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279: This Week: The Patriot, MacArthur, X-Men: First Class

In this episode, we’ll learn about historical events that happened this week in history as they were depicted in these movie: The Patriot, MacArthur, and X-Men: First Class.

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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.

October 19, 1781. Yorktown, Virginia.

A cannon blasts before the camera quickly shifts to show more of the battlefield, and we can see a huge explosion on the left side while smoke from other explosions still lingers over parts of the center and right side of the frame. In the background, an American flag is flying against the blue sky dotted with white clouds. In the foreground, there’s a bunch of wooden wheels and pieces of what we can assume are other military equipment. We can also see a few soldiers running away from the artillery fire around them.

The voiceover we can hear at this point in the movie is Mel Gibson’s voice. He’s talking about how Cornwallis couldn’t retreat to the seas because it was blocked off by our long-lost friends who had finally arrived.

As he says this, the camera pans over from soldiers manning the cannons as they continue blasting away. Now we can see ships in the water. It looks like at least 33 ships scattered along the water in the distance. Many of the closer ships are firing on the encampment we can see in-between the Americans in the foreground and the ships in the distance.

The scene shifts to focus on Mel Gibson’s character, Benjamin Martin. Standing next to him is Tchéky Karyo’s character, Jean Villeneuve. The two are looking at the scene we just saw with the ships firing on the land fort.

Benjamin turns to Jean and says, “Vive la France.”

Jean nods his head then says, “Vive la liberté.”

Now the camera cuts to a French soldier on one of the ships ordering the men to fire. Huge blasts from the ship’s cannons continue to assault the fort on land. Cutting to the fort, we can see it’s occupied by the British. Inside, the British commander, Tom Wilkinson’s version of General Cornwallis looks out of a window. We can see the artillery blasts of smoke and fire still dotting the landscape as they hit their targets.

Cornwallis laments to the officer next to him, “How could it come to this? An army of rabble. Everything will change. Everything has changed.”

Then, we see a soldier with a white flag emerging from the top of the building indicating the British surrender. From the hill across the way and underneath an American flag, we can see the American soldiers start cheering.

The true story behind that scene in the movie The Patriot

That sequence comes from the 2000 movie called The Patriot. The event it’s depicting is the surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, which happened this week in history on October 19th, 1781.

While the movie doesn’t show how long the battle lasted, the Siege of Yorktown lasted for three weeks from September 28th to October 19th. It’s significance in history is due to it being the last major land battle in the American Revolutionary War. When the Continental Army defeated Cornwallis at Yorktown, the British government was ready to negotiate and end of the war.

Speaking of Cornwallis, he’s the only real historical figure from the segment of the movie we talked about today.

Mel Gibson’s character, Benjamin Martin, is a fictional composite character who is based on a number of people, primarily a man named Francis Marion.

Tchéky Karyo’s character, Jean Villeneuve, is also a fictional composite character based on many of the French soldiers who helped the Americans against the British in the Revolutionary War. For example, Marquis de La Fayette was a very real person who volunteered to join the Continental Army and was there alongside General George Washington at the Battle of Yorktown.

Another man who led the French Army at Yorktown was Comte de Rochambeau, whose first name is Jean-Baptiste, so perhaps that was a bit of influence on the character in the movie.

There were about 8,000 American soldiers—about 5,000 regulars and 3,000 or so militia—along with about 10,000 French soldiers and 29 ships. So, the movie got that wrong with 33 ships…or maybe I was miscounting what I saw on screen. If you count something different, let me know!

What we do know from history, though, is that the movie was wrong to suggest Yorktown was the first time the French arrived to help the Americans. After all, a year earlier in 1780 there were over 5,000 French soldiers helped in the Americans’ fight against the British around New York City.

For Yorktown, though, it was the French Navy officer Comte de Grasse who created a blockade. The British sent a fleet to relieve Cornwallis, but De Grasse defeated them in September of 1781. Moreover, De Grasse brought with him some heavy artillery guns that would help with the siege.

American and French troops arrived, completely surrounding Cornwallis by the end of September. After weeks of bombardment, on October 14th, General Washington ordered an offensive against some of the British defensive outposts.

As a fun little fact, the man who led the American troops in this offensive was Lt. Colonel Alexander Hamilton. Yes, that Hamilton.

With the outposts captured, the rest of the British defensives started to fall quickly. Cornwallis requested terms of surrender on October 17th and, after a couple days of negotiation, the official surrender took place on October 19th.

The movie briefly mentions in dialogue that Cornwallis wasn’t there at the surrender, and that is true. He didn’t participate. But, over 7,000 British soldiers were captured in a blow that marked the beginning of the end for the American Revolutionary War.

If you want to watch the Siege of Yorktown as it’s depicted in the 2000 movie The Patriot, that happens about two hours and 43 minutes into the movie.

And we covered the historical accuracy of The Patriot way back on episode #60 of Based on a True Story.


October 20, 1944. Leyte, Philippines.

There’s black smoke rising into the blue sky. We’re at a beach, and military landing vehicles are lined up with the fronts open. Splashes in the water indicate artillery shells hitting—or, I guess I should say, missing—their targets, since they’re likely firing at the landing vehicles.

The camera cuts a little closer and we can see American soldiers walking along the sandy beach. Now we can see tanks with the American white star on the side as they’re rolling along. The soldiers we can see in the shot completely ignore the flames and smoke that continue to burn.

Now the camera cuts back to the waters and we can see another landing vehicle approaching. On this one is a man wearing four stars on his collar. This is General Douglas MacArthur, who is played by Gregory Peck in the movie.

As the vehicle approaches the beach, we can see some military photographers in the landing craft snapping photos of MacArthur. Down below MacArthur, the camera follows a soldier in a khaki uniform as he walks over to another man also in a khaki uniform. He speaks, telling President Osmena that he’s home at last.

Now the movie cuts to a view from the beach. There we can see even more photographers and cameramen lining up to document the moment as the landing craft gets closer. A few tanks continue moving up the beach, reminding us that this is still an active military operation.

Then, the moment they were all waiting for…the landing craft drops the front door. From a camera angle inside, we’re among the men who are stepping off. Before MacArthur steps off, President Osmena jokes with him that his people will laugh if he fell in the deep water because he can’t swim. MacArthur says that’s okay, because everyone is about to find out he doesn’t walk on water.

Then, both President Osmena and MacArthur hops into the ankle-deep water and walk toward the beach. The cameras swarm the landing party as they capture the historic moment.

A little further up the beach, MacArthur stops at a military Jeep filled with more soldiers and equipment. Someone hands MacArthur a microphone. He looks around and every so often we can see a camera flash go off as one of the photographers snaps a photo.

Then, MacArthur begins to speak: “People of the Philippines, I have returned.”

The true story behind that scene in the movie MacArthur

That sequence comes from the 1977 biopic called MacArthur. The event it’s depicting is when General Douglas MacArthur famously returned to the Philippines during World War II. Even though the movie doesn’t have a date on the screen, we know from history that happened this week on October 20th, 1944.

This moment’s historical significance will make a lot more sense when we tie it into another event that took place years earlier.

After the Imperial Japanese Empire attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, they wasted no time to start multiple offensives—one of them was in the Philippines. That campaign started about nine hours later, on December 8th, 1941 thanks to time zone differences, when the Japanese invaded the island of Batan on the north side of the Philippine islands.

The battle for that island lasted about a month into January of 1942.

Meanwhile, a hero of World War I, Douglas MacArthur had retired from the U.S. Army and was living with his family on the island of Corregidor, in the Philippines. That’s 420 miles or about 680 kilometers to the south of Batan island. Hmm, that kind of sounds like he wasn’t involved in the military anymore, but that’s not true. Yes, he had retired from the U.S. Army, but he was helping the Philippine Army…well, become a thing. In 1935, the President of the Philippines asked MacArthur to help create their army with a rank of field marshal.

When the Japanese invasion began in late 1941 and early 1942, MacArthur was working to slow the advance. But they weren’t able to stop the advance. So, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered MacArthur to leave the Philippines to avoid being captured. He was too important. I’ve seen some sources that suggested MacArthur wasn’t happy with this order, but it was an order, so MacArthur obeyed. On March 11th, 1942, MacArthur, his family and staff left the Philippines and escaped to Australia. Ten days later, once safely in Australia, MacArthur made a declaration to those back in the Philippines: “I came through and I shall return.”

Okay, so that’s the back story…

…the event that happened this week in history is when MacArthur followed through on his promise to return. A lot like the event we see in the movie, it was on October 20th, 1944 when General MacArthur—back in the U.S. military—returned to the Philippines as a part of the Allied offensive to take Leyte, another island in the Philippines.

The movie did a decent job of showing how it went. MacArthur wasn’t the first to land on the beach; that was the Sixth Army who made their landing and began the offensive to take the island. But, MacArthur landed that very same afternoon—the afternoon of October 20th was the same day the offensive started—so it was very much a risk for General MacArthur himself to walk the beach.

Someone else we see in the movie is the Philippine President Osmena. And he was there but…well…tell you what, let’s hear it from MacArthur himself because a lot like we see happening in the movie, he actually did make a speech once he landed on the beach. It was a speech. After all, he’d been away for years so this is just my own speculation but I’d guess that speech was something he’d worked on privately for quite a while.

Publicly, though, here is what he said:

This is the Voice of Freedom,

General MacArthur speaking.

People of the Philippines: I have returned.

By the grace of Almighty God our forces stand again on Philippine soil – soil consecrated in the blood of our two peoples. We have come, dedicated and committed to the task of destroying every vestige of enemy control over your daily lives, and of restoring, upon a foundation of indestructible strength, the liberties of your people.

At my side is your President, Sergio Osmena, worthy successor of that great patriot, Manuel Quezon, with members of his cabinet. The seat of your government is now therefore firmly re-established on Philippine soil.

The hour of your redemption is here. Your patriots have demonstrated an unswerving and resolute devotion to the principles of freedom that challenges the best that is written on the pages of human history.

I now call upon your supreme effort that the enemy may know from the temper of an aroused and outraged people within that he has a force there to contend with no less violent than is the force committed from without.

Rally to me. Let the indomitable spirit of Bataan and Corregidor lead on. As the lines of battle roll forward to bring you within the zone of operations, rise and strike!

For future generations of your sons and daughters, strike! In the name of your sacred dead, strike!

Let no heart be faint. Let every arm be steeled. The guidance of Divine God points the way. Follow in His name to the Holy Grail of righteous victory!

If you want to see this event as it is depicted in the movies, check out the 1977 film called MacArthur. We started our segment today at about an hour and one minute into the movie.


October 22, 1962.

Our next movie takes us briefly to the middle of the ocean. There’s a large cargo ship passing by the camera, and three green missiles, each with a red star, are being stored prominently on deck. The ship passes by the camera and now we can see the horizon—an endless ocean with no land in sight—but the ship continues on its course, clearly headed somewhere with those missiles.

On the bridge of the ship, everyone is wearing what looks like military uniforms. One man is looking out the window with binoculars, although I’m not sure what he’s looking at—we just saw the ocean and there’s no one else out there. Or, maybe he’s just looking to be aware of anyone who might pop up on the horizon.

Another of the men gives orders, this must be the captain. He’s wearing a black uniform and on his hat is the same red star that we saw on the missiles. And while I don’t speak Russian, it sounds like he’s speaking Russian as he gives orders to the men around him.

In the next shot, my hunch that he was speaking Russian is confirmed as we can hear dialogue talking about the Russians have sent their warheads to Cuba. The camera flies over the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. for a moment before cutting to a room that we can assume is inside. Standing in front of a huge map, there’s a man pointing at the island of Cuba on it. There are a few other people watching him as he continues to tell everyone in the room that we’ve got a week before their ship hits the coast. He points vaguely to a line, saying something about how our fleet can be on this line when the Russian missile ship arrives.

The camera cuts to the people he’s talking to, and we can see a line of seven very serious-looking military men. Well, three of them are in military uniform. It’s hard to see their exact ranks, but it looks like there are stars on their shoulders and with a number of ribbon bars. If I had to guess, I’d say they’re generals and the four men in suits next to them must be politicians of some sort, because this seems like a very covert and high-level meeting.

The actor Ray Wise’s character is simply cast as “Secretary of State,” but he’s sitting in the middle of everyone. He’s the one to speak first, saying if the Russians cross that line that means they will have declared war against the United States. After a brief pause, he continues, saying that means we’ll have no choice but to retaliate with a full nuclear response.

He asks, “Do we agree?”

Now the camera cuts to a larger view and we can see there’s a lot more than seven people at the table. In fact, it’s a much larger table than the earlier shot made it seem. It’s a huge circular table filled with…let me pause the movie here to count real quick: 30 men in either military uniforms or suits. Honestly, probably a few more than that, but that’s all we can see on screen at one time with the camera angles.

Everyone is raising their hand to confirm the Secretary of State’s statement.

At this point, the scene shifts to a group of seven people, five men and two women. They’re admiring a huge mansion of an estate. Michael Fassbender’s character, Erik Lensherr, makes a joke to James McAvoy’s character, Charles Xavier, saying he’s not sure how he managed to live in such hardship. Jennifer Lawrence’s character, Mystique, steps up and says she helped soften the hardship. Then, she offers everyone a tour.

Now we’re in a cold winter scene. Text on the screen tells us this is Moscow, Russia, although I’m not sure if we needed that since it’s pretty obvious seeing Saint Basil’s Cathedral from Red Square. The camera slowly pans over to another building visible from Red Square, the Kremlin Senate building. A shift to inside the building and now we’re basically in what looks like the Russian version of the American war room we saw at the Pentagon a moment ago.

Just like we saw with the Americans, there’s one man speaking to everyone in the room here, too. We can recognize him as Rade Serbedzija’s character, and in the credits he’s simply cast as Russian General.

Just like the Americans’ room, there’s a huge map in this room, too. Rade’s character is pointing to it, and while he’s speaking Russian that I already mentioned I can’t speak, thanks to closed captions, I know he’s basically saying the same thing the Americans were saying: The U.S. has dispatched their fleet to Cuba, we must do the same!

After this, the movie shifts to black and white footage of President John F. Kennedy. We hear a voiceover of a news report saying that Kennedy has signed a formal proclamation to set up a blockade of all missiles bound for Cuba.

The movie screen is filled with black and white footage of nuclear explosions along with a newspaper from the New York Tribune that has the headline: “Nuclear War Imminent” as we hear a different news reporter saying the Russians have replied saying it’s a step closer to nuclear war.

The true story behind that scene in the movie X-Men: First Class

That sequence comes from the 2011 movie called X-Men: First Class. I know this is going to be obvious, but let me just go ahead and say it anyway: The X-Men movie is not based on a true story.

But this is a great example of how a very fictional superhero movie can show events that are based on a true story just to make the rest of the story seem a little more believable.

And in this case, X-Men: First Class is setting up something that really did happen this week in history when, on October 20th, 1962, President John F. Kennedy ordered a blockade of Cuba that set up what we now know as the Cuba Missile Crisis.

With that said, it’s safe to say most of the movie segment is made up. I mean, they didn’t even give Rade Serbedzija’s character a name, they just called him “Russian General.” And while I didn’t mention in the segment, on the American side, the general there is played by James Remar—and likewise, he’s simply cast as “US General.”

So, what really happened?

To touch on it briefly, the Cuban Missile Crisis was the climax of tensions that had been going on for a while between the United States and Cuba. The year before, in 1961, U.S. had secretly funded a revolutionary group to try and overthrow Fidel Castro in Cuba in what we know as the Bay of Pigs Invasion. That was a disaster for the United States because not only did it fail, but the U.S. being behind it all didn’t stay a secret.

The Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was at its height and since Cuba and the Soviet Union had already been engaged in mutual aid, the whole Bay of Pigs fiasco only pushed Cuba further away from being friendly with the U.S. and toward the Soviet Union.

If you want to hear more about Bay of Pigs and that whole part of history let me know, but let’s get back to the event this week in history. The key point there was to know that Cuba and the Soviet Union were already working together. So, in 1962, the two countries reached a new agreement to allow the Soviet Union to set up missile sites in Cuba.

I know I started this segment with October 22nd even though I mentioned Kennedy made the decision for the blockade on the 20th, and I’ll explain why in a moment, but to throw another date out there, many consider the crisis to have really started on October 16th because that’s when President Kennedy was shown photographs taken by a U-2 spy plane. In the photos, it was clear that Soviet ballistic missile sites were being built in Cuba. It wasn’t just talk anymore, but there was photographic evidence—and you can see those photos online; .

For a bit of geographical context here, Cuba is 90 miles from the state of Florida. That’s about 145 kilometers. In other words, Cuba is one of the United States’ closest neighbors and when the Soviet Union started putting missiles in Cuba…well, that short distance became an issue for the U.S.

Four days after Kennedy was shown the photos, he came down with a cold. Okay, not really, but on October 20th, the public was told that Kennedy had a cold so he couldn’t attend his regularly scheduled events. He had to take a few days to recover. No one knew it at the time, but we know now that was a cover.

The truth was that Kennedy had secret meetings to figure out what to do about the whole issue of the Soviet Union putting missiles in Cuba.

So, in a way, the movie is giving us some hints of the real story by showing the secret meetings between leadership. Although the movie doesn’t show JFK at the meetings.

In the true story, Kennedy decided on the blockade on October 20th, and it was effective starting on the 21st. Basically, the U.S. Navy would create a 500-mile, or 800-kilometer, perimeter around the island of Cuba.

That brings us to October 22nd.

Up until now, all these things were unknown to most people back in 1962.

The significance of October 22nd, 1962 is because that’s when the public became aware. We see footage of President Kennedy making a statement in the movie, and that is exactly what he did.

He told the U.S. public about what was happening—well, a summary version, not all the top-secret stuff—but by making a public announcement, he also publicly warned the Soviet Union that any ships bound for Cuba would have their cargo seized if it entered the quarantine zone.

In a nutshell, that was the core of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The U.S. public waited to see how the Soviet Union would respond to Kennedy’s warnings. Would they launch any of the missiles already installed? Would they ignore the warning? All it’d take is one nuke launched from less than 100 miles away to kill countless Americans. You can understand the tension.

The crisis came to an end six days later, on October 28th, when the Soviet President Khrushchev made an agreement with Kennedy. In exchange for the Soviet Union removing their missiles from Cuba and agreeing to not add anymore, the U.S. promised to never invade Cuba. So, there wouldn’t be another Bay of Pigs. Also, Kennedy agreed to remove some nuclear missiles that the U.S. had in Turkey. That close proximity was a concern for the Soviet Union much in the same way the Soviet’s missiles in Cuba were a concern for the U.S.

But, in the end, the Cuban Missile Crisis ended without a nuclear war.

If you want to see how the 2011 movie X-Men: First Class handles this story, we started our segment about an hour into the movie.



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