Two wrongs don’t make a right, as the old saying goes. What happened during World War II by the Axis of Evil was wrong. But that doesn’t mean the Allied Forces didn’t do some horrible things in retalliation.
Monday was the 78th anniversary of Operation Overlord, aka D-Day, when American forces led an invasion on the beaches of Normandy changing the course of war in the European theater. Nazi Germans were prepared and they were expecting forces to attack on the shores of the North Sea, so they planted land mines on the beaches of Denmark as it borders Germany to the north.
After Germany surrendered, all those serving became prisoners of wars. Unfortunately, by the spring of 1945, young men who were middle school-high school age were serving and became casualties of war. With Denmark being liberated, the Danish government commanded the German POWs to clear their beaches of the mines, using crude materials such as sticks to locate them and their bare hands to dig them up. They crawled on their stomachs. Some lost limbs. Others lost their lives.
It’s reported that about 2,000 Germans were forced to remove the mines with half of them either suffering injury or death. This task is considered by some as the worst set of war crimes performed by the Danish state. It’s the center of Land of Mine, a movie released in 2015 by the country of Denmark.
The protagonist is a gruff Danish Army Sgt. Carl Leopold Rasmussen (Roland Moler) who doesn’t like being put in charge of these young children. And Rasmussen shares the same hostility and anger of the locals who don’t care for them and treat them horribly. They are denied food from post-war shortages and suffer from malnourishment to the point some German POWs eat rat poison in grain they find in a nearby farm. When a villager hears that they could die, she is happy that she got to kill some Germans finally.
But eventually Rasmussen begins to bond with the young men and even saves them from dying from rat poision. He steals food despite criticism from his superiors and others. At one point, after clearing a section of land, he allows them to engage in football. As it becomes apparent that the Danish will go back on their word of releasing them back to their homes, Rasmussen learns the remaining POWs will be sent to another coastal area to sweep mines. Rasmussen must face a decision to make on whether to show them compassion or follow orders.
A movie like Land of Mine shows that war is fought by people who are usually forced to fight. Here in America, it was the draft from the Civil War up to the end of the Vietnam War. In Cold Mountain, the Confederacy, that great time many people in the south consider was a great time of their heritage, they murdered deserters. Saving Private Ryan showed American soldiers shooting unarmed Nazi soldiers who are saying they’re not Germans. Things happen in war that we’d like to forget.
And sometimes the horrors from those wars linger on after the fighting stop. How could you ask someone who fought in Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan to show civility to someone from that country if they have bad memories? We’re often blaming the sins of the fathers on the children. If this was any other time, these young men would be just schoolyard kids. That’s why I think the moment where they play sports is so important.
Revisionist Westerns became popular in the late 1960s and 1970s as they were trying to strike down the “Good Guys Wear White” mentality of the John Wayne western. I would say that since the end of the Vietnam War, many filmmakers have focused on Revisionist War movies. The movies that came out following the Vietnam showed the horrors of the war and by the 1990s, filmmakers were doing the same with wars before that. That’s because there’s nothing glamorous about war. I don’t think movies like Patton and MacArthur could be made today with the same “V for Victory” attitude those had.
What do you think? Please comment.