RubinReports: America’s War with Japan: Tom Hanks Isn’t the Problem but Teaching Anti-Americanism Is

March 13, 2010

Tom Hanks apparently made a statement that was critical of the United States:

If you were expecting an island-hopping reprise of “Band of Brothers” in this new miniseries, expect otherwise.

But the context for Hanks’ history lessons has changed. Band of Brothers, HBO’s best-selling DVD to date, began airing two days before 9/11; The Pacific, his new 10-hour epic about the Pacific theater in World War II, plays out against a very different backdrop, when the country is weary of war and American exceptionalism is a much tougher sell. World War II in the European theater was a case of massive armies arrayed against an unambiguous evil. The Pacific war was mainly fought by isolated groups of men and was overlaid by a sense that our foes were fundamentally different from us. In that sense, the war in the Pacific bears a closer relation to the complex war on terrorism the U.S. is waging now, making the new series a trickier prospect but one with potential for more depth and resonance. “Certainly, we wanted to honor U.S. bravery in The Pacific,” Hanks says. “But we also wanted to have people say, ‘We didn’t know our troops did that to Japanese people.’”

And he is pleased that The Pacific has fulfilled an obligation to our World War II vets. He doesn’t see the series as simply eye-opening history. He hopes it offers Americans a chance to ponder the sacrifices of our current soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. “From the outset, we wanted to make people wonder how our troops can re-enter society in the first place,” Hanks says. “How could they just pick up their lives and get on with the rest of us? Back in World War II, we viewed the Japanese as ‘yellow, slant-eyed dogs’ that believed in different gods. They were out to kill us because our way of living was different. We, in turn, wanted to annihilate them because they were different. Does that sound familiar, by any chance, to what’s going on today?”

there were a number of reasons for the internment which made sense at the time. The German and Italian fascist governments were usurpers who had seized power. In contrast, the Japanese government was a “legitimate” regime supported by the emperor. The emperor was viewed by Japanese as a god, the head of their religion. While most German- and Italian-Americans opposed the regimes with which the United States was at war, there was no such opposition from the Japanese.