Heroism? Ask a veteran

Culture | Spielberg salutes the World War II generation, and other cultural buzz

Issue: "Putting Kyoto on ice," Aug. 8, 1998

What our fathers did in the war
Saving Private Ryan (rated R for violence and gore) is not an easy film to watch. Nor is it an easy film to forget. As with Schindler's List, director Steven Spielberg pushes the limits of pop filmmaking with a harrowing slice of history. Yes, the film is visually graphic. The carnage of the battlefield is shown to be truly horrible. Some will not be able to stomach it. Obviously this isn't for children; thus the R rating. But the film is not gratuitous in that it shows soldiers as real people instead of targets in a cinematic shooting gallery. Private Ryan does for America what Das Boot did for Germany. It drives home the humanity and horrors of World War II. It's June, 1944. Tom Hanks plays Captain John Miller, who barely survives the storming of Omaha Beach. Now he must lead a mission to find Private Ryan (Matt Damon) after his three brothers are killed in action. We see these men as they face death together. Death and destruction pop up everywhere as the troops wonder why they must sacrifice their lives for one guy. Yet they fight and die anyway in these days just after D-Day. Most of the time, they are just trying to survive. Blood flows like water. When Ryan is finally found, he doesn't want to leave his post unattended. Mr. Spielberg presents neither gung-ho action nor anti-war angst. Political preaching stays on the shelf. His movie is more about how these GIs faced unspeakable horrors. He shows ordinary guys admirably trying to survive an apocalypse. This subtext makes Private Ryan one of the most all-American movies of recent memory. If only Vietnam stories got such treatment. This movie is a good lesson for us of later generations, showing what our fathers faced and what they achieved in WWII. Those veterans deserve respect from the wimpier generations. The battle sequences are brutal, but the soldiers show bravery and honor. Even success is still scary. Decent people still suffer tragedy even in noble wars. Again, this movie is not for children, and it may haunt some adults-but others will want to see it and talk about it afterwards. Wannabe Internet tycoon tells all
Finally, after several years of hype, comes a book that gives a straight scoop about the Internet business. Burn Rate is by Michael Wolff, a guy who tried to be a Master of The Universe but wound up having to resign from his own company. His kiss-and-tell book shows part of cyberspace you can't see with a Web browser: the never-ending cycle of backroom corporate chaos. He tried to play hardball with media companies, venture capitalists, and even America Online. His goal was not to build a good product. In fact, we never hear much about what Mr. Wolff's New Media actually produced. Instead, Mr. Wolff wanted a big score: an initial public offering onto the stock market that would put him on easy street. Nothing works. His products become a modest success, but he never gets enough financing. Along the way, he finagles, manipulates, and is manipulated by big fish who don't understand the Net and often can't use a computer. Yet everybody believes the Internet is the future and wants to cash in. The key word is greed. Industry buzz matters more than serving customers. Everybody wants to do a deal with everybody else, hoping to cash in on another's success. So bad decisions get made with unpredictable consequences. Since companies can't own the Internet or chart its future course, bosses at least want to feel powerful. Mr. Wolff discovers that the big boys don't really want the Net as a publishing tool to publish newfangled books and magazines. Instead it becomes a vast shopping mall for selling products. So he folds, takes his paycheck, and goes off to write Burn Rate. As an Internet whiz kid, Mr. Wolff wasn't great. He does a better job of explaining oddball corporate cultures. Specifically, AOL and Microsoft come in for some interesting scrutiny. In the online world, many dream of striking gold but few find the ore.

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