Caoimhghin O Croidheain

Caoimhghin O Croidheain

Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin is an Irish artist, lecturer and writer. 

America's 1940s Pro-Soviet films: Social Realist Cinema in the USA
Monday, 25 July 2022 10:12

America's 1940s Pro-Soviet films: Social Realist Cinema in the USA

Published in Films
There was a brief moment in time in the 1940s, when the USA was at one with Russia or as it was known then, the Soviet Union. During the Second World War, America entered into the war on the same side as the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany, and Hollywood was rallied to the cause of victory against fascism.

In this article I will look at the cinema produced in the United States supporting the Allies during WWII, in this case the Soviet Union. After the war the political climate changed and HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) blacklisted actors, directors and screenwriters involved in making such films despite the fact that throughout the 1930s many films were  made in a style sympathetic to the American working class, the realist style known as social realism. Therefore, the pro-Soviet films were basically a shift in location and accent, but not any dramatic change in content. I will look at examples of these social realist films made in Hollywood in the 1930s, films that are a far cry from contemporary Hollywood output in their depictions of ordinary people's everyday struggles for survival.

First Red Scare

Initially the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia had ignited the first Red Scare in the United States. Massive strikes and race riots added to the fear of communism in America. Films were made that depicted strikes and mail bombings as the work of Bolshevik activists, as external threats to a democratic nation, e.g. Virtuous Men (1919), Dangerous Hours (1919), and The Great Shadow (1920). The worldwide communist revolution failed to materialise, and the prosperity of the 1920s in the USA diminished criticism of the capitalist system. After the 1929 Great Crash, Hollywood made films which caricatured the Soviet Union, like Trouble in Paradise (1932) and Ninotchka (1939).

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Film Poster for Ninotchka

However, things soon changed with the onset of the Second World War. According to Andrei Cojoc:

The United States' attitude towards the Soviet Union shifted on 22nd of June 1941, when Hitler began sending his Panzers towards Moscow, and after December '41 the alliance between the two opposite systems was a necessity. So, the American's perceptions of the Soviet Union had to be shaped overnight so that FDR could receive popular support for entering the war on the Soviet Union's side.

The OWI (Office of War Information) was set up by executive order on 12th of June 1942 and put in charge of "advising Hollywood about the means to support the war effort". A set of guidelines were formulated in a "Manual for the Motion Picture Industry" such as:

In a comprehensive third chapter of the handbook, called "Who are our allies", "Tinsel Town" is advised to learn more about their former enemy, the Soviet Union: We must €fight the unity lies about Russia (..), emphasize the might and heroism, the victory of the Russians. In a most surprising manner we find out that 'we Americans reject communism, but we do not reject our Russian ally' (United States, 1942).

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Film poster for Song of Russia

Thereafter, nearly every major studio made pro-Soviet movies, such as:
The North Star (1943) (Samuel Goldwin) [Watch online]. The film is about the resistance of Ukrainian villagers, through guerrilla tactics, against the German invaders of the Ukrainian SSR.
Song of Russia (1943) (MGM). American conductor John Meredith (Robert Taylor) and his manager, Hank Higgins (Robert Benchley), go to the Soviet Union shortly before the country is invaded by Germany. Meredith falls in love with beautiful Soviet pianist Nadya Stepanova (Susan Peters) while they travel throughout the country on a 40-city tour. Their bliss is destroyed by the German invasion.
Three Russian Girls (1943) (United Artists). The film depicts the life of a group of volunteer nurses for the Red Cross in 1941.
Mission to Moscow (1943) (Warner) [Watch online]. The film chronicles ambassador Davies' impressions of the Soviet Union, his meetings with Stalin, and his overall opinion of the Soviet Union and its ties with the United States.
Days of Glory (1944) (RKO). Tells the story of a group of Soviet guerrillas fighting back during the 1941 Nazi invasion of Russia.
The Boy from Stalingrad (1943) (Columbia). Five Russian youngsters and an English boy form a guerilla band which harasses the Germans stationed in their village.
CC Northstar poster

Film Poster for The North Star

In my research I have found 11 American pro-Soviet films altogether. In addition to the above mentioned films there is also:
Counter Attack (1945) [Watch online]. Two Russians trapped in a collapsed building with seven enemy German soldiers during World War II.
The Battle of Russia (1943) [Watch online].Documentary by Frank Capra
The film begins with an overview of previous failed attempts to conquer Russia.The vast natural resources of the Soviet Union are then described and show why the land is such a hot prize for conquerors. The film then covers the German conquests of the Balkans and ends with the Siege of Leningrad and the Battle of Stalingrad.
Miss V from Moscow (1942) [Watch online]
The Miss V of the title is Vera Marova, a Soviet spy sent to Paris to impersonate her lookalike, a German spy recently liquidated by the French Resistance.
Our Russian Front (1942). Documentary
Walter Huston narrates a World War II documentary intended to bolster United States support for the USSR's war efforts. Created using front line footage taken by Russian battlefield cameramen, and archive footage of Averell Harriman, Joseph Stalin, and Semyon Timoshenko, the film was edited in the US.
Russian Rhapsody (1944) [Watch online] (Merrie Melodies cartoon)
Infuriated by his soldiers' constant failure, Fuehrer Adolf Hitler announces his decision via a radio broadcast at a "New Odor" rally that he will personally fly a heavy bomber to attack the Russians. On the way to Moscow, Russian 'gremlins from the Kremlin' sneak onto the plane in flight and without Hitler's being aware of what's going on, begin to dismantle it.

A common theme of the narrative films is the depiction of Russians as similar to Americans. The villages could be villages in America with their independent cheerfulness and progress, and capped off with Russian accents and Russian names. The main theme is that, as Cojoc writes, "by diminishing differences between the two cultures, one can see that both are fighting for the same goals", fighting for humanity's sake with as little reference as possible to the communist government. Some of the films were particularly popular, with The North Star, for example, being nominated for six Oscars. They have been criticised as propaganda films which, of course, they were. All sides in the war made propaganda films. They were made to promote the Allies' view of the war, and some were successful and popular.

Documentaries were made to explain why a country which was ridiculed and dismissed, was now an ally. The Battle of Russia (1943), the fifth film in Frank Capra's Why We Fight documentary series, is the longest film of the series and has two parts. The series was originally made to explain to the US soldiers why they were involved in the war but was subsequently shown to the public as well. Capra's style was to let the footage speak for itself and so he used a lot of found or captured enemy footage. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, and even popular in the Soviet Union itself.

While it might seem extraordinary that Hollywood was making such films about the Russians in the early 1940s, the emphasis on working-class values and solidarity was not new. During the 1930s, Hollywood had already been making pro-working class, social realist films. It didn't take much effort to make films with a similar ideology but set in Russia with Russian accents.

However, considering the hullabaloo surrounding the red scare of the "McCarthyism" era [1950-1954], these examples of American social realism cinema are rare indeed, if we take note that it is estimated that Hollywood made around 9,838 films in the 1930s, and about 7,900 films in the 1940s.

Social Realism

Social Realism was a popular art movement between the two wars, especially as a reaction to the hardship ordinary people faced as a result of the Great Crash in 1929. It was a style that went back to the Realism of French artists, like Honoré Daumier, Gustave Courbet and Jean-François Millet in the 19th-century. In the USA, social realism was well established by a group of artists called the Ashcan school during the late 19th and early 20th century. They were not impressed by Impressionism and wanted to make art that was more engaged with life. Their paintings were based on the working class and the realities of urban life. Subjects included: street kids, prostitutes, alcoholics, subways, crowded tenements, washing hung out to dry, theaters, and wrestlers.
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Ashcan School: George Bellows, Cliff Dwellers, 1913, oil on canvas. Los Angeles County Museum of Art

After the Great Crash, President Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated a series of programmes, public work projects, financial reforms, and regulations between 1933 and 1939. In the arts, "the New Deal arts programs emphasized regionalism, social realism, class conflict, proletarian interpretations and audience participation. The unstoppable collective powers of the common man, contrasted to the failure of individualism, was a favourite theme." Like the Ashcan painters, social realist films depicted true-to-life characters and locations, with common themes of: social injustice, racial injustice, economic hardship, and the working class as heroes.

Frank Capra made a series of such films in the 1930s and 1940s which were very successful, such as:
Platinum Blonde (1931)
Stewart "Stew" Smith (Robert Williams), ace reporter for the Post, is assigned to get the story about the latest escapade of playboy Michael Schuyler. He marries the wealthy Anne Schuyler but then realises that he is no longer his own man.
American Madness (1932)
At the Union National Bank, the directors are concerned because they think that bank president Tom Dickson has loaned too much money to people who are bad risks during the Great Depression era, and they threaten to replace him.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
The film is about a newly appointed United States Senator who fights against a corrupt political system.
Meet John Doe (1941)
The film is about a "grassroots" political campaign created unwittingly by a newspaper columnist with the involvement of a hired homeless man and pursued by the paper's wealthy owner.
It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
George Bailey, a man who has given up his personal dreams in order to help others in his community, and whose thoughts of suicide on Christmas Eve brings about the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody.
CC 330px The Sin of Nora Moran FilmPoster
Film Poster for The Sin of Nora Moran

Other examples of social realist films of the time were:
Nora Moran, a young woman with a difficult and tragic past, is sentenced to die for a murder that she did not commit. She could easily reveal the truth and save her own life, if only it would not damage the lives, careers and reputations of those whom she loves.
Success at Any Price (1934)
Joe, an amoral capitalist and boyfriend of Sarah Griswold, gets a job as a clerk in a New York City advertising agency and starts to work his way to the top.
Riffraff (1936)
Fisherman Dutch Muller organizes a strike with his fellow thugs from the fishery, including the beautiful but tough Hattie Tuttle, against the owners of a tuna cannery.
The President's Mystery (1936)
The film deals with a "problem Mr. Roosevelt submitted ... whether it was possible for a man, weary of faithless friends and a wasted life, to convert a $5,000,000 estate into cash, disappear and start anew in some worth-while activity."
The General Died at Dawn (1936)
Tells the story of a mercenary who meets a beautiful girl while trying to keep arms from getting to a vicious warlord in war-torn China.
Marked Woman (1937)
Tells the story of a woman who dares to stand up to one of the city's most powerful gangsters.
Blockade (1938)
During the Spanish Civil War a farmer takes up arms to fight for the Republican side.
Dust Be My Destiny (1939)
Joe Bell (John Garfield) becomes embittered after he is jailed for 16 months for something he did not do. He grew up a homless man who is tried for murder and changes courts attitude to vagrant drifters.
The Man I Married (alternative title I Married a Nazi) (1940)
A successful, and yet naive American woman, art critic Carol Cabbott (Joan Bennett), is married to German Eric Hoffman (Francis Lederer) who turns out to be an active and enthusiastic Nazi.
We Who Are Young (1940)
Two young office workers working at the same large firm secretly marry and defy their employer's policy against coworker fraternization. When the marriage is discovered, Margy (Turner) is fired. This causes the newlyweds to face serious financial struggles and Bill (Shelton) pursues desperate, perhaps even illegal, measures to make ends meet.
Tom, Dick and Harry (1941)
Janie (Ginger Rogers) is a telephone operator and a daydreamer. Her fondest wish is to land a rich husband. She gets engaged to three men from different socio-economic backgrounds and has to make a choice of which one to marry.

House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)

By the late 1940s, things had changed dramatically and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), set up in 1938 by the United States House of Representatives, began to investigate alleged disloyalty and subversive activities on the part of private citizens. In 1947, the committee:

held nine days of hearings into alleged communist propaganda and influence in the Hollywood motion picture industry. After conviction on contempt of Congress charges for refusal to answer some questions posed by committee members, "The Hollywood Ten" were blacklisted by the industry. Eventually, more than 300 artists – including directors, radio commentators, actors, and particularly screenwriters – were boycotted by the studios. Some, like Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, Alan Lomax, Paul Robeson, and Yip Harburg, left the U.S. or went underground to find work. Others like Dalton Trumbo wrote under pseudonyms or the names of colleagues.
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Anticommunist tract from the 1950s, decrying the "REDS of Hollywood and Broadway"

Abraham Polonsky, screenwriter and director of Body and Soul (1947), Force of Evil (with Ira Wolfert) (1948) (also Director), I Can Get It for You Wholesale (with Vera Caspary) (1951), Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (1969) (also Director), was blacklisted after June 1950. In an interview in Red Hollywood he stated:

There was no plot to put social content into pictures. The plot was intellectual. Social content is what pictures are about. You can't make a picture about human life without social content, and social content meant, in fact, the social content of these people: how the world was divided up, how it worked economically, socially, morally, and so on. You gotta show the rich are shitty and the poor are beautiful, its important that you gotta show that anybody who works as being exploited: those are general professional ideas that are current among the least educated among the radicals. But there is the social content that comes from a general philosphical attitude towards the world, of society. That's what counts.

In the overall scheme of things these films were a tiny percentage of the general Hollywood output of the time. Furthermore, their content tended to revolve around working-class issues and struggles against social and economic injustice, that is, typical content of social realism, as opposed to the direct pro-socialist and revolutionary content of socialist realism.

The struggling movement of social realism in cinema met a similar fate to the Ashcan school of artists in the 1910s. The 'advent of modernism in the United States spelled the end of the Ashcan school's provocative reputation. With the Armory Show of 1913 and the opening of more galleries in the 1910s promoting the work of Cubists, Fauves, and Expressionists', the radical social realism of the Ashcan school was swamped by Romanticism (in the form of Modernism) and another movement critical of the status quo was killed off.

Ultimately though, the social realist films of the 1930s and 1940s serve as examples of a cinema that treated humans with dignity and promoted solidarity in times of war and peace, which makes them as watchable today as in the times when they were created.

Films about Hollywood on trial:

1/ The Hollywood Ten (1950)
2/ Hollywood on Trial (1976
3/ Blacklist: Hollywood on Trial (1995) (AMC Documentary) 
4/ Red Hollywood (1996)
The Bellyfeel of Paradise: Inside the Media Dome
Monday, 18 April 2022 07:55

The Bellyfeel of Paradise: Inside the Media Dome

"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident." - Arthur Schopenhauer

Sometimes I hear sounds in my roof that tell me that the birds are trying to get in and make a nest in the attic. I crawl to the point where the joists meet the rafters and I can see the light coming in from the outside. It is at this point, at the extremity of the house and when I am on my belly because of the pitch of the roof, that I am reminded of the Flammarion engraving.
Flammarion resized 

A traveller puts his head under the edge of the firmament in the original (1888) printing of the Flammarion wood engraving.
Flammarion engraving
The Flammarion engraving is a nineteenth century depiction of the sky as a dome where a traveller goes to the edge of the world puts his head through to see the greater universe outside. The safe, comforting world of a static blue vault of fixed stars gives way to a modern dynamic view that the earth is moving in space. It is interesting that it is a traveller that is depicted, the type of person who goes beyond local boundaries of mental and physical limitations to achieve understanding.

The concept of a dome was also used in the film The Truman Show (1998), a 'reality' show where Truman Burbank is followed and watched 24 hours a day without realising it. Truman's slowly developing consciousness that all is not right in his perfect world begins when strange things start happening to him. There is a glitch in the radio and he hears his own route being discussed. He becomes suspicious and tries to catch people off guard. He runs into an office and discovers the elevator is not real but a set. He gradually becomes aware that he is surrounded by actors who even advertise the goods that he consumes in various forms of product placement. Eventually he resolves to leave and has to use deceptive means to escape the prying eyes of the cameras that watch him night and day. He overcomes his fear of water and sails away from his artificially constructed hometown of Seahaven Island.

Truman crashes into the dome

Despite an artificial storm created by Christof (his godlike father, the show's creator and executive producer) Truman sails to the edge of the dome where he crashes into the sky and cloud painting of the wall of the dome itself. He has reached the boundary of his world and now has to decide whether or not to leave his comfortable life behind and face reality outside the dome. Christof tries to dissuade him but Truman takes his destiny into his own hands and disappears through a door in the dome.

Inside the Media Dome
Truman's dome is symbolic of the media dome we are all encapsulated in today by the prevalence of a monopolising mass media. Like The Truman Show, everything inside the media dome appears to be perfect. The right causes are matched with the right emotions and arguments, and everybody agrees. It has the right 'bellyfeel', a neologism which George Orwell used in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) implying blind, enthusiastic acceptance. Outside of the comfort of the dome there lies only a fantastical, fictional world full of propaganda, hoaxes and conspiracy theories.

The idea that the media dome may be some form of sinister manipulation has been depicted in many films such as They Live (1988). A homeless drifter (another traveler), Nada, finds a pair of sunglasses which reveal the 'true' meanings of the advertisements which surround us. He "discovers that the sunglasses make the world appear monochrome, but also reveal subliminal messages in the media to consume, reproduce, and conform." The manipulation is attributed to aliens who are "enslaving the population and keeping them in a dream-like state."

They Live
They Live (1988) by John Carpenter, based on the 1963 short story 'Eight O'Clock in the Morning'

In the real world subliminal messages in advertising have ranged from words and images briefly flashing in between frames of film (usually at one tenth of a second) to subtle uses of visual design. Thus, subliminal messages "are visual or auditory stimuli that the conscious mind cannot perceive, often inserted into other media such as TV commercials or songs. This kind of messaging can be used to strengthen or heighten the persuasiveness of advertisements, or to convey an altogether different message entirely."

Aliens also feature in the film Men in Black (1997). The MIB is a secret organization that monitors and polices extraterrestrial lifeforms who live on Earth and hide their existence from ordinary humans. Lowell Cunningham, the writer of the original The Men in Black comic book got the idea after a friend of his introduced him to the concept of government "Men in black" riding the streets in a black van.

Cunningham's narrative satirises State secretive organisations whose activities are kept hidden from much of the global population. Thus, the Agents of the MIB keep the people safe from 'alien' concepts and activities.

In the Matrix series of films the idea of a secret world of mass media manipulation is taken a step further and depicted as a simulated reality that is also protected by a team of Agents and police. A computer programmer Thomas Anderson, 'Neo', is taken to meet Morpheus, a 'terrorist', who offers him a choice between two pills: red to reveal the truth about the Matrix, and blue to forget everything and return to his former life. Neo takes the red pill and learns that humanity is enslaved by intelligent machines. In the Matrix films people have the opportunity to see beyond their simulated reality (like Nada) but choose to stick with their comfortable lives instead (unlike Truman). In fact, Morpheus warns Neo, "many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it."

Allegory of the Cave
Of course, the concept of people preferring a way of life that is ultimately against their own best interests is not new. Plato discussed such an idea over two thousand years ago in his Allegory of the Cave in his work The Republic. In the cave, prisoners are chained so that their legs and necks are fixed, forcing them to gaze at the wall in front of them. Behind the prisoners is a fire, and between the fire and the prisoners is a raised walkway with a low wall, behind which people walk carrying objects or puppets of men and other living things. The prisoners cannot see any of what is happening behind them, they are only able to see the shadows cast upon the cave wall in front of them. These shadows are reality for the prisoners because they have never seen anything else. Plato then discusses the freedom of one prisoner. He writes: "the freed prisoner would turn away and run back to what he is accustomed to (that is, the shadows of the carried objects), he would escape by turning away to the things which he was able to look at, and these he would believe to be clearer than what was being shown to him."

Platon Cave resized

Plato's allegory of the cave by Jan Saenredam, according to Cornelis van Haarlem, 1604, Albertina, Vienna
The implications of the new reality outside the cave are so enormous and so threatening to his fixed way of life that the prisoner chooses his accustomed way of life over dramatic changes and a new consciousness. The active manipulation of his perceptions does not enter into his consciousness, afterall, somebody has to chain him, keep the fire lit and carry the "vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall." All he thinks about is returning to the way of life he was used to, watching the show but never questioning who was producing it.

The Media Loop
The idea of media manipulation and protection from 'alien ideas' (read ideologies) is extended further in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) to include supporting the war agendas of the state. Support for the 'right' side in each war is guaranteed by provoking hate and fear in equal quantities for each new 'enemy of the state'. Orwell writes:

"And all the while, lest one should be in any doubt as to the reality which Goldstein's specious claptrap covered, behind his head on the telescreen there marched the endless columns of the Eurasian army--row after row of solid-looking men with expressionless Asiatic faces, who swam up to the surface of the screen and vanished, to be replaced by others exactly similar. The dull rhythmic tramp of the soldiers' boots formed the background to Goldstein's bleating voice. Before the Hate had proceeded for thirty seconds, uncontrollable exclamations of rage were breaking out from half the people in the room. The self-satisfied sheep-like face on the screen, and the terrifying power of the Eurasian army behind it, were too much to be borne: besides, the sight or even the thought of Goldstein produced fear and anger automatically. He was an object of hatred more constant than either Eurasia or Eastasia, since when Oceania was at war with one of these Powers it was generally at peace with the other."

In reality, the enemy of the state is also decided according to the war agenda of the state even if the war does not benefit the people themselves. Because of the whipping up of emotion and hatred, the people do not notice that they actually have no reason to be at war. Each new enemy, even ones they had good diplomatic relations with, becomes an enemy if they stand in the way of the state or threaten the power of the state by their actions to gain some autonomy from the state. The media becomes an ideological loop where it is decided who is good or bad according to the views of the elites of the state and not the people, while alternative ideas or ideologies are kept out.

Thus the media dome controls every factor of the peoples lives, from what to think, what to buy, and who to go to war with.


Nineteen Eighty-Four screenshot

Of course, in the real world there are leaks (like Truman's radio) that provoke questioning of the whole structure of the dome, that maybe something is artificially keeping the paradise going. Some respond to glitches in the system with outright refusal to believe that everything they know may not be true and they get very angry. Others are suspicious and take a skeptical attitude, basing their thinking on contradictions they have already noticed themselves. Still others take a critical attitude and actively seek different narratives to explain the reality that surrounds them.

While all this is happening alternative forms for questioning and understanding are being shut down and censored. Aspects of the media that allowed for analysis and discussion are disappearing because they too, like the mass media in general, are owned by megacorporations.

However, like in the Flammarion engraving, the comforting world of a static blue vault of fixed stars will always be contradicted by the massive energies outside the dome, and the inquisitive traveller will return with stories that are at first ridiculed, then opposed, before eventually being perceived as obvious.
Not so Black and White: Belfast in the 1960s
Friday, 08 April 2022 09:16

Not so Black and White: Belfast in the 1960s

Published in Films
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin reviews Kenneth Branagh's recent film Belfast 

For those not familiar with the vicissitudes of Northern Ireland, Kenneth Branagh's 2021 film Belfast may not give one a full idea of the terrible things that happened there over a period of three decades - euphemistically known as 'the Troubles'. Many died in a war of colonial origins involving Irish nationalists, Protestant loyalists and unionists, and the direct involvement of the British Army and Government.

However, that was then and this is now. A quieter, slowly changing, more peaceful air hangs over Northern Ireland since 2005 when the IRA announced the end of its armed campaign.

Despite some flare-ups, the peace is holding and hopefully creating the conditions for a better tempered mutual understanding of two communities that underwent so much division for so long. Branagh's film sits neatly into that crevice, arguing for a basic human understanding and empathy, to encourage unity and mutual acceptance.

Brannagh's Oscar-winning screenplay (seven nominations at the 94th Academy Awards, winning for Best Original Screenplay) tells the story of nine-year-old Buddy from a working-class Ulster Protestant family. He lives on a terraced street of mixed Protestant and Catholic families who all know each other well and get on with each other well. A group of Protestant loyalists attack the homes and businesses of the Catholics, as well as putting pressure on Buddy's father to participate in the violent sectarianism, which he refuses to do. Buddy becomes very attracted to a fellow high-achieving Catholic classmate, Catherine, and they become friends. Buddy's father works in England and comes home as regularly as he can while his wife struggles with their accrued debts.

Brannagh's story avoids sectarian rhetoric and shows us that the Catholics and Protestants had much in common, such as their working-class struggles with poverty and emigration.

Apart from historical differences of origin, and Unionist politics notwithstanding, the people had much in common culturally to unite them. Throughout Irish history since the 18th century Protestants have been leaders of movements that emphasised British heritage, as well as movements that asserted Irish identity. These similarities have created confusion even amongst the people themselves, as the visual differences between Catholic and Protestant are not obvious in Ireland.

Thus, Buddy tries to figure out the differences between the sorts of names and spellings Catholics use as distinct from Protestants. One example of naming traditions stands out from recent history - the TV debate between Mr Ken Maginnis (the Ulster Unionist security spokesman) and Mr Martin McGuinness (Sinn Fein's senior negotiator), as reported in the Irish Times in 1997.

The debate highlighted the similarities as much as the differences between two politicians who used different spelling versions of the same name (Mac Aonghusa). (The name, Aonghus (One Strength), resulted in not one, but two famous drinks, the other being Hennessy's brandy (the O'hAonghusas). Both Maginnis and McGuinness are formed from the colonial phonetics of a coloniser who could not speak Gaelic, confronted with the colonised who could not read or write. They simply wrote down what they heard, often accurately recording the local accents. Over time the names became shibboleths for different sets of ideas, both names being determined by the coloniser.

Although descendants of colonists who arrived from Britain in the early 17th century, by the 18th century many Protestants had, in the words of Albert Memmi's famous theory of the 'coloniser who refuses', formed the Irish Volunteers (local militias) in Ireland in 1778. The Volunteers were made up of Anglican Protestants, Presbyterians and a limited number of Catholics. Taking advantage of the British preoccupation with the American Revolutionary War, the Volunteers paraded fully armed and demanded an end to the tariffs that Irish goods had been subject to upon entering Britain (unlike British goods which could be imported freely into Ireland). Many of the Volunteers were concerned with "securing Irish free trade and opposing English governmental interference in Ireland. This resulted in them pledging support for resolutions advocating legislative independence for Ireland whilst proclaiming their loyalty to the British Crown."
 COC Orangemen parade in Bangor 12 July 2010 geograph 1964645
Orangemen marching in Bangor on the Twelfth of July 2010
In the pre-partioned Ireland of the 19th century many Protestants were nationalists. For example, the Irish nationalist Thomas Davis was well known for a doctrine of nationality that he propagated through the newspaper, The Nation, of which he was one of the founders. He described his tenets as "a nationality that would embrace all creeds, races and classes within the island [...] which would establish internal union and external independence". As a Protestant of mixed English and Anglo-Irish parentage, his nationalist views and writings put him into conflict with the colonial strategies of the empire. By proclaiming the slogan "gan teanga, gan tír" (no language, no nation) he tried to redress some of the worst effects of colonial policies.

Indeed, the six counties of Northern Ireland had communities of Irish speakers. The census figures of 1851 and 1891 demonstrated the presence of Irish-speakers respectively as follows: Antrim 3,033 (1.2%) and 885 (0.4%); Armagh 13,736 (7.0%) and 3,486 (2.4%); Derry 5,406 (2.8%) and 2,723 (1,8%); Down 1,153 (0.4%) and 590 (0.3%); Fermanagh 2,704 (2.3%) and 561 (0.8%) and Tyrone 12,892 (5.0%) 6,687 (3.9%). There were minor Gaeltachtaí (Irish-language communities) in Tyrone, the Sperrins (Derry), the Antrim Glens and Rathlin Island that had all but died out by the 1940s.

In the aftermath of the 1916 Easter Rising many of the revolutionaries were interned in a camp at Frongoch in Merionethshire, Wales. There were some Protestant internees, such as Arthur Shields, Harry Nichols and Ellett Elmes (Dublin); Sam Ruttle (Tralee and Kildare) and Alf Cotton (Tralee and Belfast) whose background in the Volunteers, Citizen Army and Conradh na Gaeilge demonstrated the non-sectarian outlook of the revolutionary movement.

The first president of Ireland, Douglas Hyde (1863-1949), was the son of a Church of Ireland (Anglican) minister and had been influenced by nationalist circles while studying for a Doctorate of Laws in Trinity College. However, it was his speech "The Necessity for De-Anglicising Ireland" in 1892 that heralded a qualitative change in the struggle to maintain and develop the popular basis of support for the Irish language. Hyde elaborated on his call for de-Anglicisation, which he emphasised, was not conceived out of Anglophobia:

"When we speak of 'The Necessity for De-Anglicising the Irish Nation' we mean it, not as a protest against imitating what is best in the English people, for that would be absurd, but rather to show the folly of neglecting what is Irish, and hastening to adopt, pell-mell, and indiscriminately, everything that is English, simply because it is English."

Maybe because of his Church of Ireland background, Douglas Hyde stayed away from direct involvement in politics but had he been alive he would have most likely supported the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), signed on 10 April 1998 which established in law basic principles such as:

"The British government would uphold the right of the people of Northern Ireland to decide between the Union with Great Britain or a united Ireland.
The people of the island of Ireland, North and South, had the exclusive right to solve the issues between North and South by mutual consent.
The Irish government would try to address unionist fears of a united Ireland by amending the Irish Constitution according to the principle of consent."

In other words, there would be no change to the status of Northern Ireland without the express consent of the people.

On 28 July 2005, the IRA announced the end of its campaign, and promised complete decommissioning of all its weapons, to be witnessed by clergymen from Catholic and Protestant churches.
 COC Unidentified irish mural resized
A republican mural in Belfast during the mid-1990s bidding "safe home" (Slán Abhaile) to British troops. Security normalisation was one of the key points of the Good Friday Agreement. (Jimmy Harris - Flickr) Mural in Beechfield street, Short Strand, Belfast, with the Gaelic text Slan Abhaile, taken 1995.

In 2007, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) agreed to share power with republican party Sinn Fein, and Paisley and McGuinness became First Minister and Deputy First Minister. McGuinness said after Paisley's death: "Our relationship confounded many. Of course, our political differences continued; his allegiance was to Britain and mine to Ireland. But we were able to work effectively together in the interests of all our people".

More recently Linda Ervine (whose brother-in-law is the former UVF commander and politician David Ervine) started the Turas Irish Language Project in east Belfast 10 years ago. She noted that the programme has gone from strength to strength as Protestant, loyalists and unionists in Belfast are learning the Irish language in increasing numbers.

Whatever the decisions the Protestant people make about their future in the UK or a united Ireland the cultural similarities born of sharing the same place will remain of utmost importance. Ervine notes:

"I think what was interesting at the time - now this was 11 years ago - the Protestant women were really intrigued, because we'd never had the opportunity, and the Catholic women were much more interested in the royal wedding that was coming up and what Kate's dress was going to look like."

Branagh's film Belfast is an important reminder that all our futures are dependent on what unites us rather than what divides us.

Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin is an Irish artist, lecturer and writer. His artwork consists of paintings based on contemporary geopolitical themes as well as Irish history and cityscapes of Dublin. His blog of critical writing based on cinema, art and politics along with research on a database of Realist and Social Realist art from around the world can be viewed country by country here. Currently working on a book entitled Against Romanticism: From Enlightenment to Enfrightenment and the Culture of Slavery. It looks at philosophy, politics and the history of 10 different art forms arguing that Romanticism is dominating modern culture to the detriment of Enlightenment ideals.

Charles Dickens, social realist cinema and the need for a humanist, critical and writerly eye
Tuesday, 08 February 2022 11:28

Charles Dickens, social realist cinema and the need for a humanist, critical and writerly eye

Published in Films

On the 210th anniversary of Charles Dickens' birth, 7 February 1812, Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin writes about Dickens, how social realist cinema has filmed his books, and how modern society needs the same kind of sharp, critical, humanist and writerly eye

Between 1935 and 1952 seven films were made based on the novels of Charles Dickens (7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870). Silent films were made too but this article focuses on the talkies. They were filmed in the social realist style, a style that was popular after the Great Crash and reflected the hardships facing people at the time. Social realism is a style often used by directors, artists, composers and writers to expose the living conditions of the poor and government lack of action.

Dickens's works on film, as in their literary forms, satirise the money lenders, bankers, the rich, the aristocracy, and the landed gentry, while at the same time showing the effects of poverty on the working class in what some would see as overly sentimental depictions. This is not surprising as sentimentalism was an earlier literary movement at the time and which Dickens was likely to have been influenced by. However, Dickens's novels went way beyond the sentimentalist style and delved into critical realism which made them ideal for later social realist films. These films stand in stark contrast to much cinema today for their satire, humanity and empathy with the downtrodden. Here I will look at the ideas and influences in Dickens's novels and why they are still important as a standard for contemporary literature.

Was Dickens a sentimentalist or realist?

The extent of extreme poverty in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is not disputed but at the time few wrote about the poverty and less cared about it. Robert C. Solomon, in A Passion for Justice: Emotions and the Origins of the Social Contract, wrote that:

There have always been the very rich. And of course there have always been the very poor. But even as late as the civilized and sentimental eighteenth century, this disparity was not yet a cause for public embarrassment or a cry of injustice. [...] Poverty was considered just one more "act of God," impervious to any solution except mollification through individual charity and government poorhouses to keep the poor off the streets and away from crime.

Enlightenment ideas eventually gave rise to social trends that emphasised humanism and the heightened value of human life. These trends had their complement in art, creating what became known as the 'sentimental novel'. While today sentimentalism evokes maudlin self-pity, in the eighteenth century it was revolutionary as sentimental literature:

....focused on weaker members of society, such as orphans and condemned criminals, and allowed readers to identify and sympathize with them. This translated to growing sentimentalism within society, and led to social movements calling for change, such as the abolition of the death penalty and of slavery. Instead of the death penalty, popular sentiment called for the rehabilitation of criminals, rather than harsh punishment.

So how did the elites react to such criticism of their way of life in literature? In the eighteenth century, as Ralph Fox writes in The Novel and the People :

'Society,' by which we mean the ruling class, could not allow the moral perversion of the 'public'". However, the writer of the English novel in the eighteenth century could "sit apart and observe the life of the nation, to be angry, ironical, pitiful and cruel as the occasion demanded" as "there was no chance of any but the smallest number of his characters, the wealthy and the privileged ones, reading his books.

However, this all changed as books became more affordable and a large reading public developed in the nineteenth century. Literary style moved from the subjectivity of sentimentalism to the objectivity of realism:

Realism as a movement in literature was a post-1848 phenomenon, according to its first theorist Jules-Français Champfleury. It aims to reproduce "objective reality", and focused on showing everyday, quotidian activities and life, primarily among the middle or lower class society, without romantic idealization or dramatization. It may be regarded as the general attempt to depict subjects as they are considered to exist in third person objective reality, without embellishment or interpretation and in accordance with secular, empirical rules.

The interest in documenting the living and working conditions of the poor in objective literary works could be seen in such works as The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845) by Friedrich Engels, London Labour and the London Poor (1851) by Henry Mayhew, and Past and Present (1843) by Thomas Carlyle. The works of Mayhew and Carlyle had a profound effect on Dickens. The incorporation of such observations and detailed contemporary reports into Dickens' style of writing effectively made him more of a realist than a sentimentalist. In fact, the critical nature of his work and the popularity of the realist style led Marx to comment:

The present splendid brotherhood of fiction-writers in England, whose graphic and eloquent pages have issued to the world more political and social truths than have been uttered by all the professional politicians, publicists and moralists put together, have described every section of the middle class from the “highly genteel” annuitant and fundholder who looks upon all sorts of business as vulgar, to the little shopkeeper and lawyer’s clerk. And how have Dickens and Thackeray, Miss Brontë and Mrs. Gaskell painted them? As full of presumption, affectation, petty tyranny and ignorance; and the civilised world have confirmed their verdict with the damning epigram that it has fixed to this class that “they are servile to those above, and tyrannical to those beneath them.”

Films based on Charles Dickens' novels

Here I will summarise briefly not the plot of each movie but the characters and their treatment that Dickens wants to draw attention to:


David Copperfield (1935)

David's father dies before David is born and his mother remarries with Murdstone, a harsh man who is intent on beating education and respect into the young boy with a cane (reflecting changing attitudes towards children and childhood). David is sent to work in a bottling plant and this gives Dickens a chance to show working conditions and child labour (of which he knew from first-hand experience, Dickens was forced to leave school and work ten-hour days at Warren's Blacking Warehouse). David leaves the factory and seeks out his aunt who appears harsh at first but is actually a humane person who deals kindly with her mentally unstable friend, Mr. Dick (reflecting changing attitudes towards the mentally ill).


A Tale of Two Cities (1935)

An historical novel set in London and Paris covering several years before and during the French Revolution. It deals with the inhumane attitudes of the aristocracy which led to the revolution. Dickens shows that not all were bad as the main aristocratic villain's nephew, Charles Darnay, is sympathetic to the plight of the oppressed and impoverished French masses. He is denounced by his uncle, relinquishes his title and goes to England to begin a new life. The long suffering peasants gather to see the aristocrats' executions at the guillotine. Dickens also depicts the ultimate in heroism as the cynical lawyer Sydney Carton switches places with Darnay, who is innocently condemned to die at the guillotine.


Great Expectations (1946)

Orphan Phillip "Pip" Pirrip lives with his shrewish older sister and her kindhearted blacksmith husband, Joe Gargery. Pip meets an vicious escaped convict, Magwitch, who threatens him into bringing some food and drink back to him the next day. This he does and the convict thanks him. However the convict is caught and is seen quietly being returned to prison. A rich spinster arranges for him to visit and play with her adopted daughter. Six years later Pip is informed that he has a mysterious benefactor who has offered to transform him into a gentleman. Grown up and living in London Pip is visited by Magwitch and is shocked and anxious after his childhood experience. Magwitch tells Pip that he escaped from prison again and made a fortune sheep-farming in New South Wales, Australia. He then tells Pip that he was very taken by Pip's kindness in bringing the food instead of revealing his whereabouts to the police, and resolved to help Pip have a better life with his new found wealth. Here Dickens shows the basic humanity of convicts as victims of an oppressive society who can change for the better, in line with popular sentiment that called for the rehabilitation of criminals, rather than harsh punishment.


The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1947)

Nicholas Nickleby, travels to London with his mother and his younger sister Kate, to seek help from their wealthy but cold-hearted uncle Ralph, a money-lender. Nicholas gets a job teaching at a boarding school which is run like a prison. The owners "physically, verbally, and emotionally abuse their young charges on a regular basis". He meets Madeline Bray whose father gambled away his fortune and now is indebted to Nicholas's uncle. In this narrative Ralph's past deeds catch up with him and he faces prison and financial ruin, but instead commits suicide.


Oliver Twist (1948)

Here Dickens shows up the institutional abuse of the parish workhouse as children go hungry and corrupt officials live well. Oliver runs away to London and falls in with a street gang whose leaders corrupt the boys and train them to steal valuables for their benefit. In his spare time Dickens campaigned vigorously for children's rights, education and other social reforms.


Scrooge (1951)

Scrooge is a well-known film and adaptation of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol (1843). The plot revolves around Scrooge being informed that he will be visited by three spirits: the Ghost of Christmas Past (a device to show Scrooge's lonely childhood, and broken engagement because of his dedication to "a golden idol"),  the Ghost of Christmas Present (a device to break down Scrooge's misanthropy and cynicism), and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (a device to show that unless he changes his ways he will leave no positive reputation or respect behind him). Thus, Dickens "catalysed the emerging Christmas as a family-centered festival of generosity, in contrast to the dwindling community-based and church-centered observations, as new middle-class expectations arose."


The Pickwick Papers (1952)

The Pickwick Papers is a sequence of loosely related adventures written for serialization in a periodical wherein Dickens satirises a wide range of English types and English life in a good humoured style.

In his books, Dickens manages to comment on every section of society and dramatise it in such a way as to create empathy where there was none, and to satirise those who thought they could enrich themselves without criticism. José Ortega y Gasset wrote in The Dehumanization of Art about the effect of realism on culture:

Works of this nature are only partially works of art. In order to enjoy them we do not have to have artistic sensitivity. It is enough to possess humanity and a willingness to sympathize with our neighbour's anguish and joy. It is therefore understandable that the art of the nineteenth century should have been so popular, since it was appreciated by the majority in proportion to its not being art, but an extract from life.

Ortega y Gasset also wrote about emotions in art, and why they are important:

What do the majority of people call aesthetic pleasure? What goes on in their mind when a work of art 'pleases' them? There is no doubt about the answer: people like a work of art that succeeds in involving them in the human destinies it propounds. The loves, hates, griefs and joys of the characters touch their heart: they participate in them, as if they were occurring in real life. And they say a work is 'good' when it manages to produce the quantity of illusion necessary for the imaginary characters to rate as living persons.

Contemporary fiction

It is in this way that Dickens's novels delighted and enraged his audiences. His style of critical realism, in terms of form and content, is still relevant today. Sally Rooney, the Irish novelist, writes this in Beautiful World, Where Are You?:

The problem with the contemporary Euro-American novel is that it relies for its structural integrity on suppressing the lived realities of most human beings on earth. To confront the poverty and misery in which millions of people are forced to live, to put the fact of that poverty, that misery, side by side with the lives of the 'main characters' of a novel, would be deemed either tasteless or simply artistically unsuccessful. [...] Do the protagonists break up or stay together? In this world, what does it matter? So the novel works by suppressing the truth of the world — packing it down tightly underneath the glittering surface of the text. And we can care once again,as we do in real life, whether people break up or stay together - if, and only if, we have successfully forgotten about all the things more important than that, i.e. everything.

Yet it is still possible to enter the mainstream with satire and humour, to recognise "the lived realities of most human beings on earth", to acknowledge the importance of social truth in art and to be sharply critical of social and political ills.

What can the writer write about? Tara Henley (TV and radio producer, on-air columnist) summarises her frustration with media policy at CNC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) while inadvertently showing so many things that can be part of contemporary fiction, without being "either tasteless or simply artistically unsuccessful". Things that may be suppressed at media policy level but not in a work of art. She writes:

It is to endlessly document microaggressions but pay little attention to evictions; to spotlight company’s political platitudes but have little interest in wages or working conditions. It is to allow sweeping societal changes like lockdowns, vaccine mandates, and school closures to roll out — with little debate. To see billionaires amass extraordinary wealth and bureaucrats amass enormous power — with little scrutiny. And to watch the most vulnerable among us die of drug overdoses — with little comment. It is to consent to the idea that a growing list of subjects are off the table, that dialogue itself can be harmful. That the big issues of our time are all already settled. It is to capitulate to certainty, to shut down critical thinking, to stamp out curiosity. To keep one’s mouth shut, to not ask questions, to not rock the boat. This, while the world burns.

Dickens did it and was hugely popular for it. Today, there is certainly plenty to be critical about. There is, of course, plenty of wealth, as there was in Dickens's day. But there is also poverty, very high rents, low-paid jobs, homelessness, avaricious banks, and a general system of economics and culture to make sure it stays that way. Sure, it does not have the same look as poverty did in Dickens's era. There are social welfare systems, better standards of housing, and better working conditions. However, overall contemporary income in many cases allows young people and the working class to just about get by without much hope for improvement, despite living in a system that produces massive amounts of wealth. In other words, there are similarities with Dickens's time but on a modern, international scale that also deserves a sharp, critical, writerly eye.

Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin is an Irish artist, lecturer and writer. His artwork consists of paintings based on contemporary geopolitical themes as well as Irish history and cityscapes of Dublin. His blog of critical writing based on cinema, art and politics along with research on a database of Realist and Social Realist art from around the world can be viewed country by country here.  

No Time To Think: The Changing Geopolitics of International Blockbusters
Wednesday, 03 November 2021 09:36

No Time To Think: The Changing Geopolitics of International Blockbusters

Published in Films

The latest Bond flick No Time To Die was certainly a rollercoaster ride of exciting action scenes and great special effects, yet contained more than a quantum of longueurs. With a running time of 163 minutes it certainly tries the patience and the bladders of its audiences (who I saw popping out of the cinema throughout the film).

Personally, I think 90 minutes is enough for any film, especially since the disappearance of the intermission and ice-cream selling of yore. In this case, the increased length seems to have been to incorporate backstories of some of the individuals involved. The effect of this is to attenuate Bond's appearances in the film, while adding very little to the story (hence the longueurs). 
One effect of this narrative style is to put more emphasis on the story of Bond and less on the usual geopolitics and action we associate with Bond films. Now this is very interesting considering that if one was to ask oneself: which country would be the most likely target and villain of the latest Bond film as a cultural representative of the world's imperialist and neo-colonial powers? It would have to be: China.

Who's bad?

Yet there were no Chinese baddies, no stereotyped 'Yellow Peril', no Chinese mad scientists, no Chinese monomaniacal nutter bent on ruling the world. Why would this be? Could it be something to do with new British geopolitical sensitivities and Brexit anxieties over its current position in the world? In the past the Russians were usually targeted, as well as the more abstract multinational SPECTRE baddies. At least during the Cold War (and some time after) there was definitely a cultural reflection of the realities of geopolitics in the James Bond narratives. Are they keeping one eye on the potential economic and military alliances of the future while keeping the other eye on their current alliances?

Instead what we get is yet another Russian mad scientist with a comically exaggerated Russian accent, lots of SPECTRE goings on, and the monomaniacal nutter 'Lyutsifer Safin' (with equally crazy spelling). Thus we have a caricature of the early Bond films with some 'emotionally deep' background filling to make up for its lack of relevance to current geopolitics.

Added to this emasculated plotline is the Bond's 007 replacement with Nomi, his successor - a female black Bond. Not that there's anything wrong with a female black Bond, but it does show one of the weaknesses of current identity politics, that her identity as an operative for an imperialist, militarist organisation is more important than her identity as a colonial victim of imperialist, militarist organisations in the past.

The Noname Book Club, for example tweeted the general point that:

"under white domination we consistently celebrate the “first black …” because we’ve been taught that assimilation into white society means safety, upward mobility, liberation. beyond how this can lead to black children idolizing the first black billionaire or war criminal, [...] it also individualizes / romanticizes black success. It reduces our desire for collective liberation and makes us hyper-focus on white approval."

There is also a slight ramping up of what I call the 'theatre of cruelty' factor – that is the pushing beyond the normal standards of 'common decency' that underlies cinema narratives in the public sphere. In general the depiction of violence and cruelty has been increasing steadily since the 1950s and 1960s, progressively desensitising audiences to basic human norms (another role of action movies like the Bond films). In this case, a child (Mathilde) is used in the narrative as a human shield but in the end the film does not go so far as to actually hurt her – there are still some limits to what is acceptable in the public's eyes.


One Empire


However, there seems to be very few limits to the extent to which the British government is creating new and targeted strategies to promote support for the military, for example Armed Forces Day, Uniform to Work Day, Camo Day, National Heroes Day – in the streets, on television, on the web, at sports events, in schools, advertising and fashion – the military presence in civilian life is on the march. The public and ever younger children are being groomed to collude in the increasing militarisation of UK society. The role of these forms of militarism has been to encourage people to see the military, and spying, in positive terms; to think of violent, military solutions as the best way to solve international disagreements; and to ignore peaceful alternatives.

Children have long been drawn in through comics such as The Boy's Own Paper, published from 1879 to 1967, and aimed at young and teenage boys. For example the first volume's serials included "From Powder Monkey to Admiral, or The Stirring Days of the British Navy" and promoted the British Empire as the peak of civilization. Later on, comics about World War 2 were founded in the late 1950s and early 1960s, such as War Picture Library (1958), The Victor (1961) and Commando (1961) (which is still in print today) were popular for decades after the war. According to Rod Driver, these comics:

had a strong focus on patriotism and heroism. They stereotyped people from enemy countries as cruel or cowardly, and used derogatory terms such as jerries, huns or krauts for German people, eyeties for Italian people, or nips for Japanese people. A generation of children grew up with a very distorted view of the war and people in other countries.

As for the adults, stereotypes and cruelty are still the stock in trade of culture producers and the James Bond films rejoice in them.


The Victor cover

Recruitment campaigns

 The significance of Nomi as a black 007 can be seen in new recruitment advertisements which feature a black female soldier. Women represent less than 10% of the British Army, so they launched a new female-led recruitment campaign. According to Imogen Watson, the 'This is Belonging' campaign:

follows the army's most successful recruitment to date. Four days after the launch, the record was broken for the highest number of applications received in a single day. After a month, 141% of the army’s application target was reached. By March, it had surpassed 100% of its annual recruiting target for soldiers, for the first time in eight years.

International institutions

 In one sense James Bond films depict a reality that despite the many international institutions dedicated to promoting world peace, military build-ups continue apace. In an article entitled 'The False Promise of International Institutions', John J. Mearsheimer writes that:

"institutions have minimal influence on state behavior, and thus hold little promise for promoting stability in the post-Cold War world.

He discusses the differences between the ideas of Realists and Critical Theorists. The Realists believe that there is an objective and knowable world while the Critical Theorists see "the possibility of endless interpretations of the world before them", and therefore there is no reason "why a communitarian discourse of peace and harmony cannot supplant the realist discourse of security competition and war".

However, there is a contradiction in that, for example, Americans who think seriously about foreign policy dislike realism as it clashes with their basic values and how they prefer to think about themselves in the wider world. Mearsheimer outlines the negative aspects of realism that depict a world of stark and harsh competition, where there is no escape from the evil of power and which treats war as inevitable. Realism goes against deep-seated beliefs that progress is desirable and "and with time and effort reasonable individuals can solve important social problems." One major problem is that while the international system strongly shapes the behavior of states, "states still have considerable freedom of action". He gives the example of the failure of the League of Nations to address German and Japanese aggression in the 1930s. Thus, the role of international institutions may actually be to stave off war until countries feel ready to attack or defend themselves.

What he does not discuss however is the situations where ordinary people rose up to extricate their nations from imperialist wars, such as Ireland in 1916 ('We serve neither King nor Kaiser'), and the Peace! Land! Bread! campaign of the Bolsheviks in 1917. These campaigns show that while ordinary people are generally considered cannon fodder in times of war, it is possible for future mass movements to transcend the narrow triumphalism and national chauvinism encouraged by recruitment campaigns and blockbuster films like No Time To Die.

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