The Steel Helmet
Directed by Samuel Fuller
Starring Gene Evans, Steve Brodie, James Edwards, & Richard Loo
Samuel Fuller’s excellent movie The Steel Helmet (1951) was called “a Right-wing fantasy” by the Communist paper, The Daily Worker. The America First/anti-Communist Right called for, and got, an FBI investigation into its Jewish director, Samuel Fuller, after they saw the movie and disliked aspects of it. This 1951 movie about the Korean War is indeed unsettling for many. The unsettling aspects arise from something that was new in 1951, but only now can be fully understood; The Steel Helmet is the first work of neoconservative propaganda.
The movie’s excellence is due to a combination of its acting, directing, and writing. Fuller was a veteran of the US Infantry, and its star Gene Evans (playing Sergeant Zach) was also a veteran. The casting is superb; they appear exactly like actual US soldiers. Their mannerisms, body language, and so on really works.
It focuses on an infantry squad, although it is a bit more than a squad, as infantry squads don’t have officers or senior sergeants. (Technically, it is a detail that mans a permanent Observation Post.) By depicting a squad, one can also have vastly different characters, but not so many characters that one forgets who is who. The squad in The Steel Helmet has a conscientious objector, a quiet type, a runt, and men of several races. There is a Lieutenant and Sergeant First Class, so the dynamic between an experienced, working class NCO and a less experienced, but smart, middle class or upper middle class officer can be explored. In this case, the two men argue in a way that is not normal. (I dare a new Second Lieutenant to call a senior NCO a “fathead” in real life.) The pacing of the movie is good in that every bit of action or dialogue moves the story forward, and its foreshadowing works.
The narrative begins when Sergeant Zach climbs out of a ditch with his hands bound. He has a bullet hole in his helmet. He is the lone survivor of a group of American POWs who have been massacred by the North Koreans. The bullet intended to kill him punched a hole through his steel helmet, but only rumbled around harmlessly inside. His bindings are cut by a passing South Korean orphan, “Short Round.” As the pair start to walk back toward the American lines, Zach runs into Corporal Thompson, a black medic. They are both veterans of the Second World War from the 16th US Infantry, Thompson had joined the white regiment during the integration efforts at the end of the war, serving with the Transportation Corps’ famed truck convoy, the Red Ball Express. Corporal Thompson had likewise escaped another massacre.
The next character introduced is Sergeant Tanaka (Richard Loo). He arrives with a patrol of American soldiers led by Lieutenant Driscoll (Steve Brodie). Thus, the first three characters introduced after American hero, Sergeant Zach, are non-whites. Whites are portrayed in a semi-negative light. The white Radio Telephone Operator, Private “Baldy” (Richard Monahan), is depicted as naïve, and is later humiliated by Sergeant Tanaka, who plays a practical joke on him. Non-whites, such as “Short Round,” Corporal Thompson, and Sergeant Tanaka are shown to be noble and essential to success. For example, while Lieutenant Driscoll is competent, he also gets in a bind when a grenade he is carrying gets its pin pulled accidently, and is saved by Sergeant Tanaka.
Corporal Thompson is also shown to be competent, and indeed, there are many blacks like him in the military. When he is introduced, the other whites suspect that Corporal Thompson is a malingerer of some sort, but he proves them wrong. It is a subtle shot in the “War on Noticing”; during the Korean War, black troops were highly uneven, so much so that they were integrated into white units to dilute the problems posed by all-black regiments.
The patrol eventually occupies an Observation Post at a Buddhist temple, where they are attacked by a North Korean Major (Harold Fong). He stabs one of the Americans in the back and is eventually captured. While captured, he discusses America’s racial attitudes toward blacks with Corporal Thompson. He also reminds Sergeant Tanaka of the internment of Japanese during the Second World War, although both men resist his conversion attempts.
Eventually, the men on the OP discover a large North Korean attack force and direct artillery strikes against it. When the Communists realize there are Americans in the temple, they attack. The Americans resist heroically, and most are killed. In the world of Samuel Fuller, the different races and ideologies pulled together and successfully resisted Communism.
The Neoconservative Spin
Any war movie produced about a war while it is still going on should be considered a work of propaganda. Indeed, it is likely that all war movies are propaganda in some way. However, propaganda can go any number of ways. In The Steel Helmet, the propaganda is specifically neoconservative.
Neoconservativism is a Jewish-run movement that pursues Jewish interests. It endorses an aggressive American militarism, it is staunchly anti-Communist, and supports Israel above all other considerations (although Israel is not mentioned in The Steel Helmet.) Domestically, it is socially liberal, but its philosophy regarding the American people should really be called hostile unconcern. With that in mind, neoconservatism has the sense of a corporate raider, or a fly-by-night con artist. There is no consideration for the “moral health” of America, no concern for de-industrialization, falling wages, and so on. The neoconservative movement is at best ambivalent to Anglo-European Americans who volunteer for the US military, at worst they are hostile. Neoconservative support for importing angry people from the very nations who they demand America should bomb is one such example.
As a war develops, especially one such as the Cold War, coalitions form. These coalitions are aligned by temporary interests. Different peoples can unite against a common enemy, but when that enemy is gone, that coalition will inevitably collapse.
After the Cold War . . .
The global conflict with Communism created the current “Civil Rights” policy of race relations. “Civil Rights” was a domestic flanking operation that kept the Communists from stirring up too much trouble with blacks and other minorities in the United States. One can see this in The Steel Helmet. When being treated by Corporal Thompson, the North Korean POW mentions the outrage of blacks riding in “the back of the bus.” This demonstrates that the racial situation was very much in the public mind in 1951 – a full four years before the famed Montgomery Bus Boycott and its associated USSC cases, Browder v. Gayle and Sara Keys v. Carolina Coach Company, which ended any legal and private segregation.
In The Steel Helmet, the “injustice” of a safe space for blacks on public transportation is taken as a given. However, these restrictions were put in place because of black behavior. A Baltimore citizen wrote in 1913, “On this line respectable white people and white women especially, are subjected to every species of affront and insult, which they cannot resent without risk of being drawn into a dispute, in which no decent person cares to be involved. The Negroes realize this and it emboldens them still further.” Indeed, the situation in 1913 reads much like that of today. The Cold War is over and won, but public transportation has not recovered from desegregation. Black behavior on buses, subways, and other public conveyances remains quite dangerous. One can watch sucker punches, screaming matches, and shootouts on YouTube and the World Star Hip Hop Websites. If not for individual ownership of automobiles, there would already be a social revolution underway against blacks on public transportation.
Additionally, The Steel Helmet contributes to the sacralization of the Second World War. Sergeant Zach is critical to this. When Lieutenant Driscoll asks to switch helmets with Zach, the Sergeant refuses, claiming he will only switch steel helmets with an officer of the type he served with in the Second World War. There is also a sort of sacred recital of the story of the 16th US Infantry – North Africa, Italy, Normandy, and so on. However, the Second World War being rendered as a sacred crusade ignores the fact that British and French intervention in the Polish-German border dispute of 1939 killed millions and reduced Europe to ruins from one end of the continent to the other. Additionally, the story of the Second World War has compelled politicians to start wars earlier than necessary. It allows for bombs to fall on any new “Hitler” with very little thought to its consequences.
Sergeant Tanaka is portrayed as a loyal American, but this character too is problematic, and represents the hostility of the neoconservatives towards American whites as well as the limits of their thinking. Sergeant Tanaka is also tempted by the North Korean POW. When he brings up the Japanese internment camps, he insists that both he and Tanaka were discriminated against only for the “shape of their eyes.”
This, again, is neoconservative propaganda, and quite intellectually weak. Koreans have a burning and increasingly irrational hatred of the Japanese. No Korean would seek brotherhood with a Japanese over their shared epicanthic fold. It is true that Americans do have real conflicts of interests with Asians, and this leads to an impression of sameness between the two Oriental ethnic groups from that perspective. However, in actually dealing with a foreign people, it is important to be able to see things from their perspective. As shown in The Steel Helmet, neoconservatives simply can’t do that.
Additionally, the story of Sergeant Tanaka reflects the ongoing disaster of Fourteenth Amendment “Americans.” The Japanese immigrants to the United States arrived due to a flaw in the first anti-Asian immigration restrictions. In the 1880s, the United States had excluded Chinese immigration due to the white-Asian tensions on the West Coast. However, the law didn’t exclude the Japanese, and thus the problems continued. When the Second World War began, the Japanese were suspected (rightly) of having sympathies with the Japanese war effort and were interred. Because the Americans won so decisively in the Pacific, the reality of the threat from Japanese immigrants was forgotten by 1951, and in The Steel Helmet we already see some references to the all-Japanese 442nd US Infantry Regiment, which served in Italy.
Again, the sacralization of a few Japanese veterans makes rational thought concerning the Japanese internment difficult to accomplish. Japanese internment was a good idea; indeed, it would have been better not to have raised the 442nd US Infantry regiment, and to have deported all the internees following the end of the war. Japan today is a thriving nation, so sending a person to such a place would not have been inhumane. In America, the former internees continue to exhibit ethnic hostility, and both George Takei and Norman Maneta have argued against restricting Islamic immigration despite the increasing problems stemming from such migrants.
The worst Fourteenth Amendment “American” situation is the one that is ongoing from the Middle East. The late terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki was an “American citizen” by virtue of the Fourteenth Amendment. When he was killed in a drone strike ordered by the Obama Administration, other family members of his were killed as well – all “American citizens.” This situation has made for several frivolous lawsuits by libertarians and al-Awlaki’s family, making waging the War on Terror that much harder.
Indeed, there is a cruel irony to all of this. Had the United States government pursued American interests regarding Israel, cut the neoconservatives off from powerful positions, implemented immigration restrictions, not sacralized the Second World War, and limited the Fourteenth Amendment, there would be no War on Terror.
The Steel Helmet is indeed an enjoyable movie, but it is clear to see that even in the early 1950s, the philosophical underpinnings of America’s current problems involving diversity, anti-white animus, neoconservativism, and so on were already fully-formed; formed well enough to be packaged in a well-crafted war movie.
1. As Steve Sailer pointed out: “When [the famed Palestinian intellectual Edward] Said was an adolescent, the new state of Israel expropriated a house in Jerusalem that had been owned by his extended family. The neoconservative magazine Commentary devoted much effort in the 1990s to proving that the building hadn’t been the property of Said’s father. Instead, Commentary triumphantly but anticlimactically trumpeted, the house had belonged to . . . his aunt. That Commentary article was a moment when I began to feel severe doubts about neoconservatism.”