Monday, March 15, 2010

“The Pacific” Premiers – In the First Hour, American Racism & Torture, and Moral Equivalency

The first episode of the Hanks/Spielberg Miniseries “The Pacific” aired last night. Oh boy.

Responsible for two pre-9/11 extremely well-done war stories set in the European Theater of WWII – “Saving Private Ryan” and “Band of Brothers,” the duo returns with an ambitious drama about a group of Marines in the Pacific Theater.

After the obligatory home front background vignettes, the action starts at Guadalcanal, with the story centered on a thoughtful new Marine who wants to be a writer and who had a very cold send off from his father. We hear many racist references to the Japanese uttered by a number of different guys. We see the Americans isolate a Japanese soldier in a shallow stream and torture him with non-fatal rifle shots until the Thoughtful Marine compassionately shoots him dead, thereby establishing him as the Moral One (in contrast to many of his fellow Marines). We see this Thoughtful, Moral Marine find and reflect over some possessions in a dead Japanese soldier’s bag -- a picture of that soldier and a young woman, a small figure (? a religious object) – which establishes the humanness of the enemy and suggests the moral equivalence of the combatants.

Hanks has created a stir with his recent comments emphasizing the racism of Americans toward the Japanese in WWII, because, says Hanks, the Japanese were so different in appearance and in culture. To many commentators, Hanks has magnified such feelings way out of proportion to historical reality, while ignoring, either from ignorance or design borne of ideology, the fact that Americans fought closely along side many other East Asian ethnicities (e.g., Filipinos, Chinese, Burmese), the tremendous cruelty of the Japanese (e.g., the “Rape of Nanking” and the Bataan Death March), the fact that America was viciously attacked without warning, and the tremendous kindness and effort with which Americans rebuilt Japan after the war. Furthermore, Hanks analogized the views of the American Marines toward the Japanese in WWII to what he feels are current racism-tinged wars in the Middle East today.

In what are probably less than the first 30 minutes of combat sequences in this miniseries, we see the particularly-post-9/11 liberal view that American servicemen, just regular, typical Americans, are often racists and torturers, and are morally equivalent with the enemy. Was every single Marine in WWII the paragon of virtue? Perhaps not, but by all accounts almost every one did his duty in a decent way under tremendous pressure, and yet Hanks and Spielberg chose to portray racism and torture in just the first episode. It’s very hard to understand where their minds have gone off to, and why.

John M Greco