War in Film

Poster for the American version of Le Roi de cœur (1966).

On 2014-02-20, Russia invaded Ukraine, and conducted a war that lasted until 2014-03-26. By 2014-03-16, Russia had succeeded in its stated aim, to annex the Crimean peninsula. Eight years later, almost to the day, on 2022-02-21 Russia officially recognized the two self-proclaimed separatist states in the Donbas, and openly sent troops into these territories. On 2022-02-24, Russia invaded Ukraine, the start of Putin’s war, or the second Russian invasion of the Ukraine this millennium.

Previously, I have written two post about this topic: In 2022 in a post titled Ukraine and in 2023, in a post about a democracy tax. This is a third weblog post that mentions Ukraine. I tried to use something resembling logic. This has proved illusive, and beyond my capabilities. My conclusion is that there can be no logical starting point, because war (and every other form of violence) is not a logical/ rational action. It cannot be understood logically.

Should I have to select one film that explains the current situation in Ukraine, I would choose Maidan (2014). It was directed by Sergei Loznitsa (1964 – ). I find Loznitsa an interesting director because of his background. He graduated from Kyiv Polytechnic Institute as a mathematician in 1987. Then he worked at the Institute of Cybernetics on expert systems. He also worked as a Japanese translator. Then he studied cinematography.

In the early 1960s, there were ample opportunities to reflect on violence. In October of 1962, there was the Cuban missile crisis. I lived about 165 km/ 103 miles from the American nuclear submarine base at Bangor, near Bremerton, in Washington State. If at the time I had known how close we lived to it, I probably would have been more worried. As it was, numerous people built bomb shelters adjacent to their houses, in New Westminster.

Perhaps I would have been more afraid if I had devoured On the Beach, either in the form of the novel (1957), written by Nevil Shute (1899 – 1960), or the film (1959), directed by Stanley Kramer (1913 – 2001). Both show the horror of nuclear war.

Discounting television comedies such as The Phil Silver’s Show aka (Sargeant) Bilko (1955 – 1959), McHale’s Navy (1962 – 1966) and Hogan’s Heroes (1965–1971), there have been few serious war series in the 1960s and 1970s. An exception was the The Gray Ghost (1957 – 1958), that portrayed the American Civil War from a Confederate perspective.

My first cinematic exposure to the violence of war, that had an impact on me, was probably Lawrence of Arabia (1962). I found it a disturbing film, not just because of the military actions it portrayed. It was morally vague, and depicted a person with psychic challenges, he is incapable of overcoming. I reflected on it, but not too much to keep my sanity. It was directed by David Lean (1908-1991), who had previously directed The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), although I only watched that film considerably later.

Deeper reflections on violence began 58 years, 3 months, 3 days = 3 040 weeks = 21 280 days > 500 000 hours > 30 million minutes > 1.8 billion seconds earlier than the start of this second invasion of Ukraine. On 1963-11-22, the day John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917 – 1963), the American president, was assassinated. The date is etched permanently into my brain, and marks an event that started my radicalization. Less than a month before, I had celebrated my 15th birthday, I was in grade ten, the youngest person in my class, having been born on the cut-off date that allowed me to start school in 1954.

Prior to Kennedy’s assassination, I was conventional. For example, I would fire five rounds of 0.22 caliber bullets, at the rifle range in the basement of Vincent Massey junior secondary school, after finishing band practice. Since then, I have not fired a weapon.

At the time of that assassination, people just a few years younger may not have been aware of the significance of it. People, just a few years older, may have already made a commitment to a particular world view. For me, it called into question the use of violence to resolve disputes. Gradually, I began to question the Vietnam war, war more generally, then other forms of violence. In part, it comes from examining the brutality of many other wars, notably the American Civil War, the Crimean War, the Boar War, the First World War. In part, this was aided by a fellow student, Steve Scheving, who kept meticulous statistics about casualties in the battles of the American Civil War.

Of the American Civil War films, one of the most respected is Shenandoah (1965), directed by Andrew V. McLaglen (1920 – 2014). Admittedly, it is sentimental, but it does raise a number of humanitarian themes. Some regard it as an anti-war film, which made it appealing to many draft-dodgers and others, facing the Vietnam war.

Then there are novel/film combinations that offer a means of understanding war. An understanding of the first world war can come from Im Westen nichts Neues = Nothing New in the West (literal) = All Quiet on the Western Front, English translation title (1929) more a psychological study looking at physical and mental trauma, as well as social detachment. It was written by Erich Paul (later his middle name was replaced by Maria) Remarque (1898 – 1970). Several film versions have been made, including the first one released in 1930, directed by Lewis Milestone, born in Moldova as Leib Milstein = Лейб Мильштейн in its original Russian (1895 – 1980).

The anti-war novel and film, set in the first world war, that I cannot recommend to anyone because of the horrors it contains, is Johnny Got His Gun. Blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (1905 – 1976) wrote the novel in 1938, and directed the film version in 1971.

My timeline proceeds more cautiously through the Second World War because both of my parents served in the Royal Canadian Air Force, at that time. I find it impossible to condemn anyone fighting in a war defined by my parents as justified and necessary. I am too damaged to objectively reflect on this war, and find myself quoting, yet again, from The Go-Between (1953) by L. P. Hartley, (1895 – 1972): “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

I learned that romance and comedy could be used to hide the horrors of war. For example: James Michener (1907 – 1997) wrote a collection of short stories, Tales of the South Pacific (1947), from which the musical South Pacific (1949) theatrical production emerged, as well as the film version (1958), directed by Joshua Logan (1908 – 1988). Both of these featured music by composer Richard Rodgers (1902 – 1979) and lyricist-dramatist Oscar Hammerstein II (1895 – 1960).

I have a greater appreciation of Catch-22 (1961), the satirical novel by Joseph Heller (1923 – 1999), and the black comedy film from 1970, directed by Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky, better known as Mike Nichols (1931 – 2014).

I have allowed myself to see Schindler’s List (1993) and Saving Private Ryan (1998), both directed by Steven Spielberg (1946 – ).

Comedy also dominated the Korean war. The best example is M*A*S*H, subtitled, A novel about three army doctors (1968) by Robert Hooker, the pseudonym of Hiester Richard Hornberger Jr. (1924 – 1997), and the film (1970) directed by Robert Altman (1925 – 2006).

It is also easier to find fault with events in more distant places. It took me much longer to confront my own racism and other prejudices, and the genocide that took place in British Columbia. As an immigrant, it is easier for me to see contradictions in Norwegian society that Norwegians can’t admit to. Much of this has to do with religion. From my perspective, Norway only reluctantly allows freedom of religion, and has not fully recognized the violence sanctioned by its own state designated religion, particularly against the Sami people, but also others who did not think conventionally.

It was easier to condemn events in Algeria, Czechoslovakia, Chile and Korea, to name four countries on four continents, that people might suspect were randomly selected. They weren’t, for films have had a significant impact on my perception of the world, and of war. In these cases, respectively: The Battle of Algiers = La battaglia di Algeri, (1966) directed by Gillo Pontecorvo (1919 – 2006) ; Closely Watched Trains = Ostře sledované vlaky (1966) directed by Jiří Menzel (1938 – 2020); missing [sic](1982) directed by Costa-Gavras (1933 – ) although I am much more appreciative of Z (1969), which is about the assassination of democratic Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis (1912 – 1963); The Manchurian Candidate (1962) described as a neo-noir psychological political thriller film, directed by John Frankenheimer (1930 – 2002).

There have been numerous films made about the Vietnam war, including: 1) Apocalypse Now (1979), directed by Francis Ford Coppola (1939 – ), loosely based on the novella Heart of Darkness (1899) by Joseph Conrad, born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski (1857 – 1924). Here, war is explored as an exercise in futility and as a catalyst for a descent into madness; 2) The Deer Hunter (1978), directed by Michael Cimino (1939 – 2016), focused on realism and the psychological destruction of individual participants. Many of these films are difficult to watch. This applies to most war films made after 1970. 3) First Blood (1982) was directed by Bulgarian-Canadian Ted Kotcheff (1932 -) and was filmed in and around Hope, British Columbia. Damaged Vietnam veteran John Rambo searches for an old friend in a small town but is harassed by the sheriff until he reaches his breaking point. Rambo reverts to his military mindset. 4) Kotcheff explored the Vietnam war very differently in Uncommon Valor (1983), with a focus on prisoners of war (POW), and people missing in action (MIA).

A Baha’i perspective on war.

A documentary about World War One, The Man Who Shot the Great War (2014), has had the greatest spiritual impact on me. I often reflect on the souls of men who have been conscripted, and ordered to kill other men. This war killed 37 million soldiers. George Hackney (? – 1977) was a Belfast sniper, and photographer. While unofficial photographs were illegal, his were allowed. George was also a Baha’i.

The Baha’i perspective is that no person is condemned to an eternity in hell or in heaven. Instead people continue their spiritual journey they began in their earthly life involving a greater spiritual understanding. I expect George found solace in this message.

In October, Baha’is celebrate the births of its twin profits, Bab (1819 – 1850) and Baha’u’llah (1817 – 1892). While its prophets may have their origins in Iran, Baha’u’llah was ultimately exiled to Akko/ Acre, in today’s Israel. This exile is why the Faith’s headquarters are located in nearby Haifa. I have been on pilgrimage to Haifa three times, but feel no need to visit a fourth time.

This month, the world has witnessed atrocities in Israel as well as the Gaza strip. Baha’u’llah has written on war, and come with recommendations for achieving world peace, in two documents, that are often quoted.

“Be united, O concourse of the sovereigns of the world, for thereby will the tempest of discord be stilled amongst you, and your peoples find rest. Should any one among you take up arms against another, rise ye all against him, for this is naught but manifest justice.” Gleanings, p. 254.

“The time must come when the imperative necessity for the holding of a vast, an all-embracing assemblage of men will be universally realized. The rulers and kings of the earth must needs attend it, and, participating in its deliberations, must consider such ways and means as will lay the foundations of the world’s Great Peace amongst men. Such a peace demandeth that the Great Powers should resolve, for the sake of the tranquillity of the peoples of the earth, to be fully reconciled among themselves. Should any king take up arms against another, all should unitedly arise and prevent him.” Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, pp. 30-1.

Needless to say, I am not impressed with the various rulers of the world uniting to further peace. As I approach 75 years of living on this planet, I reflect once again, much as I did in the late 1960s, on how countries are willing to sacrifice their most important resource, young people, in needless wars.

I further reflect on how countries, especially the United States through the Marshall Plan, were willing to invest in the reconstruction of Europe, which provided the basis for Germany, and many other countries, to prosper. The US, Israel and the many oil-rich Middle Eastern countries have been unwilling to invest in the West Bank or the Gaza strip, to ensure its Palestinian residents could prosper.

Al-Nakba (1996) is a documentary film by Benny Brunner (1954 – ) and Alexandra Jansse (1956 – ). It presents insights into past events in Palestine/ Israel that continue to shape current events. It is based on the book, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947–1949 by Benny Morris (1948 – ), an Israeli historian. The film title refers to catastrophic events in 1948 forcing, an estimated seven hundred thousand Palestinians into exile and poverty, while Israelis, could create and prosper their own state.

This Israeli perspective is portrayed in the Leon Uris (1924 – 2003) novel, Exodus (1958), which was made into a film directed by Otto Preminger (1905 – 1986) in 1960.

Perhaps the most inspiring war film remains Philippe de Broca’s (1933 – 2004) King of Hearts = Le Roi de cœur (1966). The film is set in a set in a small French town towards the end of World War I. Retreating Germans have placed a bomb in the town square, and it is up to signaller/ pigeon keeper Charles Plumpkit to defuse the bomb. While normal residents flee, inmates from an asylum take over the town, and challenge conventional values. The film also questions the very notion of sanity.

A confession: I have never served in any military, and describe myself as a pacifist. In my youth, I have known people who have served in the sea cadets, based at the New Westminster Armory. Many of them were musicians. In Norway, I have worked with teachers who choose to leave the school system temporarily, to work as soldiers in peace-keeping missions, most often in the Middle East. I have never understood the appeal of being in the military.

Note: the next weblog post is scheduled for Tuesday, 2023-10-31.


The physical geography of the Ukraine.

Short version: In 1994, Ukraine agreed to remove/ destroy nuclear weapons from/ in its territory, and to join the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. In return, Russia, Britain and USA agreed to provide Ukraine with security assurances. All parties agreed to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine. France and China also provided Ukraine with similar, but lesser, assurances. Despite this Russia was able to re-annex Crimea in 2014, without anything more than a murmur of discontent, and attempted to annex the entire Ukraine in 2022, which has met a more violent and, from a Russian perspective, unexpected opposition.

Long version: On 1994-12-05, four parties signed what is known as the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, containing a preamble and six paragraphs. It reads as follows:

The United States of America, the Russian Federation, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,

Welcoming the accession of Ukraine to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons as non-nuclear-weapon State,

Taking into account the commitment of Ukraine to eliminate all nuclear weapons from its territory within a specified period of time,

Noting the changes in the world-wide security situation, including the end of the Cold War, which have brought about conditions for deep reductions in nuclear forces.

Confirm the following:

1. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine, in accordance with the principles of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine.

2. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defence or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

3. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine, in accordance with the principles of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, to refrain from economic coercion designed to subordinate to their own interest the exercise by Ukraine of the rights inherent in its sovereignty and thus to secure advantages of any kind.

4. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their commitment to seek immediate United Nations Security Council action to provide assistance to Ukraine, as a non-nuclear-weapon State party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, if Ukraine should become a victim of an act of aggression or an object of a threat of aggression in which nuclear weapons are used.

5. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm, in the case of Ukraine, their commitment not to use nuclear weapons against any non-nuclear-weapon State party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, except in the case of an attack on themselves, their territories or dependent territories, their armed forces, or their allies, by such a State in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon State.

6. Ukraine, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America will consult in the event a situation arises that raises a question concerning these commitments. — Memorandum on Security Assurances in Connection with Ukraine’s Accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.France and China’s commitments

[End of memorandum]

France gave Ukraine assurances similar to the Budapest Memorandum, but without the provisions found in paragraphs 4 and 6.

China’s pledge is dated 1994-12-04 and reads:

The Chinese Government welcomes the decision of Ukraine to destroy all nuclear weapons on its territory, and commends the approval by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on November 16 of Ukraine’s accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons as a non-nuclear-weapon State. China fully understands the desire of Ukraine for security assurance. The Chinese Government has always maintained that under no circumstances will China use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon States or nuclear-weapon-free zones. This principled position also applies to Ukraine. The Chinese Government urges all other nuclear-weapon States to undertake the same commitment, so as to enhance the security of all non-nuclear-weapon States, including Ukraine.

The Chinese Government has constantly opposed the practice of exerting political, economic or other pressure in international relations. It maintains that disputes and differences should be settled peacefully through consultations on an equal footing. Abiding by the spirit of the Sino-Ukrainian joint communiqué of January 4, 1992 on the establishment of diplomatic relations, the Sino-Ukrainian joint communiqué of October 31, 1992 and the Sino-Ukrainian joint statement of September 6, 1994, China recognizes and respects the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and stands ready to further develop friendly and cooperative Sino-Ukraine relations on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.

[End of pledge]

The above documents were brought to my attention by Alasdair McLellan. It is clear from them that Russia, UK, USA, France and China have all agreed to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. Russian propaganda claims that the country it agreed to respect is not the same as today’s nazified (their term) Ukraine, invalidating the memorandum.

Crimea has a complex history. Simplified, it was Greek from 5th century BC to 47 BC; culturally Greek, politically Roman from 47 BC to 330 AD; Byzantine from 330 AD to 1204 AD; part of the Empire of Trebizond from 1204 AD to 1461 AD; part of the independent Principality of Theodoro from 1461 AD to 1475 AD. After that there was a great deal of turmoil with various groups asserting control over parts of the region, but with the Ottoman empire generally winning out until 1774, when the Ottoman Empire was defeated by Russia’s Catherine the Great (1729 – 1796). Crimea was annexed by Russia in 1783.

On 1954-02-19, the Crimean region was transferred to the Ukrainian SSR. Sixty years later, and following the Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity = Революція гідності, (Revoliutsiia hidnosti) = Maidan Revolution, Russia re-annexed Crimea on 2014-02-21. On 2014-03-24, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at a G7 Nuclear Security Summit, at The Hague, requested a partial suspension of Russian membership from the G8 due to Russia’s breach of the Budapest Memorandum, stating that Ukraine had given up its nuclear weapons “on the basis of an explicit Russian assurance of its territorial integrity.” At that time, nothing much more happened in terms of opposition to Russia’s actions.

Eight years later on 2022-02-21 Russia officially recognised the two self-proclaimed separatist states in the Donbas, and openly sent troops into these territories. On 2022-02-24, Russia invaded Ukraine.


At the moment the world is having to contend with a war, potentially with a duration lasting years, rather than months. There is also a threat of nuclear war, although it is difficult to know how real this threat is. It is also difficult to find out what is happening in this war due to disinformation. I find that the most valuable insights come from YouTube vlogger and Australian: Perun.

Young and not so young people are dying and being maimed on the battlefield, in relatively large numbers on both sides. War crimes are being committed. Ukrainian civilians are being killed, raped, intimidated, threatened. In addition to physical injuries there is also the trauma. People are having their possessions stolen, their homes, cultural heritage, public and commercial buildings destroyed, along with Ukraine’s infrastructure. Undoubtedly, the grain-producing fields are being poisoned with toxic chemicals from armaments. Millions of refugees are fleeing. Far too many lives are being destroyed.

In Russia, sanctions are having their effects. Basic foodstuffs are becoming increasingly difficult to find. An increasing shortage of parts are making white goods, aircraft and vehicles inoperable. There are inexplicable explosions in refineries, and other chemical plants.

Mined Black Sea ports, and a Russian imposed blockade on grain shipments, are leaving the poor of the world threatened with hunger. There are numerous sanctions being placed on Russia, by the European Union (EU), other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and others. Lithuania is now blocking goods subject to EU sanctions from using the Suwalki corridor, to Kaliningrad.

Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine have applied for membership in the EU, and the European Council has given candidate status to Moldova and Ukraine on 2022-06-23. Finland and Sweden have applied to join NATO. Both Georgia and Ukraine would like to join. The Moldova constitution states that Moldova is a neutral country, and thus it has not applied nor is eligible to apply for NATO membership.

Russia has become an unreliable provider of hydrocarbons to western countries. Fuel prices are rising. This means that other sources will have to be used. There is increased use of nuclear energy, as well as increased use of coal, especially in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. German industrialists are worried that industry production will fall, as the country may choose to heat houses, rather than provide electrical power to factories.

Currently, there is considerable talk about inflation. In the past has been caused by increased demand. The traditional cure, increased interest rates, encourages borrowers to reduce spending, in order to pay interest on their loans. This reduces demand. Now, however, inflation is not being caused by demand side challenges, but by problems with supply. After two years of Covid, and months of war, manufacturers are not able to provide the goods and services consumers want. By increasing interest rates, governments are using the wrong medicine, unfortunately. Increased interest rates will not solve the current problem with inflation.

North American and European governments have believed that globalization, and an increase in the world’s standard of living, would result in a democratization of the world. This has not happened. Instead, North American and European countries must undertake investments in their own regions, so that they are not subject to being exploited by other regions of the world. Judicious investments in production could solve many of the inflationary problems being experienced.

On a personal level

I have now vetoed the purchase of all new Russian made products. This is expressed in this way, so that we keep the 7 x 50 binoculars, that we have owned for more than forty years.

Before this latest war, Alasdair and I had considered buying a Discovery TX-500 amateur radio covering 160 to 6 meter bands, QRP = low power (10 W). At the time, it was priced at about NOK 10 000 at its Swedish distributor. It does not appear to be available, as this post is written. It is made by the Russian company, Lab 599. Instead, I bought a Red Pitaya from Alasdair, made in Slovania, for NOK 8 000. It is a simpler and less robust radio, but offers many other features for use as an electronic instrument. This sale has allowed Alasdair to buy an Elecraft KX3 radio, made in Watsonville, California, costing in excess of NOK 20 000. While the TX-500 is a good radio, it is inferior to a KX3.

On 2020-08-20, I wrote about the Zetta CM-1 EV, and even sent an email to the Russian manufacturer about obtaining such a vehicle. No reply was received. Rest assured, there will be no Russian or even Chinese EVs purchased for this household. Any future EV will be made in Europe. In fact, it has already been ordered, but details will not be released until it arrives!

There are almost 1.4 million Canadians of Ukrainian ancestry in Canada, of which 230 000 live in British Columbia. Vancouver and Odessa have been sister cities since 1944. In addition to current Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chrystia Freeland (1968 – ), other notable Canadians of Ukrainian ancestry include: musician Randy Bachman (1943 – ); austronaut/ neurologist Robert Bondar (1945 – ); painter/ writer William Kurelek (1927 – 1977); actor Seth Rogen (1982 – ); actor William Shatner (1931 – ); superman creator Joe Shuster (1914 – 1992); model Daria Werbowy (1983 – ) and an uncountable numbers of ice hockey players, including Wayne Gretzky (1961 – ).

Holy Eucharist Cathedral, Ukrainian Catholic church located at 501 – Fourth Avenue, New Westminster. Canada. Canada. There are almost 1.4 million Canadians of Ukrainian ancestry in Canada, of which 230 000 live in British Columbia.

Holy Eucharist Cathedral, owned by the Ukrainian Catholic church is located at 501 – Fourth Avenue, New Westminster. Canada. This is a six minute/ 500 meter walk away from my childhood home, on Ash Street, although the cathedral did not exist there at that time.