This past year has seen the release of quite a few war films, namely several movies based during World War II. Robert Zemeckis’s Allied, Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge, and Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk are among the most recent big blockbuster productions which all hit the silver screen to critical acclaim. Dark Knight and Inception director Nolan, received recent praise for its dramatic and realistic portrayal of the retreat from French beaches after the British Expeditionary Force were beaten back by Adolf Hitler’s army. He also obtained universal acclaim due to his stylistic non-linear structure of the story and dramatic, somewhat terrifying, battle scenes although it only received a PG-13 rating. Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge also met with critical acclaim for the presentation of a Medal of Honor winning conscientious objector Desmond Doss, famous for his acts as a medic during his war service. Finally, the fictitious Allied brought Brad Pitt out as a Royal Canadian Airforce intelligence officer amidst Axis-occupied Morocco, partnered with a female French Resistance fighter played by Marion Cotillard.
Instead of focusing on the films, their actors, and the directors in their respected places you could think of the real events. The events portrayed in Dunkirk occurred in the spring and early summer of 1940 in France. For a soldier to be in the British Army at that point in time he had to be at least 18-years-old and born in the year 1922 or earlier. Today that boy would be 95-years-old. I’m sure there are plenty of 95-year-old (and older) men (and women) still walking around, but there aren’t many. There certainly aren’t many World War II vets on the streets anymore. According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, we are losing approximately 372 veterans per day and only 620,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II were alive in 2017. Sure 620,000 is a whole lot, but the VA also estimates by 2025 about 57,000 will be left and if that continues on the same slope, the last WWII vet could die as early as 2038. If you can grasp the terror of this, then you are one of the very little amount of people who have given it a thought that we will be alive to see the Greatest Generation die out.
As a history buff, to hear that any veteran of any war die is emotional for me, with a grandfather that has recently passed fight in the miserable Pacific during World War II, seeing these numbers on the page hit home. That’s why when I see these movies, I tend not to see them as Saving Private Ryan wannabe’s, but instead updated versions on what we can show newer generations about history. The more we keep the stories alive, the more history will not be forgotten. If you asked a regular teenager on the street about World War II, chances are he will know facts only in movies, TV, and videogames. If that is how history will be presented, then we need to keep churning these out to give more views on our history. Though we are inching towards the centennial of the final year of World War One, the last veterans of that war died about 7-years ago. The fact that we have history walking on our streets unnoticed at almost all times becomes a troubling thought for me personally. Kids who grow up and never very much care, let alone ask about what their grandparents did during the war is a slap in the face to those who aim to preserve their historical accomplishments.
With the film Dunkirk now awaiting home-media release, the next WWII blockbuster is up-for-grabs. A thousand stories erupt out of wartime, so fresh source material is abundant. With the dwindling amount of veterans and their depletion a looming reality, the time to bring their stories to the screen seem more important now than ever. That being said, every war should have updated films and media to further give our new and future generations a creative take on our veterans’ histories.