Yes, “Zulu” is the best movie, maybe ever

men of harlech
The Welsh deliver in the film’s climactic sing-off.


While I was checking out Tom Ricks’ blog over at Foreign Policy this morning I ran across his take on a list of the 25 best British war movies ever, produced last year by the writers at ThinkDefence, a website dedicated to discussion of UK defense and security issues.

Their list is a more than a little idiosyncratic. Here’s how they describe the judging criteria:

We could argue all day about the definition of a British War Film and what the best means but for this entirely unscientific list, the definition of a British War Film is one that is largely British in character. They may have been directed by non-British directors, have non-British actors and may even have been made in Hollywood or elsewhere, but they retain that element of Britishness that we all understand. So no Das Boot, Saving Private Ryan, Apocalypse Now or other such great films.

The judging criteria do not include historical accuracy, whether the correct buttons and rank insignia were worn, or whether the film is a ‘visceral and worthy portrayal of the realities of war’ or some other such artsy bollocks, instead, it is simply enjoyability for a wet Sunday afternoon in. So, it is not a list for the film buff, historian or the yoghurt-weaving wheatgrass smoothy types for them to bemoan the inhumanity and pointlessness of war.

N7J0179 - Duckies Awards Web Badges-2I’ve seen, and really enjoyed, more than half of the films listed. But that’s beside the point. Also beside the point, at least in this post, is that way too many of the films listed have more than a little whiff of racism accompanying their celebration of Britain’s heroic imperialist past.

The point is that “Zulu” takes the prize as the greatest British war film of all time, and I couldn’t agree more. This is a movie I saw for the first time as a kid while on our annual family summer vacation. Even on the 13-inch TV screen of a Holiday Inn hotel room, the movie was an impressive spectacle. And it fueled what has remained a lifelong fascination with history, military affairs, the rise and fall of empires, and other such things. Oh yeah, and my anglophilia.

Despite some nagging historical inaccuracies, this movie delivers. Here’s how ThinkDefence sums it up:

Zulu is a 1964 epic war film depicting the Battle of Rorke’s Drift between the British Army and the Zulus in January 1879, during the Anglo-Zulu War. It depicts 150 British soldiers, many of whom were sick and wounded patients in a field hospital, who successfully held off a force of 4,000 Zulu warriors.

Probably no surprise this is Number 1

Forget the outrageous slurs on the good character of Private Henry Hook (who was a model soldier and campaigning tee-totaller) and Commissaryy James Langley Dalton (who was the most experienced soldier at the mission station and widely credited with initiating the defence)


Forget British War Films, this is the best War Film full stop, in fact, forget War Films, Zulu is without a shadow of a doubt, THE best film ever made

The best bits are far too many to list.

 Couldn’t agree more. Men of Harlech, stand ye steady indeed.

North Korea’s the weird kid

dprk nuke

This afternoon I’m talking to my intro International Relations students about nuclear proliferation, arms races, deterrence, preemptive use of force, and other feel-good topics.

And with North Korea once again flexing its nascent nuclear muscles, while Iran does it’s own probing of the new Trump administration’s resolve, this is a particularly apt time to introduce these issues to my students.

Normally I’d just lecture on this. But instead, I’ll lead off with this very excellent documentary. Enjoy!

Three weeks in and I’m exhausted


This blog has been a tough read over the last few weeks. No, let me amend that. It’s been a tough read since calendar flipped over to 2017. Let’s review:

  • Jan. 5 — I tried to grapple with the challenge of teaching international relations in an era when the US is poised to upend the norms and institutions that have given us relative global peace and stability for the last 70 years.
  • Jan. 9 — Donald Trump as the foreign policy opposite of the Obama Doctrine: “Don’t do stupid shit.”
  • Jan. 11 — I tried to explain why I’m not loyal to the president. Any president. (Amazingly, of all the stuff I’ve written since I started the blog, this post was one of most widely shared on social media.)
  • Jan. 13 — The only thing we have to fear is Donald Trump’s control over foreign policy.
  • Jan. 16 — A little lesson in presidential personality types, in which I reference one of the classic works in the field of political psychology and foreign policy analysis and I refer to the president-elect as Caligula.
  • Jan. 20 — The White House is destroyed. And Trump is inaugurated.
  • Jan. 25 — As Trump begins fulfilling his campaign promises on immigration I call up a reminder of America’s shameful abandonment of Jewish refugees during the Holocaust.
  • Jan. 27 — Depressing musical interlude.
  • Jan. 29 — I try to convince myself that Trump will fail because at some point the fundamental decency of Americans will rescue us from this downward spiral before it’s too late. (Another surprisingly popular post. I guess we’re all looking for a straw to grasp.)
  • Jan. 30 — Another angry white man commits a brutal act of terrorism, gunning down six Muslim worshipers at a mosque in Quebec. The only really surprising thing is that this time it happened in Canada.
  • Feb.1 — The travel ban kicks in, chaos ensues, and Trump stokes the fires of fear of the other. Muslims are victimized again, this time by conscious policy decision.
  • Feb. 2 — Trump picks a fight with the prime minister of Australia and I get to post a “Road Warrior” clip.
  • Feb. 5 — I review the president’s foreign policy record to date against what he said he’d do during the campaign. So far he’s been a man of his word. That’s not really praise.
  • Feb. 6 — A reminder that angry white men have committed some really bad acts of terrorism in the United States. Like Oklahoma City.
  • Feb. 9 — A smug Wisconsin congressman tries to argue that the angry white men who commit terrorism are way less worrisome than the Muslims who haven’t committed terrorism that Trump wants barred from entering the United States anyway. Evidence would suggest otherwise.

I’m exhausted. Let’s do this instead:

‘Nobody living can ever stop me’


I probably first heard, then sang, “This Land is Your Land” some 40 or more years ago as a schoolchild.

The lyrics of the song, written by Woody Guthrie in 1940 and presented to us as a celebration of America and all its wonders,  seemed tailor-made for elementary school assemblies:

This land is your land This land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me

The version we sang was bucolic, inclusive, and uplifting:

As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was made for you and me.

I’ve roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me

The version we sang as kids was also incomplete, leaving out the verses of biting social commentary that Guthrie wrote in reaction to his Depression-era wanderings alongside Dust Bowl refugees and other road-weary travelers.

I’ve been thinking about and singing this song a lot more recently, in the band that I play with and in living room jam sessions with friends. We sing all the verses, especially the radical ones:

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

The verses I sang as a kid are beautiful. The verses I sing now are powerful. The verses I sing now are challenging. The verses I sing now are inspiring.

The verses I sing now are right for these times.