Today is

   "A word to the wise ain't necessary --  
          it's the stupid ones that need the advice."
					-Bill Cosby

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Flags of Our Fathers

Variety reviews Clint Eastwood's new film here.

It looks like it may be worth seeing. The review calls it our generation's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, but it looks to me more like our generation's The Right Stuff. Apparently the film explores the contrast between the stark heroism of the men who stormed Iwo Jima and the "packaged heroism" -- complete with schlocky reenactments of the flag-raising -- that the U.S. government offered to the American public during the wildly successful war bond tour, in which the surviving flag-raisers were the main attraction. I hope the movie at least complicates things by noting that the war bond tour was by far the most successful of the war, and that the money raised was raised to support the very men whose heroism was supposedly trivialized by the cheap theatrics of the tour.

In Flags of Our Fathers, James Bradley describes his father John "Doc" Bradley's reticence about his wartime experiences, a reticence so complete that his children never knew until after their father's death that he had been awarded the Navy Cross for his heroism during the battle of Iwo Jima. He surmises that his father's silence about the war arose partly from his conviction that the "real" heroes were the ones who died on Iwo Jima and on all the other battlefields of the war. It's a sentiment that many survivors of the battle apparently shared, and while it's understandable, it's not really true, since the survivors of the war were, in the main, just as heroic as those who died. John "Doc" Bradley is entitled to feel that way about his experiences, but the generations who have benefited from his sacrifice are not. I hope Clint Eastwood's film is able to present Bradley's perspective without adopting his view.

Finally, I hope the people who made this film understand the difference between a myth and a symbol. The battle of Iwo Jima is not a myth, and the flag-raising is not a myth. The picture that was taken of it was not staged. That Joe Rosenthal's magnificent photograph became one of the most famous images of the twentieth century and an enduring symbol of American heroism is neither surprising nor regrettable, and almost anything that we learn about "what really happened" on Iwo Jima only enhances the impact of that grainy black and white image. I think most Americans, or at least most Americans who have ever heard of Mount Suribachi, understand that. Let's hope Clint Eastwood understands it, too.


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