Tom Hanks delivered last night with the first installment of “The Pacific” on HBO. The bravado of “be home by next Christmas” goes completely out the window when the Marines land on Guadalcanal. The terror of their first night time firefight is truly griping. When I was in high school I remember reading “The Guadalcanal Diary” by Richard Tregaskis. It grabbed my attention then and this mini-series last night on HBO brought back memories of those scenes described by him. Has anyone else read the book or started watching the series? I’d like to hear your comments.
It was one of the fastest hour I have seen on TV. I was thrust into the war in the Pacific as fast as the young men who enlisted on December 8, 1941. There was no time to think. Watching them slog through the jungle after a rather peaceful landing on the island, I knew all hell would break loose soon as the story began to unfold. It wasn’t pretty and there was no patriotic music to cover the horror. Looking at the comments made both by Tregaskis and the writer of the HBO series, one would be shocked at the blatant racism until one realizes that once one objectifies the enemy, that enemy ceases to be human and becomes easier to kill without the usual remorse of killing another human being. We saw the same behavior in Europe, Korea, Viet Nam and now Afghanistan and Iraq. I suppose it is a defense against any moral or psychological feelings of condemnation. It seems to be natural. The old William Tecumseh Sherman axiom that war is hell is more than evident in this mini-series. If you watched the “Hurt Locker” then you are geared for this presentation. There is nothing pretty (except the setting of the South Sea Islands) about this story. It is very unsettling. It was brutal, it broke people and affected them for the rest of their lives. I cannot imagine even for a moment what it was like. If you have a comment about this aspect, please insert it below. I think we would all like to hear it.
Several years ago, when I was still teaching I organized a group of students into a club called “Welcome Home.” We worked in conjunction with the USO at San Francisco International Airport. Our job was two-fold: we left our politics and our attitude toward the invasion of Iraq at curbside and two, we brought banners, musicians and balloons to welcome home the soldiers from Iraq. I can only tell you that every time we did this, I was moved to tears at these American’s coming off the plane being rushed by their wives, children and moms and dads. They had been asked to do the unimaginable carrying with them private experiences no one should be asked to experience. For me it was a way to bridge the differences between what the previous administration was doing and the people who were asked to do it. No politics, no animosity, no left no right, just folks coming home.
It is true that Tregaskis was a journalist and obviously had an American bias, but a reading of his book he seems to try his best to be objective in spite of the sheer barbarity of the war. I want to follow the characters I met through this first episode, Pfc. Robert Leckie, Sgt. John Basilone, Pfc. Eugene Sledge and Pfc. Sidney Phillips. I know so little about this sometimes misunderstood theater of the Pacific, beyond the Hollywood versions that have come out during and since the war. I have been told that the main characters are real life characters who in their ordinary way, did extraordinary things. They were asked to do the unspeakable without the safety of flag-waving 6000 miles away (Hi, Dick and Rush). They were in it. They did it. This mini-series looks like the real thing.
If you see a soldier, thank them for their service. If you are a soldier, thank you.