Resistance to Occupying Armies (and Hollywood World War II Memories)

by Bob Mattingly


I was far too young for the World War II draft, but old enough to view the war through Hollywoodís lens. No part of that experience is sharper in memory than the plot lines that had resistance and underground forces taking on their countryís occupiers. In small groups, supplied by Allied air, or carrying arms looted from the enemy, the depicted brave souls wreaked revenge, bloody and thorough. In the war films, train tracks were frequently targeted with explosives, causing freight cars to burst, depriving the saboteursí foes of their critical contents. Drivers of military vehicles, often motorcycles with sidecars, met their unanticipated end on narrow, curving nighttime roads. Sometimes an entire convoy was halted and raked with machine gun fire from well-hidden emplacements.

Being impressionable, I too waited in the darkened theater for an enemy sentry to turn his back just long enough to rise up behind him, throw a forearm across his throat, and drive a sharpened weapon first through a military greatcoat and finally into the enemyís yielding flesh. It didnít seem unfair to strike silently and from the rear, and not just because ďAllís fair in love and war,Ē but simply because as the screenplay had it, an occupier deserved no better.

Many years later I worked with a man who had served in the German occupation in Russia. One day, in a small village, he was shot in the backside. Shot by a peasant youth, not quite in his teens. I sympathized with him, but felt kinship with his attacker. Perhaps, I felt that way because I was brought up to side with the underdog. Maybe I picked up that viewpoint from the Saturday ten-cent matinees. I canít be sure. But I am sure that Hollywood is largely responsible for my knee-jerk, visceral sympathy for underdog guerrillas, fighting against heavy odds. In some way, Iíll always be lying beside a train track, a roadside, or a sentry box, waiting stealthily to fight the good fight.

So I guess I can partly blame Hollywood for my take on the dark work currently under way by Iraqi ďirregulars,Ē against occupying forces that like all occupying forces claim to be liberators. Itís reported that they use stealth and deceit to get just close enough to strike back. Itís reported that they donít engage in frontal attacks on tanks and such. Itís reported that they crouch in sandy ditches, waiting for the right moment to fire, and after firing they melt away. Itís said that they wait for the main force to pass by and then attempt to pick off the rear guard, sneakily attacking when the troops have their backs turned.

Make no mistake: my heart goes out to the fallen troops. If it were up to me, the troops would be brought home right now, to go about their everyday affairs like the rest of us. Sadly, as is well known, no one asked them (or me) for our vote when the decision was made to put them in harmís way. Still, I know how the Iraqi irregulars must feel as their swirling sands are invaded. I know partly because of Hollywood; itís an understanding a much, much younger me brought home from the movies.