The Moral Equivalency of Tom Hanks

This Sunday, HBO will air the first episode of The Pacific. It’s the much anticipated followup to the 2001 miniseries Band of Brothers.

The earlier miniseries premiered just before September 11, 2001 and did not do particularly well in the ratings, largely because America had been suddenly thrust into a real war and as thousands lay dead in lower Manhattan, the appetite for watching more brutal conflict on television was understandably low. Still, due to reruns on HBO and The History Channel, and the DVD release, Band of Brothers has found a huge audience. Deservedly so. Viewed as a whole, it’s the greatest film about war ever made: heartbreaking, rousing, patriotic, perfectly acted, and intensely realistic. The producers, Stephen Spielberg and Tom Hanks, deserve an enormous amount of applause and credit for their efforts.

Obviously, I haven’t seen The Pacific yet, but I will certainly be watching. If it is half as good as Band of Brothers, it will be very, very good indeed. The trailers I have seen promise more of the same intensity and realism.

But this time I’m a little unsure. I started watching Band of Brothers knowing in my heart and soul that it was going to be good, and it exceeded my wildest expectations. For a long time, I felt the same sort of anticipation for the new miniseries. But now, as the premiere draws closer and the press starts to mount, I am a little less sure. Why? Because Tom Hanks is an idiot.

There are other ambitions for their latest project. Asked if they expect “The Pacific” to resonate with viewers when it comes to the conflicts America faces today, Hanks responded quickly.

“We want it to resonate completely,” he said. “The war in the Pacific was a war of terror and racism, of suicide attacks. Both sides viewed the other side as being subhuman dogs, from a civilization that didn’t recognize the advancement of human kind.

“Sound familiar? Sound like something that might be going on?” he asked, referring to the U.S.-Middle Eastern conflict.

He noted that Americans who once bitterly dismissed the Japanese as barbaric now accept them as friends and equals.

“Right now we’re facing a different part of the world where they view us and we view them as an aberration of humanity,” Hanks said. “There’s a possibility that somewhere down the line, 60 years from now, we can look at the people that are trying to kill us and we are killing now as we do the Japanese today.” [Emphasis mine]

Hanks and Spielberg had an agenda with Band of Brothers: to honor the World War II vets who beat back fascism in Europe. But after reading the quotes above, I am dreading the concept of another agenda undermining The Pacific: moral equivalency between U.S. forces and Japanese forces, and a metaphorical link to the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghnistan.

I’m not even sure where to begin with Hanks’s dribble. It is certainly true that Americans had preconceived notions and prejudices regarding the Japanese. At the time of the Pearl Harbor bombing, many Americans had never even seen a Japanese person. But to claim that the war in the Pacific was a war of “racism” on both sides is ludicrous. Japan had been steadily conquering Southeast Asia for years, brutally savaging anyone who stood in their way. Was it racist to want to defeat that? Why? Because the Japanese were not blonde with blue eyes like so many Germans? Why does the war in Europe get a pass from racism? Were there not jokes and caricatures of the Germans common in U.S. ranks? Did we not view the Nazis as “subhuman dogs?” And did the Nazis not deserve to be thought of in that manner? If it’s racist to think that an enemy that tortures and enslaves civilians, performs medical experiments on POWs and children, and that ruthlessly exterminates anyone who they believe is not of the right ethnicity is comprised of “subhuman dogs”…well, then, I guess I’m guilty as charged. Of course, both the Japanese and Germans were guilty of those atrocities during World War II. The United States, on the other hand, was not.

I’m not denying that individual U.S. soldiers committed atrocities. War brings out the best and the worst in individuals, and there are certainly well-documented cases of American soldiers committing atrocities. But for the Japanese and Germans, atrocities were standard behavior. Compare how Japan behaved in Nanking in 1937 with how the United States behaved in Japan in 1946. Compare the Bataan Death March to the treatment of Japanese POWs in American captivity, or even the Japanese wrongly interred in the States. Hanks says that Americans now look at the Japanese as friends when they once dismissed them as barbaric. That’s very true, but it’s a truth made possible only by the crushing of Imperial Japan. Americans thought of the Japanese as barbaric, because that’s exactly how the Japanese forces acted. In many ways, the Japanese were more savage than even the Nazis.

America did not go to war with Japan because we believed them to be less than human. We went to war with Japan because they were a brutal imperialist country bent on total rule of Southeast Asia who would allow nothing to get in their way. Sorry, Tom, but to somehow draw a moral equivalency here is an insult to all those who fought in the Pacific.

It’s also an insult to the soldiers fighting in the Middle East today. Is Iraq a racist war? Is Afghanistan? Do we view Iraqis and Afghanis as “an aberration of humanity?” Tom Hanks thinks we do, despite the great efforts we are making to spare civilian lives and create some sort of liberty and democracy in those nations. Are the jihadists an aberration of humanity? Philosophical explorations of the question aside (no, they’re not), the instinctive response is yes. And for good reason. The oppression of women and children, the contempt for freedom, and the hatred of modernity that underlie the jihadist belief system are all valid reasons to see them crushed. We may hate what they are, but it’s not a racist hatred, it’s a perfectly rational emotion based on their actions and words.

I will be watching The Pacific and, frankly, I expect it to be excellent. I’m guessing that as he’s making the press rounds, Hanks is just letting his instinctive Leftism get the best of his mouth. He has done much good by American veterans, including his work with the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. But as his knee jerk quotes above tell, he can also do better than to insinuate that we are no different than our enemies. We are very, very different.

UPDATE: I see that Hot Air and Big Hollywood are also on this, but their concentration is on different quotes from Hanks, which makes me wonder if I was being too generous in my final paragraph. Maybe the idiot really believes this junk he’s spewing.

UPDATE II: More from John Nolte, who’s all over this at Big Hollywood and also the good folks at Power Line. Also, Kyle Smith gets in on the act, as does the always fascinating Victor Davis Hanson on PajamasMedia and Brad Schaeffer at Frum Forum. They’re all saying the same thing as me, but better.

2 Responses to The Moral Equivalency of Tom Hanks

  1. tiger tim says:

    FACT IS —Hollywood has made BILLIONS upon BILLIONS
    looking the other way, at best, while catering to
    the franchise-slum denial needs of history’s —MOST— awesomely genocidal regime —ACROSS the Pacific
    -while their self-serving moral alibi of choice
    remains the ad nauseum, anachronistic PC WWII retread
    –uh, we mean ‘tribute’…

    BTW —2010 marks the 60th Anniversary of the epic,
    urgently relevant, and once again ‘mysteriously
    overlooked’ —-KOREAN WAR!


    • blaknsam says:

      It’s not looking good. While the American films that are so often derided as “John Wayne movies” (whether Wayne was in them or not) certainly have their flaws, they were at least not ambivalent about the morality of World War II. This is one of the reasons why Band Of Brothers was so good…the American servicemen were certainly depicted as flawed people, but while they may have questioned their conditions, they never questioned their motives. And you are 100% on target about the Korean War. I can think of less than a handful of movies about that conflict, and the wildly anti-military and anti-Catholic M*A*S*H is unfortunately the most prominent. It’s too bad, because a good director could make a hell of a movie about the Chosin Few.

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