Bardiness

"..a bardy view!"

The Pacific

 Not being a subscriber to Sky Television I had to wait until The Pacific became available on BT Vision. Whether it will ever reach bog-standard Freeview I know not.  

 Digital Freeview – the great excuse for dumbed down television – can only be  justified for access to  BBC4 and Yesterday. The rest is……but I digress, and my thoughts on that can wait for another day.

This post is about The Pacific – a television mini-series.  Based on the reluctant memoirs of Eugine Sledge and Robert Leckie – whom the latter, after seeing the musical "South Pacific" in a cinema during the 1950's, walked out half-way through in disgust, remarking that " the Pacific War was not a musical – and the truth should be told". 

It also acknowledged  John Basilone – a man not renown to the British – but to the Yanks is a great hero – a soldier who received the Medal of Honor and has had roads, buildings and warships named in his honour – unlike John Wayne, who didn't fight in the Pacific, but got an airport named after him because he was a great American hero too.

But that's where the fiction ends and reality takes over. John Wayne was an actor on celluloid – The Pacific is about real people in the very real theatre of war, and the Duke had no role in it.

Being a Brit I have always followed the supercilious and humorous mantra that the Yanks always arrive late to a fight. They popped in during 1917 some three years after WWI began, and they popped late in 1941 after the bombing of Pearl Harbour – two years after the outset of WWII, and they didn't get active in the Pacific until well into 1942 – so their war was a short one, ending with the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It may have been short, but it was brutal.

Leaving aside the horrors that the British Army suffered at the hands of the Japanese and their experiences in Burma and Singapore – and not to diminish them by any degree – I was grossly negligent in my knowledge of the American experience.

 

Such was my ignorance I had a revelation watching "The Pacific", and subsequently read Sledge's book – a book he chose to write in 1981 to banish the demons which invaded his dreams every night for nearly 40 years.

 

Such was the impact of his book, the US Marine veterans who had survived raised their heads and thanked him for it – they too were suffering, and nobody had ever really told their stories because they themselves could not. (I urge readers to see Sledge speak in the video below). 

It's been a bane for many that VE Day severely overshadowed VJ Day. The war against Japan lingered on after victory in Europe, and those that returned home found that their experiences were quickly forgotten.

 

The Nazis were defeated, and those who fought or were imprisoned  further afield ( the British, the Anzacs and Americans) found upon returning home that people wanted to forget the war. By the time they returned, the celebrations were over – they had arrived too late for the party. An irony indeed.

 

Well – The Pacific has put the record straight – rather late – but better late than never. It's about US Marines who fought a war of sheer hell, in the mud and guts of those islands, where the golden sands were covered in blood on the shores of Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and several other forgotten  islands and archipelagos which barely get a mention in the history books.

 

War propaganda movies of the 1940's were exactly that – propaganda. They displayed – in Britain's case – the stiff upper lip – and every one on screen was either a public school educated officer or a simple working class tommy.

This portrayal pervaded well into the 1960's and 70's. Our television is laced with movies like the Battle of Britain (spiffing pilots where the ground crews are mere extras), The Longest Day (all officers doing the decent thing and the actual soldiers mere cannon fodder), Von Ryan's Express (a travesty of reality to serve Frank Sinatra's ego), Bridge on the River Kwai -  starch-stuffed-shirt officers discussing their situation as if they were at the Queen's Garden Party; Where Eagles Dare, where not only do the bit-part NCO's get killed, but are even exposed as traitors while the hero officers (Burton and Eastwood) save the day -  and so on etc etc – the list is endless.

The British continued to make films where the main characters spoke RP – Received Pronunciation, and were the epitome of the stiff upper lip. The only expletives which passed such a lip was "I say, what damned bad luck Sir!" as if Bertie Wooster was in charge of operations.

And what about the "Dam Busters"? The heroic raid on the German Dams to destroy Hitler's heavy water plants and the bouncing bombs which were crucial to hitting their mark?

We are led to believe that those pilots who missed the targets said "sorry skipper – dash it. I nearly threw a googly then by jove!" When in actual fact they probably said "Fuck it! I missed the shit!"

And when they scored a hit, the Squadron leader probably did not say "well done chaps" but something much more invective and expletive – words which were no doubt repeated by Winston Churchill, but failed to be repeated in his memoirs. Surely Winnie didn't swear? "We got the bastards" I suspect he shouted over his brandy and cigars.

And speaking of the Dam Busters – the leader, Wing Commander Guy Gibson, had a black labrador called Nigger. Today, political correctness removes that reference from the 1955 movie because it is considered offensive. That was the name of his dog. We may not like it – but nor should we shy away from it. History is worthless if we don't have the courage to tell the truth.

But some things have changed. Movies like "Saving Private Ryan" and mini-series like "Band of Brothers" and "The Pacific" are bringing WWII back to prominence and portraying it from the ordinary soldier’s point of view. Warts and all.

Yet they are made by Americans, involve Americans, and they are for Americans. If we complain that the British get only a passing reference in these productions, then it is our fault – not theirs.

Britain fought a long war and has just as much of a tale to tell. Yet we are caught in a time zone of fair play, jolly hockey sticks and quiet moral superiority. The movies the British made, from Pinewood, Ealing Studios, and Twickenham are mere idiosyncrasies of a bygone age which wallows in ideologies of Victorian and Edwardian nostalgia. 

Why are we not telling WWII as it really was. Why are film producers not doing the same as our friends across the Atlantic? Is it because of money? Is it because it's not commercially viable? Are we merely content with documentaries only? Or is it because we have lost our backbone? Are we so afraid to shout about our achievements for fear of offending others?

So kudos to the Yanks – at least they have their priorities in order and fly their flag with pride. The Pacific is not about glory – it's about pain and suffering. Yet through that pain, the reality of war is exposed. It's not about medals and honours, it's about Hell and Humanity.

The USA knows the power of patriotism and that is her strength. The UK has lost that sense, and that is her fundamental weakness.

Perhaps we are just a glorified theme park  – great for royal weddings, pomp and circumstance and hosting sporting events.The torch that lights the 2012 Olympics in London would not burn at all without Great Britain who kept the flame of freedom alive during the darkest days of Nazism.

It's time the people knew about that. It's time to stand up and be proud! It's time to educate our young people and give them a sense of identity. 

 

 

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August 26, 2011 - Posted by | Culture, Film, General, History | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. I’ll have the roast beef and three veg, ta. Personally I found the Pacific series a load of junk after all the hype and I was looking forward to it and was so sadly disillusioned. Whatever happened to; ‘hey diddle, diddle, straight down the middle’?

    Like

    Comment by Spook | August 28, 2011 | Reply


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