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Archive for September 6th, 2009

I Am SpartacusI am Spartacus.

If you’re familiar with that classic line or the movie Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck or Steve McQueen’s gritty performance in Papillon, you already know the work of Dalton Trumbo, the great screenwriter/novelist who died in 1976.  I was lucky to have found him in a high school class where we read his anti-war classic Johnny Got His Gun, a book that still haunts me.

I was finally able to catch an episode of American Masters on PBS that focused on Trumbo and his involvement in the Communist witch hunts of the late 40’s and 50’s here in the US.  Without rehashing all the hideous events of that time, Trumbo and a number of others, called the Hollywood Ten, were called before Sen. Joe McCarthy’s now infamous senate committee, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), to testify as to their Communist leanings.

It was an ugly spectacle, a black mark on our history.  Trumbo and others refused to cooperate and many were imprisoned, Trumbo for eleven months.  Some that called cooperated and named names, destroying the lives of many.  A blacklist existed throughout the 50’s that kept many people in many different fields from working, although the blacklisted Hollywood writers and actors are the best known.  Trumbo was able to keep working somewhat under fake names and behind fronts, people who would put their name to his work.  There was an incident where Trumbo’s script for The Brave One won the Academy Award in 1957 but was never claimed as it was under another name.  He finally received it in 1975.

It was truly a terrible time in our country, a time of fear-mongering and ignorance.  The reason I bring it up today is that in it, watching those grainy films of the bloated bullies of the HUAC acting like the Spanish Inquisition, I cannot fail to see huge parallels between the behavior of those enemies of free speech and the behavior of those who oppose all change today, awash in stupidity and fear.  And as much as their actions then and now seem, it is the actions of those enable them that most disappoint.  Once you kowtow to the demands of the rabidly fearful and ignorant, all hope is lost.  In the 50’s those participated in blacklisting citizens enabled the hatred of the accusers.  Today, when we allow lies and mistruths to go unchallenged, we do the same.

We cannot let the fearful and the ignorant choose our path.

Okay, I know this is probably not as coherent as it might be.  I highly recommend that anyone interested try to watch this episode of American Masters.  Perhaps you’ll see what I’m flailing to say…

Here is a small bit from the end of the episode, featuring a piece of Trumbo’s writing where he defended his experience as an American to those who questioned his love and loyalty for this land-

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