Farewell 2AD, An American Scholar Departs

As my tenure as UEA American Scholar draws to a close I have been reflecting on my time with the Memorial Library. It has been a wonderful experience with many opportunities to learn, explore, and grow as a person while giving back to my adoptive city and region. But I wasn’t always aware of what a truly grand opportunity working here could be.

Before starting my tenure at the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library (2AD) I honestly wasn’t quite sure what it was. It had always been that little space in the corner of the library that I never quite made it into. However, nearly a year working with the collection and the individuals who come to visit I have come to realize what an important resource it is and how well the idea of a living memorial is truly doing.

Shortly after beginning with the 2AD I had the great privilege to attend a memorial service in St. Paul’s honouring the US airmen who gave their lives flying from bases across the UK. If the enormity of that service hadn’t already driven home how important the work at our little memorial was the conversations I had with veterans, their families, and politicians over the previous and subsequent days served to further highlight why we need such a place.

This event is far from the only time I’ve had the opportunity to speak to veterans or their families. It seems to be a pilgrimage of sort for fathers to bring their children to see the region that so shaped their lives, and they invariably come to us to view our collection and share some of their stories. It is even more common to have the families of veterans come in with the story, “He never spoke about it.” These groups are, to me, among the best to assist because it helps put together a picture of their father’s and grandfather’s life they otherwise wouldn’t have. Opportunities like this are what make working at the 2AD such a spectacular opportunity.

There is another group of visitors who are just as fascinating to visit with as the actual veterans, the locals. I have gotten to sit and listen to innumerable older visitors talk about their memories of being young children surrounded by a sudden new world of different accents, customs, and looks. One gentleman told me how he and his friends would follow servicemen around begging for gum, a common enough snack now but an incredible treat back then. Another said his route to school would take him right past an airfield in the mornings when the planes would be taking off, and how his walk home would usually coincide with the planes returning, a great many fewer than he saw in the morning. This impact the war and the American involvement had in the lives of the young has echoed down to today in a million small ways and hearing how it began is one of the greatest treats I have experienced here.

All of this comes down to a single point, while I was unfamiliar with the 2AD before I began, I now recognize it as the indispensable resource it is. An enduring link between the past and the present, America and the UK, and for generations to understand each other in ways not normally possible. My time he has taught me just how important a living memorial is, not only for remembrance but for carrying on the legacy of those who strove to make such a place possible.

I will dearly remember my time here for these reasons, among many others, and hope to remain in the sphere of the 2AD for years to come. Thank you all for your part in making this opportunity so wonderful with your involvement and discussion over the year and I hope I have done my part in ensuring the legacy of those before me is carried on.

So, for one final time, thank you for reading and remembering with me.

 

All the best,

Mike

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This Week in History

Often times, being surrounded by memorabilia from WW2 and having the most personal connections with individuals who served during the same it is easy to let it overshadow other conflicts throughout history. However, today is not a day where this will happen, for this week marks the 105th Anniversary of the declaration of war which became World War 1.

105 years ago, following the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. This would ignite a string of alliances and counter-alliances which would result in combatants which seemingly spanned the entire known world. While this is largely an Eurocentric viewpoint it is still true that to that point a conflict of such magnitude was nearly inconceivable.

This ‘Great War’ as it was known at the time was expected to mark either the destruction of humanity or an end to all future wars depending on who was asked. With a death toll estimated around 17 million, with some estimates as high as 37 million, and civilian deaths in excess of 7 million individuals, it is easy to see where these viewpoints came from. However, as we now know the world did not end and instead of ending war it simply set the stage for larger conflicts in the future.

But it is important to remember how and when it all started, with one declaration of war, and the faction based system of politics at the time, which is becoming increasingly common again, the world was plunged into a conflict from which it is still recovering today.

While this small post can never hope to do justice to the enormity of the conflict and the honor and loss of both sides I hope it helps to spark some thought and remembrance throughout this week.

 

Thank you for reading and remembering with me,

Mike

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FORGOTTEN HOLLYWOOD: Captain Newman, M.D. (1963)

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For my final entry in the Forgotten Hollywood series, I would like to draw attention to a film that is similarly about transitions. Based loosely on a true story, Captain Newman, M.D. (1963) is about Capt. Josiah Newman (Gregory Peck), the head of the neuro-psychiatric ward at a military hospital during WWII. Throughout the film, he and his staff treat a range of patients dealing with posttraumatic stress disorder and other mental ailments. It’s an episodic structure, one that would have lent itself well to a proposed television adaptation.

This setting allows for the supporting actors to indulge to the expected histrionics, chewing the scenery in their respective scenes while Peck falls back on his reliable movie star charisma. These are the performances that garnered critical attention and an Oscar nomination of Bobby Darin as Cpl. Jim Tomkins. However, there is an exception. A relative newcomer at the time, Robert Duvall plays Capt. Paul Winston, who spends much of the film in a catatonic state until one of the final scenes.

I will not spoil the specifics of this moment, but it becomes clear that we are witnessing the birth of a new generation of actor, the type who would dominate the next decade of Hollywood. He goes small rather than big. He whispers were others had projected. His pain and shame are internalised rather than put on display. Instead of a brightly lit room surrounded by an audience of orderlies and nurses, this scene takes place in the shadows and in close-ups, with only him and Peck. Especially when compared to his co-stars, Duvall’s performance reveals a transition not only in dominant acting styles but also in how we remember WWII.

WWII is fading from living memory. Soon, we will be left with nothing but shadows and flickering lights in the likeness of the dead. The heartbreak of I’ll Be Seeing You and the cautionary tale of None Shall Escape are losing their immediacy. The names of Sessue Hayakawa, Preston Sturges, and Anna May Wong are being forgotten. The treatment of Japanese Americans at home and abroad is being elided from our shared memory. With this series, I had hoped to help revitalise interest in these stories and storytellers, a Sisyphean task. They too are fading.

Beyond cinema, I reflect on my time here at the 2AD Memorial Library, on how we memorlise WWII. Scrawled notes on scraps of paper. Faded photographs. Names in a roll of honour. If we do not preserve these stories, they will be lost. How will we remember this time in history? How will we share these stories with others? For this, I am grateful for institutions like the 2AD Memorial Trust. We have a responsibility to keep these stories alive, even as the style of their telling changes over time.

If you want to learn more about the story of Captain Newman, you can reserve a copy of Leo Rosten’s Captain Newman, M.D. (1961). The film adaptation is available on DVD at the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library.

Thank you.

-Francis

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AMERICAN ANIMATION: John Sutherland Productions

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John Sutherland Productions / Public Domain

In the late 1940s and 1950s, United Productions of America (UPA) came under attack by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) for their subversive politics. At the same time, a new animation studio was on the rise. John Sutherland Production – named after the former Disney animator and voice of Bambi – positioned itself as a bastion against Communism by instructing viewers on the virtues of Individual liberty and free enterprise. Often, these projects were commissioned by various conservative institutions – including Harding College, the US government, and various private businesses – with an investment in unfettered capitalism.

Despite being its political opposite, John Sutherland Productions often aped the modernist and minimalist aesthetics of UPA. As the studio head, John Sutherland himself focused on the stories and scripts of his films, paying little to no attention to the art direction and animation. He was also willing to hire former UPA animators – such as Bill Melendez and Bill Scott – and gave them relative creative freedom. As a result, the subversive styles pioneered by leftist artists were appropriated and repurposed for corporate and government propaganda. It makes for an interesting contradiction between form and content, to say the least.

In a brief survey of John Sutherland Productions, we can see their steady adoption of the UPA style while they continued to promote capitalist values at the behest of conservative institutions.

Make Mine Freedom (1948) – Produced for Harding College, Sutherland’s more famous production depicts the sinister Dr. Utopia trying to trick American workers with the promise of ISM.

A is for Atom (1953) – General Electric uses animation to depict complex and microscopic scientific concepts in order to show convince views of the wonderful non-military uses of atomic energy.

It’s Everybody’s Business (1954) – Presented by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, this instructional short makes a connection between the Bill of Rights and modern capitalism.

Destination Earth (1956) – By the time John Sutherland Productions was making this short for the American Petroleum Institute, they had embraced UPA’s modern graphics in the process of endorsing laissez-faire capitalism.

Rhapsody of Steel (1959) – In their most expensive and acclaimed film, John Sutherland Production partook in US Steel’s campaign against imports and alternative building materials. It is a culmination of the studio’s work graphically and politically.

If you want to learn more about America’s Cold War propaganda during the fifties, be sure to check out Total Cold War: Eisenhower’s Secret Propaganda Battle at Home and Abroad (Kenneth Osgood, 2006) from the 2AD Memorial Library.

-Francis

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