As a history buff, I’m really looking forward to the premiere of the new HBO series The Pacific, which takes place on Sunday. I understand from friends who have had a chance to see an advanced screening of it that it’s sensational – even better, in fact, than Band of Brothers, which so far is the best thing I have ever seen on television and certainly the best thing on World War II that I’ve seen (though the History Channel’s WWII in HD, narrated by Gary Sinise, is sensational as well).
But as you probably know, The Pacific’s producer and Hollywood legend Tom Hanks has caused the series’ debut to be marred by controversy based on statements he made on MSNBC this week alleging the Pacific Theater conflict in WWII was driven by “racism and terror” just like our current struggle against jihadist Islam.
Here’s a good video summary if you missed the initial comments…
Hanks does excellent work in film, and I appreciate him very much for doing so. I am particularly appreciative for the excellent filmmaking he’s done with both Band of Brothers and now The Pacific – if the latter is anything like the former it will be an excellent tribute to an outstanding generation of heroic Americans who sacrificed all for freedom, and given the barrage of anti-American swill which has emanated from Hollywood, particularly on the subject of the current war against the jihadists, I still very much wish to see Hanks as one of the good guys.
Hanks has also been a terrific supporter of the D-Day Museum in New Orleans, which I would strongly encourage all our readers to visit at least once. He put together a film called Beyond All Borders which screens at the museum currently, and it’s fantastic.
And Hanks is correct to an extent. There is a collection of anti-Japanese propaganda at the D-Day Museum which is amazing in its crudity. Taking that material in tandem with the regrettable internment of Japanese-Americans during the war, and it’s not over the top to say that “racism” had a part to play in that conflict.
But Hanks took a basic point which had some validity and exploded it into a bunch of unforgivable gobbledygook. Historians would label his riff as something called “presentism,” which entails viewing history through a modern lens. Fallacies typically abound when doing so.
The Japanese were despised with vigor throughout America at the time, and they were richly deserving of all the scorn we could heap upon them. From the Rape of Nanking to Pearl Harbor to the Bataan Death March, their conduct during that era was barbaric in the extreme, and the failure of their citizenry to take responsibility for that conduct and the venomous culture their society possessed at the time and to get rid of a noxious government until two atomic bombs were dropped on them means that we as Americans had every right to treat them with as much savagery as was practicable. We did so. Since we taught them the harsh lesson of World War II, they have been a respectable and cherished ally, and I would argue that our experience with Japan has been the single greatest example of nation-building in human history. It is not without merit to say that America redeemed Japan by winning that war. As an American, I am extremely proud of my country for having done so. And I don’t take kindly to those who would diminish that astounding accomplishment by tainting it with the hackneyed charge of “racism.”
So to describe the war in the Pacific as driven by racism is stupid on Hanks’ part. There might have been a large degree of racism involved in our conduct at the time, but if so that racism was a product of legitimate outrage at a people who brought it upon themselves (though certainly Japanese-Americans were largely innocent victims and it’s a shame what they went through).
As to his comparison to the war against jihadist Islam, it’s sheer idiocy. First of all, Islam is a religion, not a race. There are indeed some parallels with jihadist Islam and the kamikaze culture of militarist Japan, in that both cultures worship death, both are marked by violent fanaticism, neither is bound by accepted notions of honor (which in practice translates into ubiquitous sneak attacks) and neither can be negotiated with or accomodated. Outside of that, however, bringing race into the equation with the current conflict is completely meritless. Iraqis and Afghans aren’t ethnically the same, and Somalis and Pakistanis certainly aren’t, either. Nor do Padilla and Gadahn or Richard Reid or Mutallab share similar genes. To use racism as a marker for this conflict shows a lack of vocabulary or critical thinking or both.
Hanks had an opportunity to make valid points about two costly overseas wars of attrition against implacable opponents of thoroughly dissimilar cultures. He blew it because he is too heavily imbued with the Hollywood Left vernacular and its small-minded moral equivalence. I’m not going to give up on the man, though – he might not understand geopolitics or history, but at least he doesn’t make films castigating America as the villain, and I can’t say that for the majority of Hollywood.