October 20, 2006, - 12:21 pm
By Debbie Schlussel
Forty-one years from now, let’s hope there isn’t another Clint Eastwood making a movie based on a book about George Johnson, Dan McWilliams, and Billy Eisengrein.
Let’s hope there won’t be a melodramatic, anti-American movie about the “true story” of the “horrible lives” of those three firemen who raised the American flag in the famous photo at Ground Zero, just after America was attacked on 9/11.
That’s the way I see “Flags of Our Fathers,” the much-hyped Eastwood film, in theaters today. The movie–based on a book by James Bradley, whose father, Navy medic John Bradley, was one of the men raising the American flag in the famous photo of the Battle at Iwo Jima–is a mishmosh whose main point is to sully the patriotic image most Americans have of that War and what happened at the Marine Corp’s bloodiest battle ever. That’s done by questioning minutiae about the Joe Rosenthal photo–minutiae that really aren’t of any consequence.
I have mixed feelings about this film. The scenes of the Marines–reaching the shores of Iwo Jima and their valiant, but long, bloody, and very deadly battle against the Japanese in World War II–are masterful, moving, and powerful. The dismembered limbs (and heads) of dead American soldiers are very real parts of what fighting the Japanese on this barren island involved. And they remind us of the validity of the trite saying that freedom isn’t free.
It’s the scenes outside of the island and Eastwood’s intense focus on the ugly about America–instead of the ugliness of its enemy on Iwo Jima–that are disgusting and offensive. And a huge exaggeration from reality.
Despite the focus of the book, Eastwood focuses on the misery that visits the three flag-raisers in the photo who survived the bloody battle. They are a drunken Indian (Ira Hayes)–who is a victim of horrible, racist America, a “runner/messenger” (Rene Gagnon) who never fought on Iwo Jima but tries to turn his flag-raising into lucrative career opportunities, and a courageous Navy medic (John “Doc” Bradley)–whose son wrote the book (so, of course, his father is the normal, heroic one).
I wonder what Gagnon’s family thinks about his portrayal as an opportunist who “never fought” at Iwo Jima. He joined the Marines and went to Iwo Jima, like everyone else who served there. That he was assigned to messenger-like duties behind the fighting at Iwo Jima doesn’t mean his service was any less worthy or heroic. He could have been killed by the Japanese at any time and performed duties needed by the troops. For this, he deserves to be defamed by Dirty Harry?
Ira Hayes as a drunken, boisterous Indian, against whom every American is a complete racist? Been there, seen that. He’s been similarly portrayed in other movies, long ago, like 1961’s “The Outsider.” This is hardly new ground. So why is it being revisited and America’s racism against him amplified by Clint?
Much is made, too, that this was the second raising of the flag on Mount Suribachi and that the battle was only five days old, lasting many more after the photo. But that’s not news either. It’s hardly a secret that the U.S. wanted a bigger flag in the photo atop the Mount. What’s so wrong with that? The picture, shown round the world, demoralized the Japanese. And there was nothing wrong with using the photo and flag-raisers to raise money for War Bonds. We wanted to win the war, after all–a war we were in because they (the Japanese) attacked us (Memo to Dirty Harry: Remember Pearl Harbor?). While the movie makes a big deal of who was actually in the photo and who wasn’t, why should that be important to anyone but immediate family members? The photo is the sum of all men serving at Iwo Jima.
While the book goes into extensive details about how American Marines at Iwo Jima were seized by Japanese and mutilated to death in the middle of the night (to demoralize the Marines and make the Japanese feel good about themselves), we’re hardly shown that on the silver screen. A friend of mine who served summarizes the book thusly:
It focused on how the son of one of the men who raised the flag went from being almost anti-American in the way he believed the Japanese post-war propaganda, to realizing the error of his ways and also his father’s patience with him when he shot his mouth off as a young man.
But that’s not the movie. Instead, Eastwood focuses on American evil–corrupt, racist politicians; chickenhawk government officials who parade the men around to raise war bond cash; general White anti-Indian racism in America; alcoholic Indians; and war “heroes” (like Gagnon) over there who can’t get a job over here (or work as janitors).
Does this sound like a Michael Moore movie to you? It seemed like I was watching one–in spades. “Support the Troops, Oppose the Government.” That was the message in this film. That’s the message of the left now.
Tom Brokaw confirms my view of the film’s agenda. He told USA Today he hopes it will make people question our efforts in Iraq (because he, somehow, thinks they aren’t doing that enough already?):
It will be interesting to me to see whether there’ll be any contemporary political fallout as a result of this film, whether people will think about the fog of war, the decisions that were made and the use of propaganda.
USA Today film critic Claudia Puig seconds that emotion:
The film is patriotic in the truest sense: honoring those who risked their lives in battle and questioning the motives of those in power who sought to use the soldiers as political pawns.
Though the film respects the heroes it depicts, it also takes a cynical look at the selling of war to the American people.
Propaganda? Selling of war? Do these people not remember that the Japanese attacked us? Memo to them, too: Remember Pearl Harbor?
And is that the kind of movie America really needs, right now?
To hear Eastwood, he sounds like an anti-war peacenik of the Moore/Cindy Sheehan ilk. He told USA Today:
World War I was there, and that was going to be the one to end all wars. And then World War II came along and that was going to be the war to end all wars. Then, five years later, Korea. Not too many years after that, Vietnam. And all the little skirmishes, Yugoslavia, Gulf War I, Gulf War II …
It doesn’t speak well for mankind. It seems like it’s just inevitable that they’ll go on forever. Is that the way it’s supposed to be? Is man most creative when he’s at war? I don’t know.
So, we should have raised the white flag in response to Pearl Harbor’s bombing and shouldn’t have fought the Nazis because it wasn’t “the last war” and man isn’t the “most creative” when he’s at war? Huh? Which ashram did he get that from?
One thing’s for sure. Had we not fought and won World War II, it certainly would have been our last war. And some of us would be saluting the Fuhrer. The rest, like me, would never have existed in the first place because the Nazis were at their “most creative” with the Final Solution.
Clint Eastwood made a movie that is possibly mostly true. The acting is excellent, especially that of star Ryan Phillippe (who plays “Doc” Bradley). It is a well executed film. But so what? We are at war, right now.
And this is not the right time for this movie. If there ever is one. Demoralizing America about a great victory over the partners of the Third Reich really isn’t something to celebrate. Even if you–like Eastwood–don’t like that America continues to celebrate a picture that stands for America’s heroism in that war.
Bradley, who wrote the “Flags” book, said he wrote it “to demythologize the flag raising.” But what was wrong with the myth?
And was it a myth at all? The picture doesn’t stand for the individuals in it or what happened in their lives. It stands for many, many men who fought and gave their lives so we could be free. So we wouldn’t live life under the Nazis and the Japanese.
And that’s not a myth. It’s a reality that doesn’t need to be “demystified” by Hollywood. Ever.
Tags: America, Billy Eisengrein, Claudia Puig, Clint Eastwood, Dan McWilliams, film critic, Flags of Our Fathers, George Johnson, Ira Hayes, Iraq, James Bradley, John "Doc" Bradley, John Bradley, Korea, Marine Corp, Mount Suribachi, Navy, Pearl Harbor, Remember Pearl Harbor, Rene Gagnon, runner /messenger, Ryan Phillippe, the Japanese post, The Outsider, Tom Brokaw, United States, USA Today, Vietnam, Yugoslavia