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Home » Archives » December 2006 » Eastwood's Movies about Iwo Jima Raise Warnings

Eastwood's Movies about Iwo Jima Raise Warnings

Tuesday, December 26, 2006 Posted: 10:50 AM JST

The Japan Times has an excellent article today about Clint Eastwood's two movies about Iwo Jima, written by Kiroku Hanai. Hanai feels that Eastwood's take on Iwo Jima is strongly anti-war and also fair: "Unlike past U.S. war movies, this film shows both the good and bad sides of the Japanese Army, he writes.

This is especially true for "Letters from Iwo Jima," says Hanai.

"The second movie, 'Letters from Iwo Jima,' mostly depicts the battle on the island, especially the savagery and madness of the war. Unlike the first movie that featured Americans, it focuses on Japanese, and shows that among the Japanese Army personnel there was a compassionate and intelligent commander and a kind officer who ordered care for wounded U.S. soldiers.

Also shown is a brutal Japanese noncommissioned officer pummeling his men and a Japanese officer shooting to death Japanese soldiers who were about to surrender.

With a few exceptions, US movies about WWII tend to show the Americans as the ultimate good guys who never commit any war crimes, whereas Germans and Japanese are portrayed as savages. A common scene in such movies is allied POWs being killed by the Germans or the Japanese. The US forces also committed such acts, but this is almost never shown in US movies. The television miniseries Band of Brothers, based on true events, is one of the exceptions with a scene where an American GI offers cigarettes to German POWs before proceeding to mow them down. But even here the killing itself is not shown. You only here the shots.

During the US invasion of Okinawa, a number of Japanese POWs were shot after interrogation, and the same is said to have happened on Iwo Jima. Eastwood does not shrink from showing that, and this deserves praise, says Hanai:

"I was horrified by a scene in which U.S. military personnel casually shot and killed two Japanese soldiers who had surrendered, as if to get rid of a nuisance. Eastwood deserves praise for dramatizing such behavior."

War brings both the best and the worst out of people, no matter what culture they are part of. Because most movies use the "friend" versus "enemy" mode, they perpetuate wartime propaganda that "we" are the good guys and "they" are the bad guys. Eastwood, according to Hanai, has not fallen into this ancient trap:

"I was shocked by an early scene in "Flags" in which a U.S. soldier is abandoned after accidentally falling overboard from a ship carrying his comrades to a battlefield. War breeds inhuman acts, forcing cruelty on any country and people."

Hanai manages to connect Eastwood's movies to the current political climate in Japan, and warns that recent changes in the education and SDF laws are potentially dangerous.

"Even though postwar problems remain unsettled, the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is moving to overhaul Japan's postwar system based on peace and democracy. On Dec. 15, the Diet enacted the revised Fundamental Law of Education and the law to elevate the Defense Agency to a ministry.

The revised education law calls for the inculcation of "love for our homeland and native place," which I fear could be used to revive nationalistic education. The law is reminiscent of the prewar Imperial script on education, in which "loyalty and patriotism" was the key phrase that drove young Japanese to war.

The elevation of the Defense Agency to a ministry could touch off moves for Japan to focus more on military affairs rather than on economic policy. The Self-Defense Forces, if freed from past policy restraints on military activities, could abandon basic principles such as the three-point non-nuclear policy -- not possessing, not manufacturing and not permitting the entry of nuclear weapons in Japanese territory -- the defense-only military posture and civilian control of the SDF.

Abe has indicated he wants a review of the SDF's right to collective defense, which past Japanese administrations have interpreted as constitutionally banned. Some influential lawmakers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, are openly talking about the possibility of Japan's going nuclear. Older generations may already have started hearing military boots marching in cadence.

Keywords: arts_entertainment opinion_item political_news

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4 comments so far post your own

1 | At 01:56pm on Jan 09 2007, R. Mateljan wrote:
It is true that horrible acts were committed by all sides in the War, -by the U.S. not the least of which was the strategic firebombing and nuking of Japanese civilians, which everyone knows, but however do not include the Japanese practices of cannibalism, torture, medical experimentation on POWs including live vivisection and biological death, bayonet practice and purposely and systematically working and starving POWs to death without medical treatment for the enrichment of Japanese industry; which has never been acknowledged or apologized for. All one needs to look at are the survival rates of Axis POWs held by the Allies, as well as those of Allied POWs in German POW camps vs. the survival rates of U.S. airmen in the hands of the Japanese. Of the 20th Air Forceís 5,000 B-29 crewmen shot down over Japan, less than 200 survived the war due to these calculated inhuman practices.
2 | At 03:08pm on Jan 09 2007, Kjeld Duits wrote:
You write "Of the 20th Air Forceís 5,000 B-29 crewmen shot down over Japan, less than 200 survived the war due to these calculated inhuman practices."

What is your source for this figure?

According to the official casualty figures of the 20th Air Force, there were 3,415 casualties between February 1943 and August 1945. Of those, 2,406 were missing, interned or captured.

Primary source:
Army Air Forces Statistical Digest:
Battle Casualties in Twentieth Air Force - XX and XXI Bomber Commands, By Type of Casualty and By Type of Personnel: Dec 1941 to Aug 1945.....Page 58
3 | At 08:42pm on Jan 09 2007, Jim wrote:
For movies that depict the brutal side of military life I suggest the movies "Saving Private Ryan" where American soldiers are shown killing two Germans who were trying to surrender and the movie "Master and Commander, The Far Side of the World" where captain Aubrey is forced to abandon a sailor who fell overboard during a storm.

There are many more American and British made movies with similar scenes. Some of the incidents can be very subtle and you would need to understand what you are seeing to get it. Unfortunate real life events. Life is like that sometimes.
4 | At 08:53pm on Jan 09 2007, Kjeld Duits wrote:
I thought "Saving Private Ryan" gave a very realistic view of war. You walked out of the theater hoping that you would never have to be in one. These kind of movies, unfortunately, are still the "few exceptions" as mentioned in the article.

I watched "Letters" last week, and although it did show the horrors of war, it still wasn't able to show how bad Iwo Jima really was. For that I guess you really have to be there...
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The now legendary Sir Ernest Mason Satow (1843-1929) was a member of the British legation in Tokyo for twenty-one years. This classic book is based on the author's detailed diary, personal encounters, and keen memory. In it, Satow records the history of the critical years of social and political upheaval that accompanied Japan's first encounters with the West around the time of the Meiji Restoration. Fascinating.
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