We didn’t mind, though. It was great entertainment and it was fun leaving the house on a Saturday morning and taking the bus to the historic Carib Theatre in busy Crossroads, Kingston. Now, I didn’t know then I would one day become a historian, nor did I think I had ANY interest in history. If you asked me, I was up for a cliché romantic feature, and if you asked my brother, he was up for a cliché war movie. Sometimes it was hard to find common ground. The Sound of Music was the exception. Back then, the Carib Theatre would show The Sound of Music once a year (no, I was not around for its original release 😊 ) but because Jamaicans loved the movie, they would lay aside the new releases and show it. The Sound of Music we both liked – perhaps because it had both war and romance.
Why does my mind float to these things now? Well, it strikes me that this period we are in is like a state of war, World War Covid.
While when I was younger, I did not care for war movies, now I find myself devouring them—particularly WW2 movies. I watch them and I am carried away with the suspense in the story. When I am on the edge of my seat, I literally have to remind myself that I know how this story ends. After all, I know that the Allies won, the Nazis were defeated, the Holocaust survivors and other prisoners are rescued. ..I know all this yet, each time I watch these mostly based on real-life films, I feel as if I am right there with the characters—at war trying to survive by any means that I can. Their struggles are my struggles. Their sorrows are my sorrows. Their obstacles are my obstacles. Whatever small joys they are able to pluck out of tragedy are mine too.
So I appreciate tales of war now and this period we are in feels like wartime. Uncertainties, anxieties, death, illness, suspense, …and I hope –hope.
Now we don’t know exactly how this Covid Era ends, but one thing that history does reveal is a lot of endings. In this way, history may help ease our fears. This too will pass. It must pass as other things have. Slavery gave way to Abolition. Apartheid gave way to Nelson Mandela. We don’t know when. We don’t know how, but it will pass. At the end of the day, before eighteen months ago, how many of us had the 1918 flu top of mind?
Make no mistake, I hate war. I prefer peaceful solutions. War is not glamourous. It is not romantic. It is treacherous. It is ugly. Carefully curated lives snuffed out in seconds. Someone’s daughter or son. Someone’s husband or wife. Futures cut short and survivors who survive but whose physical and sometimes mental injuries remain.
That notwithstanding, though I don’t love war, there are many things I have learned from a good war movie and from real-life tales about war. It always seems in some strange way to be a clarifying time. When life and death are in the balance, some people find their calling. Some find God. Some place more value on their relationships, perhaps because they see the fragility of life up close; for others, it is their priorities that change for the better; still others just appreciate the little things they took for granted.
Above all, every good war movie has that hero or heroine that never gives up. They are never defeated. Even after the enemy has just thrown a grenade on their getaway bridge ….there MUST be a way out of this calamity, and sure enough, they find it. They persevere.
So that is perhaps where I am today. I am trying to persevere and feel like encouraging the same. Encouraging myself and all of us to pull light out of darkness wherever we can. To keep going, as Harriet Tubman used to say to those following her to freedom land, and never to give up, no matter how tempting it may be to do so.
We are not defeated.
Anne C. Bailey
Author of Scars Carried Inside, Forthcoming UNC Press
This post is dedicated to soldiers and heroes who have served and/or are currently serving in the US Armed forces.
And if you have a favorite movie along these lines, please feel free to share.
You are welcome to the opening of THE HARRIET TUBMAN CENTER FOR FREEDOM AND EQUITY: