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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