History of the World According to the Movies: Part 66 – World War II: The Pacific

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The 1970 Tora! Tora! Tora! was a retelling of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor by a collaboration of American and Japanese filmmakers. This film tells the story of the events leading up to the attack through the perspectives of both sides as well as put the story of Pearl Harbor as the story instead of it being a backdrop of some fictional tale. Though a flop at the US box office and critics (it was more successful in Japan), this film has gained great stature in later years, especially compared to the 2001 Michael Bay craptackular disasterpiece, which was a retelling of the attack through the eyes of a video game addict who flunked American history in high school. Still, even if this film doesn’t use CGI visual effects, Tora! Tora! Tora! is still top notch when it comes to the Pearl Harbor attack.

Though World War II Eastern Europe was a certified shit hole, the war in the Pacific wasn’t much of a picnic either mostly because East Asia had fallen prey to the imperial ambitions of the militaristic Japanese. And between 1930 and 1945, the Japanese military was one of the most horrifying to their enemies as well as to their own people (well, they’re up there). The Japanese had invaded China in the 1930s in a conflict known as the Second Sino-Japanese War which was the largest war in Asia and perhaps one of the costliest in human history. But by 1941, Japan had joined the Axis Powers while China had joined the Allies (well, it’s more complicated since the Chinese were a factious bunch). The conflict is still a topic of fierce controversy to this day in East Asia. Still, in the movies, it’s treated as a conflict chiefly between the Japan and the United States as well as begins with the Japanese surprise attack at Pearl Harbor and ends with the US dropping two atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki that resulted in the Japanese surrender. The War in the Pacific is shown with big naval battles, jungles, starving civilians, and the inconsistent mistreatment of non-combatants. Let’s just say if the Japanese don’t get you, then the exotic diseases and wildlife will. Except if you’re on a cargo ship in Mister Roberts, which in this case it would probably consist of spending your days on a ship in boredom thinking that your comrades on active combat duty are having a much better time in the war than you. Nevertheless, movies set in this theater do have their share of inaccuracies which I shall list accordingly.

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto:

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto said this in regards to Japan’s chances of war with America, “If we must, we can raise havoc with them for a year… after that, I can guarantee nothing.” (He actually said, “I can run wild for six months… after that, I have no expectation of success.”)

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto said after Pearl Harbor, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” (There’s no record he actually said this but he’s quoted as such.)

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was a brilliant strategist who opposed war with the United States because he thought it was a great mistake to underestimate US fighting potential. (Yamamoto knew these consequences {after all, he went to Harvard}, but unlike in Tora! Tora! Tora!, he wouldn’t have overly admitted this. He just dutifully worked out the Pearl Harbor attack plan throughout 1941 and he was ready to execute the plan by late November when the order was confirmed.)

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was killed in 1942. (He died in 1943.)

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto had all his digits by 1941. (Contrary to most of his movie portrayals, Yamamoto actually lost two fingers on his left hand during his service in the Russo-Japanese War.)

General Douglas MacArthur:

General Douglas MacArthur was adored by his men during his time in the Philippines. (Yes, MacArthur did bid an emotional farewell to his men when he left the Philippines. However, by the time he left, his men were actually fed up with him. For one, out of the 142 communiques he issued during the first period of his war service there, 109 failed to mention the bravery of any soldiers apart from himself. There was also a fuss about him accepting $500,000 as a personal reward from the Philippine president which was technically legal but ethically dubious. Yet, the 1977 MacArthur biopic can be forgiven for mentioning this since the story came out in 1979. Still, MacArthur’s patchy reputation was no secret.)

General Douglas MacArthur was ignorant of Philippine geography and proposed the attack as “Land at Leyte beach on Luzon, and then carry the fight to Manila.” (As is shown in the Gregory Peck portrayal. MacArthur may have been accused of many things, but ignorance of Philippine geography wasn’t one of them. As for his attack proposal, he did fight to retake both Leyte and Luzon but not at the same time because it would’ve been physically impossible since the islands are 500 miles apart. And MacArthur would know this.)

General Douglas MacArthur was a liberal who thought Japanese workers should’ve had a voice in the means of production. (For God’s sake, MacArthur was a Republican and wouldn’t have believed in the ideas of stripping landowners and expunging industrialists. Also, he didn’t personally direct the Japanese development after World War II since multiple documents prove that Washington set the goals and policy of the American occupation of Japan, not MacArthur.)

General Douglas MacArthur was a down to earth folksy man. (He was an ostentatious intellectual who once barged in on a subordinate catching him in a clinch with a lady. He ordered the guy, “Eject that strumpet forthwith.” Yeah, he said it like you’d expect someone from some Steampunk novel would. He was known to call his words, “those immortal heralds of thought which at the touch of genius become radiant.” And while Gregory Peck’s MacArthur says, “It’s my destiny to defeat communism, and only God or those Washington politicians will keep me from doing it,” the actual MacArthur said, “Only God or the government of the United States can keep me from the fulfillment of my mission.” In other words, he talked more like Martin Luther King Jr. than Woody Guthrie.)

General Douglas MacArthur said, “We shall return.” (He said, “I shall return” though the White House would’ve wished he did. Still, MacArthur was an arrogant blowhard.)

General Douglas MacArthur was perfectly at ease with meeting Emperor Hirohito. (Contrary to Emperor, MacArthur couldn’t stand being in the same room with him even after Hirohito apologized for Pearl Harbor. To be fair, MacArthur was a racist, even by the standards of his day.)

Admiral William Halsey Jr.:

William Halsey Jr. became a Fleet Admiral in 1942 and retired in 1945. (Contrary to his portrayal in the 1960’s The Gallant Hours, he became a Fleet Admiral in 1945 and retired in 1947. Nevertheless, due to his final rank, he remained on active duty status in the Navy until his death.)

The Second Sino-Japanese War:

Whatever the Japanese military did in Nanking was for no good reason. (It may seem so in City of Life and Death yet the military culture in Imperial Japan was particularly brutal as TTI claims: “consider that many of who were conscripted who were raised in a militarist culture who were abused or “punished” by their superior officers by being slapped or beaten or whatnot, many of which are in their late teens and early 20s, who just fought a brutal battle in and around Shanghai for months and won by a relatively close margin, who were pissed and came upon a city full of goods and people.” Yes, shit will happen.)

American Volunteer Group pilots were recruited from active or reserve US military forces in the United States. (They were actually recruited in Asia with full knowledge and approval from the White House. However, unlike the movie Flying Tigers, they were still in training by the time of Pearl Harbor. Also, until that time, they were just mercenaries but they did help FDR get around neutrality for awhile. Still, they weren’t integrated into the USAAF until late 1942. But thanks to Flying Tigers and God Is My Co-Pilot, most people don’t remember the AVG that way.)

The Chinese Communists ultimately won the Sino-Japanese War. (This is according to Chinese Communist propaganda films. In reality, the Communists actually played a small part in it. The Chinese Nationalists and their allies actually did most of the fighting though switching sides among the Chinese was common. TTI explains it best, “The Nationalists, Communists, and various warlords would alternately be fighting Japan (and getting slaughtered), fighting each other, doing nothing and hoping their enemies got taken out first, and siding with Japan.” As for weapons, the Chinese basically used anything they could get at the moment.)

Pearl Harbor:

The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor without warning. (They actually gave the US a warning several hours before the attack. However, the US military did drastically underestimate the Japanese war machine and never thought it could conduct a surprise attack so successfully. Not only that, they also doubted that Japan even had the technology or the engineering to create such an effective assault force. Even after the attack, many prominent men in the US military thought Germany was behind it {it wasn’t}.)

The Japanese fighter planes fired down and killed civilians during Pearl Harbor. (The Japanese were specifically ordered not to do this and they didn’t deliberately target a hospital either {though one medical staff member was killed}. Nevertheless, any damage done by Japanese planes on civilians or civilian buildings were just accidental. Yet, the US planes were firing on and killing civilians in the Doolittle raid such as in Tokyo and three other industrial Japanese cities but Michael Bay doesn’t show this.)

Two American fighter planes took off to fight the Japanese at Pearl Harbor. (Contrary to some films, 6 actually did.)

Theodore Wilkinson was a Captain during the attack at Pearl Harbor. (He was a rear admiral.)

The USS Antares was a tugboat. (It was a 12,000 ton cargo ship, yet it did tow a 500 ton bridge around Pearl Harbor.)

General Short received the report of an enemy midget submarine being attacked as well as the Pearl Harbor attack as it was going on. (He didn’t receive the report about the enemy midget submarine until the bombs started falling. Also, he didn’t receive the first notification about the Pearl Harbor attack until several hours after it ended.)

Civilian aviation instructor Cornelia Fort was around 50 at the time of Pearl Harbor. (Unlike what Tora! Tora! Tora! depicts, she was actually 22 but she’s played by a middle aged actress in the film. I mean having a 22 year old female flight instructor around just wouldn’t be believable. Oh, and she flew a monoplane, not a biplane as depicted.)

The Japanese flagship at Pearl Harbor was an aircraft carrier. (It was a battleship.)

The Japanese Zero aircraft at Pearl Harbor were green. (They were gray. Green Japanese Zeros didn’t exist until 1943 and they were Japanese Army planes.)

American naval ships like the Maryland, Nevada, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania were sunk and rendered irreparable during the attack on Pearl Harbor. (These ships survived the attack without much damage though the Tennessee was trapped while the Nevada was bleached. Furthermore, the Nevada was used in Tora! Tora! Tora!.)

Admiral Husband E. Kimmel:

Admiral Husband E. Kimmel was playing golf the morning of the Pearl Harbor attack despite being notified before the attack that the Japanese embassy staff was leaving Washington D. C. (He had been planning to play golf that day but cancelled when news of the attack came in. Also, he didn’t know the Japanese embassy staff left Washington D. C. until perhaps the attack itself. Still, I’m not sure why Admiral Kimmel had the unfortunate first name.)

Admiral Husband E. Kimmel was a vigilant leader certain of an imminent attack on his base as well as did everything he could in his power to convince Washington of its inevitability. (Most historians say that he received several warnings about a possible attack on Pearl Harbor, but he felt they were too vague and tried to dismiss them. Furthermore, when he heard about the USS Ward sinking a midget Japanese sub {an hour before the attack began}, he chose not to go to general quarters due to the fact that there had been a number of false sub sightings in recent months. He also wanted to confirm the Ward’s report before acting on it.)

Dorie Miller:

Third Petty Officer Doris “Dorie” Miller served aboard the USS Arizona when it was destroyed by a bomb. (He served in the USS West Virginia, contrary to Tora! Tora! Tora!. Still, he probably would’ve never gotten the chance to act heroically enough to be the first African American to receive the Navy Cross if he was aboard the Arizona because the boat sunk immediately.)

Third Class Petty Officer Dorie Miller was carrying a tray of coffee service during the attack at Pearl Harbor. (He was carrying laundry.)

Second Class Petty Officer Dorie Miller comforted the mortally wounded Captain Mervyn S. Miller after a torpedo struck the USS West Virginia. After his death, Miller delivered the man’s last orders to the ship’s executive officer then manned a twin .50 caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun. (This is how the scene is set in Pearl Harbor but it’s wrong. For one, Miller was a Third Class Petty Officer as well as a ship’s cook and he was first ordered to carry injured sailors to places of greater safety and then assist the Captain. Second, the Captain refused to leave his post continuing to direct the battle until he died of his wounds just before the ship was abandoned. Third, it was Ensign Victor Delano who comforted the Captain in his final moments. Fourth, Miller was actually then ordered to help load a machine gun but assumed control of an unmanned weapon instead that Delano had to show him how to fire it, saying later that Miller “did not know how to fire a gun.” Still, pretty heroic for a black guy named Doris {I just think it’s funny such a badass guy like him had such a girly name}. Nevertheless, Pearl Harbor screwed Ensign Delano royally.)

Doolittle Raid:

Colonel Doolittle recruited single-engine fighters to fly on bombers for his famous raid in Japan. (Actually, Doolittle would’ve never taken a sniff at the two main guys in Pearl Harbor because single-engine pilots weren’t qualified to fly multi-engine bombers. Instead, he’d recruit guys who were participants from qualified bombardment squadrons. From the historical record, Doolittle actually recruited guys from the 34th Bombardment Squadron and the 17th Bombardment Group popularly known as “The Thunderbirds.”)

The Doolittle raid killed off several American fighters, including one from a Japanese anti-aircraft gun. (No American Doolittle Raiders were killed during the actual raid. There was however, one raider who died in a plane crash afterwards as well as two others who died from crash related injuries, and five perished in Japanese captivity {4 executed, 1 by malnutrition}.)

The Doolittle raid was carried out in calm weather. (It was launched on stormy seas.)

The Guadalcanal Campaign:

US Marines during the Guadalcanal Campaign wore camouflage covers on their helmets. (They wore bare M1 helmets though a few used burlap.)

Guadalcanal was a tropical paradise. (Contrary to The Thin Red Line, it was kind of the opposite, it was a jungle with dangerous animals, annoying insects, and extremely high temperatures. Yet, no soldier in that movie was seen sweating.)

Most US deaths during the Guadalcanal Campaign were combat-related. (Most of the deaths at Guadalcanal were due to poor living conditions than actual combat. But you wouldn’t know it from The Thin Red Line.)

Midway:

Kamikazes were used during the Battle of Midway. (The Battle of Midway took place in 1942 while Kamikaze pilots were never used as official policy in Japan until toward the end and would’ve been fairly rare by that time. Still, remember that the film Midway was filmed in color with a zero special effects budget in 1976. Most of the stock footage used for this battle was from Iwo Jima and Okinawa since most color footage was filmed late in the war. Also, it wasn’t unusual for planes from both sides to crash into enemy ships. Nevertheless, despite the lack of special effects and plenty of technical details later found to be inaccurate due to later findings of the ship wreckage from the battle, Midway is considered a much better film than the Michael Bay craptastrophic retelling of Pearl Harbor {which was attacked by the people who survived it}.)

Okinawa:

The Americans used tear gas during the Battle of Okinawa. (They never used tear gas in any battle during the war.)

Iwo Jima:

Japanese General Kuribayashi committed suicide. (We know he didn’t survive the battle but we don’t know how he died since no surviving witnesses ever came forward. Yet, his death in Letters from Iwo Jima is plausible.)

Lt. Colonel Nishi took his own life after being blinded during the battle. (This is based on rumor but it has never been confirmed.)

Lt. Colonel Takeichi Nishi was close friends with General Tadamichi Kuribayashi. (Contrary to Letters from Iwo Jima, it’s said their relationship was rather antagonistic.)

The Burma Railway:

During the Burma Railway’s construction, unruly POW officers were sent to a metal punishment box without water until they complied. (In real life, Col. Saito would just have Nicholson and his officers executed if they didn’t obey. In Bridge on the River Kwai, this doesn’t occur to him. Then again, the real Saito was said to be a rather benevolent prison warden.)

Only British POWs were sent to work on the Burma Railway. (Most of the people who worked on the railway were civilians, rather forced labor from Burma, the East Indies, Thailand, and Malaysia. As with POWs, they weren’t all exclusively British as Bridge on the River Kwai implies. By the way, the Burma Railway construction resulted in the deaths of 13,000 Allied POWs and 80,000 to 100,000 civilians.)

Kanchanaburi POW camp was captured by American paratroopers. (It was liberated by British and Indian infantry troops after Japan had surrendered. So unlike The Railway Man, Colin Firth had to stay longer.)

Bridge on the River Kwai:

British Lt. Col. Philip Toosey took charge of building the Bridge on the River Kwai and forced his own men to build it in order to increase their morale. (Toosey took charge of the construction in order to keep his men alive. He thought this was the better alternative to keep his soldiers safe while not giving aid to the enemy and never felt any obligation to work with the Japanese. Not to mention, he encouraged sabotage and chaos during the construction as well. He also has an honorable reputation and it was said that many of his soldiers greatly objected to the Alec Guinness expy portrayal in The Bridge on the River Kwai. Then again, Toosey wasn’t the only inspiration for Col. Nicholson. As for the William Holden character, he was actually invented for the movie to provide more action and a part for a bankable American actor.)

Col. Saito was a ruthless commandant at the POW camp during the construction of the Kwai Bridge. (He was actually a very benevolent warden and he and Toosey would become friends after the war for the rest of their lives. Oh, and he was a sergeant and second in command of the camp. Still, unlike in The Bridge on the Rive Kwai, the real Saito actually survived the war and attended Toosey’s funeral.)

The Bridge on the River Kwai was destroyed in a commando raid right after its construction. (The original wooden bridge was destroyed in a bombing raid. Yet, it was supposed to be a temporary bridge anyway. The second steel bridge was bombed as well but it was later repaired and still stands in use today. Still, both bridges had a service of two years before they were destroyed by aerial bombing raids.)

The Japanese engineers for the Kwai Bridge were terrible. (Contrary to Bridge on the Rive Kwai, the many of the Japanese engineers for the Kwai Bridge were actually graduates from the best engineering schools including American and British universities. Oddly enough despite this film being sort of denigrating to the Japanese, it was popular in Japan during its original run. Then again, conditions during the Burma Railway’s construction were much worse than depicted in the David Lean epic.)

Liberation of Burma:

The Liberation of Burma was conducted entirely by American forces. (This is the premise of Objective, Burma!. However, the majority of the Allied forces that actually liberated Burma from the Japanese were British, South African, Indian, and Chinese. The British 14th Army played a major role and was known as “The Forgotten Army” because of the part they played there. Still, at least the Americans did play a part and Merrill’s Marauders did exist. Nevertheless, Objective, Burma! Caused massive offense in Britain and among the troops of many nationalities in the China-India-Burma theater since their role was written out. During its release in 1945, Warner Bros. had to withdraw the film from British theaters after a week and re-released it in 1952 with extra documentary footage that included a fleeting hat-tip by General Wingate.)

The 503rd Parachute Regiment served in Burma. (They served in New Guinea.)

The Sullivan Brothers:

George Sullivan was in sick bay while the USS Juneau was sinking. (Contrary to The Fighting Sullivans, he and his brother Al survived the sinking. Al drowned the next day while George died 4-5 days later of dementia when he took off his uniform and swam off in search of his brothers.)

PT 109:

The crew of PT 109 rescued a group of US Marines trapped on a Japanese occupied island called Choiseul before the ramming incident. (Contrary to PT 109, this happened after the ramming incident. And it wasn’t the only boat to rescue the trapped Marines either but part of a small flotilla.)

The survival of PT 109 wasn’t anything special except that its commander was John F. Kennedy. (Well, yes, as far as the historic memory goes today, especially since it was the reason that PT 109 was made and why people today still remember it. However, back in the day, the survival of Kennedy and his crew was special enough that correspondents from the Associated Press and the United Press International hopped on the rescue PTs before they found out PT 109’s maroon skipper was Lieutenant John F. Kennedy {then known as Ambassador Joe Kennedy’s son}. That just made the story pass into national legend, especially since Kennedy would later become president.)

Miscellaneous:

World War II in the Pacific was primarily a Japanese vs. Americans ordeal. (Actually it was more like the Japanese vs. practically everyone who happened to be there and allies at this time {though there were those who collaborated with the Japanese in Asian countries particularly a few Chinese warlords}. In fact, World War II in that region may have begun as early as 1931 with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria.)

The Japanese military was exceptionally brutal since Japan had culture of cruelty. (The Imperial Japanese military was indeed this during the 1930s and in World War II. However, Japanese civilization was not always this cruel in its history, despite the myth that Japanese brutality during World War II was derived by their warrior culture is still taught in American schools. A few decades earlier, the Japanese military had troops led by gentlemen officers and treated their prisoners just as humane or better than many Western countries did. Yet, in the 1930s, Japanese society was seized by a mass frenzy of militarism that resulted in Japan being taken over by a military dictatorship that had imperialistic ambitions. Still, since most people don’t know much about Japan, it’s assumed that Japanese conduct during World War II was related to their samurai culture or the notion of fighting to the last man. However, the reality had more do with the Japanese High command’s distorted and very selective interpretation of either as well as the climate of militaristic fascist imperialism in the Japanese government {since the values that Bushido actually promotes aren’t really that different from the code of chivalry or from similar systems in other cultures}. Yes, historical Japan was a militaristic society to some degree but it also highly valued the principle of self-restraint except between 1930 and 1945 of course. Oh, and even at the height of the Japanese military junta and the cruelties committed as well as its status as an Axis power, Japan was one of the friendliest nations for Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust.)

Japanese soldiers valued their lives less than Americans, and that they were particularly eager to die in service to their Emperor. (Between the 1930s to the end of World War II, most Japanese soldiers were conscripted into the military consisting of people the Japanese government would view as potential troublemakers like the dispossessed, poor, unemployed, criminals, and rootless younger sons. Still, the Imperial Japanese military was no fun place to be with torture being used on a regular basis {so they could abuse others} and it was filled by people who definitely didn’t want to fight for their Emperor but did so because they had no other choice. Yet, there were patriotic Japanese soldiers who willingly fought for their country but many of them were American {20,000 Japanese Americans fought for the US in World War II and despite being targets of racism and being sent to internment camps, they were still treated better than Imperial Japanese soldiers. One Japanese American combat unit was among the most decorated}.)

Navajo code talkers were employed in the Pacific during World War II. (Yes, but while movies imply that the US had only used Native American code talkers in the Pacific, this wasn’t the first time. The US also had used Native American code talkers during World War I in Europe. But by the time World War II rolled around, Hitler already knew about the use of code talkers and sent cover agents to study Native American dialects before the US entered the war. No Indian code talkers were used in Europe because of this.)

Navajo codetalkers had bodyguards whose job was to kill them to prevent them from getting into enemy hands. (Actually the bodyguards were used to protect the Navajo code talkers from other US soldiers who’d mistake them for being Japanese. There’s no evidence that they were order to kill them to prevent their capture, yet tell that to Windtalkers.)

American P-40s and Japanese Zeros fought at wave top heights with aircraft darting various obstacles. (No, Michael Bay, they wouldn’t have because such tactics would’ve been suicidal for both participants.)

Japan was forced to enter World War II against the United States in the Pacific. (This is implied in Tora! Tora! Tora! But it’s actually wrong. Individual Japanese military personnel, yes, but Japan as a country, no. It was actually the United States that was forced to go to war with Japan in the Pacific. Part of what led to Pearl Harbor was American outrage over Japanese aggression in China and its much publicized atrocities during occupation, especially the Rape of Nanking. What led to this kind of aggression was a combination of economic problems during the Great Depression {it had been hit hard}, the rise of right wing extremists in their government that paved way for a military dictatorship, increasing militarization fueled by imperial ambitions, and radical modernization. Nevertheless, the Japanese public is still uncomfortable about acknowledging their country’s horrifying atrocities during that time. Japan hasn’t formally apologized to the nations it had formerly invaded {this doesn’t mean that it condones its past behavior. In fact, just the opposite. Rather, it’s just that the Japanese may just be too ashamed to admit their crimes in World War II}. Still, it’s said that Japanese occupation in Asia was filled with widespread cruelty, exploitation, racism, sex slavery, and genocide with millions dead, mostly consisting of civilians.)

Prior to Pearl Harbor, there was an US oil embargo against Japan. (No, there wasn’t at least in the formal sense, just a de facto prohibition of oil shipments through the denial of export licenses.)

The Japanese sought an aggressive alliance with Germany despite naval opposition for some reason. (Tora! Tora! Tora! doesn’t really get into this. However, the Japanese sought an alliance with Germany thinking that it would keep the US out of the war it would be forced to fight on two fronts {didn’t work}. Some officers in the Japanese Navy opposed a German alliance because they thought it would increase the chances of war with the United States {for which the navy wasn’t prepared for [they were right]}. Others thought that continuing the war in China would mean more money for the army and severe cutbacks for their own service. Still, Germany and Japan didn’t make good allies with each other.)

Japan sent troops to Australia. (They never set foot in it. The only attack it launched was in 1942 when the Japanese bombed Darwin and left. But they did have sub crews to go to shore on remote locations for fresh water.)

Japanese Zeros were faster than American Warhawks. (They were very maneuverable planes which got off the ground easily but were considerably slower than most American fighters.)

Japanese Zero guns had had terrible accuracy record. (They actually could decently hit American planes except in Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor disasterpiece.)

There wasn’t much airplane fighting in the Pacific as there was in Europe. (Actually in the Pacific theater, air warfare played a bigger role than it did in Europe. I mean the Americans bombed the living shit out of Japan, even before they dropped two atomic bombs on them. Still, air warfare in the Pacific isn’t covered as much because it’s difficult to portray massive fire raids against civilians in a heroic light. And Hollywood always has to portray the Americans as good guys.)

Japanese soldiers and civilians would rather commit suicide than accept defeat. (Yes, there were a high number of suicides on the Japanese side and there could be no doubt. However, while the Japanese Imperial military establishment had a reputation for not surrendering, it didn’t always mean that all Japanese soldiers and civilians were willing to do so. However, Wikipedia does have sourced stats on the Japanese who did surrender to the Americans under its Imperial Japanese Army article. Japanese POWs did exist {estimated 19,500 to 50,000} and there are Japanese veterans from the war who are still around. Still, much of the mass suicides had more to do with Japanese propaganda showing Americans as a cruel and merciless bunch who’d rape all captured women as well as kill or torture the men.)

Japanese POW camps were subject to the rules of the Geneva Convention. (Japan wasn’t a signatory of the Geneva Convention until 1953 so Allied prisoners had no expectation of being treated in accordance with them. In fact, the Japanese treatment of POWs led to a review and update of the conventions in 1949. Still, you wouldn’t know it from Bridge on the River Kwai when Lt. Col. Nicholson gets all up in Saito’s ass about it. He also didn’t realize that under the Geneva Convention enlisted POWs can be compelled to work, but only in specific industries that don’t help the enemy’s war effort. Then again, Japan wasn’t a signatory of the Geneva Convention at the time so it’s not like Alec Guinness’ character would be court-martialed for anything worse than treason. Still, it’s amazing he lasted so long in the movie without getting fragged, which probably would’ve more likely happened to him once he tried dragging sick men out of the hospital to work on the bridge.)

Emperor Hirohito was a powerless figurehead who didn’t want war with the United States. (Well, we’re not sure what his role in World War II was and it’s been hotly debated to this day. However, for hundreds of years, while the Emperor has had a special place in a ceremonial and religious aspects, his post didn’t always grant him real power, even if tradition said otherwise. Still, he wasn’t really against the war or technically powerless but he wasn’t exactly the guy running the place either. Responsible or not, to try him for war crimes would’ve been a big mistake, though he did have to renounce his divinity and cooperate with the US.)

Being a US Merchant Marine was one of the worst jobs in the Pacific. (Sure Merchant Marines didn’t get much recognition for their actions and they spent their days doing mundane tasks and languishing in boredom on a cargo ship which isn’t a glamorous job. However, serving on a cargo ship wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to someone in the US Navy in the Pacific Ocean during World War II. Being a POW in a Japanese prison camp was.)

The Japanese military actually had an air force. (The Imperial Japanese Air Force never existed. Both the Japanese Army and Navy used planes.)

Geisha communities were still in business during this time. (They were shut down by the Japanese government during WWII.)

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One response to “History of the World According to the Movies: Part 66 – World War II: The Pacific

  1. Wow- a lot of information. I can’t believe that McArthur talked like that! I have more sympathy for the Japanese people and their soldiers after reading this.

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