Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Pacific

Like many people who have a fascination with the history of the Second World War I was delighted to hear that the same people who gave us Band of Brothers, the excellent miniseries about the 101 Airborne in the war in Europe, were producing another miniseries about the Marine Corps in the Pacific theater.

The trailer seems to portend good things:

However I began to hear some disturbing comments from producer Tom Hanks like the following:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

It seems that Mr. Hanks believes in three sets of moral equivalence. One, that the war against Japan is exactly the same as the current war against Islamofascism. Two, that the United States and the Japanese Empire were on the same moral level during WWII. And three, that the United States and the Islamic terrorists are on the same moral level today.

Needless to say Mr. Hanks has been taken to task for his statements. John Nolte at Big Hollywood had this to say:
We all assumed ”The Pacific” would be another “Band of Brothers,” and maybe it will be. But much has changed since “Brothers,” a miniseries produced prior to 9/11 (the HBO premiere was Sept. 9th, 2001). The very real Bush Derangement Syndrome (BDS) that has taken over so much of Hollywood and turned otherwise impressive filmmakers into ham-handed propagandists hadn’t quite taken hold yet. However, today Hanks is showing all the symptoms. Will this affect “The Pacific?”
John Hinderaker at Powerline offered this:

What is happening today actually bears a considerable resemblance to the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. Contrary to Hanks's thoughtless slander, before 1941 probably not a single American was interested in "annihilating [the Japanese] because they were different." As evidenced by our laxity when it came to national defense. After Pearl Harbor, however, we had no choice but to swing into action--not to annihilate those who are different, but to defeat Japan and restore the peace. The Filipinos were "different" too, of course, so did we take time out to annihilate them? Um, no.

Likewise with the current conflicts. Prior to September 11, far from setting out to annihilate those who are "different," we protected Muslims in Bosnia, tried to save Somalians from the warlords, and rescued Kuwait from Saddam Hussein. Notwithstanding endless provocations, Americans were happy to leave it at that until Islamic terrorists murdered 3,000 Americans. Once again, we had to swing into action. So, did we "annihilate" those "different" Afghans and Iraqis? No, we established democracies and tried to bring both of those countries into the modern world by, among other things, liberating their women. How can a person of normal intelligence, as Hanks no doubt is, be so blind to reality? Presumably it has to do with swimming in the perverse, liberal water of Hollywood.

And the historian Victor Davis Hanson asks Is Tom Hanks Unhinged?

. . . Hanks’ comments were sadly infantile pop philosophizing offered by, well, an ignoramus.

Hanks thinks he is trying to explain the multifaceted Pacific theater in terms of a war brought on by and fought through racial animosity. That is ludicrous. Consider:

1) In earlier times, we had good relations with Japan (an ally during World War I, that played an important naval role in defeating imperial Germany at sea) and had stayed neutral in its disputes with Russia (Teddy Roosevelt won a 1906 Nobel Peace Prize for his intermediary role). The crisis that led to Pearl Harbor was not innately with the Japanese people per se (tens of thousands of whom had emigrated to the United States on word of mouth reports of opportunity for Japanese immigrants), but with Japanese militarism and its creed of Bushido that had hijacked, violently so in many cases, the government and put an entire society on a fascistic footing. We no more wished to annihilate Japanese because of racial hatred than we wished to ally with their Chinese enemies because of racial affinity. In terms of geo-strategy, race was not the real catalyst for war other than its role among Japanese militarists in energizing expansive Japanese militarism.

2) How would Hanks explain the brutal Pacific wars between Japanese and Chinese, Japanese and Koreans, Japanese and Filipinos, and Japanese and Pacific Islanders, in which not hundreds of thousands perished, but many millions? In each of these theaters, the United States was allied with Asians against an Asian Japan, whose racially-hyped “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere,” aimed at freeing supposedly kindred Asians from European and white imperialism, flopped at its inauguration (primarily because of high-handed Japanese feelings of superiority and entitlement, which, in their emphasis on racial purity, were antithetical to the allied democracies, but quite in tune with kindred Axis power, Nazi Germany.)

3) Much of the devastating weaponry used on the Japanese (e.g., the B-29 fire raids, or the two nuclear bombs) were envisioned and designed to be used against Germany (cf. the 1941 worry over German nuclear physics) or were refined first in the European theater (cf. the allied fire raids on Hamburg and Dresden). Much of the worst savagery of the war came in 1945 when an increasingly mobilized and ever more powerful United States steadily turned its attention on Japan as the European theater waned and then ended four months before victory in the Pacific theater. Had we needed by 1945 to use atomic bombs, or massive formations of B-29s when they came on line, against Hitler, we most certainly would have.

We should also point out that for many Americans, initially in 1941-2, the real war was with the Japanese, not the Germans (despite an official policy of privileging the European theater in terms of supply and manpower), but not because of race hatred, but due to the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

Until then (Hitler would in reaction unwisely declare war on the U.S. on December 11, 1941) Germany had been careful to maintain the pretense of non-belligerency, while Japan chose to start a war through a rather treacherous surprise assault at a time of nominal peace — thus inciting furor among the American public.

Despite Hanks’ efforts at moral equivalence in making the U.S. and Japan kindred in their hatreds, America was attacked first, and its democratic system was both antithetical to the Japan of 1941, and capable of continual moral evolution in a way impossible under Gen. Tojo and his cadre. It is quite shameful to reduce that fundamental difference into a “they…us” 50/50 polarity. Indeed, the most disturbing phrase of all was Hanks’ suggestion that the Japanese wished to “kill” us, while we in turn wanted to “annihilate” them. Had they developed the bomb or other such weapons of mass destruction (and they had all sorts of plans of creating WMDs), and won the war, I can guarantee Hanks that he would probably not be here today, and that his Los Angeles would look nothing like a prosperous and modern Tokyo.

4) What is remarkable about the aftermath of WWII is the almost sudden postwar alliance between Japan and the U.S., primarily aimed at stopping the Soviets, and then later the communist Chinese. In other words, the United States, despite horrific battles in places like Iwo Jima and Okinawa, harbored little official postwar racial animosity in its foreign policy, helped to foster Japanese democracy, provided aid, and predicated its postwar alliances — in the manner of its prewar alliances — on the basis of ideology, not race. Hanks apparently has confused the furor of combat — in which racial hatred often becomes a multiplier of emotion for the soldier in extremis — with some sort of grand collective national racial policy that led to and guided our conduct.

An innately racist society could not have gone through the nightmare of Okinawa (nearly 50,000 Americans killed, wounded, or missing), and yet a mere few months later have in Tokyo, capital of the vanquished, a rather enlightened proconsul MacArthur, whose deference to Japanese religion, sensibilities, and tradition ensured a peaceful transition to a rather radical new independent and autonomous democratic culture.

5) Hanks quips, “Does that sound familiar, by any chance, to what’s going on today?” That is another unnecessary if asinine statement — if it refers to our struggle against radical Islam in the post 9/11 world. The U.S. has risked much to help Muslims in the Balkans and Somalia, freed Kuwait and Iraq in two wars against Saddam Hussein, liberated or helped to liberate Afghanistan both from the Russians and the Taliban, and has the most generous immigration policy toward Muslims of any country in the world, ensuring a degree of tolerance unimaginable to Muslims in, say, China or Russia. Hanks should compare the U.S. effort to foster democracy in Iraq with the Russian conduct in Chechnya to understand “what’s going on today.”

In short Hanks’s comments are as ahistorical as they are unhinged. . .

. . . All in all, such moral equivalence (the Japanese and the U.S. were supposedly about the same in their hatreds) is quite sad, and yet another commentary on our postmodern society that is as ignorant about its own past as it is confused in its troubled present.

In addition to what has been said above I would add a few of my own observations.

In a war soldiers have the task of closing with and killing the enemy. This is difficult and dangerous and deeply distasteful to civilized human beings. In every war in history those tasked with fighting have sought to dehumanize the enemy in order to make their jobs just a bit easier.

Both the Greeks and the Romans called their enemies barbarians. Christians and Muslims called each other heathens and infidels. During the Second World War the allies called the Germans names like "Kraut", "Heinie", "Fritz", "Hun" and "Bosche". We even produced a propaganda documentary called Why We Fight which depicted the German "race" as brutal and thuggish barbarians bent on a centuries long obsession to rule the world.

It should be pointed out here that more Americans of European descent trace their ancestry back to Germany than to the British Isles.

The thesis that America's attitude toward the Japanese was materially different from our attitude toward the Germans because of race clearly doesn't hold water.

Why Hanks wants to make the case that it does is anyone's guess. Perhaps Bush Derangement Syndrome causes permanent damage to its victim's higher reasoning ability. Perhaps Hanks has heard from friends in Hollywood that Band of Brothers harmed his left-wing street cred and wants to regain it.

I will give The Pacific a chance. If it is anywhere as good as Band of Brothers it will make a fine addition to our nation's library of WWII cinema. I will expect the American Marines who are fighting the Japanese to refer to them with various derogatory epithets like "Jap" and "Nip" because that is historically accurate. If that is the extent of the racism that Mr. Hanks finds in our conduct of the war it will not ruin my enjoyment of the series.

However if Hanks depicts Roosevelt in the White House ordering Marshall and King to exterminate the yellow dogs because they worship the sun goddess I'll pop in a DVD of They Were Expendable and cross Hanks off the list of people whose work I respect.