How can you tell that the new HBO miniseries, The Pacific, which
documents the U.S. Pacific front in World War II, has contemporary
political resonance? Because the series' two famous producers, Tom
Hanks and Steven Spielberg, visited
the White House today to personally deliver President Obama's advance
copy. Clearly, Hanks and Spielberg want Obama -- and the rest of us --
to find The Pacific's application to present-day politics. Hanks has
even suggested as much. What does the much-heralded series, which
premiered Sunday, mean for American politics today?
- Resonance for War on Terror Tom Hanks hints to Time
that The Pacific should seem familiar to observers of today's "war on
terror" and the sometimes deranged attitude it produces towards
Muslims. "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?"
- Horrors of War Same Everywhere The Daily Beast's Bob Kerrey compares the plight of Pacific-theatre soldiers with "the stories told in David Finkel’s 2009 The Good Soldiers,
an account of a U.S. Army unit in Iraq that chronicles the transition
from the ordinary lives of ordinary men to soldiers doing extraordinary
and—by the standards of their other lives—terrible things. You know it
does not perish when you look into the eyes of every young man—and now
woman—who has hardened themselves to the necessities of war and then,
upon reentry to civilian life, wondered how they will adjust to the
fact that they have changed while no one around them has."
- Why Americans Forget Pacific Front The New Yorker's Nancy Franklin explains,
"Americans in the forties were more likely to look toward Europe when
thinking about the war; it was what they knew and understood, because
it was where most of them were from. They didn’t have to look at a map
to know where France was. Guadalcanal was a different story." Still
today, "Our shaky knowledge of the Pacific region remains a problem for
those trying to tell the story of the war." The complexities of the
Pacific front are so daunting, she writes, that the HBO special barely
attempts to explain them, instead focusing on personal stories of
- We Turned Away From Pacific's Violence Writing in the U.S. Naval Institute's historical magazine, Richard Frank suggests
the violence was just too big and too senseless to comprehend. "If this
portrait of the scale of the Asian-Pacific war constitutes a revelation
to contemporary Americans, full grasp of the savagery of that conflict
likewise provokes surprise. There are no certain figures for the
overall death toll in World War II. Published totals now customarily
range from 50 million to 65 million—the fact that even today there is
no agreement on deaths to within 10 million to 15 million is stunning.
The toll in the Asian-Pacific theaters is generally placed between 17
million and 27 million. Thus, at least a third and possibly closer to
half the conflict's worldwide deaths occurred in the Asian and Pacific
- No Appetite For Lectures Critics alternatively
praised or lamented the series' near-total absence of the big-picture
political and cultural forces behind the war, instead focusing on
simple soldiers' stories. The Wall Street Journal's Nancy Dewolf Smith writes, "Two of the series' most fundamental truths are delivered in single
lines. One comes when a taxi-driving vet who served in Europe tells
Leckie that the men who fought in the Pacific had the hardest war.
Another becomes clear at a sunny behind-the-lines military base where
flowers grow and buxom nurses abound—and we are reminded that this
picture, familiar even now, is a fake. For most, the Pacific was only
blood, mud and lonely, unmitigated fear."
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