I wish I had something much more impressive to offer for this, my 200th post at The Pietist Schoolman, but the week being as busy as it’s become, I’m going to punt a bit and devote a post to asking a question:
What’s your favorite World War II film (or TV series, or episode of a TV series)? In particular, do you have a favorite WWII flick that isn’t all that well known?
I ask because — after years of making empty promises to this effect to Bethel History majors — I finally developed a proposal for a sophomore-level course on the international history of World War II and had it approved. Here’s the proposed catalog description:
The causes, course, conclusion, and legacy of World War II, particularly as experienced by American, British, Chinese, French, German, Japanese, and Russian civilians and soldiers. Key topics include collaboration and resistance, genocide, the war in film, remembrance and forgetting, and the social and economic impacts of the war.
I’m excited about the course for all sorts of reasons. First of which is that, while it will fulfill the American history category of Bethel’s general education curriculum, I’m consciously constructing it as an international history course, both to bring America’s unique experience of the war into relief (e.g., Americans did not have to host a theater of the war, were not forced into the collaboration/resistance/acquiescence choices that Europeans and Asians had to make in the face of German or Japanese occupation, and could at least tell themselves that they were fighting a “good war”) and to introduce students to the global dimensions of the conflict — including how it’s been remembered.
So we’re going to read an oral history of Japanese soldiers and civilians, plus excerpts from Russian, German, Chinese, and other participants. But as the catalog description indicates, I also want to take advantage of the J-term format (I’ve got students for nearly three hours each morning for three weeks, and it’s the only academic course they take) and look at the war in film.
Now, I’ve got some time to work out the kinks, as this course won’t enter my teaching rotation until January 2014. (It’s meant to rotate with the new version of a World War I course that will take students to western Europe for J-Term, which will start in 2013.) So I’m still scouting for materials and would appreciate your recommendations.
In particular, let me know about relatively obscure American films or, better yet, non-American films that might help illuminate the war as it’s been seen from other perspectives. And tell me why you think it would be an important movie for undergraduate students to see. If I only end up with time to a few minutes from that movie, which scene would you choose?
And if you’ve seen so many you don’t even know where to start… Have you seen any of the following films? (I’ve used various sources to identify them as important or at least interesting works, but have not yet seen them myself.)
- Rome, Open City (Italy, 1945)
- The Burmese Harp (Japan, 1956)
- Ballad of a Soldier (USSR, 1959)
- Army of Shadows (France, 1969 — really regretting not having seen this one yet!)
- Jacob the Liar (East Germany/Czechoslovakia, 1975 — so no, not the Robin Williams version)
- Europa Europa (Germany, 1990)
- Stalingrad (Germany, 1993)
- Katyn (Poland, 2007)
- City of Life and Death (China, 2009)
Thanks for your help! More about this course to come as it takes shape…