Steve Waechter is the sort of man who deserves his own office at the National Review. A staggeringly thoughtful fellow with a fondness for fine drink, HBO history epics, and Calvin Coolidge, Steve is currently finishing up law school at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.
Steve's choice is "Sergeant York," Howard Hawks' 1941 biopic about America's greatest soldier during the Great War.
In 1941, as World War II moved toward its third year, Americans wanted nothing more than to avoid the death and destruction witnessed by the European continent. The fear of the entire American populace was coming to fruition, and the powers-that-be began to lay the foundation for the coming war. In that year, a World War I veteran finally relented in selling the rights of his story from the Great War, after resisting all offers for movies or books for more than 20 years. Convinced that the nation was heading to war, and told by politicians, movie producers and his own family that his story needed to be told to steel the nation to the danger looming, he agreed to allow his life to be immortalized on film. His name was Alvin York.
Sergeant York tells his story. Alvin York, portrayed by Gary Cooper in the film, was a Tennessee hill-land farmer with a wild streak. Taken to drinking and fighting, a combination of a near-death experience and the love of the girl next door led to a dramatic transformation, as York found religion, the “using kind of religion” as his local pastor put it. Taking his new faith very seriously, he is forced into a crisis of conscience: America enters World War I and York just cannot reconcile the idea of killing another human being.
Denied Conscientious Objector status, York is shipped to basic training where, under the instruction of a religious officer, ponders the simple passage “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and unto God that which is God’s.” York reconciles his duty to his faith, and it is here where the story becomes truly an American classic.
During the Meuse-Argonne offensive in France, York becomes a true action hero. The battle scenes capture the warfare of the First World War and the pure genuineness of Alvin York’s vision of duty shine through in Cooper’s masterful performance. The film gives the viewer a window to our past and captures the essence of the American character. The film, made as the nation teetered on the brink of a new war, was made to remind the nation of the challenges that had been overcome by the raw nerve of her citizens and the vast, undiscovered talent and resolve that resides in the hearts of all free people.
The drama of a country boy who becomes a national hero, the values of the American character, the power of religion, love and duty, all are on display in this cultural masterpiece. Sergeant York is a must-see, and once you have seen it, you will fully understand why. - Steve Waechter