Thursday, February 18, 2010

Thoughts on THE PACIFIC

Tuesday, February 16, marked the 65th Anniversary of the American assault to retake Corregidor from the Japanese. A small group of us gathered at the Spanish Flagpole on Topside for a 48-star flag-raising to commemorate the event. Following two weeks of fighting, General Douglas MacArthur returned to officially proclaim the island secured. On March 2nd we are hoping for a good crowd to commemorate MacArthur’s return to the Rock with another flag-raising ceremony. If you are local, please consider joining us that day. For more information on the story of the “Rock Force,” go to

Most Americans know little about the War in the Pacific. Asked to name some of the events, most would probably be able to recall something about Pearl Harbor, the battle for Iwo Jima, and that the United States dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For many in the younger generations, such knowledge has come from movies, and as you well know, the vast majority of good World War II movies focus on the fighting and concentration camps in Europe.

In case you haven’t heard, HBO will soon air a ten-part mini-series entitled “THE PACIFIC.” It is considered the Pacific counterpart to the outstanding “Band of Brothers” mini-series which aired years ago and is available on DVD (highly recommended by many). The executive producers for “THE PACIFIC” are Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, and Gary Goetzman. It follows three marines as they island hop from Guadalcanal to Cape Gloucester, to Iwo Jima, and finally to Okinawa. The title appears to be a bit misleading, considering that the battle for Guadalcanal did not occur until eight months after Pearl Harbor and three months after the surrender of the Philippines. We are strongly hoping that these facets of the story are covered by flashbacks or other means. Like anything done by Steven Spielberg and/or Tom Hanks, we expect this series to be top notch. Just realize that it covers a much narrower subject field – as far as we know - than its name implies, and you should not be disappointed.

We suggest watching how the Japanese are portrayed throughout the mini-series. That will be telling. Are the soldiers simply following orders, shooting back at the enemy who is trying to kill them? No one can find fault with that; that’s what soldiers are expected to do. Or will there be depictions showing their fanaticism, and the beastly treatment of their prisoners? We’re not just talking about American POWs here. Recall that the Japanese slaughtered millions in China (e.g. the Rape of Nanking) before Hitler invaded Poland in 1939. No matter what you thought of Tears in the Darkness, you’d have to be pretty dense to read that book and not come away realizing what type of enemy the American and Filipino troops faced in battle and as their captors. (There are such readers; see some of the Tears reviews on

We hope that some day Spielberg, Hanks, or someone of their stature tackles the Bataan Death March, the fall of the Philippines, the plight of the POWs – military and civilian – and the liberation of the Philippine Islands, including the Battle of Manila. This element of WW II has never been very well told on film, and most people today are likely to become aware of it only through a movie of the epic proportions and advertising budget of a “Schindler’s List” or “Saving Private Ryan.” It is hard for the former POWs of the Japanese to avoid feeling that they were ignored, first while fighting the Japanese, then while in the prison camps for over three years, next by the post-war government, and finally by the movie industry after the war. How bad was their POW treatment? Steve’s father, who was, like so many others, a POW of the Japanese for over three years, endured daily deliberate humiliation, frequent beatings, constant starvation, little to no medical care, and slave labor. He once said, “I wouldn’t take $1,000,000 to go through that for one day!”

At this time, HBO is considering a showing of “The Making of THE PACIFIC” to media guests here in the Malinta Tunnel in mid-March, before the movie’s Asian release which is set three weeks after its March 14 debut in the United States.

This email came to us recently from a university professor friend, concerning Tears in the Darkness:

I enjoyed your comments on the Norman's book. I do think it is one of the best descriptions of the POW experience, but its fact checking was very faulty. I stopped counting errors in the Oryoku Maru section at 35. (Admittedly, most were minor.) My biggest beef was their putting Zero Ward at Camp O'Donnell. Zero Ward was at Cabanatuan. There was a somewhat comparable, "St Peter's Ward", at O'Donnell, but it, and the O'Donnell "hospital" were run very differently from that at Cabanatuan. Confusing the two meant the Normans mixed stories about deaths at the two camps.
Around the same time as this email arrived, Steve had a discussion with a visiting doctor about Tears in the Darkness. The guest commented that he was aware of a new book out concerning the Bataan Death March. When Steve told him that it was both one of the best and one of the most disappointing books he had ever read on the subject, the man asked why. Steve then told him about the great descriptions contained within the book, but also discussed the apparent carelessness regarding fact checking, and that no corrections were made prior to publishing in paperback.

The doctor’s daughter currently attends the Journalism School at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. When Steve told him that co-author Michael Norman taught journalism at New York University, the doctor was incredulous. He said that his daughter’s journalism professor gives overnight three-page writing assignments, and if he finds a single error – spelling, punctuation, grammatical, or factual – the paper is given an automatic F- grade. Given that the best-selling book was 10 years in researching and writing, and that the authors credit assistance from hundreds of experts listed in the back of the book, it makes one wonder how an NYU journalism professor and his wife, already an accomplished author and NYU professor of humanities, would be willing to sign their names to a book with so many significant problems.

1 comment:

  1. Daughter of the USMCMarch 14, 2010 at 7:59 PM

    I just watched the brief "Making of the Pacific" on HBO and was surprised at my reaction: bitter tears. I am 60 years old. My father died in 1961 while still on active duty.

    Here's what got me: the explanation of how the Japanese viewed those who surrendered, and then the producers' apparent decision to treat the story of Bataan and Corregidor with the same contempt, that is, act as if it's not part of the story.

    Shame, shame on them.