The Moral Equivalency of Tom Hanks

March 10, 2010

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.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President (Part Two)

February 22, 2010

It’s really not all that difficult to come up with the answer to the question “Who was the greatest American?” In this rare case, the man is even more impressive than the myth (cherry trees aside).

On March 15th, 1783 the officers who had served Washington during the Revolution held a meeting where they were planning to discuss an open rebellion. The officers were furious with Congress, which had not yet paid them what they were owed for their service. The country was broke, and what Washington’s officers were contemplating was nothing short of either a complete abdication of their military responsibilities or an outright military coup, either of which would have changed the entire future of the young nation, perhaps killing it before it had drawn its first breath of free air.

To their surprise, Washington himself showed up at the meeting and asked to address the officers. Since the General was held in such high regard, he was permitted to do so. Washington spoke, reminding the assembled officers of his own service and reminding them of their duty and all that was at stake, but the speech fell on deaf ears.

When his speech was over, Washington pulled out a letter from Congress explaining the financial difficulties they faced. At that point Washington reached into his pocket and withdrew a pair of reading glasses, shocking the crowd of officers who had never seen the General wear glasses.

“Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.”

This single moment of the great General displaying his humanity, his vulnerability, and the level of his own sacrifice caused some of the assembled officers to weep, and others to retreat into shame. When he finished reading the letter from Congress, Washington left without saying another word.

The assembled officers voted unanimously to abide by the will of Congress, and the young nation was saved.

Jim Crow Lives In Black History Month

February 18, 2010

I don’t know how long this has been going on. It goes back a lot of years, but I don’t ever recall hearing that “February is Black History Month” during my childhood, so it has to be something that’s come along in the past twenty years or so. Maybe I’m wrong. Who cares?

Personally, I don’t celebrate Black History Month. Nor do I celebrate Women’s History Month, GLBT History Month, Hispanic History Month, or any other politically correct concoction that highlights the things that separate us. I don’t celebrate Black History Month because I think that it is an essentially racist proposition.

American history is a fascinating tale, and it encompasses a wide spectrum of stories. From Christopher Columbus to Neil Armstrong, it is a story of discovery. From George Washington to Barack Obama, it is a story of politics. From the Seven Years War to Afghanistan, it is a story of warfare and heroism. From Benjamin Franklin to Bill Gates, it is a story of entrepreneurial spirits and restless invention and innovation. It is a history that should be studied by students and history buffs all across the nation.

Black people are part of this history. A crucial part. Consider these:

  • Crispus Attucks, a runaway slave living as a free man in Massachusetts who was among the first to die in the Boston Massacre of 1770
  • Sojourner Truth, a fierce and tireless anti-slavery voice
  • Harriet Tubman, a leader in the Underground Railroad that so many slaves used to get to freedom
  • Frederick Douglass, who brought the fight against slavery to the upper echelons of government
  • Booker T. Washington, who promoted economic freedom for blacks
  • George Washington Carver, one of America’s greatest inventors
  • W.E.B. DuBois, who fought for equal rights and founded the NAACP
  • Charles Drew, who discovered the process for separating blood from plasma, a discovery that saved untold numbers of lives
  • Thurgood Marshall, the first black appointed to the United States Supreme Court
  • Martin Luther King, who needs no introduction here
  • Colin Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the first black Secretary of State, and still one of the most admired Americans
  • Oprah Winfrey, a poor black girl who turned herself into a one-woman media machine
  • Barack Obama, the first black President

Clearly, as anyone who has read my writings knows, I don’t have much in common with some of the names on this list. But ideological differences are irrelevant here. These people are all valid historical figures for one reason or another. And there are many more I’m not thinking of, I’m sure. Add in some of our greatest athletes and entertainers, economists, sociologists, explorers…well, you get the picture.

The history of blacks in this country, from the days of slavery to the Age of Obama, is completely connected to the larger history of the nation. Setting aside a block of time and saying, “This is the month we dedicate to black history” only serves to break black history apart from American history. It increases the separation between blacks and other groups by turning “black history” into something this is considered “different.” If American history is a richly detailed quilt of stories and possibilities, “Black History Month” is a sock that was sewn from leftover yarn.

The history of blacks in America is part of the American story, sometimes tragic, sometimes uplifting, always compelling. It is not more worthy of study, which seems to be the intention behind Black History Month. Nor is it less worthy of study, which is the result of separating it from the larger canvas of history. Black History month is affirmative action for history; the original intentions behind it may have been well-meaning, but the end result is to validate the impression that many blacks have that they are somehow separate from the rest of the country, and disconnected from the American story.

Let us do away with Black History Month and incorporate those important lessons into the rest of the year as well. Let everyone know that black or white, we are all Americans and our history is shared.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President

February 12, 2010

I dread thinking that a whole generation of Americans now think we have a holiday every February that somehow honors all past Presidents. It is time to restore Lincoln’s Birthday and Washington’s Birthday to their proper status and forever be rid of “Presidents’ Day.”

One can only imagine the fury and outcry that would result if we changed Martin Luther King’s Birthday to “Civil Rights Leaders’ Day.”

Obama’s Revisionist History

July 17, 2009

This is a few days old but just came to my attention. In the Wall Street Journal, Liz Cheney has a deft essay beating Obama about the head and neck with the stupid stick for his fawning pandering and revisionist history when it comes to the Cold War. In Obama’s view, the Cold War ended one day because the Russian people decided they didn’t like living under Communism, and he boils the Cold War down to a competition to see who would get to the moon first and who would beat whom in Olympic hockey.

If it was that simple, you’d think the Russian people would have tossed Communism overboard when Stalin was murdering tens of millions of people.

One of the problems with today’s Russia, run by strongmen ex-KGB thugs like Vladimir Putin, is that the West’s victory in the Cold War wasn’t followed by Nuremberg-style trials, putting the Kremlin and the heads of the Soviet secret police up before a jury that would have imprisoned or executed them. Because the old Soviet apparatchiks were never held to account for the brutal crimes they committed or allowed, younger Russians have no firm idea of the brutality of which the Putins of the world were capable.

Obama’s obsequious rewriting of history does nobody any favors. But then, admitting the truth about Cold War would entail admitting that Obama and all of his “nuclear freeze movement” buddies in college were dead wrong. And Obama will never admit to errors in his ideology.

H/T: QDex.

Nixon’s Racist Ambivalence

June 24, 2009

From the ancient history files, newly released tapes of Richard Nixon reveal his stance on abortion. When the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade, Nixon was silent. Privately, however, he expressed concern that abortion would create permissiveness.

He also had this little gem:

“There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white,” he told an aide, before adding, “Or a rape.”

Now, I’ve never liked Nixon. I was too young to really remember his Presidency, but from reading about it I can say that I sure wouldn’t have voted for the guy (not that I would have gone for Humphrey or McGovern, mind you). The Left will take this as an example of the evil Richard Nixon being racist and I completely agree that his comment on the propriety of aborting children born of mixed relationships is revolting on several levels, racism being only one of them.

But riddle me this: how many of those on the Left who will seize this opportunity to brand Nixon as a hateful racist will acknowledge that his views are considerably more moderate than the views of Hillary Clinton’s hero, Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger? How many will admit that the flagship organization of the pro-choice movement was built on the philosophies of a Klan-loving eugenicist that was admired by Hitler?

What Nixon said was loathsome, but he’s in good company on the Left.

Remembering The Boys Of Pointe du Hoc

June 6, 2009

The full text of President Ronald Reagan’s speech commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the Normandy invasion.

We’re here to mark that day in history when the Allied armies joined in battle to reclaim this continent to liberty. For four long years, much of Europe had been under a terrible shadow. Free nations had fallen, Jews cried out in the camps, millions cried out for liberation. Europe was enslaved, and the world prayed for its rescue. Here in Normandy the rescue began. Here the Allies stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history.We stand on a lonely, wind-swept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but 40 years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June, 1944, 225 Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs. Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns. The Allies had been told that some of the mightiest of these guns were here and they would be trained on the beaches to stop the Allied advance.

The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers — the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting, only 90 could still bear arms.Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there. These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.

Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender’s poem. You are men who in your “lives fought for life . . . and left the vivid air signed with your honor.” I think I know what you may be thinking right now — thinking, “We were just part of a bigger effort; everyone was brave that day.” Well, everyone was.

Do you remember the story of Bill Millin of the 51st Highlanders? Forty years ago today, British troops were pinned down near a bridge, waiting desperately for help. Suddenly, they heard the sound of bagpipes, and some thought they were dreaming. Well, they weren’t. They looked up and saw Bill Millin with his bagpipes, leading the reinforcements and ignoring the smack of the bullets into the ground around him. Lord Lovat was with him — Lord Lovat of Scotland, who calmly announced when he got to the bridge, “Sorry I’m a few minutes late,” as if he’d been delayed by a traffic jam, when in truth he’d just come from the bloody fighting on Sword Beach, which he and his men had just taken. There was the impossible valor of the Poles who threw themselves between the enemy and the rest of Europe as the invasion took hold, and the unsurpassed courage of the Canadians who had already seen the horrors of war on this coast. They knew what awaited them there, but they would not be deterred. And once they hit Juno Beach, they never looked back.

All of these men were part of a roll call of honor with names that spoke of a pride as bright as the colors they bore: the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, Poland’s 24th Lancers, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, the Screaming Eagles, the Yeomen of England’s armored divisions, the forces of Free France, the Coast Guard’s “Matchbox Fleet” and you, the American Rangers. Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet, you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love.

The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge — and pray God we have not lost it — that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt. You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you. The Americans who fought here that morning knew word of the invasion was spreading through the darkness back home. They thought — or felt in their hearts, though they couldn’t know in fact, that in Georgia they were filling the churches at 4 a.m., in Kansas they were kneeling on their porches and praying, and in Philadelphia they were ringing the Liberty Bell.

Something else helped the men of D-Day: their rock-hard belief that Providence would have a great hand in the events that would unfold here; that God was an ally in this great cause. And so, the night before the invasion, when Colonel Wolverton asked his parachute troops to kneel with him in prayer he told them: Do not bow your heads, but look up so you can see God and ask His blessing in what we’re about to do. Also that night, General Matthew Ridgway on his cot, listening in the darkness for the promise God made to Joshua: “I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.” These are the things that impelled them; these are the things that shaped the unity of the Allies.

When the war was over, there were lives to be rebuilt and governments to be returned to the people. There were nations to be reborn. Above all, there was a new peace to be assured. These were huge and daunting tasks. But the Allies summoned strength from the faith, belief, loyalty, and love of those who fell here. They rebuilt a new Europe together. There was first a great reconciliation among those who had been enemies, all of whom had suffered so greatly. The United States did its part, creating the Marshall Plan to help rebuild our allies and our former enemies. The Marshall Plan led to the Atlantic alliance — a great alliance that serves to this day as our shield for freedom, for prosperity, and for peace. In spite of our great efforts and successes, not all that followed the end of the war was happy or planned. Some liberated countries were lost. The great sadness of this loss echoes down to our own time in the streets of Warsaw, Prague, and East Berlin. Soviet troops that came to the center of this continent did not leave when peace came. They’re still there, uninvited, unwanted, unyielding, almost 40 years after the war. Because of this, Allied forces still stand on this continent.

Today, as 40 years ago, our armies are here for only one purpose — to protect and defend democracy. The only territories we hold are memorials like this one and graveyards where our heroes rest. We in America have learned bitter lessons from two World Wars: It is better to be here ready to protect the peace than to take blind shelter across the sea, rushing to respond only after freedom is lost. We’ve learned that isolationism never was and never will be an acceptable response to tyrannical governments with an expansionist intent. But we try always to be prepared for peace; prepared to deter aggression; prepared to negotiate the reduction of arms; and, yes, prepared to reach out again in the spirit of reconciliation. In truth, there is no reconciliation we would welcome more than a reconciliation with the Soviet Union, so, together, we can lessen the risks of war, now and forever.

It’s fitting to remember here the great losses also suffered by the Russian people during World War II: 20 million perished, a terrible price that testifies to all the world the necessity of ending war. I tell you from my heart that we in the United States do not want war. We want to wipe from the face of the Earth the terrible weapons that man now has in his hands. And I tell you, we are ready to seize that beachhead. We look for some sign from the Soviet Union that they are willing to move forward, that they share our desire and love for peace, and that they will give up the ways of conquest. There must be a changing there that will allow us to turn our hope into action. We will pray forever that someday that changing will come. But for now, particularly today, it is good and fitting to renew our commitment to each other, to our freedom, and to the alliance that protects it. We are bound today by what bound us 40 years ago, the same loyalties, traditions, and beliefs. We’re bound by reality. The strength of America’s allies is vital to the United States, and the American security guarantee is essential to the continued freedom of Europe’s democracies. We were with you then; we are with you now. Your hopes are our hopes, and your destiny is our destiny.

Here, in this place where the West held together, let us make a vow to our dead. Let us show them by our actions that we understand what they died for. Let our actions say to them the words for which Matthew Ridgway listened: “I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.” Strengthened by their courage, heartened by their value [valor], and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died. Thank you very much, and God bless you all.

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