President Richard Nixon was elected on the promise of ending the Vietnam War and bringing “peace with honor.” However, after his inauguration, Nixon found himself mired in anti-war protests advancing on the White House. Herbert G. Klein, the president's aide at the time, recalled the waves of people as nothing short of a revolution. After watching a certain film, Nixon regained his spirits.
That film was “Patton,” released in 1970, which tells the heroic story of Gen. George S. Patton. In the film, Patton reprimands a meek soldier in a field hospital, criticizes the way he, Patton, is depicted in the newspapers like a tyrant, and ultimately wins a decisive battle in Germany. Nixon watched the nearly three-hour epic twice in the White House projection room, and once at his villa, according to his projection technician at the time.
Some say Nixon made the decision to expand the Vietnam War by invading Cambodia because Patton reinvigorated him. Nixon himself denied the claim, but he allegedly lauded Patton as an example of good leadership at least 30 times in front of Klein and others.
Nixon was not the only U.S. president who enjoyed Hollywood films. The first film that President John F. Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline watched in the White House was “The Misfits” (1961), starring his alleged mistress, Marilyn Monroe. During the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, he sought comfort in “Roman Holiday” (1953), starring Audrey Hepburn.
President Ronald Reagan, himself a former actor, watched “The Day After” (1983), a television film that depicted the aftermath of nuclear war, and after viewing it wrote in his diary, “It’s very effective & left me greatly depressed.“ The movie brought the reality of nuclear war to America's living rooms, and in terms of viewers, is one of the highest rated TV films in history. As film director Oliver Stone points out, it very well may have been one source of inspiration for Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, known as “Star Wars.”
And now, President Donald Trump. In his youth, he was enchanted by “A Fistful of Dollars” (1967), the spaghetti Western starring Clint Eastwood, and would practice a grizzled expression in the mirror imitating the film's tough protagonist. Indeed, you can see Trump's imitation of the gunman even now in his photos.
How about that? The president of the United States, commander of the strongest military force in the world, is not only obviously a child, but just like an ordinary person, he, too, seeks solace and inspiration in the stories of the silver screen. Or perhaps he is lost in the sensation that he is a hero. But powerful people are not necessarily Superman, and democracy requires checks and balances.
*Editor’s note: The author of this article is a senior editor at Nishi Nippon Shimbun whose name could not be readily translated into English.