March 15, 2010

Tom Hanks and "The Pacific"

By: Sonny Bunch

The first episode of HBO’s sequel to Band of Brothers, The Pacific, premiered last night. It was pretty solid, though a little slow in the offing. If it’s half as good as Band of Brothers — a miniseries I find to be the single most moving portrait of troops in combat ever — it’ll be pretty amazing. I am a little worried that unlike its predecessor The Pacific doesn’t start in boot camp and really introduce us to all of the men in the unit. One of the reasons that Band of Brothers was so successful is that we really grew to know and love the guys we were following around, and we grew to know and love them because we saw them come together at basic and then travel across Europe. Joining the Marines as they’re on the seas to Guadalcanal skips some of that. We’ll see if it affects the series.

I would like to comment briefly on executive producer Tom Hanks’ ridiculous recent comments. While talking about the series, he told Time

Back in World War II, we viewed the Japanese as ‘yellow, slant-eyed dogs’ that believed in different gods. They were out to kill us because our way of living was different. We, in turn, wanted to annihilate them because they were different. Does that sound familiar, by any chance, to what’s going on today?”

Hm. Now, I don’t think we can deny that there was a fair amount of “otherizing” of the Japanese during the Second World War. But I also think it’s insane to suggest that America “wanted to annihilate them because they were different.” America wanted to annihilate the Japanese because of the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor and imperial aggression in the Pacific that drug us into World War Two. American troops wanted to annihilate the Japanese because of the atrocities they committed during the war — in the very first episode of The Pacific you see a trio of troops who have been mutilated by Japanese soldiers. Somebody made this point earlier in the week, but World War Two was a war in which Americans were allied with the Chinese and the Filipinos and fighting against German and Italian foes — nations that, aside from Great Britain and Ireland, provided the highest levels of immigration to this country in the preceding decades. Is there any real doubt that America wanted to annihilate the Nazis? What was the policy of unconditional surrender in both Europe and Japan if not a wish to annihilate the enemy? It had nothing to do with skin color.

And that’s leaving aside entirely the idea that we want to annihilate Muslims, which is equally insane. American military action in the current conflict has gone out of its way — even so far as putting American troops at risk — to avoid killing innocent Muslims. During his entire post-9/11 presidency George W. Bush went out of his way to say that Muslims in general weren’t the enemy. After 9/11 there were incredibly few hate crimes on Muslims in the United States. To say that the war on terror is a war designed to eliminate Muslims is something you’d expect to hear out of an al Qaeda press shop, not from one of the elder statesmen of American cinema.