Why do we feel the need to turn authentic heroes into caricatures of themselves? My son and I recently watched the movie Red Tails. We wanted to see it on the big screen but had to settle for our own theatre. I really wanted to like this movie. If there ever was a chapter of our country’s history that deserved an Oscar-worthy narrative, the Tuskegee airmen’s story is at the top of the list yet I (and so many movie goers and critics) was incredibly disappointed by this film. It’s easy to find fault with Red Tails but my biggest beef is that the movie totally disparages the man that actually won the air war over Europe, Jimmy Doolittle. If one would believe the movie, prior to Tuskegee’s airmen showing up, our bombers were being slaughtered by the Luftwaffe because the fighter pilots flying escort were easily lured away from their primary duty of protecting the lumbering bombers. Yet the tactics employed by the movie’s version of Tuskegee’s airmen would have sent the Americans to a quick and fiery death both from German and American bullets. Fighters didn’t fly inside the combat box of the bombers because once the bomber’s own gunners started firing (B-17E’s carried 7 machine guns) a lot of lead would have moved through the sky. A P-51 Mustang flown by the Tuskegee pilots cruised at twice the cruising speed of a fully laden B-17 and once German fighters appeared, the last place a fighter pilot would want to be was in the middle of a formation of bombers making only 170 mph. My son and I could only cringe, shake our head and groan at the numerous technical errors that director Anthony Hemingway (and Lucasfilm) built into this embarrassing movie. No P-51 pilot was able to destroy a battleship with only a few shots, keep pace with a jet-powered Me-262 in a pitched battle or fly numerous passes through a German airfield’s anti-aircraft batteries and emerge unscathed yet the red-tailed pilots do all this. And if that’s not enough, the actual tactics that won the air war in just a few months were created by Jimmy Doolittle when he took over the 8th Air Force in January of 1944. It was Doolittle that changed the fighter groups’ mission statement from “protecting the bombers” to “destroy enemy fighters” and within only a week’s time Germany’s top fighter pilot, Adolf Galland, recognized the change in tactics and declared Germany’s position all but lost, it was only a matter of time. The American pilots fanned out ahead of the bombers and attacked the Germans as they were forming up, then beat up their airfields and within a few months, Germany’s air force ceased to exist.
Prior to Red Tails, Hollywood’s previous WW2 blockbuster Pearl Harbor, also took swipes at the clever, astute and brilliant Doolittle, turning him into the snarling, brusque Alec Baldwin inspired cartoon that screamed “MAX POWER!” as he shoved the throttles forward on take-off, casting aside the timid co-pilot’s hands as if this was some technique that only a suicidal pilot would employ. I got news for you, all aircraft take-off with the throttles pushed fully forward, always have, always will. Doolittle was an aeronautical engineer with a doctorate from MIT. He practically invented instrument flight, high octane fuel and the modern airport yet Hollywood reduced him to a carnival barker.
And now it’s Abraham Lincoln’s turn. It’s not enough for our 16th President to have been raised in the Kentucky wilderness, primarily self-educated when his mother passed away when he was ten, the savior of our union, architect of the Republican party and author of the Emancipation Proclamation…what the hell, let’s turn him into an acrobatic, axe wielding killer of vampires.
So if Hollywood has it’s way then we best be prepared for upcoming epics featuring Thomas Jefferson as a killer of Native American Zombies, Howard Taft as a time-traveler and Teddy Roosevelt as a Navy SEAL combatting Muslim terrorists at the digging of the Panama canal. With any luck though, Jimmy Doolittle may rest in peace.