Green Room

Tales of Valor

posted at 1:52 am on March 30, 2010 by

HBO’s mini-series The Pacific, the encore to its sensational World War II mini Band of Brothers, is well under way. So far, The Pacific has been decent, but not the equal of its illustrious predecessor. It’s taken several episodes to begin developing memorable characters, something the original series accomplished within its first hour. This might be partially due to the acting, which is serviceable, while the original cast was hitting grand slams in every scene. No one has really jumped off the screen except William Sadler’s “Chesty” Puller… a man history tells us was not easily forgotten.

The scenes of jungle combat on Guadalcanal were intense, but not quite as memorable as the heart-stopping depiction of the air drop over Normandy in the first series. The most recent episode, a peaceful interlude on leave in Australia, provided much-needed character development, but broke the pace of a narrative that was just beginning to pick up speed. The Pacific suffers from having an extremely tough act to follow.

The Pacific launched after some controversial remarks from executive producer Tom Hanks, who betrayed an outrageously shallow and revisionist understanding of the conflict between the United States of America and the Empire of Japan. Ratings have been disappointing, leading to speculation that Hanks turned off a big chunk of the audience. That would be a shame, provided the series avoids the kind of clueless rambling that got Hanks in trouble. The story of the Solomon Islands is a tale of valor every generation of Americans could profit from hearing.

There are other stories of courage, honor, and sacrifice our increasingly dissolute and dependent youth need to hear. I would happily forgive Mr. Hanks for suggesting “cultural differences” loom larger than Pearl Harbor, Nanking, and Bataan, if he would prevail on his associate Steven Spielberg, and put the craftsmanship behind Band of Brothers and The Pacific into telling us about the heroes of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The shortage of films and television programs about these brave men and women is appalling. The cinematic treatment of the War on Terror has been stained with mindless swill like The Green Zone, the Matt Damon turkey from last month. The best film about the war to date, this year’s Best Picture winner The Hurt Locker, distinguished itself through its honesty – it stood out because it wasn’t the latest vanity project from a director looking to indulge his psychotic hatred of George Bush, or his condescending pity for the soldiers who carried out his orders. However, The Hurt Locker is a work of fiction. Like its competitor for Best Picture, Avatar, it’s a story about a man losing his humanity… and it is the superior film, because it’s presented as a tragedy, not a commendable lifestyle choice. The nobility of the protagonist’s quest to clean murder weapons from the streets of Iraq is an ingredient in his tragedy. He’s not a real person, and he’s not really meant to be seen as a hero.

There are true heroes in Iraq and Afghanistan – men and women marching in a company whose boots are heavy with the mud of Alligator Creek, and the snow of Bastogne. Look at Major James Gant, awarded the Silver Star for his actions on December 11, 2006.

Major Gant was riding with a group of up-armored Humvees, escorting a large convoy of Iraqi National Police in soft-sided trucks, when they came under fire from insurgents. When an Iraqi police commando took a bullet wound in the face, Major Gant dismounted his vehicle and provided life-saving medical assistance… then bundled the wounded man onto a helicopter, even as enemy mortar rounds began falling on his position. He ordered his Humvee to shield the vulnerable police trucks from machine-gun fire. Spotting an Improvised Explosive Device on the road ahead, he detonated it with his own armored vehicle… then did it again when a second IED was spotted, fifty feet away.

You and I would probably want a coffee break after driving through two roadside bombs, but Major Gant was still on the clock. A civilian vehicle had been drawn into the convoy during the running firefight. A woman inside this vehicle sustained serious wounds to her legs, prompting Major Gant to dismount again, race to her side, and perform first aid through a hail of bullets. The woman had a little girl with her. Gant has two young children of his own, so he took the child back to his armored Humvee for safety. Both the woman and her child survived the battle, and the day ended with two hundred Iraqi commandos hugging and kissing the Americans, bathing the street in goat’s blood, and painting their battered trucks with bloody handprints.

I’ll bet you’d like to see Hollywood film that story, instead of giving Matt Damon another sixty million bucks to make an ass of himself. I would hope a team of top screenwriters, armed with million-dollar special effects, could do the story more justice than some guy sitting up way too late at night, writing a blog post.  I don’t know if Major Gant has ever visited Omaha Beach, but if he does, he will walk among the spirits of brothers, who would have welcomed him at their sides on the Day of Days.

There are many more tales of incredible courage pouring from the deserts and mountains where America and her allies battle the forces of Islamic fascism. The great-grandsons of Easy Company are once again walking among the bones of ruined cities, presenting their bodies as shields against murder, on behalf of civilians who have plenty of “cultural differences” with them. There are heartbreaking tragedies and mortal outrages to recount, as well. Everyone should know the story of the attack on Karbala in 2007, and what became of the animals who planned and executed it. I’ll give you a hint: they weren’t executed. Actors who love to boast of their appetite for tackling difficult subjects could show some real guts by portraying Karbala to their adoring audiences.

One of the most memorable chapters of Band of Brothers recounted Easy Company’s discovery of a Nazi concentration camp. Our soldiers in Iraq have discovered horrors, too. Perhaps Hollywood is reluctant to discuss these new horrors, because too many of their number spoke recklessly and stupidly in defense of the perpetrators.

When the children of those who survived Auschwitz and Dachau said “Never again,” they made a promise to themselves, and placed a noble obligation upon the civilized world. The American soldiers who shut down Saddam Hussein’s torture state, and brought a measure of justice for the murder of the Marsh Arabs, honored that obligation. Let us hear the story of how it was done, so we can render them proper honors.

Band of Brothers, along with Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List, brought the epic deeds of the Greatest Generation… and the monstrous evil they fought… into the imaginations of a new generation. I wish Mr. Spielberg would use his fortune and talents on behalf of this generation’s great soldiers, and help weave the thread of their heroics into the tapestry of our popular culture.

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Another home run, Doctor Zero. I hope someone with some pull reads this post. I’d like to see these people honored with a real story, as well.

The problem is, most Hollywood sees our military as something to denigrate and bring down. I wish we could change that. Maybe we will with folks like you making people think with your words.

Mad Mad Monica on March 31, 2010 at 9:56 AM

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