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.

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