War, Noir, Atheism

On the beach

In earlier posts, I have commented on the connection of film noir and the experiences of millions of men during WWII.  I thought of this yet again after reading this human interest story in the NYTimes about two men who both landed at Normandy on D-Day and happened to be next to each other in a hospital ward in NYC awaiting open heart surgery.  Naturally, they formed a bond quickly.

Before the surgery, the doctor told one of them not to be afraid.  The patient, who is 90, scoffed.  He said, ‘There’s nothing you can do that I can’t get through — I’ve been through Normandy.”  There’s a man who has built his life on bedrock.  Later on, he remarked, “After getting out of World War II, I’m not afraid of nothing and I’m not impressed by nothing.

The two men profiled worked in retail and construction.  Another war story I have read comes from Victor Brombert, who taught 19th century French literature at Princeton for many years.  (He is a noted expert on Flaubert and Stendhal).  He came from a family of secular, unreligious,  prosperous, bourgeois, French Jews who had the sense to leave before Hitler could rout them out and gas them.  After attending school in the USA, Brombert enlisted in the army and found himself on the beach at Normandy on D-Day.

The saying goes, there are no atheists in foxholes.  I’ve never heard much evidence for this – to me it sounds like wishful thinking on the part of advocates of religion.  I have read stories similar to Brombert’s.

He relates that he was scared beyond belief, scared senseless.  He was trying his best to make his body as small as possible, clawing the ground so hard that his fingernails were in agony as he forced sand under them.  He was deafened and stupefied with terror at the sound and concussions of the shellfire around him.  At that moment, he came as close to prayer as he ever came in his life.  He promised himself that if he survived, he would never complain about anything again.

Not exactly a prayer to God, but not a bad way of life, either.

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5 Responses to War, Noir, Atheism

  1. Man of Roma says:

    “There are no atheists in foxholes” seems to me too an aphorism used by the advocates of a supreme power. The reaction one can have in such terrible moments much depends in my opinion on the religious (or non religious) upbringing we’ve had, as I said many times.

    I read the other post on the Blue Dahlia you link to. I had never considered a connection between films noirs and WWII. I only saw some connection between certain American (and European) literary nihilism and WWI. Hemingway for example, or the French existentialism. Of course, big wars such as those two created immense distress.

    • Lichanos says:

      The WWII-Noir connection is not original with me, certainly, but the more of those films I watch, the more obvious it becomes. Especially the ones in the late 1940s. All those guys, dumped from battlefields and the army back into everyday life…

  2. Ducky's here says:

    When did noir begin? You’ll have as much luck answering that as you will pinning down exactly what it is but it’s a fun exercise and yields some meaty insights.

    Noir and WW II — Exhibit A 1938, Marcel Carne, Port of Shadows with Jean Gabin as a deserter from the army on the lam. Some say it begins here.

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