FF154 - A Midnight Clear

Intro by Ben Harrison

So you are busy trying to fight a war and an important day in your religious calendar comes up. What do you do? How do you deal with the fact that your religion demands that you set a day aside to honor this or atone for that when you are trying to make everyone wearing the other uniform die for their country? The holidays interact with war in such peculiar ways. These two phenomena are both so human and yet so incompatible. In the context of war, holidays make no sense, and in the context of holidays, war makes no sense.

History has lots of interesting examples of this puzzling interplay. In 1968 North Vietnam took advantage of a supposed cease fire surrounding the Tet holiday to launch a major offensive across South Vietnam in one of the bloodiest chapters of that war. A few years later, a coalition of Arab states launched a surprise attack to try and retake the Sinai Peninsula from Israel on Yom Kippur, one of the holiest days in the Jewish calendar. That one also happened to take place during the Islamic observance of Ramadan, which is another non-ideal time to be waging war from a piety standpoint.

If these days are so holy, you would think that the nations that espouse these religions would shy away from offending the Almighty by using the Almighty as cover for the element of surprise. You would think a lot more lightning bolts would be dropping if the Almighty gave a shit. Precedent would indicate that the Almighty does not, and that whatever religion the commanders claim, the advantage of that false sense of holiday security is too good to resist in a clash of civilizations.

Well, today's film is partly about that tension. It is a war movie, and kind of a Christmas movie, too! And we know this episode comes out on the last day of Hanukkah, so we are sorry about that. It is just the way the dice tumbled. Keith Gordon's psychological drama pits a squad of US Army dudes against an at first unseen group of German soldiers somewhere in the Ardennes over the Christmas holiday, and what starts as a fairly slow-paced reconnoitre turns into a freaky ghost movie for a minute before the soldiers make contact with each other and start a delicate dance toward the idea of the Americans accepting the German’s surrender.

The two squads even get in a late night snowball fight, but despite the warm, fuzzy feelings of holiday cheer, this is a dangerous situation populated by soldiers who are not all stable and not all on the same page. We are late in the war, our guys just wish they were home, and the insanity of war feels especially onerous given the time of year, not to mention all that last-minute holiday-shopping they are not getting done because the Germans are building frozen corpse sculptures in the woods.

I imagine our listeners feel the same way. How - at a time like this - are we still listening to this podcast? ”I don't know what day it is. I have no watch, so I don't know what time it is. I am not even sure of my name. The next thing you know, they will be making me a general!” Today on Friendly Fire: A Midnight Clear.

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