Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of

Khalid Elhassan - July 31, 2023

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
13 Days movie poster. Past Posters

The Pentagon Disliked How 13 Days Depicted This General

The Pentagon disliked 13 Days, a movie about the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. It particularly disliked the hawkish depiction of the chiefs-of-staff, and especially that of Curtis LeMay. However, US Air Force General Curtis LeMay (1906 – 1990) was even more hawkish in real life than he was depicted in that movie. In WWII, he had been a creative Eighth Air Force bomber group commander whose innovative tactics reduced losses and increased bombing efficiency. They soon became standard throughout the entire Eighth Air Force. That earned him recognition and promotion. In 1944, LeMay was given command of 20th Bomber Command in China, then of 21st Bomber Command in the Pacific. The bombing campaign against Japan had been in trouble. The B-29 Super Fortress heavy bombers deployed were designed for high altitude bombing, but a fast moving jet stream over Japan often scattered their bombs.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
General Curtis LeMay. K-Pics

LeMay changed tactics. By 1945, Japanese air power was negligible, so LeMay removed his B-29s’ defensive weapons in order to maximize bombload, and sent them on low-level raids. He also switched bombs. LeMay abandoned high explosives suitable for European cities of brick and concrete. Instead, his B-29s dropped incendiaries that were more effective against Japanese cities, whose buildings were mostly wooden. The result incinerated Japanese cities and devastated Japan, without a corresponding devastation of B-29s. After the war, LeMay again demonstrated his creativity by organizing the Berlin Airlift in 1948. Fresh off that success, he returned to the US to head the Strategic Air Command (SAC) – America’s nuclear bomb carrying bombers. He ran SAC from 1948 to 1957, and transformed it from a ragtag entity into a finely tuned machine on a sustained 24-hour-standby, capable of delivering Armageddon at a moment’s notice.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
Nikita Khrushchev and Fidel Castro. Defense Media Network

A Movie That Actually Understated How Tense the Cuban Missile Crisis Was

In his years at SAC, LeMay’s mind ossified. Used to playing with big hammers for so long, he came to see all problems as big nails. That became clear during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, by which time LeMay had risen to Air Force Chief of Staff. When the crisis erupted, LeMay pushed President Kennedy to adopt a course of action that would have guaranteed WWIII: bomb the Russian missile sites, then invade Cuba. LeMay and the Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously agreed that a full-scale invasion was the only solution. They presented JFK with two versions: Oplan 316 for a full invasion, and Oplan 312 for aerial strikes to take out the missiles, followed by an invasion if necessary. The hawks, led by LeMay, preferred Oplan 316.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
President Kennedy and General LeMay. Politico

They argued that there was no guarantee that air strikes alone would take out all the missiles, or that some missiles would not be fired at the US. Planners expected 18,500 US casualties in the first ten days of the invasion, assuming no nukes. Unbeknownst to planners, Soviet forces in Cuba had tactical nuclear weapons. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had preauthorized the Soviet commander in Cuba to use tactical nukes at his discretion if he deemed it necessary. As the crisis intensified, Khrushchev withdrew release authority and forbade their use without his express permission. However, whether the modified orders would have been followed, is debatable. In practice, tactical nukes were dispersed throughout Cuba to various Soviet units, under the physical control of officers as low down the chain of command as captains.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
Soviet forces in Cuba during the 1962 missile crisis. George Washington University National Archives

A General Who Would Have Started World War III

The Soviets incorporated nuclear weapons in their defensive plan. In the heat of battle the custodians of those weapons would have been under intense pressure as they were subjected to overwhelming US aerial strikes, naval bombardment, and ground attacks. A desperate local Soviet commander, perhaps cutoff from communications with higher authority, could easily have employed the tactical nukes at hand to save his command, or at least ensure that its demise did not come cheap. If the Soviets used nukes in Cuba, the US intended an overwhelming nuclear response. Things could easily have escalated from there to a full blown nuclear exchange that would have devastated both countries and Europe, irradiated the Northern Hemisphere, and set humanity back centuries. Luckily, President Kennedy resisted the pressure from his generals and admirals.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
Editorial cartoon of Khrushchev and Kennedy during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Enciclopedia Historia

Instead, Kennedy relied on diplomacy, back channels, and blockade. LeMay likened Kennedy’s reluctance to trigger a nuclear holocaust to Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement at Munich. Fortunately, JFK declined to follow LeMay’s advice, and negotiated a way out of the crisis instead. Even after the crisis was over, LeMay still urged that Cuba be invaded. After retiring from the Air Force, LeMay went into extreme far right politics, and joined segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace as running mate in his 1968 presidential bid. He was too extreme even for George Wallace, who came to see the former general as a liability after he made tone deaf comments about nuking rivals into the stone age. After the campaign, LeMay retired to California, where he died of a heart attack in 1990.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
Patton movie poster. Militaria Zone

The US Army Initially Refused to Support the Movie Patton

The Oscar-winning Patton is probably the most recognized war biographical movie of all time. However, the US Army refused to help with its production at first. For a change, that refusal was not because it did not like the script or other censorship-related reasons. Instead, it was because when the idea for the movie was floated in 1951, only a few years after Patton’s death, his family wanted no part of it, and the Army honored their wishes. Fortunately, both Patton’s family and the Pentagon eventually got on board, and the film was released to great acclaim in 1970. Its subject, George S. Patton, is America’s most famous fighting general of WWII. He led the US Seventh Army in North Africa and Sicily, and commanded the Third Army as it stormed through France, across Germany, and into Czechoslovakia.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
General George S. Patton in North Africa. Pinterest

A man of contradictions, Patton was hard charging, profane, and often obnoxious. He also had a softer side, and liked to write poetry – although not very well. And then there was the crazy side: Patton believed he was an eternal soldier, who had been reincarnated numerous times over the millennia as a warrior. In short, Patton was a man of extremes. He also elicited extreme reactions: people loved or hated him. He gave the latter plenty to hate, as his wartime exploits were often marred by controversies stemming from his propensity to abuse his authority and those under his command.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
George S. Patton in Sicily. Library of Congress

A Controversial General

One incident from 1943, in which he slapped sick soldiers, almost cost Patton his career. It paled in comparison to another incident in 1945, hurriedly swept under the rug, in which Patton got hundreds of GIs killed, wounded, or captured, because of nepotism. Patton’s best-known controversy occurred during the 1943 Sicilian Campaign. On a hospital visit, he came across a PTSD-suffering soldier who was also burning up with malarial fever. Seeing no visible wounds on the soldier, Patton became enraged, accused the unfortunate man of cowardice, slapped him around, and threatened to shoot him. He repeated the disgraceful performance a few days later in another hospital, and physically assaulted another PTSD-suffering GI.

When the scandal broke, it nearly got Patton cashiered from the US Army. Fortunately, General Dwight D. Eisenhower protected Patton and gave him a chance to command another army in France. Patton did not learn the lesson about abuse of power. In 1945, he had a worse, but lesser-known scandal, in which he got hundreds of GIs killed, wounded, or captured. It happened in March, 1945, when Patton ordered Task Force Baum, comprised of 314 men, 16 tanks, and dozens of other vehicles, to penetrate 50 miles behind German lines. Their mission: to liberate Hammelburg POW camp, which housed Patton’s son-in-law, John K. Waters.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
Patton movie poster. Heritage Auctions

Patton’s Other Scandal Was Even Worse Than His Soldier-Slapping

Task Force Baum’s raid ended catastrophically. All tanks and vehicles were lost, and of 314 participants, 32 were killed, and most of the rest were wounded or captured. Only 35 men made it back. The worst part of it was that the mission was totally unnecessary. Patton’s beloved son-in-law, for whom the great general had gotten the beloved sons, brothers, and fathers of many Americans killed or injured, had never been in any danger. Hammelburg was liberated two weeks after the Task Force Baum fiasco.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
The liberation of Hammelburg POW Camp by the 14th Armored Division, two weeks after the Task Force Baum fiasco. National Archives

When Eisenhower found out, he was furious at Patton’s misuse of military personnel and assets for personal reasons, and reprimanded him. In light of his valuable services, however, Eisenhower declined to punish Patton beyond the reprimand. Shortly thereafter, a reporter got wind of the scandal. When the story first broke in a major publication on April 12th, 1945, it would have wrecked Patton under normal circumstances. However, FDR died that same day, and his demise eclipsed all other news. The scandal got little traction, and when Patton died a few months later, the affair was reduced to a mere historic footnote.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Here Are Our Sources:

American Heritage Magazine, September/ October 1987, Volume 38, Issue 6 – The Example of Private Slovik

Atkinson, Rick – The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944 (2007)

Atomic Heritage Foundation – Curtis LeMay

Canisius College – The Niland Brothers

Coffey, Thomas M. – Iron Eagle: The Turbulent Life of General Curtis LeMay (1986)

Council on Foreign Relations – TWE Remembers: Secret Soviet Tactical Nuclear Weapons in Cuba (Cuban Missile Crisis, a Coda)

Davidson, Phillip – Vietnam at War: The History, 1946-1975 (1988)

Encyclopedia.Com – Drugs and Vietnam

Foreign Policy – Exclusive: The Pentagon Has a Plan to Stop the Zombie Apocalypse. Seriously

History Collection – Historic Military Blunders that Will Make You Feel Better About Your Own Mistakes

History Net – How Gen. George Patton’s Legend Went From Real to Reel

Kamienski, Lucasz – Shooting Up: A Short History of Drugs and War (2016)

Lenoir, Tim, and Caldwell, Luke – The Military-Entertainment Complex (2018)

Los Angeles Times, August 21st, 2011 – The US Military’s Hollywood Connection

Military – These are the Real Brothers Behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’

National WWII Museum – Battle of Midway

NPR, January 2nd, 2012 – What Vietnam Taught Us About Breaking Bad Habits

Parshall, Jonathan, and Tully, Anthony – Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway (2005)

Ranker – The Oddly Specific Reasons the Military Refused Assistance to 12 Movies

Robb, David L. – Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies (2004)

Salon – McNamara’s “Moron Corps”

SOF Rep – On This Day in History: The Only Death Sentence For Desertion in WWII is Carried Out

Task Force Baum – The Hammelburg Raid

US Department of Defense – How and Why the DOD Works With Hollywood

Washington Post, June 20th, 2014 – What’s Wrong With the Pentagon’s Plan to Thwart the Zombie Apocalypse