violence

Lessons We Learned from 50 Years of The Godfather

Few films of any generation have had the lasting impact as  The Godfather , which turns 50 this year. Amid all the violence, crime and intrigue, the movie conveys phrases and life lessons that have become everyday expressions and bedrock beliefs for many Americans.

Few films of any generation have had the lasting impact as The Godfather, which turns 50 this year. Amid all the violence, crime and intrigue, the movie conveys phrases and life lessons that have become everyday expressions and bedrock beliefs for many Americans.

The Godfather turns 50 this year, which is a reminder of how influential the trilogy has been, even though it tracks the lives and travails of a mobster family. 

Phrases derived from The Godfather such as “an offer you can’t refuse,” “it’s not personal, it’s business” and “time to hit the mattresses” have become everyday expressions. But the movie’s influence runs deeper to life lessons about power, family and even capitalism, according to Iris Milanova. “It has so much substance, and it offers some very important life lessons. That’s certainly an offer you can’t refuse.”

Here are some of the life lessons Milanova identified:

  • Don’t make promises you cannot keep. Your word is the most important thing that you have to offer.

  • Don’t involve yourself in other people’s personal lives. “Sonny, don’t get involved,” advised Carmela Corleone.

  • Family is the most important thing in life. “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man,” says Don Vito Corleone.

  • Don’t go against your own family. “Fredo, you’re my older brother and I love you. But don’t you ever go against the family again. Ever.” – Michael Corleone.

  • Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer. Always keep a watchful eye on your enemies and play life’s game of chess with precision, dedication and tact.

  • Establish friendships out of respect, business and trust. “Friendship is everything. Friendship is more than talent. It is more than the government. It is almost the equal of family.” – Don Vito Corleone.

  • Violence is the last option. “I don’t like violence, Tom. I’m a businessman. Blood is a big expense.” – Solozzo.

  • Build a powerful community. “Someday, and that day may never come, I’ll call upon you to do a service for me.” – Don Vito Corleone.

  • Don’t take things too personal. “it’s not personal, it’s business.” – Michael Corleone. 

Francis Ford Coppola gained fame by directing the three Godfather films, which he readily admitted “made me,” not the reverse.

Francis Ford Coppola gained fame by directing the three Godfather films, which he readily admitted “made me,” not the reverse.

Francis Ford Coppola, who directed The Godfather movies, wrote a new introduction to Mario Puzo’s novel to mark its 50th anniversary. One of his more interesting observations is that many of the life lessons espoused by Don Vito Corleone were actual expressions Puzo heard from his own mother.

“Mario told me that all of the great dialogue, those quotable lines he put into the mouth of Don Corleone, were actually spoken by Mario’s mother. Yes, ‘an offer he can’t refuse,’ ‘keep your friends close but your enemies closer,’ ‘revenge is a dish that tastes best cold,’ and ‘a real man takes care of his family,’ among many others, were sayings he heard from his own mother’s lips. Mario later wrote, ‘Whenever the Godfather opened his mouth, in my own mind I heard the voice of my mother. I heard her wisdom, her ruthlessness, and her unconquerable love for her family and life itself. Don Corleone’s courage and loyalty came from her, his humanity came from her.’”

Coppola revealed it was his sister who suggested the idea that Kay, Michael Corleone’s long suffering wife, would abort their unborn son. “I loved it because it seemed symbolic and the only way a woman married to such a man could halt the satanic dance continuing generation after generation.”

Many films are unforgettable and have intergenerational appeal. The Godfather is that rare cultural phenomenon that became part of our lives for 50 years – and counting. To turn Michael Corleone’s phrase, “It’s not business, it’s personal.”

 

College Students and the First Amendment

A Brookings Institution survey reveals that college students may not be completely comfortable with freedom of expression on campus – or fully familiar with what the First Amendment protects.

A Brookings Institution survey reveals that college students may not be completely comfortable with freedom of expression on campus – or fully familiar with what the First Amendment protects.

US college campuses may be a harbinger of evolving American attitudes on free speech, hate speech and the First Amendment. Survey research conducted for the Brookings Institution reveals sharp divisions by political affiliation, gender and type of university over what speech is acceptable and what isn’t.

The research also demonstrates college students may not know what the First Amendment says.

Regarding hate speech, 44 percent of the 1,500 current undergraduate students at US four-year colleges and universities who were interviewed in the latter part of August, said the US Constitution does not protect it, while 50 percent said it does. (It does.) Students identifying as Republicans, private college undergraduates and males were more likely to say there is constitutional protection for hate speech than Democrats, public college students and women. The gap was largest between men and women. Fifty-one percent of men said hate speech is protected as opposed to only 31 percent of women.

When it comes to controversial speakers on campus, 62 percent of students identifying as Democrats think it is acceptable to shout down an objectionable speaker, contrasted with only 39 percent of Republican students.

There is no difference in attitudes by public and private college students, but again males and females sharply disagree. Fifty-seven percent of men agree it is okay to disrupt a controversial speaker compared to 47 percent of women.

Jason Villasenor, a nonresident senior fellow at Brookings, said the most disturbing aspect of this finding is that overall 51 percent of students find it acceptable to shout down a speaker they find offensive. In response to a separate question, 19 percent of all students thought it was acceptable for student groups to use violence to block a speaker. Again, there was a significant gender difference, with 30 percent of males saying it was okay to use violence contrasted to 10 percent of females.

“The survey results establish what has been clear anecdotally to anyone who has been observing campus dynamics in recent years: Freedom of expression is deeply imperiled on US campuses,” he says.

Villasenor attributes student views to a lack of knowledge about what the First Amendment permits. For example, he posed a question about whether colleges are legally required to offset an offensive speaker with someone with an opposing view. Sixty-two percent of student respondents agreed colleges are required to balance offensive or hurtful speech with the other side, though Villasenor said there is no such constitutional requirement.

“Many of the respondents appear to be confusing good event design, which under some circumstances can indeed benefit from the presentation of counterpoints, with the completely different issue of what compliance with the First Amendment requires,” Villasenor says.

He also expressed dismay at student response to his question about whether they preferred a college atmosphere that prohibited offensive viewpoints on campus as opposed to an open learning environment that exposed students to a range of viewpoints. Fifty-three percent of students expressed a preference for a more sheltered college atmosphere. On this question, the widest gap was between Democrats and Republicans/Independents. Sixty-one percent of students identifying as Democrats favored limiting exposure to offensive speech, while only 47 percent of Republicans and 45 percent of Independents shared that preference.

Villasenor believes college faculty should assume greater responsibility for “fostering freedom of expression on their campuses.” He is doubtful that will happen because he suspects faculty members may share the same viewpoints as students.

He suggests starting earlier in middle and high schools to teach students about the First Amendment. “We don’t need to turn students into experts on constitutional law, but we can do a better job of giving them a fuller explanation of the scope of the First Amendment,” Villasenor says.

Amid Alarming Terrorism, War Declines Worldwide

News headlines make it seem as if the world is blowing up when in reality war between nations involving uniformed soldiers is the lowest it has been in decades.                                        (Photo Credit: DAVID BONAZZI FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE)

News headlines make it seem as if the world is blowing up when in reality war between nations involving uniformed soldiers is the lowest it has been in decades.                                        (Photo Credit: DAVID BONAZZI FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE)

Newspaper headlines blare that we live in dangerous times, but that overshadows another reality – we also live in one of the most peaceful times in modern history.

Despite high-profile terrorist attacks, data shows the number of deaths caused by war is markedly lower than in any time since World War II. When the Colombian government signed a ceasefire with rebels in June, it ended the lone remaining military conflict in the entire Western Hemisphere.

In a blog posted on Medium, political economist Angus Hervey wrote, “If you can tear your attention away from the 24-hour news cycle, you’ll be astonished to hear that we are experiencing one of the least discussed, yet most remarkable cultural shifts of all time: war, one of our species’ most abiding and defining social practices, is at its lowest ebb.”

An op-ed written by Joshua Goldstein and Steven Pinker in the Boston Globe claims, “For nearly two-thirds of a century, from 1945 to 2011, war had been in overall decline. The global death rate had fallen from 22 per 100,000 people to 0.3.”

There have been new armed conflicts in the Middle East, Africa and Ukraine. “The Syrian civil war became the bloodiest conflict in a generation, with hundreds of thousands killed, millions displaced, and multiple foreign powers joining the fight or supporting their proxies,” Goldstein and Pinker concede. But, they add, a partial ceasefire in Syria has sharply reduced casualties, the ceasefire in Ukraine has largely held and Boko Haram is being driven out of large chunks of its previously held territory.

“But, mercifully, as the major wars have died down, new ones have not sprung up in their place,” Goldstein and Pinker say. “Of special note is the continuing absence of wars between the world’s uniformed national armies. These forces exceed 20 million soldiers and are armed to the teeth. Yet the last sustained war between these armies was in 2003, in Iraq.”

Hervey stresses that war isn’t extinct. But it is declining, especially between states with some form of democracy. “After centuries of hard-earned lessons, people are starting to understand that governance really matters,” he wrote. “Democracy is more prevalent today than ever before, and despite all its obvious flaws, it’s still a hell of a lot better than authoritarianism and feudal serfdom.”

“Since democracies don’t usually go to war with each other, the likelihood of interstate war, which kills more people than the kinds of intermittent, non-state conflicts we see today, is declining,” Hervey concluded. "As the world becomes more interconnected, the powerful have ever more incentives to avoid the catastrophic economic consequences of going to war, too. Conflict isn’t good for your economy in a world of dense trade networks and digital flows.”

Hervey says as major warfare declines, mankind has “an opportunity to turn our collective efforts to overcoming other forms of violence such as domestic abuse, slavery and racial, political and religious persecution.” He might have added the “violence” caused by drug addiction and climate change.

The world isn’t good enough, but it seems to be getting better. “War,” Hervey says, “is not inevitable."