hand-grenade, healed enough to jam what was left of it into a boot, and went on to fight in the Battle of the Bulge.

Under the clearest of blue skies, with the cemetery covered in snow, a caisson drawn by black horses, one without a rider, carried my father to a gravesite ceremony where the American flag draping his casket was carefully folded by six soldiers and given to my mother, following a 21-gun salute. My father was a hero off the battlefield as well, a profoundly ethical and courageous man throughout his life, and how he got that way is worth examining. Continue reading