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James R. Stout

Our Mortal Storm

            Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s one of the TV channels out of Houston broadcast old movies every weekday afternoon from 3-5 p.m. One day in the late 70’s I was home from work battling the flu. As I recall, I was having a hard time breathing when laying down in bed. I felt miserable and couldn’t sleep, so I plopped down on the couch and turned on the TV. My favorite actor then and for all-time was/is James Stewart. I thought I knew all of his movies, but one of his earlier movies came on for that day’s “Million Dollar Movie”. The movie was filmed and released in 1940. James Stewart was having a great run at the box office during the years of 1938-1940. He starred in “You Gotta Stay Happy”, “The Shop Around The Corner”, “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington”, and won his only best actor Oscar for “The Philadelphia Story”. But the movie that I watched that day wasn’t any of those. It was called “The Mortal Storm”. Besides Stewart, it also starred Margaret Sullavan, Ward Bond, Robert Stack, and a very young Robert Young many years before he new best or made a convincing family doctor on TV.

            First, let me say that the movie is great entertainment. With those actors you just couldn’t go wrong. But more important was the subject matter. Remember, this movie was made in 1940. It is one of the very few movies that Hollywood produced prior to America entering WW2 that dealt with Germany and the then Nazi regime. What always amazes me about the movie was how they showed the state of things in Germany during the 30’s leading up to 1940. The movie begins with the occasion of a very popular and much-loved professor’s 60th birthday (played by veteran character actor Frank Morgan – the Wizard of Oz himself) which happened to coincide with the coming to power of Adolph Hitler on January 30, 1933. Before long the young people of Germany were caught up in the nationalism of the Nazi Party and total loyalty to Adolph Hitler. Within a couple of years, the professor is an enemy of the state because he is not of “pure” Aryan blood and is outspoken in his views regarding Hitler and all that he brings to the country. The professor would end up dead in a concentration camp. Remember, this was several years before the true horrors of the Nazi’s and their death camps were common knowledge. The movie was based on a 1937 novel written by Phyllis Bottome. She had knowledge of what was happening in Germany due to her contacts within MI6. Yes, the same MI6 that James Bond came from.

            For two hours on that day I was able to forget about how miserable that I felt. I was completely enthralled with the movie. And, the fact that it was so darned current when it came out amazed me. Robert Young turned into quite a goose-stepping Nazi as did Robert Stack. James Stewart was in love with the professor’s daughter played by Sullavan. She would end up dead after being shot while attempting to flee the country for what was at the time of the script a still free Austria. Of course, it wouldn’t be long before that country would not be a safe haven for anti-Nazi and anti-fascism people. The only two countries in Europe that were not occupied by the Nazis in those early years of the conflict were Switzerland and Spain.

            Let’s move forward 52 years. The year was 1992. I went to see a new movie at the theater, and it dealt with the same period of time that “The Mortal Storm” took place. Melanie Griffith and Michael Douglas star in the movie. Michael Douglas is in the OSS, the precursor to the CIA, and Melanie Griffith is his secretary and later his wife. Her character is very much into spy movies and there’s a scene in which she refers to “The Mortal Storm” and they even show a clip of it in the new movie, “Shining Through”. Well, I was taken back 15 years or so when I saw that, and it began a search on my part for a copy of “The Mortal Storm”. Like Jake and Elwood Blues, I was on a mission from God! We didn’t have the internet like we would in just a few more years. I simply couldn’t find a VHS copy and I doubted if one existed. The movie was little known and well-over 50 years old. Now, let’s tack on another 15 years. I was grabbing every DVD (before Blu-Ray) of old movies that I could find. I was always looking for that movie. I had managed to get a VHS taped copy via my Mother who taped it off of Turner Broadcasting. Nonetheless, I wanted a DVD copy. Amazon came meandering into our lives in the early 2000’s and by 2007 I was buying books and CD’s online from them. Movies too. One day I put “The Mortal Storm” into the search field and much to my delight it pulled up the DVD for sell. It was sold as part of the Warner Brothers “Archive Collection”. I bought it online and anxiously awaited its arrival.

            So, let me explain why I mention this to you today. I’m retired and there are days when I go pick out a movie from my collection to watch. I own about 1500 movies on DVD, Blu-Ray, and I even have some on VHS that have never been released in any other form but VHS. I woke up early this morning and since it was 27 degrees, I decided what outside work I needed to do didn’t need doing bad enough to do it in sub-freezing weather. A movie would be much more entertaining. I’ve been on a WW2 kick lately. I’ve recently watched a bunch of my WW2 themed movies. “Up Periscope”, “In Harm’s Way”, “Battle of the Bulge”, and “12 O’clock High” to name a few. This morning’s choice was “The Mortal Storm”.

            It’s amazing to me how you can watch a movie at different times in your life and a new perspective on current events can be illuminated by a movie you’ve seen many times before. Such was the case today. This movie says a lot about many things that we have taken for granted here in America. Our rights to speak, act, and believe without peril from our own government. In lieu of recent events within our House of Representative these basic rights have indeed been put in peril. But it’s not just a peril from a runaway government. Yes, there is that too. But more significantly, to me at least, is how we have been placed in peril from each other. Perhaps the comparison is yet too strong, but there is a definite comparison to be considered. In “The Mortal Storm” many Germans were stripped of their rights to speak, act, and believe however they might. Suddenly, if you weren’t actively supporting Hitler and the Nazi regime, then you were an enemy. An enemy that had to be dealt with at first with threats and innuendo and finally with death camps. No, we’re not threatened with death camps today in America. I pray that we never will be. But no matter what side of the fence you are on in America today your right to speak, act, and believe however you believe is cause for what can only be deemed hatred. If you believe in the policies of Trump, then there are millions of Americans who would shout with anger the vilest of insults at you. There have even been acts of violence. Yet, if you believe what the Democrat House is selling, then you too are likely to hear shouts of anger and derision aimed at you. Our country had a Civil War that was anything but civil. I pray we never have such a thing in our country again. But the word “civil” seems to have less and less meaning in America 2019.

            I will not lie to you. I have my beliefs and when they are derided and name calling ensues, then I’m not exactly happy about it. I get angry too. But I’m angrier with how people treat each other in our country today than anything else. I recently posted a statement of facts regarding our lawmakers in Washington. It was not my opinion or belief. It was simply a statement of fact regarding the make-up of our lawmakers. It was in no way intended to be judgmental or divisive. It simply stated a fact. However, it offended someone. Good grief and then some. When facts are offensive simply because they are factual, then we have a real problem. I am pro-America. I am conservative, but I am NOT registered with any party. I vote my conscience. Is this not a basic right in America anymore? If you believe that someone should be shut-up or vilified simply because they don’t believe the way that you do, then YOU are the problem. I’ve lived long enough now to have seen a few things. I lived through the Vietnam era with all of the protests. I lived through Nixon and Watergate. I lived through the Clintons and all that went with them. I survived 8 years of Obama. I survived over 40 consecutive years of a Democrat controlled House and Senate. I, along with the rest of our nation, have suffered through these past few years as an American president has been continuously attacked and at times has been his own worst enemy simply by opening his mouth to speak. I can only pray that as I approach those “golden years” that they will still yield some gold. I wish for our country a unity. But I’m just not sure it can happen now. We are so divided and at odds with each other that it’s like the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s. Think about all the good we could accomplish if we would dial back the rhetoric and listen to each other rather than shouting so loud that the other’s voice can’t be heard. The truth is I believe we are ourselves now in the midst of a “mortal storm”. People talk about love a lot, but there’s talk and then there’s walk. We’ll never get through the mortal storm by talking at each other. We must talk with each other and we must walk with each other, arm and arm, through the mortal storm that we now face together. The alternative is untenable.

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