'The Pacific' - 'Okinawa' Recap
by Jason Hughes, posted May 10th 2010 8:40AM
(E09) Another week, another entirely new examination of war. This time we got a double-shot as we examined the notion of the innocents caught in the middle of a battle they didn't necessarily ask for, as well as the hard toll that prolonged warfare can have on the soldier's soul.
We've watched Eugene Sledge go from a frustrated young man, eager to serve his country and rid the world of evil, to the man he was in this ninth hour. A man on the edge of a certain darkness. He could either fall over the edge and be perhaps forever lost, or claw his way back.
Those of us who've never been a part of war have no real appreciation or comprehension of just what it is to survive something like this. This week, 'The Pacific' gave us a pretty clear idea of where post-traumatic stress comes from in veterans.
From the beginning we have the desensitization of the marines to the death and carnage around them. The early sequences looked like a traditional war movie, with the marines making maneuvers across the terrain, establishing and fortifying their positions. But they were doing so in a sea of dead bodies, and it was as if the bodies weren't there.
There was a time when Eugene Sledge was horrified at the carnage, but more than anything we saw his descent into cold acceptance. When you're starting to make "Snafu" look like a beaming ray of sunshine, you've sunk pretty low. Sledge's crossroad came in the house. He was still numb to humanity when he and Snafu simply stared at the crying baby, lying next to its dead mother.
But he found the last scraps within him, perhaps, when the old woman was pleading with him to shoot her in the head and end her suffering. He couldn't bring himself to take her life so callously, even though she was clearly dying. Instead he offered her a moment of compassion and humanity, so that her last seconds on this earth wouldn't be alone and afraid. It was a simple, elegant and beautiful scene. In that moment Sledge's soul was redeemed.
Proof of this came mere moments later when he got pissed about his fellow marine taking out "a Jap," which was little more than an Okinawan native child. These casualties of war ... these innocents, add yet another layer to the horror. The woman trying desperately to give up her baby before the bombs strapped to her stomach exploded was an example, I am assuming, of what the Japanese were willing to do to the people of their own Empire to take out US soldiers.
Americans, we would like to believe, would never force a mother into an enemy camp with her baby for a distraction, while she's wired to blow. There's an inhumanity to those choices, from our cultural perspective, that makes it a simply deplorable thing to consider, much less do. That these Okinawans were subject to that from those who were supposedly their own people, their military protectors, makes their situation even more heartbreaking.
Wars and battles have to happen somewhere. It's one thing when it happens on an island that has no people living on it, but it's quite another when it's in the residential areas of some foreign land. We don't see much fighting on US soil, so its hard for Americans to grasp our neighborhoods being turned into the kinds of battlefields we've seen in 'The Pacific.' But this is what happens, and on Okinawa the bullets were flying all around these people who maybe just wanted to live their lives. Bombs dropping on their homes, tearing families apart. It's a hell of a thing to have happen to your home, and a hell of a thing to be a part of on the military side as well.
How do you treat these people? They look like your mortal enemies. You have been trained to never trust a Jap. That the Japs will do anything to kill you. Hell, we've seen the lengths they'll go to try and take out US marines with these women and children strapped to blow. What that's what you're taught, and that's what you know, how do you treat these innocents as innocents? How do you believe that they are?
And how do you treat a prisoner without wanting to kill him when killing enemy soldiers is what you're there to do? Being a soldier in a prolonged war has to be one of the toughest things to do emotionally and mentally. Especially during World War II, when the propaganda machines back home were painting a very clear picture of the enemy forces.
I can't believe we're nine hours in already on this ten hour saga. It'll be interesting to see how the final episode wraps things up. At the end of this installment came word of the atomic bombs that effectively ended the war. The boys are headed home.
What's left but to explore what the soldier does when the war is over. How do they try and fit back into regular life, and realize that who they were before they shipped out is someone they may never be able to be again? That kid was left on the beaches of Peleliu, or perhaps in the jungles of Guadalcanal. But life goes on, and you've no choice but to live it as best you can. For some, I'd imagine the transition will be easier than others. Sledge looks like he's a long way from who he was.