Over the course of two evenings, I’ve watched two films both produced by Clint Eastwood with different perspectives concerning a specific battle during WWII. The battle was for a rather small island off the coast of Japan called Iwo Jima. The first of the two films is called Flags of our Fathers…obviously taking the perspective of the American soldiers. But, more specifically…the perspective of the men that apparently raised the flag on Iwo Jima. You know…the famous picture of the six men working together to raise an American flag. It was this picture that was released in American newspapers that gave the people of the United States a feeling of victory and hope.
But to these American soldiers it was a reminder of those days in battle…a reminder of those friends lost…a reminder of the real truth behind that simple, iconic photo. Now…the following film is called Letters from Iwo Jima. This film is from the Japanese perspective of those days in battle. Following the lives of a common baker and husband turned soldier, a controversial General, and a discharged, demoted soldier, Letters from Iwo Jima provides an American, like myself, an understanding of the emotion behind going to war with such a powerhouse like the US. During a specific scene in this film, one of the senior officers of the Japanese forces exchanges words…English words…with an American prisoner of war. The relation is friendly…and establishes some common ground between the two foreigners. This POW named Sam from Oklahoma dies soon thereafter…then, the senior officer reads a note he found on Sam to the soldiers around him. It was a letter from Sam’s mother. This scene changed the whole mood of the movie. The soldiers of the imperial army realized that these American soldiers weren’t bloodthirsty cowards like they had been taught…no…these Americans were receiving letters just like their own letters from their mothers and wives.
It’s easy to imagine going to war with people you consider your enemy…people you consider to be less than yourself. But…when you realize that your “enemy” has a mom and a dad…and probably a girlfriend somewhere or even a wife who may be pregnant, it’s hard to fathom taking their life. I’ve never really been against war…or even for war. There is a time and place for everything I’m sure…so I’m not discussing “war.” I’m simply discussing the emotion of both sides…the lives of both sides.
So, needless to say…if you haven’t seen either film or just one of the two, I suggest you see both. It was a gruesome, enlightening experience to watch something that still happens today…that is happening as we speak. Sam’s mother said in her letter to her son, ”Do what is right…because it is right.” That senior officer repeated those words to his men as they went forth during their final attempt to save face.