Tom Hanks, Fine Actor, Historical Illiterate

Filed in Gather Books Essential by on April 10, 2010 0 Comments

The actor Tom Hanks has been going around the country flacking his mini-series about the Pacific War and telling all that the war with Japan was from the American perspective all about racism and terror.

I can only conclude by his ridiculous assumptions that he is, like many Hollywood personalities, historically illiterate. His very clear and largely unchallenged assertion that we fought the war in the Pacific because we were motivated by racial hatred of these folks in the land of the rising sun, the implication being that we had to beat them down because America wanted to maintain the superiority of the white man in every nook and cranny of the world. Hogwash.

If he actually read the memoirs on which his series is based, he might have had a better understanding of the war from the perspective of the Marines who actually did the hard and brutal first wave island fighting. Indeed, it is quite true that the men of our Armed Forces and most Americans hated the Japanese, but racism had nothing to do with it. We hated the Germans as well, our so-called white skinned brothers.

In simple terms both the Japanese and the Germans were, indeed, the hated enemy. The Japanese had carried out a sneak attack on our Pacific fleet in Pearl Harbor and invaded many of the islands and countries surrounding their homeland to declare themselves ruler of that part of the world. If one were to take Hanks at his word, one would have to reverse his accusation.

The fact is that in 1939 the Japanese thought of themselves as masters of their Pacific enclaves and that we Americans, allegedly a group of dumb and lazy self-indulgent slackers made up largely of bigoted white men and lowly blacks would not and could not summon the will and industry to defeat them. They felt arrogantly superior and looked upon us as inferior in will and arms. Sure we hated them for what they had done to us and for the swaggering bullying of their warlords who believed that they were invulnerable and superior.

In military terms they had every right to feel superior. They had a fierce, fanatic and dedicated Navy, Air Force and Army with what they believed and as our Armed forces quickly learned, had superior equipment and weaponry that proved lethal to our men in the early stages of the war. Indeed, if the Japanese were host to a band of Hollywood elite types within their own borders at the time, one can imagine their castigating their leaders for fomenting a war on the grounds of racial bigotry. Of course, they would be quickly silenced by their then repressive government.

If Hanks had read these memoirs carefully he would have noted that the Japanese were also superior in commitment. Their men were propagandized into believing that their Emperor was infallible and his line immortal and they fought to the death rather than surrender. Their tactics were ruthless and far, far beyond the assumptions that there is a law of war that puts restraints on the tactics of any war machine.

Hatred of one’s foe, however contrived or manufactured and for whatever reason is the single biggest motivator for a warrior in combat no matter what the cause of the institution he is fighting for. As a soldier I was taught from the get go that my mission was to kill the bad guys.

One might call such a concept the ultimate ugly truth, but as the memoirs on which the Pacific series is based stresses over and over again, the young men who fought the bloody Pacific war under the worst possible horrors and hardships hated their foe, viscerally and consistently, and they repeated this thought ad infinitum in their text. Most of this hatred was upfront and personal and largely motivated by the fact that the enemy was ruthlessly killing those with whom they had bonded. Armies are made up of bonded brothers and now sisters. The Japanese soldier must have felt exactly the same way. So much for accusations of racism. It is far easier to hate someone who has just killed your best friend than hate him because he looks different.

Our Army and Marines, made up of men who had grown up in the far less disciplined environment of the United States, who were never exposed to Asians and had no idea of the fierce loyalty of Japanese troops to their Emperor, were blindsided by the sheer horror of Japanese tactics which probably resulted in far more United States casualties than was ever imagined by our Admirals and Generals at the start of the war.

In one of the greatest combat memoirs of the Pacific War, one of the two on which the series is based, E.B. Sledge’s “The Old Breed” the writer recalled that the hatred on both sides was fierce nor was there any mention at all of a racial component to that hatred. Sledge was appalled by the Japanese willingness to kill stretcher bearers and torture wounded men and was equally appalled by what some Americans did to the Japanese, acts vividly portrayed in the series so far with ample screen time.

To further put the race argument to rest, one might cite that on the European continent two majority white race armies faced each other with equal dedication and ruthlessness. In fact, without the contrived motivation of a hated intractable enemy, it is unlikely that either side would have fought with the same fury and dedication. Or fight at all.

It is clear from Hanks’ remarks that he is placing the greatest burden of blame for the war on Americans, we unfeeling, racially motivated, know nothing, escapist soaked, quick to hate unwashed couch potatoes who get up every morning to decide which racial or religious group we should revile and persecute. It is this same stupidity that creates huge swaths of victimization wannabes who mistake criticism of monsters like our Jihad enemies as covering the whole 1.2 billion Muslims on earth.

Granted that parts of our country have had an abysmal record on matters of discrimination on the basis of skin color, religion and factionalism of every variety, not every one in America, then and now, tolerates discrimination of any kind. Blanket accusations and indictments are absurd. America has had an amazing record of course correction on the side of fairness, justice and decency. Interning Americans of Japanese descent in camps was, in retrospect, an overreaction even in the context of the times, but it did not prevent brave Japanese American young men for distinguishing themselves as part of our armed forces. Nothing is ever all black or all white.

Contrary to Mr. Hanks’ ignorant remarks, I will give odds that most Americans don’t really give a rat’s ass about who looks like what or who prays to whatever God or who talks funny or who comes from here or there. Within every race, religion, political party, or any association, institution or group there are some really terrible people. Even in Hollywood.

About the Author ()

Warren Adler is a world-renowned novelist, short story writer and playwright. His books have been translated into more than 25 languages and two of his novels, THE WAR OF THE ROSES and RANDOM HEARTS, have been made into enormously popular movies, shown c

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