Selwyn Duke
And that's all he has to say about that: Tom Hanks and twisted history
By Selwyn Duke
March 18, 2010

Stupid is as Hollywood does . . . and does and does and does. And the latest example is Forrest Hanks, who has just managed to graduate — in the Tinseltown U. way of thinking — from moron to imbecile.

During a recent interview with Time magazine, Forrest (a.k.a. Tom Hanks) was discussing his new HBO WWII series The Pacific and, boy, did he ever deliver some gems. What was the gist of it?

We Americans were out to kill the Japanese because, well, you know, we're just so irredeemably "racist."

Written by a Dan Winters, the Time piece opens with this line, "To the young Tom Hanks, history was as dull as an algebra equation." I'm sure. After all, in his day, school curricula wanted for the kind of intellectual stimulation provided by things such as the demonization of Christianity, the West and America. But never fear, Forrest is here, the man Winters calls "American history's highest-profile professor," who brings a "nuanced view of the past into the homes and lives of countless millions."

What might this nuance be? Well, among other things, Forrest told Winters, "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?"

Uh, no, Forrest, actually, it doesn't. In fact, it doesn't even sound like what went on back then.

The fact is that both the Japanese and the Islamists have been different from us since before they were Japanese and Islamists and we were "us." Yet this never inspired us to try to annihilate them. And, as to why we did involve ourselves in the relevant conflicts, while I'm certainly not America's highest-profile history professor, I seem to remember the dates of December 7, 1941 and September 11, 2001 as being somewhat significant. I'll also note that WWII saw us allied with the very different Chinese and Filipinos and fighting against the more consanguineous Germans (the German bloodline is the most common in the U.S.).

This isn't to say that one can't question the wisdom of conflicts such as our Mideast campaigns. I myself have pointed out the folly of trying to democratize cultures that are so — Forrest will love this — different from ours. But to claim that we're locking horns with Muslims because we consider them alien is stupid beyond words.

But stupid is as Hanks does. Something else he pulled out of his box of chocolates — the idea that we tried to "annihilate" the Japanese or that we are attempting the same with Muslims — is also profoundly silly. When the Land of the Rising Sun finally fell in 1945, we were, in fact, remarkably merciful. We didn't sack and raze Tokyo or extract steep reparations. On the contrary, we respected Japanese culture, allowing its people to retain their beloved emperor. We also helped the nation get back on its feet and helped pave the way for the economic powerhouse status it would enjoy in the 1980s. As for Iraq and Afghanistan, surgical strikes and lawyer-disgorged rules of engagement hardly constitute an attempt at annihilation.

In fact, forget about Forrest being a professor, he fails even as a student. Case in point: His lamenting the characterization of the Japanese as "yellow, slant-eyed dogs." Does anyone really think the use of such epithets makes us unique? If so, know that the Japanese referred to us as "hairy white apes." It's part of the common wartime propaganda technique of demonizing and dehumanizing the enemy for the purposes of galvanizing public support for a total war effort.

It is also true that prejudice is the rule for man, not the exception. For instance, read the Bible, and it's plain that the different peoples — Jews, Samaritans, etc. — harbored some very unflattering ideas about one another. The Muslims are well-known for characterizing Jews as pigs and apes. During the Ruandan genocide of 1994, the Hutus would refer to the Tutsis as "cockroaches." And then there are the Hollywood types such as Forrest. They're so prejudiced against America that they think America is uniquely prejudiced.

And theirs is a true prejudice. Understand that the word doesn't refer to holding negative opinions about other individuals or groups; it refers to holding such opinions when they have no basis in reality, when you cling to them in the face of all evidence to the contrary.

This brings us to what really is a "nuanced" view. In reality, the United States is the most tolerant nation on Earth. We're so darn tolerant, in fact, that we even countenance evil, such as the noxious cultural effluent that continually flows from Hollywood movies and mouths.

We're also more likely to find exotic cultures intriguing than detestable. As to this, I think of the stereotypical portrayals of other peoples found in older cartoons, such as an Arabian in traditional garb wielding a scimitar. While today CDs of such cartoons include disclaimers about the insensitivity and stereotypes found within, none of us children viewed such things with contempt. On the contrary, we would have much rather met the Arabian than the policeman portrayed or visited his land than Chicago. Of course, we would have been sorely disappointed if we had. But this was only because the reality could never have measured up to a neat, fascinating portrayal that could make a nine-year-old mind fill with wonder.

Having said this, we certainly can carry on a debate about wartime propaganda and ask if G.K. Chesterton was right when he said, "The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him." We also can and should bemoan prejudice. But we should understand that we're not bemoaning American nature. We're bemoaning man's nature.

Returning to Forrest's conception of nuance, he also told Winters, "Certainly, we wanted to honor U.S. bravery in The Pacific. But we also wanted to have people say, 'We didn't know our troops did that to Japanese people.'" Ah, Hollywood wrapping itself in the flag again — which flag I have no idea.

Let's talk a bit about who did what to whom. Unlike us, Japan's treatment of prisoners more reflected pagan convention than Geneva Convention. In fact, a staggering 40 percent of American POWs in Japanese hands died (versus 37 percent in Korea and 15 percent in Vietnam).

The most infamous example of such brutality was The Bataan Death March in the Philippines, where 75,000 Allied soldiers were taken prisoner. Despite the fact that the captured forces were willing to provide trucks and fuel for their own transport, the Japanese military insisted on forcing the men — who were already sick and starving — to march for a week in tropical heat to faraway prison camps. And the savagery they were subject to is staggering. Writes Wikipedia:

    Beheadings, cutting of throats and casual shootings were the more common actions — compared to instances of bayonet stabbing, rape, disembowelment, rifle butt beating and a deliberate refusal to allow the prisoners food or water while keeping them continually marching . . . . Falling down or inability to continue moving was tantamount to a death sentence, as was any degree of protest or expression of displeasure.

At least a quarter of them died.

Yet the US did not respond in kind. Our brutality was reserved for the battlefield and only exercised because we faced the Samurai creed incarnate, an enemy that was intent on fighting to the death. And death is what they got.

As for Forrest, some may wonder how a man's thinking can become so twisted. Well, the Time interview may provide some insight in this regard. It seems that Daddy Hanks served in WWII and left his boy with a very definite impression of his time in uniform. Said Forrest, "He had nothing nice to say about the Navy. He hated the Navy. He hated everybody in the Navy. He had no glorious stories about it."

Wow, everybody? You mean, he didn't encounter one nice person during all his time in the service? There was no nobility, no virtue whatsoever? Well, I guess Forrest's particular talents don't skip a generation.

Now, I should mention that my father not only served in WWII, he was a POW in Germany. And while he also had no glorious tales, with the exception of a rather odious sergeant, he didn't hate his comrades in arms. In fact, he didn't even dislike all his German captors (one of whom promised to protect him after the SS visited his camp and said that all the prisoners should be killed). And should it be otherwise? If you hate the whole world, it's a good bet the world isn't the problem.

As for my attitude, have I been too tough on Forrest? Have I been a bully? If so, I'll be the first to say, run, Forrest! Run!

Just not for political office.

© Selwyn Duke


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)


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