Monday, March 15, 2010

History and America's wars

US executive producer and director Steven Spielberg (3rd-R), actor Tom Hanks (4th-L), US Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Scott Gould (2nd R), and former US Senator Elizabeth Dole (3rd-L) pose with others after laying a wreath during ceremony at the National WWII Memorial in Washington, DC, on March 11, 2010. The ceremony was organized to honor and pay tribute to WWII veterans who served in the Pacific. (Reuters/Daylife)

WASHINGTON - MARCH 11: Actor Tom Hanks poses for a photo with Marines after a World War II Memorial ceremony to pay tribute to World War II veterans of the Pacific on March 11, 2010 in Washington, DC. HBO is premiering this month a ten part miniseries 'The Pacific,' based on the true stories of World War II Marines who fought in the Pacific Theater. (Getty/Daylife)

Two from VFR: How do you get yourself made into a national icon on the cover of Time … and The Pacific.

The Time article

Mr. Hanks may be rightly criticized for his understanding of the United States, the virtue of patriotism, and of history, and for his anti-American attitude, which impacts his history-telling. (What else should we expect from a big Hollywood star?) But we can appreciate the courage and sacrifice of the Greatest Generation and still be critical of the way the war was waged and how the United States was maneuvered into entering the war. Or at least ask questions about what happened?

The Japanese were aggressors seeking to expand their empire; their attacks on American territories warranted war and a military response. We should seek to have a better understanding of the causes of the war and form appropriate moral judgments of the actions of all those involved, not just the Japanese. Traditional conservatives denounce jingoism and wars of aggression by the American government, and we seek a more accurate history, especially of World War II. But we do not accept the judgment offered to us by liberals who have no real patriotism, just love of their own moral superiority.

At the end of the first episode of The Pacific, in the aftermath of the big battle, the Americans torture the surviving Japanese officer. This is after an injured Japanese soldier uses a grenade and kills the Navy corpsman and marine attending to him. At first, the Americans shoot around him, preventing his escape and playing with his head, and then they shoot at his limbs, wounding him but not killing him. One of the main characters kills him, to end the sport and the officer's suffering. We witness the descent into savagery, and a kind of madness takes over which we would not see in everyday life.

We can recognize the virtue of those who served and yet also realize that war can be very brutal, which has an enormous psychological impact on everyone present and can be carried around by those who survive. In extreme situations, our emotions can become very powerful. And of course the anger of the common man can lead to racism and ethnic hatreds. These emotions may have poisoned some and become an act of the will, malice, but for many others they are not the sum of their personality, even if the emotions may have lingered for a long time. Dehumanization is necessary for normal men to get the job of killing other men done -- it is probably not the reason why most normal Americans volunteered to serve. (Whether racism played any role in the souls of those in the Roosevelt administration, God knows.) Mr. Hanks's problem is his simplifying of a complex reality and the reductionism of the causes of war in the name of a liberalism that stands apart from and in judgment of all these facts of life, without comprehending them. How easy it is for a liberal, who has never served in the military, to judge those who have. Without fully subscribing to "You had to be there to fully understand," I do believe that experience with war can help us to ruck a mile in the boots of the American soldier or marine, and civilians do those in the military a disservice when they pretend to know what it is like.

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