A couple of years ago, I was introduced to Band of Brothers, the hugely successful HBO miniseries about the 101st Airborne and their accomplishments in the European theater in World War II, and was instantly hooked. The miniseries focused more on individual American soldiers and their subsequent achievements and flaws and kept, save for a few instances, the Nazi’s in a faceless shroud. It was effective one-sided, dehumanization that made you cheer for the soldiers of Easy Company even more.
Yet very rarely did you ever consider the Nazi’s to be “evil”. In one episode, the viewer discovers that an American had answered the call to return to the Fatherland, and that one Easy Company trooper lived just miles away from his Nazi enemy. The exception does come from the episode highlighting the Holocaust, but the drama focused primarily on the characters; mostly because most Americans live and feed off the stories from the European Theater — we see them so often that we do not even need to hear them anymore — and we know that the Nazis were, as an organization, evil (and that’s why Inglorious Basterds doesn’t need a narrative preface).
The spiritual successor of Band of Brothers, The Pacific, which aired its first episode this past Sunday, is different. Besides Pearl Harbor, the nuclear bombings, and maybe the Battle of Midway; the stories of the Pacific Theater need to be introduced through a historical lens and can not lend itself on characters alone (which is why we hear the series producer Tom Hanks in the beginning of the episode introducing Guadalcanal). Understudied history SHOULD quickly become gray history, in which there should be no black and white of good and evil. But it doesn’t. Because we are Americans, and we won. Unlike the war in Europe, good and evil carries implications of racial politics and that’s where America finds itself at a crossroad.
The argument suddenly boils down between racial lines. Tom Hanks caught himself in controversy with a cover story in Time Magazine, and attracted mindless dribble (mostly conservatives bashing Hollywood for being unpatriotic), but I link to a more elegant response by Victor Davis Hanson, that states that combat was motivated and fought on racial tensions, but only as a result of war. More simply put, it was what was accepted at the time, and appears to justify “racism”. His points address his thesis well; war was fought and atrocities were committed on both sides, “racial animosity” was not one-sided; that I accept, but the argument blatantly disregards Japanese American Internment, which I consider racist. I also have a problem with him justifying such atrocities as a result of war and justifying the use of the Atomic Bomb as a “last resort”. That, in my eyes, is unacceptable, but I’m probably just as “uneducated” as Tom Hanks… I digress.
My point is this, the first episode of the The Pacific was historically accurate in its usage of derogatory terms (IE. Japs, yellow bastards… so on). It ended by juxtaposing a Japanese atrocity with an American one, enlisting faceless soldiers to do wicked things until one of the show’s stars put an end to it, an overly blatant attempt to be political correct. Now, I’m to assume that the process of dehumanization affected everyone except for our heroic protagonists; it tried so hard to be not politically correct that I almost found it offensive (racist is too strong of a term). The authors of the memoirs the miniseries was based upon mostly likely weren’t racist, but that’s probably because they wrote their memoirs after they regained their humanity, after the war was over. I’m sure even the most honorable crossed acceptable racial lines (and moral lines), even with the standards of the 40’s, but at what point do we allow modern views of political correctness alter the realism of popular media based on history (say Mad Men and its misogyny) and at what point does it become offensive? Is it wrong to accept different standards because the times were different?
IMDB lists a Frank Lee to portray Chuck “Cho” Yang on the castlist, I assume that’s when the series will seriously delve into issues of Asian American racial politics, but if you gave me a realistic, albeit offensive portrayal of the War fought in the Pacific Theater, I’d accept it more than the facade of political correctness given to me by this episode. Nonetheless, the show has been just as thrilling and enjoyable as its spiritual predecessor; and I look forward to more episodes.