Eastwood’s Iwo Jima: A new view of the Japanese, or an exception to the rule?
Posted by ampontan on Monday, February 26, 2007
Will spends more time, however, on American attitudes toward the Japanese, both during the war and after it.
…Attitudes about the Japanese were especially harsh during the war and have been less softened by time…In 1943, the Navy’s representative on the committee considering what should be done with a defeated Japan recommended genocide — “the almost total elimination of the Japanese as a race.”
Stephen Hunter, movie critic for The Washington Post, says that of the more than 600 English-language movies made about World War II since 1940, only four — most notably “The Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957) — “have even acknowledged the humanity” of Japanese soldiers.
Read any article about the Japanese today in any mass media newspaper or magazine, and it’s soon apparent that the approach of many in the West toward the Japanese nation and its people hasn’t changed a whit. The demonization is no longer overt, but it is still the baseline assumption. That most definitely includes Westerners who have lived and worked in Japan for years, from the garden variety English teacher to the people who staff the English-language newspapers in Japan. Their patronizing smugness is sometimes so thick you can cut it with a knife.
Hunter can think of only four war movies that acknowledge the humanity of the Japanese. I’d be hard-pressed to think of very many more articles I’ve seen in the Western mass media that come close to giving Japan the even-handed respect any nation should receive. For those of you without direct experience of Japan, it is no exaggeration to say that anything you read about this country in the Western press contains–at a minimum–one severe distortion or error. Often the entire premise of the piece is skewed. And this is for a country whose behavior since the end of the war has been close to impeccable, particularly when compared to any other country you’d care to mention.
I’ve written about this before, particularly in the About page above, and it’s one of the reasons I have this site.
I’m glad George Will noticed, but it remains to be seen if there will be much of an improvement soon, even if Eastman’s movie does win the Best Picture Oscar.
Update and Endnote: Will describes the Japanese commander on Iwo Jima, Tadamichi Kuribayashi, as a “cosmopolitan warrior”.
Here’s a column by Hirokaki Sato in today’s Japan Times titled, Eastwood Didn’t Idealize Kuribayashi.
And the following is a reproduction of a post regarding another article about Kuribayashi I wrote last summer for another website:
Tadamichi Kuribayashi was a descendant of samurai, yet disliked much of Japanese military culture. He graduated near the top of his class at Japan’s leading military academy, yet enjoyed Shakespeare, spoke fluent English, and almost chose journalism as his career rather than the army.
A cultured man, he spent three years in the United States as a deputy military attaché, developing an admiration for the country and becoming friends with many Americans. Kuribayashi spent the summer of 1929 driving through the Midwest in a Chevrolet, sketching the people and places he saw.
As was the case with many other Japanese familiar with the United States at the time, Kuribayashi thought it was folly for Japan to go to war with the country:
“The United States is the last country in the world Japan should fight,” Kuribayashi wrote in a letter home…According to colleague Army Capt. Kikuzo Musashino, “The general spoke about his years in America, saying they had enormous industrial resources. He said: ‘When war comes, they can convert all that ability into military use. The people who planned this war in Japan know absolutely nothing about this. Whatever way you look at this war, we can’t win.’ “
His grandson said he was sidelined for promotion during the war because “he didn’t fit in with military thinking (and) had friends in America and respected the country.”
Yet, Kuribayashi was selected with the hopeless task of defending Iwo Jima, a strategically and psychologically important objective, against the American invasion.
He defended Iwo Jima so well that in five weeks of fighting, one-third of all the American Marines who died in World War II were killed on the island. When the fighting was over, U.S. troops called him, “The best damn general on this stinking island.”
The story of Kuribayashi and his defense of Iwo Jima is told in this excellent article by David McNeill in the Japan Times. Registration is required, but the article is so good, unregistered readers might consider signing up for this piece alone.