[Letter excerpt, 1948]
Since everybody told me that Hollywood’s lasting tribute to the 101* was the last word in authentic documentation I hastened with my wide-eyed spouse (Phyllis: you might have noticed her occasionally when I seem to be talking to someone else in the room during a recent visit; that was Phyllis, whose reticence I adore) to view the most nauseating farrago of the century. The most eloquent commentary to date on how far this civilization has fallen. In the Bastogne story there is a gripping dramatic situation – worthy of Aeschylus’ “Suppliants” or the “Seven”, where all history pivots for an instant on one little spot of ground and the play that is enacted there: of course any such thought of the situation was carefully deleted from the script – that would be too taxing on the beholders. Then the grand culmination was what I am told by eyewitnesses was an incredibly dramatic display with German tanks and infantry pouring endlessly, so it seemed, over the long crest of the snow-covered hill. Problem: how were they stopped? Answer: by a spectacular reverse slope action. The infantry were allowed to pass right over our foxholes – then they got it in the back and on all sides; Panzers being without infantry support got panicky, started milling about in a pocket where one tank destroyer platoon knocked out the incredible number of 55 in a morning. Great stuff for a million-dollar super-production you would think. Instead what do you get for your million dollars? Sentimental hogwash about missing buddies (I say this in all reverence) the air-corps breaking through the fog to save everything, angle shots and overlaps of M-1s and tommy-guns flashing fire at Germans with gaping mouths and flailing arms, pictures of running feet, lots and lots of shells plowing up the earth in the wasteful but photogenic manner of WW One explosives, stale and slightly nasty GI talk (“daringly frank”), but never, never the slightest hint of anything that might suggest an idea or make the remotest appeal to the mind – just regular guys in a tough spot. And everybody thought it was profound, accurate (every accurate situation and correct detail had been carefully eliminated in the interest of faithful adherence to established money-making formulae – plenty of guys to tell them what happened, but that apparently did not interest Louis B. Mayer), and stark. So much for the fibre of the American mind – it is the fibre of grated cheese. It puts me in a blue funk. I am in no condition to continue.
* The 101st Airborne Division, the unit in which HN served in World War II. For more on HN’s involvement in the war see Sergeant Nibley PhD, Memories of an Unlikely Screaming Eagle.