The Best Defense

One way to observe Veterans' Day this weekend: Watch a great old war movie

We were sitting around CNAS this week jiving about a goofy list of best war movies that ran in the LA Times, and quickly drew up a counter-list of our 10 favorite movies about the military.

One concern I have is that some people will think watching a movie to commemorate veterans is disrespectful, or in bad taste. I think not. Why? Because Memorial Day is our time to remember the dead. Veterans' Day, by contrast, I think is to remember, thank, and welcome home those who served and survived -- and so is both a commemoration and a celebration. But I know others view this differently -- in fact, this came up last night at a discussion I was at a Johns Hopkins SAIS.

World War II

Saving Private Ryan
Worth it for the first and last half hours alone. The middle is actually pretty typical stuff.

Band of Brothers
Actually a television miniseries, but still one of the best war films ever made.

Twelve O'clock High
Striking especially for its clear-eyed depiction of combat stress.

Downfall
Hitler in the bunker. Contains one of the most parodied scenes ever. See if you can find it.

Irregular warfare

The Wind That Shakes the Barley
The Irish civil war actually didn't last long or kill many people, compared to anything else on this list. But this is a powerful tale of how revolutions eat their own.

The Battle of Algiers
Also one of the best movies ever made, plain and simple. Bonus fact: Some of the actors actually are Algerian fighters playing the roles they played in real life.

Zulu
A film any young officer should watch. A clinic on the effectiveness of massed firepower.

Cold War

Dr. Strangelove
Stanley Kubrick proves it possible to make a humorous film about nuclear war. Slim Pickens tops it off -- and a young James Earl Jones makes an appearance.

Vietnam War

Apocalypse Now
Long and uneven -- like a lot of great art.

Post-Cold War world

Black Hawk Down
About Mogadishu 1993. When Andrew Exum's wife wanted to know what modern light infantry combat is like, he showed her this.

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