Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Letters from Iwo Jima

Directed by Clint Eastwood

This is the kind of film that only an American could make. A film of war, from the point of view of the enemy. It is of Japanese forces who were assigned the task of defending Iwo Jima against the oncoming Americans during World War II. And, in stark contrast to any other war movie, it portrays the imperial Japanese forces as human. With fears, wondering about the what is to come, and wondering about what the enemy is like. Iwo Jima was known as a place where the Japanese were particularly crafty, forsaking some of the stark militarism and bravado for a well prepared defense. The industrial war that the United States had developed to such effectiveness in air and naval bombardment turned out to be ineffective, and the Marines involved won the island at high cost, against an adversary that forced them to pay dearly for the island.

One of the chief lessons that I took care to emphasize in Afghanistan was the craftiness of our opposition. When I worked with newly arriving sergeants I made a point of reminding them of this, and giving examples. One thing that "Letters" does well in the first half is show the dilemma that opposing leaders have when fighting the United States, how do you combat an opponent who has what seems to be unlimited resources? And the intelligence that is needed to do this with honor.

The movie is based on the records of letters home from the Japanese commanding general, written in the days leading up to the American invasion. And they are very human, without the blind bravado that Hollywood usually casts upon the enemy (historical or fictional). They are a mix of fanatic, afraid, fearful of the future, honorable, and driven by shame, sometimes in sequence and sometimes many at once.

Some of the most touching parts are the scenes where the general or the main character are writting letters home. What they are doing that day, what they feel. And reading letters from their wives about the home front. It is very human, and very real. And I can completely relate, having spent the last 20 minutes reading all the letters I received while deployed.
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