“From Here to Harrisburg:” Josh Shapiro is Frank Sinatra and Mastriano is the Bully Borgnine.
As soon as Doug Mastriano mauled his way onto Pennsylvania’s political scene by bloviating the Big Lie that the 2020 Election was “stolen” from Donald Trump (despite 60 court decisions proving otherwise), I knew he reminded me of someone. I couldn’t quite place him, but knew I had seen him before.
So, I sat down in my comfortable chair to watch one of my favorite old movies, the brilliant 1953 Academy Award winning “From Here to Eternity,” starring Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra, Montgomery Clift, Donna Reed and Debra Kerr. When Ernest Borgnine (as Sgt. Fatso Judson) sneakily pulled a switchblade knife on Frank Sinatra’s likeable “ Pvt. Maggio” in an early barroom scene, it jolted me straight up. That was it.
Mastriano was Borgnine: bullying, sadistic, crass, pig-headed, closed minded and a bigot, who referred to the physically smaller Sinatra’s Italian-American Maggio as “a little wop.” Borgnine’s Sgt. Fatso Judson, in charge of the Stockade at the Army Base in pre-Pearl Harbor Hawaii, ends up beating Sinatra’s Maggio to death simply because he didn’t like him.
When Montgomery Clift’s character Robert Prewitt — Maggio’s best friend — confronted Borgnine’s Fatso Judson about killing the happy-go-lucky Sinatra character, the brutish Sgt. admitted it, bragging that Maggio “deserved it.”
The more I looked at the bully Borgnine in “From Here to Eternity,” the more I saw Mastriano. This was fiction, I told myself, but Mastriano was all too real.
Not being one who judges a book by it’s cover — despite Mastriano’s eerie physical resemblance to Borgnine’s evil character — I did some research from Mastriano’s own writings. I went back 21 years, and found his “thesis” which he wrote toward his Master’s Degree at the Air Command & Staff College, Air University. Remarkably, it’s available on the official Department of Defense website.
Entitled “The Civilian Putsch of 2018: Debunking the Myth of a Civil-Military Leadership Rift,” it was an arresting title for a thesis, written in 2001, which created an imaginary world 17 years in the future. Odd, I thought, for a Military College to accept fiction in a Master’s Degree program. Having taught & taken creative writing & screenwriting classes, I thought Mastriano’s poorly written, made-up story, might be more appropriate for that setting. But, fiction? At a Graduate Military School?
Nevertheless, I persisted, and plowed through Mastriano’s mock-reality, hoping for some interesting story-telling or new insights. Instead, what I found was 65 pages of a fanatical diatribe, reminding me of the other-world screeching of Savonarola, the puritanical Dominican friar of 15th Century Italy who headed “bonfires of the vanities,” to destroy of all things condemned by religious authorities.
Throughout the pages of his parade of prejudices, Mastriano expressed his “disgust with anyone who doesn’t hold his view that homosexuality is a form of ‘aberrant sexual conduct,” said former George W. Bush Administration White House official Peter Feaver, who Mastriano footnotes in his paper. If anything, Feaver failed to turn the temperature up high enough.
Mastriano’s madness over “homosexuals in the military, “ and a “morally depraved and relativistic populace”, gushes from his pen, like a crayon-scrawled edict nailed to a church door, rather than a “research” paper. His apocalyptic vision of a decaying world and military is obsessed with “moral anarchy,” “worship of Hedonism,” and the consistent theme that the “assault started with the insertion of homosexuality in the military.” But Mastriano was just warming up. It was time for him to pull a Fatso Judson, and unsheath his switchblade.
“The political correctness of the 1990’s established moral relativism as the norm, “ Mastriano wrote, railing against “homosexuality sensitivity training.” Ironically, Mastriano also writes about the “duty to uphold the Constitution,” as opposed to “overzealous loyalty to one person,” — -the exact opposite of what he himself, and his fellow “Stop the Steal” sycophants did for Trump.
Mastriano’s misogynistic & homophobic missive, which called for the reinstatement of the “macho warrior spirit” in the military, at a time when women and gays were being welcomed to serve, is far too reactive to be called “research,” and it’s as discredited as the book he whipped up about the life of World War I hero, Sgt. Alvin York — so full of falsehoods that the publisher is reissuing a “corrected” copy this year.
We were warned about bone-headed bullies like Mastriano, by Frank Sinatra in 1945, some eight years before Maggio confronted Borgnine’s Fatso Judson. To support the US War effort against the Fascists in Europe, and to fight growing anti-Semitism at home, Sinatra did a short documentary, accompanied by a patriotic song.
The film was called “The House I Live In,” and the song was entitled “What is America To Me.” (Watch the 10 minute short film and hear the Sinatra song by clicking on this link:
In the dramatic lead-up to the song, Sinatra — who was a passionate civil rights advocate at the time, and always took the side of the underdog — stopped a group of boys from picking on a young Jewish kid.
“You must be a bunch of those Nazis I been hearing about, “ Sinatra said to the boys, who surrounded him, screaming that they were Americans.
“I’m an American,” Sinatra said. “Religion makes no difference except maybe to a Nazi or somebody that’s stupid.” Then, Sinatra went on with a monologue that defined what he felt it was to be an American, foreshadowing his role of Maggio years later:
“This country is made up of 100 different kinds of people, and 100 different ways of talking, and 100 different ways of going to church — but they’re all American ways. Wouldn’t we be silly if we run around hating people because they comb their hair different than ours? Wouldn’t we be a lot of dopes?
My Dad came from Italy, but I’m an American. Should I hate you because your people came from Ireland or France or Russia? Wouldn’t that be a first-class fat-head? Use your good American heads — don’t let anyone make suckers out of you.”
What America was to Frank Sinatra in 1945, or 1953, or throughout the rest of his adult life, was far different from the shriveled, theocratic straightjacket shouted about by Mastriano for the past two decades. If only he had listened more to the sound of other people’s voices instead of his own, and took a moment to understand the meaning of the words Sinatra sang to lift an entire nation in 1945:
“WHAT IS AMERICA TO ME?
A NAME, A MAP, THE FLAG I SEE —
A CERTAIN WORD — DEMOCRACY —
THAT IS AMERICA TO ME.”
I’m with Sinatra, and Shapiro, on this one — defending democracy.