The Nazis, er, the Redcoats are coming!

By Jonathan Foreman

By Salon Staff
July 7, 2000 11:19PM (UTC)
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Thank you, Jonathan Foreman, for finally exposing Hollywood's subliminal anti-British agenda. Let's be clear, though: It has always been this way. From Bugs Bunny to "Die Hard," the American entertainment industry insists upon giving bad guys an English accent. In a recent Disney feature, John Smith miraculously gained an American accent, while the rest of his Mayflower crewmen demonstrated their evil intent with ridiculous caricature pronunciation. But recent movies ("U-571," "The Patriot," "Saving Private Ryan") are striking out into more insidious terrain. More Americans learn their history from Hollywood than from books. How long, then, before fiction becomes the popularly accepted standard? And from there, how long before the adoption of a Japanese approach to history?

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-- Teymoor Nabili

I would like to thank Jonathan Foreman for his thoughtful and necessary article on "The Patriot."

I normally count myself a firm believer in strong links between the United Kingdom and the United States, but this becomes hard when I realize that most young Americans have no real sense of other nation-states and their cultures -- and no respect for them. It seems entirely futile to point out that a significant tranche of the British parliamentary opposition actually supported the cause of American independence after 1776, or that the British abolished slavery some 30 years before the "home of the brave." I only wish there were more Jonathan Foremans.

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-- Richard Lawson
United Kingdom

I was impressed by Foreman's thesis. However, in his zeal to point out how the movie portrays British Redcoats as Nazi-like war criminals, he conveniently overlooked the fact that screenwriter Robert Rodat was careful to show that all of the atrocities portrayed in this fiction were the result of one Redcoat officer's scheming and were condemned by the British general. Likewise, director Roland Emmerich was careful to show that the Redcoat regulars, and even the turncoat officer who throws the first torch on the Oradour-esque church, are conflicted by, if not completely appalled at, what they are commanded to do. Foreman's thesis does not live or die by this omission, but his argument would be even stronger if he had not resorted to exaggeration when portraying this film "as a kind of blood libel against the British people."

I agree that the film is guilty of revisionism but not because "only the Brits are shown committing unprovoked acts of bestial cruelty." Other militia men, including a French officer, are chastised for similar acts and Mel Gibson's character confesses to acts in his youth as hideous as any portrayed in the film.

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-- Allen Rowell
Athens, Ga.

Jonathan Foreman's review of "The Patriot" is hysterical, silly (both the British and the Americans are said to be Nazis at one time or another) and false.

Foreman contends that regular British troops committed no atrocities during the Revolution. British historians may agree (surprise, surprise), but the National Park Service Web site, tells a different story. It describes how Banastre Tarleton's British regulars assaulted surrendering American troops. "He [Tarleton] practiced total war -- burning houses, destroying crops, the end justifying the means ... He was probably no more brutal than some other British officers ... "

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-- David E. Cohen

An interesting article except he missed one point. The troops led by the fictional Tavington were loyalists, not regular British Army. Loyalists are defined as colonists who sided with the British in the Revolution. That means that the "Nazis" Foreman refers to are Americans, not British. Actual loyalists would have abhorred the distinction.

-- Jim Norton

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Foreman should have checked a few more sources on the nature of the atrocities committed by regular British troops during the American Revolution for his article on "The Patriot." While both sides were guilty of heinous acts, the British committed a number of particularly brutal offenses. Their treatment of prisoners and of troops trying to surrender was especially appalling. In the eyes of the British troops, and more importantly their officers, their foes were traitors and not generally deserving of the benefit of the rules of war. The high-handed and oppressive nature of the British occupation of major cities made the job of the American Revolutionaries much easier, and yielded valuable propaganda benefits to them.

I do, however, find some aspects of the movie out of place, and the church burning scene is one of them. A more realistic scene would have the most prominent collaborators of the town hanged, the town looted, the women raped and several buildings burned. We have so many instances where such events occurred they are not even worth discussing. The British may have often used churches like stables, and executed civilians on the slimmest of pretexts, but the notion that they would lock a congregation in a church and burn them alive is absurd.

Also absurd is Foreman's psychobabble about the movie being some sort of deliberate anti-British revisionist history. The truth is much more obvious: After decades of decreasing levels of intellectual sophistication and increasing levels of violence in the movies, audiences need their issues in stark black-and-white contrast and with the most brutality possible. That's why slavery is made a non-issue in the movie. Today's audience can't appreciate the complexities of slavery, and any slave owner would seem irredeemably bad to them. As a result, Mel Gibson's character in the movie is an employer of free blacks and not a slave owner. In the same vein, the movie's brutal character Col. Tavington has to be unambiguously bad.

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I really wish the movie had been done a little differently. Some very minor changes would have made a generally good movie into a timeless epic that could have undone in the mind the general public some of the inaccurate damage done by fact distorting revisionist historians over the past 50 years.

-- Mark Hunter


Salon Staff

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