If you haven’t seen Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds you’re in for one hell of a war film. The director who brought you Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill Volumes 1 & 2 has taken a stab at doing a World War II film. The film falls into the alternative history category, because of the events that take place, and it should be noted that it isn’t a remake of the 1978 Italian film of the same name which starred Fred Williamson (who appears as a barroom brawler and Vietnam Vet in Tarantino’s Dusk Till Dawn). If you like a good action film with some good dramatic scenes you’ll love the film, but it isn’t a substitute for a good history book. Though Lieutenant Aldo Raine’s Basterds are fictional they are based on real units that operated in World War II, and the operations they undertook became the stuff of legend.
The film starts off showing just how evil and methodical the Nazis were, and every one has to remember that wasn’t fiction. The fascists in Germany were the stuff of nightmares and after taking over ever aspect of life in their home country they struck out across Europe to forge an empire. Their ideology based on lies and junk science supported ideas like world domination, genocide, and would kill millions as they tried to build their new Reich. By the time the United States became officially involved in the war Europe was bleeding the dreams of a madman looked to be coming true.
In the film Brad Pitt’s Lieutenant Aldo “the Apache” Raine is a good old boy from Tennessee assigned the mission of recruiting Jewish American soldiers for a guerrilla warfare campaign in Nazi occupied France. The team ambushes patrols, sets of bombs, and even takes scalps from the German dead in a campaign designed to terrorize the Nazi war machine. Along the way they work with local resistance and even recruit a German trade into their ranks. Their methods are brutal, but very effective and even catch Hitler’s notice. So where does the history end and the fiction begin?
Well there are some facts among the fiction for example Brad Pitt’s character is a member 1st Special Service Force, The Devil’s Brigade a joint American Canadian special forces unit that operated in Italy and France. They were trained in martial arts including knife fighting and unconventional warfare, but they didn’t operate in small operations though there were many small Allied guerrilla units. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) which gave the Basterds their order did exist and would later become the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The OSS did train German and Austrian operatives opposed to the Nazis and as many as 24,000 took part in America’s clandestine efforts in Europe.
While Inglourious Basterds might be an over the time war film the fact is that it isn’t completely based in fiction. A handful of brave men and women did there best under harsh conditions to take the war to Nazi Germany, and through their efforts they shortened the war. For some it was a matter of patriotism or simply their duty, but for those who had lost so much it was about revenge. Many died in battles that will never be in history books, but through our training and retelling of their heroics we pay tribute to them. So sit back and enjoy the film, but remember the real heroes of World War II.