Monday, June 29, 2009

Band of Brothers rewind, episode 9: "Why We Fight"

We're in our final week of looking back on "Band of Brothers," with spoilers for the penultimate episode, "Why We Fight," coming up just as soon as I borrow your lighter...

There are essentially two halves to "Why We Fight" -- one of the finest episodes of this damn fine miniseries -- that seem unrelated at first by anything but chronology, but which turn out to be inextricably linked in the final moments.

The first half focuses on Captain Nixon quest for Vat 69. To this point in the series, Nixon's role has been primarily to offer exposition (as a battalion strategist, he knows more about the big picture than Dick Winters does), and to function as a kind of Greek chorus (suggesting that Sobel is a better training officer than the men want to admit, reminding Winters of how much good he did at Brecourt Manor). We've learned that he's a drunk, but also that he's brave (he declines the 30-day pass home in "The Breaking Point") and that Winters obviously thinks the world of him, but because he hasn't been a member of Easy Company since before they left America, this is his first real spotlight.

And the Nixon of "Why We Fight" is burnt out. Like all the men, he's been at war too long, has started to forget why it is this all started, and with the lack of action post-Hagenau, he has a lot of time to do nothing but think, and stew, and drink. And because he's not just an alcoholic, but a discriminating alcoholic, he's running out of the one thing he's willing to drink. And when he's one of the few survivors of the doomed jump, he gets to stew some more about what all those boys in the plane died over.

There's this amazing weariness to Ron Livingston's performance. Like Scott Grimes in "The Last Patrol," he's so much older and frailer than he was at the start of the series (when I praised Livingston for this at an awards event, he gave all the credit to the makeup department for making him look so jaundiced). And while he's always going to look and sound like Peter from "Office Space," he has a gravity and haunted quality here that works perfectly in a scene like the one where Nixon gets the Dear Lewis letter from his wife. And that, in turn, leads into the marvelous scene where the entire convoy sings "Blood on the Risers," the unofficial paratrooper anthem, and Nixon reluctantly joins in, then starts singing louder than everyone else because he's so sick of it all.

The episode's first half also offers vignettes of other characters suffering a similar level of bitterness towards their time in the Army. Perconte rants to replacement O'Keefe about how long it's been since he saw America. Webster flips out at a passing convoy of surrendered Germans: "You have horses! What were you thinking?" Replacement Janovec tells Luz that he's reading an article about how "the Germans are bad," and Luz reacts like this is the most hilarious thing he's ever heard. With few exceptions -- like Captain Speirs, who seems delighted to be able to loot everything in sight now that they're in Germany -- the Toccoa veterans are all desperate to get home, and wondering why they wound up here in the first place.

Then we come to the second half, in which the episode's title goes from being ironic to explanatory. Whether the men of Easy Company knew it or not, stopping the kind of people responsible for the concentration camp they find outside of Landsberg is exactly why they fight -- why they've given up years of their lives and risked those lives repeatedly. As the real Dick Winters (who had fewer problems with his resolve to begin with) said to himself after getting a look at that nightmarish place, "Now I know why I am here!"

As good a job as the makeup department did on Livingston, their masterpiece is their work on the camp survivors. (Amazingly, they lost the Emmy to the TNT fantasy miniseries "The Mists of Avalon.") I don't know exactly how they made some of those extras look the way they did, but the sight of them never fails to hit me in the gut, to fill me with horror and despair that this kind of thing can happen -- and I say this as the son of a teacher who specializes in Holocaust education and who frequently brought her work home with her(*).

(*) And who has asked me to put in a plug for her college's Holocaust education center.

The visceral impact of the camp sequence is just amazing. All the little beats are devastating, from the man carrying his emaciated, possibly dead friend to the prisoner who starts showering his terrified rescuer with desperate kisses.

But the most brutal part of all involves Liebgott. The earlier scene with Webster in the truck is there primarily to remind us that Liebgott is the lone Jew in Easy Company. Because he's also the German translator, he winds up in the position to be the first to discover what this camp really is, and that smacks him -- and us -- extra hard. And then an even tougher blow comes when he's asked to order the prisoners back into the camp even temporarily, for their own good. Ross McCall isn't mentioned often among the best performances of this series, but he owns those two moments.

So here's what I'm most curious about, in terms of your reaction: how do you read the faces of the German townspeople in the sequence where they're being forced to dispose of the bodies? Specifically, how do you read the German officer's widow whom Nixon had met earlier when he broke into her house looking for booze? She's furious and disgusted and mortified, but is it at the Americans for forcing her to perform this horrific task, or at her own country's leadership for creating this place (and making her husband die for this)? Or is it a bit of both?

Some other thoughts:

• I'm again going to break the who lives/who dies rule here, as we're so close to the end that it's more or less pointless, but skip ahead to the next bullet if need be. The level of Speirs' looting -- and the other soldiers' awareness of it -- becomes one of the better running gags of these final two episodes, but the miniseries doesn't have room for the big real-life punchline: Speirs was sending all the looted merchandise not back to America, but to a "war widow" he had married during his time in England, and with whom he fathered a son. One problem: the woman's first husband turned out not to be dead, but a POW, and she chose him over Speirs -- and kept every bit of loot Speirs had sent her.

• Webster's command of German in the scene with the baker seems far shakier than it was in "The Last Patrol," and his bloodlust in that scene is in marked contrast to how he'll behave in a similar moment in the series finale. (Let's save discussion on that till we get to "Points," but I wanted to bring it up now so we have it in mind in a few day's time.)

• Don't Luz and Perconte in the opening scenes feel like they could be either supporting characters in a '40s war comedy, or maybe the leads on a '50s or early '60s Army sitcom?

• In case you haven't seen it by now, HBO has released a trailer for "The Pacific," the long-awaited follow-up to "Band of Brothers" that focuses on the Pacific theater of WWII in the same way "BoB" focused on the European theater. A couple of readers expressed concern that the trailer makes it look like "The Pacific" is going to be filled with the kind of war movie cliches that "BoB" avoided, but to that I would point out that some of the promos for "BoB" featured the scene from this episode where Winters tells Nixon what to write to the families of the boys who died on the jump. In context, "You tell them they died as heroes" is about the messiness of war and the necessity of telling noble lies about it. Out of context, in a trailer, it just sounds corny, even with Damian Lewis saying it.

Coming up on Thursday: We come to the end of the line with "Points," in which the war in Europe comes to an end, and yet the men of Easy Company can't get home.

What did everybody else think?

55 comments:

kwig said...

Watching it this time, I see the Woman in terms of Nixon. He feels embarrassed when she catches him ransacking her parlour, but when he catches her eyes at the camp, he realises he needn't have been.

I don't excuse any grownup of condoning such institutional inhumanity. Ignorance is no excuse, it's the cause in the first place. Whether she feels bad about it at that point doesn't matter. In Doc Roe's words, they're grownups, they should have known better than to let that happen.

If I had to say I think it's about 60/40, why do I have to deal with this?/Wow, my country has been about as evil as can be, I should feel bad about this.

qrter said...

I felt the point of that look is much more to make you think of the question (of what she might be thinking and/or feeling), not so much of coming up with an actual answer. In this case I'd say the look itself is the answer, however vague that might sound.

A gutwrenching episode, I thought. Really hit hard home. Also good to be reminded how most of these soldiers weren't really aware of the concentration camps and the holocaust (beyond terrible rumours, mostly), how earthshatteringly shocking it must have been, even to these battlehardened people.

Marie said...

The first time I saw this episode, I hadn't seen any previews nor did I notice the title, so the concentration camp scene hit me with full force. Amazing. Kudos to your mom and all the work she and others like her do to make sure this never happens again.

I agree with Ross Mccall's performance as Liebgott; he was perfect. Eion Bailey as Webster, however, i thought was rather flat. The "say hello to Ford and GM" line was delivered so lamely that my husband and I have changed his rant to "I wish I were a better actor and not just hired because I'm handsome!"

I found the German Officer's wife to be both proud and embarrassed...proud of her husband yet embarrassed by her country. Perhaps it is because the husband in the photo looks just like the German officer we see in Points, who shows that the armies themselves were not so different.

Carl said...

I'm wondering what you thought of the book-ending scenes of members of Easy Company sitting in the blown out apartment, watching the townspeople going through all the rubble and the concerto that follows. Was it to sum up the Easy Company experience of the main part of the episode, or to show the condition of the regular German citizenry?

I'm also surprised that the talking head pre-credits focused more on the general aspects of war, rather than what is as like to come across a concentration camp.

Lizbeth said...

Winter's "You tell them what you always tell them speech..." to Nixon is to me is one of the greatest moments of the miniseries...it brings tears to my eyes every time!

Out of context I could see how it sounds corny...but in that moment, after what they've all gone through (and what we've gone through with them), those words hit us like a ton of bricks.

And just when our weary soldiers are wondering what it's all about, they find that concentration camp and all the horror becomes known.

Wow. Just wow, is all I can think watching it all.

Pete said...

Great episode, but I do have a problem with the title. Why We Fight is a bit misleading. The US was not in World War II to stop the concentration camps. Most of the soldiers didn't even know about them, and the real reasons we were fighting were Japan bombing Pearl Harbor, and Germany declaring war on us. This is akin to saying the Civil War was fought to stop slavery, which is was not. Ending the Holocaust/slavery were both just byproducts of the bigger picture (in military terms of course) of the US plan (stopping Germany from taking over all over Europe and beyond/preserving the Union).

Alan Sepinwall said...

Pete, the title is disingenuous in that way. But in terms of the question that characters like Nixon, Perconte and Webster keep asking themselves during this episode -- why have I wasted years of my life on this? -- seeing that camp is a more concrete, satisfactory answer than the more abstract idea of Hitler taking over Europe.

Pch101 said...

The title "Why We Fight" is probably a takeoff of a series of propaganda films made by Frank Capra for the US military. (He made these before filming "It's a Wonderful Life.") Capra saw the films as a necessary Allied counterweight to Leni Riefenstahl's Nazi propaganda, and the films were seen as a tool of overcoming the isolationist sentiment that would have been common among Americans at that time. Those who are interested can find them posted on YouTube. (A decent summary from Wikipedia is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Why_We_Fight)

As a bit of film geekery, I thought that the opening long shot was impressive. (Notice that the first couple of minutes of the episode is one long shot; no cuts.) That aspect of this reminded me of the beginning of "The Player," another great piece of film (although obviously different from this.)

I'm also surprised that the talking head pre-credits focused more on the general aspects of war, rather than what is as like to come across a concentration camp.

I'm reasonably sure that E Company didn't actually liberate this camp; the 1st Battalion did. Winters and some others would have seen the camp, but most of the company would not have.

Alyson said...

@Pete: On a macro level, your assessment is totally correct. The thing is, we're not viewing the war here on a macro level - at a micro level, for the guys on the ground, they need something more, something more tangible than just "The Germans are bad". On an individual level, they're not really in a position to fully grasp a more abstract concept like what might happen if Hitler succeeded in taking over Europe. As one of the veterans comments in the interviews, they had a hard time sometimes coming to grips with the fact that the German soldiers were young men, doing their jobs, just like they were. Helping liberate the camp must have sharpened their focus.

Re: Webster, this is where they really lost me with the character, specifically his outburst in the bakery. Him not understanding what the baker is saying isn't my issue - I'm willing to assume that Webster is so flustered and confused and enraged that he's just really not paying attention to what's being said to him - it's his outrage in general that seems so out of left field. He's never shown any real emotional investment in the war, or in his comrades with Easy, so these big blowups he keeps having, to me, just ring false.

Jordan said...

Over the final two episodes, there are three moments that kinda hit me, one of which was Liebgot's translation. Something HBO series have done well (particularly The Wire) is having the audience know something, then watch the characters learn it. When Liebgot was called, we knew what was going to happen, and as it dawned on him (and he stopped translating for a moment), it was all he more heartbreaking. Just well done all around.

chris said...

Just as an FYI - the History Channel is having a Band of Brothers mini-marathon today.

Dan said...

I've fallen behind on my rewatching of the series, so sorry if I missed something, but is it possible that Webster's command of German isn't that great and he just faked it to take Liebgott's place on the patrol and get back in the good graces of the company? In "The Last Patrol" did he say anything in German other than "shut up" and "be quiet" to the prisoners?

I can't remember if he speaks more fluent german in the final episode or not.

Alan Sepinwall said...

In "The Last Patrol," Webster claims to only speak a little German, but then Liebgott complains to the other guys that Webster's command of the language is almost as good as his own. This could be interpreted as Liebgott still holding a grudge against the guy, or as one of many examples of Webster being written inconsistently in these last few episodes, being used for whatever purpose the writers had at that moment.

Hatfield said...

Webster is definitely inconsistent in these last few episodes, but I don't have any problem with Bailey's performance. I like that he sounds different than all the other guys, since he's very much a writer in the way he views and says things. His anger feels earned too, and he has more energy than anyone who's not an actual replacement since he didn't go through the hell of Bastogne and Foy, so he vocalizes it more. I love his rant, though I can understand why others might find it forced.

Also, how surprised was I to all of a sudden be faced with a fairly HBO-level sex scene? Nice respite from all the darkness and blood and death, but also a hilarious moment for Speirs, who doesn't care at all what Janovec is up to, only where his loot is.

Agree completely on McCall, who seems like a jerk in the previous episode but nails his stuff in this one, as does Lewis while watching him translate the prisoner's answers. Another nice moment for Winters is when Perconte comes frantically looking for an officer after the discovery of the camp, and Winters calms him down by just saying his name: "Frank, what is it?" Nice reminder that he's known a lot of these guys from the very beginning, and takes the time to treat them as men instead of just his soldiers.

Livingston nails it in this episode, turning his normal hangdog charm into haunted shock very convincingly.

I already wanna watch again, but who has the spare 10+ hours?

M.A.Peel said...

how earthshatteringly shocking it must have been, even to these battlehardened people.

qter, I thought a similar thing. What BoB does so beautifully is show how professional these guys became as soldiers. One of the characters even says that, that Easy is the best, most professional company in the army.

Atrocities on the battlefield are an ugly fact of their professional. But atrocities against a particular segment of the civilian population is intolerable and defies all sense of humanity. As Pete says, it is not the reason they jumped out of planes on D-day with people shooting at them, but it erased any doubt in their minds what they were doing "over there," again.

Anna said...

Winters calms him down by just saying his name: "Frank, what is it?"

I have noticed that Winters does that a lot - when speaking directly to a man, he uses their first name. I think that is very human and unusual for a leader.

Anonymous said...

A few moments in this episode which really struck me in how they were acted and filmed:

* When the men come across the camp for the first time, emerging from the forest, you get that brilliant shot where you don't see what they are looking at, but they all just slowly lower their rifles in horror. Then it cuts to Perconte running to tell Spiers. But the drop of the rifles realaly hit me the first time I saw it.

* When Winters is 'inspecting' the camp, they show him the train where the opened door reveals piples of bodies. Watch Damian Lewis' acting here. He betrays so little emotion; I believe the most he does is flutter his clasped hands. Just brilliant work.

* The music is phenomenal. Phenomenal. The track is called "Discovery of the Camp" and it is amazing. Still sad Michael Kamen left us.

-DamnYankees

Anonymous said...

Oh, and about the woman's look to Nixon. I don't think there's any one word which sums it up. The fascination of it is the combinations of many emotions all fighting for supremacy. The emotion I got the most was "how dare you make me know this. I don't want to know this."

-DamnYankees

BF said...

This episode is the one thing that Saving Private Ryan lacked. Both SPRs and BoBs soliders long for a ticket home and both productions remind us "War is Hell". But "Why we Fight" shows us just that. And despite that one German who killed Adam Goldberg, SPR didn't really make the case that occasionally, war is necessary. An especially relevant (if accidental) message post 9/11.

Lizbeth said...

I just completed a screenplay about German POW camps in America during WWII (working title "Silent Night in Algona"), and what I find fascinating is that our generation just can't comprehend that all Germans weren't Nazis and didn't know what was going on in concentration camps.

I think that's why Webster goes nuts in the German bakery. He can't understand how something this horrendous could happen under their noses -- under all of our noses.

Of course, nowadays it's hard for us to imagine -- as we Twitter our every obsessive thought-- that information could once have been hidden.

In reality, the German POWs and most German soldiers knew nothing of the concentration camps until the Americans liberated the camps and showed them the newsreels. Of course they were horrified, and some of them thought it was fake (American propaganda).

Hatfield said...

To answer Alan's question, I think they're horrified, and it almost doesn't matter if they knew or not. While I understand Webster's anger, what were these people supposed to do? If you knew that an entire group of people was being dealt with in such a way, wouldn't you assume that resisting the ones responsible for it would earn you similar treatment? We all like to think that when faced with a tough moral question we'd make the "right" decision, but ultimately, I believe anyway, most of us would choose the path that cost us the least. And that's exactly why the paratroopers are so impressive, because they volunteered for all this. Probably another bit of why Webster was so enraged.

Eugene Freedman said...

My grandfather translated much like Liebgott. He did it for both German POWs and the 71st's liberation of Gunskirchen Lager, a concentration camp in Austria. http://www.remember.org/mooney/gunskirchen-intro.html

He was praised by a German POW officer who told him he spoke very good Platt German (Low German - either working class or from the low lying areas). He spit at the officers' boots and told him it was Yiddish.

This is the only story my grandfather tells about WWII, other than his unit was the first to meet the Soviets (he says Russians). In reading one of the books about the 71st, it turns out he was right. They were the first to make physical contact with Soviet forces.

Michael Ollove said...

You're right, this is powerful episode, but it always struck me as 90% there rather than the full 100%. Certainly, we see the revulsion and despair the soldiers experience when they encounter the camp, but to me, what's missing in the episode and, indeed, this entire, exemplary series, is anger at the Germans. In some ways, the series treats the other side as just soldiers doing their duty the same as the Americans. (Is it the real Shifty who says under other conditions he could see being friends with them?) Maybe it's not true that the American GIs who encountered those camps were more shocked than enraged by what they saw. But I found the reaction in the episode more tepid than I expected.

Gayle said...

Lizbeth, you say that most German soldiers and POW's knew nothing of the concentration camps. That may be the case, but I think that's not the point Alan raises in regards to this episode and its portrayal of the townspeople.

If you've ever visited Auschwitz, you can't help but notice the lovely little town so close to the camp. It defies logic to claim that those townspeople had no idea what was going on behind the barbed wire. They knew. And they did nothing.

Similarly, in this episode; the baker, the widow, and the other townspeople lived so near this concentration camp. They knew--perhaps not the intricate details, but they knew. And for those Germans that didn't know anything of Hitler's plans, then all the better for them and their complacent countrymen to be forced to come to the camps, tour the inhuman conditions, and properly bury the dead.

As for "Why We Fight" being a literal justification for entering WWII, no, clearly not literal. But we did fight to liberate Europe, end Nazi aggression, and to make the world safe for democracy. Clearly, discovering the concentration camp and what that meant, not just in terms of fighting to stop Hitler's attempt at a final solution, but to put an end to all of Germany's aggression and oppression and murder. That IS why we fought and that's why the title makes sense to me.

Tim said...

In addition to the main narrative I was impressed with visual craft and the layers of meaning in the opening and closing scenes.

Particulary women, also old men and children clearing the debris after fighting were an german-wide occurence. The german word for those women is "Trümmerfrauen”, literally “rubble women”. In the decades to come their achievement was recognised in both germanys and told – like a national mythology – as a symbol of the first glimmer of hope and rebuilding after the war toward a better (in so many ways) future. Integrating the Trümmerfrauen is for me a powerful way of asking what to do now with germany, if there is redemption after the crime of the holocaust. As far as I know the Morgenthau plan was already scrapped at that point in history. But the men of Easy, after witnessing this atrocity – I couldn't fault them for maybe thinking along these lines at this time and place.

(But then I'm german and maybe I'm reading to much in this scene and it's just intended as the stereotypical german methodology used in good and evil.)

Extremely powerful was the last scene. The german musician plays the last note, stores his violin in the old-style violin case, closes it – and the case eerily resembles a coffin. A powerful contrast of high culture and death. In a way that's a perfect symbol for the question posed by the holocaust: In europe, which (slightly arrogant) prides herself of being the birthplace of modern zivilisation, in germany for which there was a 19th century saying of “the land of poets and philosophers”, how could in the age of reason the barbary of genocide and mass murder raise again and that in industrial perfection. The question the closed violin case leaves the watcher is also if it could happend again, here, there, somewhere.

Jeanne said...

First off, thanks again to Alan for doing this “rewind,” which finally prompted me to watch BoB. To think I might have missed out on this amazing series!

Upthread, Carl asked (June 29, 9:23 AM):
I'm wondering what you thought of the book-ending scenes of members of Easy Company sitting in the blown out apartment, watching the townspeople going through all the rubble and the concerto that follows. Was it to sum up the Easy Company experience of the main part of the episode, or to show the condition of the regular German citizenry?

I agree with some of what Tim just said (June 29, 9:01 AM) about the resonances of the final scene, but to me, the key to the bookending scenes is the music. As others have said, Michael Kamen’s music has been wonderful throughout, but in this episode it’s his selection of the piece by Beethoven that especially floored me. The music played by the four musicians in the bombed-out town square was from one of Beethoven’s last quartets (Opus 131 to be exact), generally considered to be among the best and greatest not only of Beethoven’s oeuvre but of all musical compositions ever written.

While the particular excerpt provided a suitably melancholy and elegiac tone to the scenes that bookend this episode, I think the deeper meaning of choosing this piece was to ask the question (similar to what Tim said above): how can a culture that produced Beethoven and his magnificent music (among the glories of human achievement) also produce such heinous crimes, the depths of human depravity?

And now that the townspeople know about the camp and its horrors, how does life go on? Do they just pick through the wreckage and salvage usable pieces of furniture while tossing out the rest – “cleaning up” as Luz (I think) put it? Do they bury the Nazi past as they bury the bodies? Is playing Beethoven in the town square an attempt to get back to normal civilized life – but how can civilized people have allowed such evil to prevail? There are no easy answers, of course, but it hints at the enormity of the reconstruction task ahead, both physical and psychological. And I love it that the filmmaking (in all its aspects, including the choice of music) is subtle and nuanced enough to evoke such questions.

I also thought it was significant that Nixon pointedly corrects whoever it was who thought the music was by Mozart. As the most educated and cultured person in the battalion (note how he always gives the proper pronunciation of French and German names, e.g., Carrentan and Berchtesgaden), Nixon would surely recognize the irony and poignancy of playing one of Beethoven’s late, great quartets in such a setting. And it is through Nixon’s eyes that we see so much of this episode and especially the two final scenes: the camera focuses on his haunted look as he gazes at the Nazi officer’s widow at the camp, then dissolves into Nixon standing in the bombed-out balcony, with the same haunted look as he stares at the musicians playing in the square below.

When I watched the “bookending” scene at the beginning of the episode, I had thought to myself, Oh how nice, a little Beethoven to while away the time. But by the time the scene came around again at the end, the juxtaposition of Beethoven’s music with what Nixon (and the others) had seen at the camp was just devastating.

Sorry for the long post, but now that I've "discovered" this series I can’t seem to get it out of my head...

Anonymous said...

Great blog and great question.

I think the looks on the townspeoples faces as they cleaned up the camp is a mixture of regret that the life they were living had now been shattered and embarrassment that the lie they had been telling themselves had been discovered by the American soldiers.

You can kind of see in the scene between Nixon in the woman's home, the German people were still trying to cling to the notion that had some type of moral legitimacy to why they went along on the Nazi ride the way they did.

That moral high ground is surrendered once the camps are discovered.

It's mentioned in the episode, and has been well documented how many Germans claim they did not know about the camps.

However, entire segments of society were disappearing in Germany and the open marginalization of Jews had begun from as early as 1930.

To claim that they didn't know what was going on, or that it wasn't as bad as it was is delusional at best, an outright lie at worst.

For a scene with the potential for so many things to go wrong with it- it was done so perfectly right.

Toeknee said...

This is my favorite episode and it’s all because of the last 20 minutes. I’ve seen plenty of concentration camp movies and documentaries but I’m still blown away by this episode. The reactions of the E Co. men as they come out of the woods and first see the camp. Big, tough Bull Randleman sits with his back turned to the camp. O’Keefe gets more than he bargained for in his hope of seeing some action. And Liebgott goes from being just a translator to someone who has a kinship with the prisoners, once he hears the word “Juden”. Ross McCall was great in showing how it all changed for him with that one word. And the reactions of the prisoners. They run the gamut from looking away in shame to kissing the soldiers. All heartbreaking. But the most moving to me was the guy who saluted Perconte. Also the guy talking to Liebgott – it’s like he’s at a loss for words in explaining what this place is, because so incomprehendable.

I was going to comment on the violin case being a coffin, but Tim expressed it much better than I could have. But I’ve always wondered about the small stone resting next to the violin case in that final shot. I recall the end of Schindler’s List, where the families of the Schindler Jews set stones on Schindler’s grave, and I wonder if the presence of the stone in this scene of “Why We Fight” was intended to have some similar significance?

I interpret the German woman’s reaction to Nixon while in the camp as embarrassment that he is seeing her in this situation, but she still feels that she is better than him. Earlier she felt so morally superior to Nix – that death stare she gave him told me that not only is Nixon in the wrong for knocking over her husband’s picture, but also that she still thinks the Germans are in the right and the Allies are in the wrong. By staring him down and causing him to leave (as opposed to him just taking over the house by force), her feelings of moral superiority were vindicated. And, being a wife of a German officer, she may very well have known what was going on at the camp. But at the camp, she can’t very well stare Nixon down again, so she looks away. Yet I get the sense that deep inside, she still feels that moral superiority. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but that’s my take.

On the other hand, the one older German man who is shoveling and then cries when Nixon passes by, I think he is truly remorseful and did not know the full extent of what was happening at the camp.

With Webster and the baker, I think Web did understand the baker but truly didn’t believe him. Even after Lesniewski said something like “Come on Web, he says he didn’t know about it”, Web still holds the gun close to the baker’s neck for a few seconds before letting go and saying “bullshit”. I think Lesniewski defused the situation. But I think if Lesniewski could understand the baker (not that we know much about Lesniewski), Webster probably did understand him also. He understands “a little” German, as he said in “The Last Patrol”, but not as much as Liebgott claimed (“his German’s better than mine”). I think the scene in the convoy where Liebgott was surprised the Web hadn’t graduated from Harvard yet may have been partly intended to show that Liebgott doesn’t know Webster all that well, and therefore doesn’t know how well Web knows German.

Upon first watch, when Nixon’s jeep almost hits Speirs, Nix’s death stare seemed like an over reaction. But after seeing the entire episode, and knowing Nixon’s state of mind, you can see that with he was thinking “I just witnesses a bunch of needless deaths, I don’t need you to be another one!”

As if things weren’t bad enough for Nix, that German woman’s dog had to bark at him and remind him of his wife taking his dog away from him.

Speirs apparently is not averse to looting from his own men. Perconte was reluctant to let him borrow the lighter, knowing Speirs may not give it back. And Speirs had to think about it before giving it back to Perco.

To Eugene Freedman: good for your grandfather for spitting on the German officer’s boots!

El Marpla said...

I found real footage of the camp liberation. They made an amazing job on this miniseries

The images are pretty strong

http://www.buergervereinigung-landsberg.de/geschichte/orginalfilm.htm

Hatfield said...

The discussions on these thread just keep getting better, and yet I've noticed that we've lost a lot of the people who started on Currahee and especially the ones who got amped up when Alan said he was considering do the reviews. Where'd they all go?

Pch101 said...

In "The Last Patrol," Webster claims to only speak a little German, but then Liebgott complains to the other guys that Webster's command of the language is almost as good as his own. This could be interpreted as Liebgott still holding a grudge against the guy, or as one of many examples of Webster being written inconsistently in these last few episodes, being used for whatever purpose the writers had at that moment.

There are various instances throughout the series when Webster's character is shown to have some level of German proficiency, such as during the attack on The Island when he translates for Martin.

Going back to the Patrol episode, it appears to me that the writers wish to make it look as if Webster is slyly trying to avoid going on the patrol. During the briefing, he indicates that he only speaks "a little," even though we know from his earlier actions that he knows enough German to serve as translator. At another point, as he attempts to have Winters allow him to stay behind, Winters cuts him off and relieves Liebgott from duty, instead. The latter scene is ambiguously portrayed, but the implication is that Webster must have pulled stunts such as this before in order to avoid the dangers that have gotten others killed or maimed. (In real life, Webster manned a machine gun on the bank to protect the patrol, so this entire plot point is fictionalized, and is arguably unfair to the real life person.)

In this episode, he understands the German merchant, but doesn't wish to dignify him by communicating with him in German. When the German (at gun point) tells him in German that he is not a Nazi, Webster replies caustically in English, clearly comprehending what was said to him.

For these guys, translation would be seen as a duty or as something to be accorded to individuals whom they happen to like. Those whom they disliked, such as the angry merchant, are not going to get the respect of being spoken to in their own language. In that scene, Webster doesn't particularly care whether or not he's being understood; he's ranting for his own sake, not for the benefit of the merchant.

Dan said...

I read the widow’s reaction as shame. At first she seems upset at having to perform such a task (I get the feeling she’s got a few people she pays to clean up her house for her), but when she has to look Nixon in the eye she’s overcome with shame and embarrassment that the husband she was so proud of for serving as on officer in the German army is in someway responsible for, or associated with, this atrocity.

When they first met each other in her house, she felt superior because she was married to a man that in her mind was better than this drunken American officer stumbling around her house looking for booze. But now that pride has been shaken and she knows she can not defend what her husband is associated with.

ealgylden said...

The latter scene is ambiguously portrayed, but the implication is that Webster must have pulled stunts such as this before in order to avoid the dangers that have gotten others killed or maimed.

See, I've seen people argue this before, and I don't buy it (and it was Speirs, not Winters, choosing the patrol). Everybody saw Johnny Martin's face. Everybody heard the way he said Webster's name. Everybody has to know there's not a chance in hell that Webster's not going on this patrol. He's going, no question, even if Martin has to drag him. That Webster was trying to get Leibgott out of it (to be nice, to regain social currency, whatever) is really the only plausible reading, IMO.

And don't forget that letting Malarkey stay behind was his suggestion, and that he went on the Bull rescue mission back in "Replacements." He might not have been Mr. Gung-Ho Volunteer, but to say he was deliberately malingering is unfair. He cares about these guys, and he obviously wants back in.

Alan Sepinwall said...

The discussions on these thread just keep getting better, and yet I've noticed that we've lost a lot of the people who started on Currahee and especially the ones who got amped up when Alan said he was considering do the reviews. Where'd they all go?

Yeah, I've noticed this, too. If I were a petty sort, I might be inclined to postpone my "Points" review until some of those people come back.

Hatfield said...

Man, I wish you hadn't italicized a comment of mine that had two errors in it. Or maybe I just wish I had read it before posting...

Also, please don't postpone "Points." If you do, I'll be this blog's equivalent of the kid who reminds the teacher to assign homework

Dawning said...

Well, I did post in support of Alan's doing these reviews, though I didn't promise comments (I'm more of a reader than a commenter in general). But I don't want to appear unappreciative, because these posts and discussions have been great, even if I haven't actually had a chance to do a rewatch myself yet (hopefully later in July).

But I did catch the last 5 minutes of this episode today on the History Channel, and I agree with all that's been said about the use of the music and the looks on the Germans' faces, Liebgott, Nixon, the overall greatness of this episode, etc.

Two substantive comments. First, I read the Ambrose book the other year, and one thing that really surprised me, considering how powerful this episode was, was that the finding of the camp gets about a half a page in the book -- he does barely more than mention it (if I'm remembering correctly). I've wondered about that -- why Ambrose didn't write more about it (unless E-company really didn't have much to do with it), and then why/how it got expanded so much in the series. I mean, it obviously was a good decision to make it more prominent here, and they did a fantastic job of it, but it really makes me curious of how much of this was made up or if it was based on further recollections of the men involved that didn't get into the Ambrose book for one reason or another.

Second, I also read Winters's memoirs last year, and I unfortunately don't really remember what he said about the finding of the camp. But, relevant to Tim's comments above, one thing I do remember (and I think this was from his book, and not from Ambrose's, but I could be mistaken -- it's been a while) is the point made about the difference between the French and the Dutch and Germans in the way the general populace responded to the destruction around them -- if I'm remembering correctly, the picture here of the Germans out right away cleaning up and salvaging what they could was typical of them and the Dutch, while the French didn't really do much to clean up the mess after the attacks (and how that affected the soldiers' perceptions of the people). Can anyone else who read those books corroborate or correct that?

Thanks again for doing these, Alan.

Anna said...

The discussions on these thread just keep getting better, and yet I've noticed that we've lost a lot of the people who started on Currahee and especially the ones who got amped up when Alan said he was considering do the reviews. Where'd they all go?

I think this is no reflection on the reviews and discussion (both of which have been great). I think it's because a lot of the early comments were about the series in general - who's who,characters you like best, those types of things. All of that has been discussed.

I, for one, am sad that there is only one review left.

Stine said...

Dawning, what I remember from the Ambrose book was his description of the different people Easy came across, something about how they disliked the French, and thought they came across as somewhat ungrateful to the Americans; that they loved the Dutch, because they absolutely loved them; but that of all the people, the Germans were the most like them.
I found that to be an interesting idea...
Although I would have to check the book again to be certain of that.

Sister T said...

The looting in this and other episodes disturbs me. (Later on Winters justifies it because of what the men have gone through and what the Germans did in the concentration camps. I don't agree with his justification, but I fully understand it. I just think of all the personal possessions robbed from European Jews and Winters' point is very understandable.) So I feel for the German woman when Nixon invades her home and she doesn't know what kind of destruction he will cause to her personal possessions. Because I'm a tad sympathetic to her, I see her look at the end as trying to hold on to a sliver of her pride amid that horror. It's ludicrous to hold on to pride (especially what would be false pride if she and her husband were indeed Nazis) in that moment, but what else does she have? And I think that interpretation finds a tiny(*) echo in the musicians at the end. The music is sad, beautiful, German and ludicrous among the rubble.

(*)Though chiefly, the musical bookends are more like a dirge and all the comments above about the case representing a coffin and there being a rock beside it were very enlightening.

Pch101 said...

Everybody saw Johnny Martin's face. Everybody heard the way he said Webster's name. Everybody has to know there's not a chance in hell that Webster's not going on this patrol.

A captain's orders (Winters at that point) would override those of a sergeant. Immediately preceding the scene in which Webster tries to duck out, some of the other troopers can be overheard saying something to the effect that "Webster gets out of everything." Once Winters gives the break to Liebgott, the expression on Webster's face is not a happy one. The episode would make it appear that Webster was trying to curry favor with Jones, but not trying to do the hazardous duty himself.

He cares about these guys, and he obviously wants back in.

One of the ongoing themes of The Last Patrol episodes is the ambiguity of Webster's relationships with others in the company. He's pleased to see everyone, but the feeling is not mutual. I suspect that it was depicted in this way in order to balance Webster's views as expressed in his book with those of the other members of the company, at least some of whom seem to resent the attention that Webster received from Ambrose.

That theme of ambiguity ties in well to this episode, in which we get to see the ambivalence that American troops had for the Germans. These same neat, orderly, responsible people who "clean up good" and make for "good fraternizing territory" are the same people who built death camps and necessitated the war in the first place. I think that this episode does a fine job of showing that the situation wasn't so black and white, even among those who had every right to be angry and bitter about their circumstances.

I've wondered about that -- why Ambrose didn't write more about it (unless E-company really didn't have much to do with it), and then why/how it got expanded so much in the series.

In real life, other companies in the 506 liberated the camp. BoB is in part meant to serve as a composite for the experiences of the Allied forces as a whole, so some facts were changed for the sake of the story flow. At least Winters saw the camp, so I suppose that was close enough.

tinmann0715 said...

I intentioanlyl waited a couple of days since Alan's review before I watched this episode so I could digest every one else's opinions. This is my least favorite episode. However, I did come around some on my second least, Bastogne, thanks to everyone else's insight. Random thoughts:

- One of a few episodes where the vets were interviewed before the opening song. Shifty's commentary about possibly being friends really hit home for me, moreso than anything else in the entire series.
- The opening scene says April 11th. The end of the episode has Nixon announcing on the same day that Hitler committed suicide. Hitler did the deed on April 30th.
- What is it that Perconte mumbles to Luz when Luz is fraternizing? No matter how high I turn it up I can not make sense of it.
- Nixon joined the 17th on a jump for Operation Valkyrie. I interpreted Nixon's gaze to Spiers is that of contempt. Nixon was in combat and Spiers is looting. One can interpret Nixon's opinion of looting from that.
- I really don't understand why the writers decided to mix Nixon's troubles with the slave labor camp. That is one of the most troubling aspects of this episode for me. The trviality of Nixon's troubles pales to the enormity of Easy's encounter with The Final Solution.
- Webster's rant was partly used to educate the viewers that the German war machine was mostly a myth. They relied quite heavily on horses for transport of personnel and supplies.
- How do we know that the German officer in the picture is dead? By the way, the officer is regular Wermacht and not SS. Most likely, he wasn't involved in any atrocities. The wife reminds me of a school teacher I was afraid of. I thik she did the same to Nixon.
- The fact that Perconte couldn't describe the camp to Winters tells us that the soldiers had no ideas of the existence of the camps prior to finding Landsberg, even though the bigger camps were liberated much earlier than this.
- Be careful not to blindly judge the civilians. What would we do if we were in their situation? Would we risk our lives and our families? Easier said than done.
- Here is a picture of the warehouse that stored the rubber bodies used in the episode. A great website: http://www.ww2incolor.com/modern/ww2+photos+Band+of+Brothers.html
- I did like how Nixon drove back to the camp when he heard the battalion was moving out. He had to see this place one last time and absorb the memory so he would never forget. When he comes across the man crying and the wife of the officer it tells the story of pride and shame what the Nazi cause really was.

Unfortunately, my mind hasn't changed that much on the episode.

Toeknee said...

To tinmann0715:
A couple minor corrections. Nixon’s jump was with Operation Varsity. And the date listed at the beginning was May 11. But what bothered me about that scene is that I thought it wasn’t known immediately how Hitler died. There were theories that he was killed by the Russians, or even that he had died of an illness well before the day he actually killed himself. So I don’t think Nixon would know Hitler shot himself, at that time.

I don’t know if we know for sure the officer in the picture is dead. But I did read somewhere (probably the WBG boards) that the black ribbon was a sign of mourning, so I’d assume he is dead.

Also, according to Closed Captioning, Perconte says to Luz "I'm not gonna share my eggs with you".

Regarding the triviality of Nixon’s problems, I think that was part of the point of the episode. Nixon, Webster, Perconte all expressed varying levels of anger and frustration with being stuck in Europe fighting this war. But after they see the camp, they all realize that their own personal issues are indeed insignificant.

Finally, thanks for the link to that website – good stuff there.

John Orloff said...

OK-- so I am the writer of episode 2 and 9...

I should be writing, but if it's one thing writers know how to do, its procrastinate...

So... wanted to respond to some points....

Carl--

The book-ends were there for a few reasons... One, to show the industry of the German people in rebuilding (as opposed to the French or Italians). 2. the weariness of the Easy Guys... 3. because I thought it would be dramatically interesting, and lends to a very strong finale of the episode-- the last line is a negative "But he didn't"... The whole episode is a negative and leading to the fact THEY HAD TO COME TO GERMANY.. But MOSTLY-- Beethoven. The Germans gave is Beethoven AND the holocaust. How can that be???

The talking heads pre show didn't mention the camps BECAUSE NONE OF THE VETS WOULD TALK TO ME ABOUT IT. At all. Ever. If I asked them to tell me-- the same guys who could tell me about their best friend being killed in front of them-- they couldn't tell me about the camp. They literally said to me, "I can't talk about that". 55 years later, it was still too horrible to discuss...

In the book, this stuff is one paragraph. I imagine for the same reason-- Ambrose told me it was his favorite episode, and I'm guessing its because I found things he didn't.. In fact, the episode is the least taken from the book...

Winters WOULD talk to me, and a story he told me about himself was the core of the episode-- namely walking into the widow's house. I asked Winters if he would mind if I changed that event to Nixon, since I wanted this to be an episode about Nixon's disillusionment turning into understanding of the necessity of the war.

Pete--

Sorry you don't like the title. Alan's reading of it is exactly right-- these guys are asking themselves in various ways why they left their families for the last 2 years... And they find out. It's not referring to why FDR fought, or Churchill... They realize their sacrifices were necessary...

Alyson--

The webster issue is a complicated one... Your reading of his fluster is correct-- he knows what's being said... There was some scenes cut from the episode that better explained why he was reacting that way.... They cut about 10 minutes from the first cut...

Lizbeth--

In my opinion the Baker DID know what was a mile or so away... In fact, part of the episode is talking about the Germans as a whole. What did they think happened to the Jews? They went to the Caribbean? Hitler makes it quite clear in Mein Kampf what he intended-- and he did win an election....

Also, the SS was a HUGE part of society... As was the SA earlier... Many-- MANY-- Germans knew what was going on...

Tim--

You're right... about the coffin as well...

Jeanne--

Not to brag, but the Beethoven piece-- even which piece-- was in the script before Michael Kamen came into the film. In my original script, that music was also played during the Concentration Camp scene, then dissolving into the final scene...

The rest of your points ARE SPOT ON

Toeknee--

No relation to Schindler-- totally accidental.

Your reading of the widow was exactly my intention... though I am open to a more vague reading as well...

Dawning--

See my explanation about the camps and the book earlier... I had do to my own research.

Which brings up a wider issue-- ALL the writers did original research. We went way beyond the book-- I interviewed every single living person who was at Brecourt-- and had a very different version of events than Ambrose wrote...

Nine was more difficult... because so little was spoken by the vets... But most of what you saw happened... Nixon's divorce, Speirs stealing, Nixon jumping in the plane that went down, fraternization, the widow (though she wasn't at the camp, that was my addition), the cleaning up, etc...


more to come...

John Orloff said...

Sister T--

A good point. The episode has several themes, one of which is the DEGREES of evil. You're right, stealing is bad. So is breaking into the German widow's house, or when Easy rousts out German civilians to sleep in their houses... But then... there is EVIL....

PCH101--

You are incorrect. the camp was part of a large COMPLEX of multiple camps clustered near Landsberg. Easy did in fact liberate that PART.

Tinmann--

Sorry you don't like the ep... the date is a production error... in the script is dated as May 1.

re: me mixing the troubles of the camp and Nixon-- THATS THE POINT OF THE EPISODE!!! Exactly-- his little problems don't compare... I'm guessing you knew you were going to see the camp before you did-- the idea was this is a man who is totally done with a senseless European war... and then he sees exactly why it is necessary.

Yr right about Web's rant.

We know the Whermacht officer is dead because of the black bar on the picture...

You are correct larger camps were discovered earlier-- you are wrong in assuming that the regular GI on the front had any idea they had been found. They didn't-- remember most were found in Poland by the Soviets... And while Ike and other senior people were told of them (and at first did not believe), that doesn;t mean it was widely known.

Sorry you didn't like the ep-- its very different from the rest of the series-- Hanks called it a "Tone Poem" ... sort of a meditation about much wider themes and ideas than any of the other episodes... I for one felt the subject matter required it... Sorry you didn't think so!

Anyway...

Hope this helped deepen your viewing of this one...

jo

Toeknee said...

Wow! Mr. Orloff - what a great treat it is to have you weigh in! Thank you very much for clarifying the many issues that have arisen here. I've said it before, but I'll say it again, Band of Brothers is my favorite of any TV show/movie/play I've ever seen, and "Why We Fight" is my favorite episode. You should be very proud.

tinmann0715 said...

Kudos to you Mr. Orloff. This is not the first place that I have read you offer commentary to your episodes. The entire BoB fanbase applauds this!

For the record, I liked the episode, but it is my least favorite (Sorry, one has to be at the bottom). I guess I missed the point on the triviality of Nixon's problems compared to the trauma of the prison camp. I'll write it off as perspective.

Jeanne said...

Yes, thank you, Mr. Orloff, for dropping in! Your comments are much appreciated and very illuminating. Regarding the use of Beethoven’s Op. 131 -- I should have realized that something as subtle and yet as essential as this music was to the meaning of the bookend scenes would have been written into the script, not left up to the composer of original music for the series.

I agree with Toeknee that you should be very proud of this series and especially of this episode. The fact that you had much less material from the vets to work with might have made it less narratively “accurate” in a narrow sense, but was also what allowed it to be, I think, the most aesthetically integrated and imaginatively constructed episode. And all in service of telling the larger story, of getting at the deeper truth.

It’s a powerful powerful episode, and I can’t get it out of my mind.
supyls

Pch101 said...

the camp was part of a large COMPLEX of multiple camps clustered near Landsberg. Easy did in fact liberate that PART.

In his book, Don Malarkey specifically states that he does not know a single member of E Company who went to the camp, and he lists this scene as one of his complaints about the series.

Mark Bando, a historian of the 101st, states that it was the 1st battalion that liberated a camp, and that the 2nd battalion (including E Company) wasn't part of it. He discusses this in this interview here: http://e-bennet.blogspot.com/2009/04/mark-bando-interview-part-two.html

On the other hand, Babe Heffron does claim to have at least seen one, while Winters describes an E Company patrol including Perconte that did find a camp.

On the whole, I don't know who's right. I don't personally think that it matters much, frankly -- it was certainly fitting to depict the Holocaust in some way, regardless of whether E Company was there or not.

John Orloff said...

pch101--

I'm only telling you what I know form the interviews I did, and who I talked to... first hand. As well as what Ambrose understood to be true.

Bando has a lot of gripes with the series-- many of which he himself is wrong about... (some he's right about)...

As to the differences in just the 3 vets you cite (two of whom confirm finding the camp, one who doesn't)... Welcome to our experience of making the series. ie, talking to men whose memories dim with each passing day...

For example--I interviewed Malarkey, Compton, Lipton, Guarnere, Winters about Brecourt Manor, and not one remembered it the same... Episode 2 is my best guess from all I heard... But none of them remembered it exactly as shown.

The show is NOT a documentary, but the best guess of what we think happened based on hundreds of hours of original interviewing... plus research, etc...

And by the way, Malarkey wasn't even with Easy at the time of the Camp's discovery.

An example of Easy's own men making mistakes-- all of them thought Blithe died of his wounds... And that's what Max wrote at the end of 3. Did he? turns out, no. He didn't. His family contacted the other vets to let them know he died much later, and not from his war wounds. There are plenty more examples like that...

Anyway, too late to change the episode!

Anonymous said...

john-

if you wouldn't mind, would you post some comments about "Day of Days"? here is the link, i think we would all greatly appreciate it

http://sepinwall.blogspot.com/2009/06/band-of-brothers-rewind-episode-2-day.html

Carolyn said...

This episode started out slow and easy (which was fine) but I was bawling by the end.

Whether Easy was actually present at the liberation of any of the concentration camps are not, how could a series on the Victory in Europe have been complete without showing them? I think that's one of the great things film / art / do: tell a true story without having to remain true to each individual fact of the story.

And they just did SUCH a great job with it.

Really mindblowingly good.

I'd say more but I may have to go have another cry.

Unknown said...

I am just now rewatching...I see Nixon as going to the camp specifically to humiliate her, just as she did to him when she glared at him with disgust in her home. He was at his lowest point (I thought she became almost a stand-in for his wife who no doubt knows of his problem) and going through a personal hell, and then he's even being judged by a prideful German woman which sinks him even lower.

As he makes his way to the camp their is a look of total purpose on his face, like he knows exactly who he is looking for. She pierced right through him, shamed him in that moment in her house, and after seeing the death camp he seems to realize that she had no right to judge him. I take her look as disgust at him and the Americans at making her do what she thinks she is above, she is after all a high ranking officers wife.

thewritersamhuddy said...

I know it's a long time after, but I'm sure somebody will read this. I'm pretty sure the German officer in question is Erwin Rommel, the commander of the Afrika Korps who died after Normandy.

Also, my uncle was a Jewish American soldier who found a concentration camp in Germany when he was even younger than me. In a situation unlike Crossroads, his unit found and captured the SS group responsible and ordered him to take them back as prisoners, but shot them all instead.

Anonymous said...

I desperately want to point out what most if not all people don't know about this episode. I'm sure you would have mentioned it if you knew about ww2 as much as I do. The photo of the officer in the widows house is in fact Erwin Rommel who commanded all German forces in Africa. He is one of the most knowledgable and experienced tank corps officer of all time. Even today he is praised for his skill by the Americans (I am Canadian). I remember watching a documentary on modern tank battalions and one actually has a big painting of him in their brief room. He was brilliant!

Tania said...

This was a brilliant episode. At the beginning, watching the German townspeople digging through the remains of their lives, one feels compassion for them. While watching the opening scene I distinctly remember thinking about the unfairness of the war. How the actions of the Hitler and the Nazis brought caused so much suffering for the german people as well as the allies. This feeling changed as the episode progressed. After having seen the second half of the episode involving the concentration camp, I found I was not able to look at the townspeople in the same way. However much they did or did not know, they still stood by and did nothing to stop it. In the last scene, incidentally the same one as at the beginning of the movie, I could think of nothing else and no longer felt the same compassion for their situation. A movie that so subtly yet clearly conveys a message like that is rare.