Saturday, February 2, 2013

Film Review: Everyman's War & A Few Thoughts on Our History "Curriculum"

In exploring history with my homeschoolers, I basically have two goals. I am not interested in my kids memorizing names, dates, and battles. I never thought that was the proper goal of history instruction, and in the era of Google, it seems even more pointless. First, I want them to understand the "big picture," the links between interconnected events. This helps us grasp the complicated, far-reaching consequences of choices our leaders make, the lessons history has to teach us. It enables us to become thinking citizens.

Second, I look for books, films, and other experiences that help us get what history was like for those who lived it. Because if we don't feel some connection to history and politics, why does any of it matter?

In this vein, Everyman's War helped make some of the events of World War II more three-dimensional for me. It gave me a stronger understanding of combat from a soldier's perspective. This, in turn, gave me a deeper interest in a battle I'd only read about it. It also sparked some interesting discussion with my teens.

Everyman's War begins with a scene from the struggle of the 94th Infantry Division, 302nd Regiment, M Company in the Battle of the Bulge, near Nennig, Germany, in January, 1945. Don Smith is trying to escape German forces, while seeking to warn his comrades-at-arms of the threat from the 11th Panzer "Ghost" Division. The scene shifts to an elderly Smith looking back on his service.

We then become acquainted with the young Don Smith before the war along with the young men with whom he will serve. These men are deployed to northern France, in late 1944, in the wake of the D-Day invasion. Smith and his squad soon face attack from the 11th Panzer Division. Mounting casualties force Smith to accept a command post to save his men.

This movie has a little bit of a "T.V. Special" feel to it, but it's still a well made and very worthy film. I can see why it garnered a lot of attention at film festivals. I really like the fact that this screenplay is a labor of love, written about the author's father and his experiences in the war.

I appreciated the attention to detail. I found it easy to vicariously experience standing in a trench full of frigid water and urine waiting for the inevitable attack by enemy forces. There is also a poignant scene between the protagonist and a German soldier that gives you a clear sense of the blurred lines between "enemy" combatants.

One more thought. Anyone who's read my homeschooling blogs knows I am definitely not an advocate of oversimplifying war to make it more palatable to students. War is horrific, and the motives of governments who launch it are messy, complex, and never pure. Glib explanations like "we went to war to defeat the Nazis" or "the Civil War was fought to end slavery" are misleading. And I certainly don't think we want to raise a generation that passively accepts its leaders' reasons for going to war. We've seen enough of that in my lifetime.

On the other hand, that doesn't mean these accomplishments aren't important nor does it diminish the heroism of the men and women engaged in these struggles. I mentioned a scene between the protagonist and the German soldier, who'd been forced to go to war by a regime he loathes. There is also a discussion with a German expatriate at the train station. These two conversations help illuminate the importance of the Allied victory, from the Allies' perspective, and the legacy of the people who fought there.


  1. This looks really good! We are studying WWII right now and I am looking for some good movies. I am with you, I don't like oversimplifying either or memorizing dates and facts. Keilee and I always talk about the fact that things are never black and white or good guys vs. bad guys. I think learning history by watching wonderful movies is SUCH a great thing. I will check this one out. Thank you!!

    1. I hope you and Kei like this movie, Karen. Please let me know what you think.

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