The Sand Pebbles

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It is said there will be no more war. We must pretend to believe that. But when war comes, it is we who will take the first shock and buy time with our lives. It is we who keep the faith. We are not honored for it. We are called mercenaries on the outposts of empire. … We serve the flag. The trade we follow is the give and take of death. It is for that purpose the American people maintain us. Any one of us who believes he has a job like any other, for which he draws a money wage, is a thief of the food he eats and a trespasser in the bunk in which he lies down to sleep!

Speech of Lieutenant Collins, The Sand Pebbles



Something for the weekend.  Theme song by Jerry Goldsmith for The Sand Pebbles (1966).  The movie is hard to understand unless the novel on which it is based is read first.  The story of the sailors onboard the fictional USS San Pablo, an American gunboat patrolling the Yangtze River in 1926-1927, was written by Richard McKenna, who served on an American gunboat in China in the thirties and retired from the Navy in 1953 as a Chief Machinist’s Mate after 22 years of service.  McKenna wrote the novel in 1962 and died in 1964 of a heart attack at age 51.


My favorite scene from the film:


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  1. Yeah, the reviewers, almost uniformly against our involvement in Vietnam. did that linkage when the film appeared in 1966. It was of course a nonsense link. The novel is complicated but it was basically the tale of Machinist’s Mate Jake Holman, the archetypal square peg in a round hole, and his inability to make sense of the world around him, a world in which he was a classic misfit, and the disasters that ensured when he attempted to do so. The film attempted to illustrate this, but largely failed because it could not give us the internal views of Holman that were such a prime feature of the novel.

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