Monday, May 07, 2007

The Battle of Iwo Jima


"Flags of Our Fathers," directed by Clint Eastwood was adapted from James Bradley's book (based on his father's wartime experience) by screenwriters William Broyles Jr. tells the story of the six men who appeared in Rosenthal's photograph of five Marine and a Navy corpsman in the act of raising a flag, focusing most specifically on three of them: John Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), a Navy corpsman; Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford), a Marine runner; and Ira Hayes (Adam Beach), a Marine and a Native American. Actually, the identity of all six men was not known.

I was expecting a war movie like the black and white The Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) staring John Wayne. However, it turns out the capture of the island only forms the backdrop for what happened to the three marines who raised the flag. They were co opted by the US treasury who paraded them around the countries as heroes in order to sell US War Bonds. This film explores the psyche of three men who were whizzed out of the battlefield and were put on a pedestal as heroes when the rest of their unit were wiped out. The film consists of flashbacks as the men masqueraded as heroes before an adoring American public and their actions during the war. To the men, they are not heroes but all their actions were just to avoid being shot, and to look after their buddies. The toll extracted from them to be treated as heroes were as heavy as their wartime actions.

The action scenes were spectacular, rivalling those of the opening sequence of Looking for Private Ryan. [oops, I mean Saving Private Ryan, sorry Tom] Somehow, the lighting was darker and as if we were watching some old restored movie footage. I do not know it as intentional but that is how it appeared from my DVD.

Some thoughts on the movie. First, it makes me realise the powerful effect of a photograph. Rosenthal’s’ photo may have helped US to win the Pacific war while the photo of a South Vietnamese officer shooting a Vietcong sympathiser in the head help them to lose the Vietnam War. Second, people love heroes. Somehow, it must be in our makeup that we love heroes, be they sport superstars, movie stars, or an American idol winner. I wonder why do we need heroes. Finally, these men do not regard themselves as heroes. At least they were honest with themselves.

It is an interesting movie but I feel that Eastwood is trying to do too much in one movie. He was also trying to show the effect of war on normal people, and the post traumatic stress syndrome effects on survivors.

I look forward to seeing the same battle from the Japanese point of view when Letters from Iwo Jima is released.

By the end of 1944, the US pacific command had decided to take the island of Iwo Jima. Situated 660 miles from Japan, it will be the ideal place for airbases of P-51 Mustangs which will escort the B-29 bombers in their raid over Japan.

Heavy bombers attacked the small island (it was only about 5 miles long, with a small mountain named Mt.Suribachi on its north-west corner) for 72 days after which the island was shelled continuously for 3 days by seven battleships and seven cruisers. It was hoped that this will destroy the Japanese defences. Unfortunately, the Japanese had been preparing for the defence of Iwo Jima for a long time. Most of the Japanese base was underground connected by a maze of tunnels. Careful placement of cannon, machine gun pill boxes and hidden gun shelters hasd made the island’s beaches and hills a virtual killing field.

On the morning of 19 February 1945, two Marine divisions hit the eastern beach in what was to become the bloodiest day in Marine Corps history. Eight battalions of marines were deployed along a narrow strip of beach of little more than one mile long. The marines reached the west coast of the small island in the first day but it took another 35 days of hand-to-hand combat to root the defenders from their defences. The famous flag was raised on the summit of Mt. Suribachi on 23 February 1945. The US forces lost 6,821 men in this engagement. Out of a total of 23,000 Japanese soldiers who were defending the island, only 216 survived.










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2 Comments:

Anonymous assistant librarian said...

hey, wait for me! I'm back in 2 weeks you know. stop watching all the cool shows!

7:28 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

dear assistant librarian,

I am trying to keep away from all the cool shows but they are singing their siren songs to me.

6:59 PM  

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