Archive for June, 2011

Winter in Wartime

June 6, 2011

Usually when an historical event recedes into the past, people tend to regard it with greater objectivity. However, as World War II recedes into the past, Americans seem less able to view it objectively. Instead, the media in recent years subject us to bombast about the “greatest generation ever”. When I was young, people read books like Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse-Five, two novels that took a distinctly unsentimental view of the war. Nowadays, people swoon over sentimental trash like Saving Private Ryan, in which Tom Hanks sacrifices his life, so Matt Damon can go home to his Mommy and Daddy. I think one reason for the difference is that many people in my generation had fathers or uncles who served in the war. (My father was at the Battle of Bulge.) I think that connection made the war seem more real to us than it does to young people today.

What set me to thinking about this lately is that I recently saw the Dutch film, Winter in Wartime, which was directed by Martin Koolhoven, based on a novel by Jan Terlouw. It takes place in a town in German-occupied Netherlands in January, 1945. Michiel (Martijn Lakemeier) has mixed feelings towards his father (Raymond Thiry), the town’s mayor, who tries to maintain a neutral stance towards the the Germans. He prefers his uncle, Ben (Yorick van Wageningen) who has ties to the resistance. When a British pilot, Jack (Jamie Campbell Bower) is shot down, a local member of the Resistance helps him hide from the Germans. Michiel soon learns of this, and he becomes obsessed with the idea of helping Jack escape back to Britain, even though this endangers himself and his family. In addition to being a war story, this is also a coming-of-age story, as Michiel’s illusions are eventually shattered.

As World War II adventure movies go, this one is pretty good, although there are some things in it that I found hard to believe. When, for example, the resistance hide Jack, they put him in an underground hideout that is accessed by a wooden trap door with branches glued to it. It clearly looks like a trap door, yet we’re supposed to believe that the Germans, who are combing the woods looking for Jack, fail to see it. Maybe they just have bad eyesight.

This film was released in the Netherlands in 2008. It was a huge hit in that country. Yet this film wasn’t released in the U.S. until spring of this year. Why is that? Could it be that nobody thought that people in this country would want to see a World War II movie in which the good guys are not Americans? This brings me back to the point I made at the beginning. It seems to me there is a reluctance in the media to admit that most of the war did not involve the “greatest generation ever”.

Jack Kevorkian (1928-2011)

June 4, 2011

Jack Kevorkian has died – from natural causes, ironically enough. Kevorkian was an advocate of assisted suicide. The media dubbed him “Dr. Death”. (I think it would have been more clever if they had called him “Suicide Jack”.) I have always had deeply mixed feelings about Kevorkian. On the one hand, I technically agree with the argument he was making. On the other hand, I was put off by the, shall we say, enthusiastic manner in which Kevorkian made his argument. (Derek Humphrey, of the Hemlock Society, called Kevorkian “a zealot”.) Kevorkian promoted himself in such a way that at one point he began to seem like a McDonald’s of death. Still, he was attacked in a manner that struck me as hypocritical. Kevorkian spent eight years in prison for second-degree murder, yet in what way was he any worse than, say, the state of Texas, which has executed hundreds of people, including at least one innocent person?

I actually began to pine for Kevorkian’s voice when the Republicans cynically tried to whip up public hysteria over the Terri Schiavo case. This whole episode deeply offended me. I remember when I went to see my father during the final weeks of his life, I found a notice taped to his refrigerator door, which was signed by my father and by his physician. It was an instruction to emergency medical technicians that under no circumstances was my father to be resuscitated. My father was continually ill during the last ten years of his life. He spent his final months flat on his back. There are times when the most humane thing to do is let go.

Why Some People Don’t Trust Doctors

June 1, 2011

I went to get my annual check-up the other day. The doctor asked me if anything was bothering me. I told her that I feel tired much of the time, even though I get eight hours of sleep every night. She said she thought I might have sleep apnea, so she would refer me to a clinic where I could get tested for that. She then asked me if I had any other problems. I said that my back has been feeling stiff for the past few weeks. She said she would give me something that would help with that. She then went out of the room for several minutes. When she came back she handed me a referral for the clinic. She then handed me a piece of paper with a prescription written on it. She said it was for a muscle relaxant. I was to take a pill twice a day. She then told me that I shouldn’t drive or operate heavy machinery while I was taking this medication, because it will make me drowsy. Now, I had just complained to this doctor about feeling tired, and here she was giving me a prescription for something that will make me drowsy. Metaphorically speaking, this seemed to me like pouring gasoline on a fire. Moreover, I, like most people in this country, don’t live near public transportation, so I pretty much have to drive everywhere. When I protested to her, she merely said I would have to stay home while I was taking it. So, I was supposed to remain at home all day and take naps, just so my back wouldn’t be stiff. I would rather have a stiff back and get things done.

This is an example, I think, of why some people don’t trust doctors. She apparently felt obligated to prescribe me something, even if it was something that I didn’t want or need. I think it is because of this sort of thing that people are attracted to dubious “alternative” medicines and treatments.