The Pacific

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

Since I was a little tough on Treme this morning, let me make a recommendation: If you haven’t been watching HBO’s The Pacific, the companion miniseries to Band of Brothers, you should be. Catch up with your On Demand.

I just finished Episode 9. It was the most intense, wrenching episode hour of television I’ve ever seen. The series features some terrific acting, particularly James Badge Dale as Robert Leckie in the first half of the series, and Joe Mazzello as war hero Eugene Sledge in the second. (Mazzello is a high school friend of my ex-girlfriend. Really nice guy.)

I loved Band of Brothers, though I thought it came close to propaganda in places. There’s no such gloss to The Pacific. It is as dark and crushing a portrayal of war as I’ve ever seen on video. Without ever questioning the legitimacy or justness of the U.S. war effort in the Pacific (and I think even strident libertarians can agree it was both), it’s a potent, jab-to-the-chest lament against war, at least in the broad sense. The central theme of the series is Sledge’s struggle to retain his humanity as everything around him descends into hell. It’s not a novel theme for a war narrative, but it’s the execution that makes The Pacific so compelling. That, and the ambiguity. We’ve seen these themes in “what are we fighting for?” Vietnam War movies. They’re rarer in World War II movies. And despite a moment of redemption toward the end of Episode 9, I’m not entirely sure Sledge succeeds in preserving himself. The message: Even just wars can bend good men toward evil.

There’s a scene at the beginning of the series where Sledge’s father—a medic who served in World War I—tells his son that what most haunts him from the battlefield wasn’t the torn flesh, but the men who came back “with their souls ripped out.” That scene sets the tone for the rest of the series. Where Band of Brothers showcased the physical sacrifices of the World War II generation, The Pacific looks at the grimmer, harder to quantify emotional and spiritual casualties. It suggests in places that the men left on Pacific battlefields may have been better off than those who made it home. In that sense, it leaves you with a more complete and informed appreciation of what the World War II generation gave up.

And perhaps the rest of us, too. At the tail-end of Episode 9, a Marine makes a passing reference to a “new kind of bomb” the U.S. just dropped that “vaporized an entire city.” Another replies, casually, that that sounds great, because it’s “all about killin’ Japs,” a line echoed by Sledge earlier in the same episode as he nearly lost grip on his humanity. The sene is shot in warm tones, and there’s mention of cokes and steak for the guys we’ve just seen endure months of agony and barbarism. It’s a jarring but appropriate bit of ambivalence. The indiscriminately destructive power of the atom bomb ended the war, an unquestionably positive outcome. But in unleashing such a destructive technology, one that would eventually carry the capacity to end every life on earth a dozen times over, we also lost a piece of our collective humanity.

It hasn’t been an easy series to watch. But it’s been affecting, haunting TV. A few episodes in particular have stuck with me days after viewing them.

Digg it |  reddit |  del.icio.us |  Fark

61 Responses to “The Pacific

  1. #1 |  Marty | 

    this is the only thing on tv I consider ‘must see’- besides the Canadiens improbable run to the cup!

  2. #2 |  Tinker | 

    Japan had been trying to surrender for months, but they wanted assurances they could keep the emperor in place, andTRUMAN had refused to violate the terms of the agreement with Russia, so it may have been useful, but it definitely was not “right”. It turned out the same in the end, but it prolonged, not shortened the war. (That’s the dirty secret that no one wants to remember.)

  3. #3 |  Matt | 

    Another Isolated Incident
    /link/ http://www.detnews.com/article/20100516/METRO/5160325/1409/Detroit-police-fatally-shoot-7-year-old-girl /link/

  4. #4 |  Juice | 

    I wonder how the whole WWII situation would have turned out if there had been an anarchic/”voluntary” society in the US at the time.

    Would the US (well it wouldn’t be called that I guess) be part of the Japanese empire by now? Probably not. But would Americans have been subject to the trade demands and restrictions of Japan? Most likely.

    There never would have been an American A-bomb, that’s for sure, since it requires a huge, highly centralized organization full of people that have to keep their mouths shut. Well, I don’t know, would a private “company” be able to build an A-bomb, with no apparent (long term or short term) profit motive?

    Would the Germans have taken over most of Europe for a time and then developed the bomb eventually? Or maybe the Soviets?

    I think it’s fun to speculate.

  5. #5 |  Tim Tomato | 

    Yeah that Band of Brothers was propaganda, esp. that part about the US military liberating those concentration camps.

  6. #6 |  Tim Tomato | 

    Are you fucking kidding me? Band of Brothers was propabanda? Why don’t you pick up a history book and turn off your stupid TV.

    “Without ever questioning the legitimacy or justness of the U.S. war effort in the Pacific (and I think even strident libertarians can agree it was both)”

    Really? Thanks fellas. Jesus Christ what kind of libertarian is not for liberty from tyranny? My god it sounds like some “libertarians”, and many of the commenters on this site, would be against the civil war, or the revoltuionary war because we would be mettling in other peoples business. Slavery and taxation-without-representation are personal chioces, just like we would not want to invade Japan and force our capitalist views on another nation…..even if they bombed Pearl Harbor.

  7. #7 |  Tim Tomato | 

    I wonder how the whole WWII situation would have turned out if there had been an anarchic/”voluntary” society in the US at the time.

    WHAAAAAAAAAA?

  8. #8 |  Tim Tomato | 

    There is a book called The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. It is available for free on the internet at the University of Michigans library web site. This book used to be standard reading for college students. Go there, read it, and then come back and tell me that the wars in Europe and the Pacific were not justified. You know I think that some of those guys in Band of Brothers are still alive. I know many of them were at the time of it’s original airing. Many of those guys were involved as advisors in it’s making, let’s ask them or thier sons what part of that film was propaganda. Let’s go to the source and ask these heros, or their children if they’ve passed, what part of BOB was propaganda. I’ll bet I can find a site dedicated to WWII vets and ask some of the folks there if they’ve seen BOB and what part they might think is propaganda.
    Makes me want to puke!

  9. #9 |  JohnMcC | 

    A little item I was told as true many years ago–and don’t know exactly how to check right this minute–sheds a light on the war in the Pacific. Seems that the Purple Heart medals that were ordered in preparation for the invasion of Japan have never run out. The expected casualties exceeded the number of wounded in Korea, VietNam, Irag #1, Afghanistan, Iraq #2 and every conflict (Mogadishu) too small to call a war.

    No wonder that the atomic bombing of Hiroshima did not seem so problematical to the guys on the scene. That was the kind of fighting they’d been doing for almost 4 yrs.

  10. #10 |  Radley Balko | 

    Tim,

    Relax. My lone quibble with BoB (which I said I “loved,” by the way) was with the production, which I thought at times tended to glorify war. I wasn’t slighting the bravery or honor of the men portrayed in the film. I think both theaters of WWII were just wars. But you can portray even brave, honorable men fighting a just war in a way that doesn’t give glory to war itself. And I think The Pacific did just that. Which is why I think it was the better series.

  11. #11 |  Tim Tomato | 

    Radley Balko’s words:
    “I loved Band of Brothers, though I thought it came close to propaganda in places”
    “It suggests in places that the men left on Pacific battlefields may have been better off than those who made it home”
    “it’s the execution that makes The Pacific so compelling. That, and the ambiguity.”
    Hmm? Ambiguity?
    – ambiguous – Open to multiple interpretations; Vague and unclear; Of persons: hesitant; uncertain; NOT TAKING SIDES

    Well since I havn’t seen this film yet, I’ll have to go rent it and see if I can pick up some of these anti-American themes.

  12. #12 |  Robert | 

    My dad was in the 1st Marines (Pacific) on Guadalcanal and the other islands. His brother was in the 506th Airborne ( BoB).

    My dad told me of the guys that got the “thousand yard stare”, where after a battle they would stare off into space and not react to anything or anyone.

  13. #13 |  DeadGuy | 

    I completely agree that Pacific is the better series. I still love BoB. I have the whole set in a metal tin and break it out to watch once in a while. But, Pacific is far superior. The acting is better, the cinemetography is better and the editing is better. I can’t wait to own that set too.

    Sorry, Tinker, but I think you read the wrong history book or were fed some propaganda in school. That’s not really the way it happened. Truman made his final decision based on what he thought was a complete rejection of the latest peace terms.

    America dropped the bomb on Japan because one of the minister’s used an old Japanese word to respond to the latest American overture of peace. The minister was on Japan’s armed forces radio and was trying to send a subtle message to the US that he was open to discussing the latest offer, but also conceal that from the Japanese armed forces out of fear of them. The word he used was ambiguous and Truman misinterpreted it. He was clearly given the two opposing definitions, one of which implied complete dismissal and the other of which implied something along the lines of non-chalance towards the overtures. Truman, based on that misinterpretation, gave the final order to drop the bomb shortly thereafter.

    Dropping the bomb did NOT prolong the war. The US was planning a full scale invasion of the Japanese mainland. The Japanese were training anyone between the ages of 10 and 70 to assist in the defense. Many of the non-soldiers were going to be actual cannon-fodder. They were training only for hand-to-hand combat with swords and spears and the intent was to have them run at the invading Americans in wave after wave to keep them occupied while the Japanese military repositioned themselves, shot cannons and mortars, ran strafing and kamikazi runs and did anything else they could think of to repel the invasion. The people were told to fight to thier last breath.

    The US expected 250,000 casualties and expected to kill upwards of 1 million Japanese. We had already been fire-bombing population and industrial centers. Fire-bombing was much more effective against Japan because houses were mostly constructed of wood. Several cities were completely destroyed by fire-storms and more than 100,000 were killed.

    The fact is, dropping two atomic bombs on Japan with the threat of more to follow killed fewer Japanese (and Americans) than a full scale invasion would have. And, while certain civilian parts of the government did want to surrender to America, the military was still largely in control and was still the main adviser to the emperor. Japan would not have surrendered and America would ultimately have invaded the main island. Based on how long it took to clear some of the tiniest patches of land in the Pacific, getting the Japanese population under control without the emperor surrendering could have taken another two years.

  14. #14 |  James D | 

    I have the opposite opinion of you … I’m really quite disappointed with this. It doesn’t match what my grandfather and others have told me at all. It’s told completely from a ‘look how horrible we were’ perspective .. but there’s no mention of how horrible the Japanese were. In BOB, the Nazis weren’t handled with kid gloves, but the Japanese were actually more vicious fighters than the Nazis (hello, the Batan death march?). I should have known how this series would have turned out when Tom Hanks gave that interview where he called the Pacific War ‘a war of racism’. I’m still watching, but overall I’m much less impressed than I was with BOB.

  15. #15 |  dominic | 

    Rami Malek is great in Pacific!

  16. #16 |  Radley Balko | 

    James D:

    Really? I thought they did a pretty good job showing the ruthlessness of the Japanese. There’s is some talk about their honor, but it’s couched in terms of how that honor translates to a particularly brutal style of warfare. The scene in Episode 9 where they were using women and children as shields was pretty damning. The series didn’t shy away from U.S. atrocities, but that wouldn’t have been an honest rendering. I never got the impression that the series questioned whether the war was just in the first place, or which side was in the right.

  17. #17 |  Seth | 

    I’m sort of between Radley and James D. I’ve been watching it every week, really enjoying it … but not as much as BoB. I think part of that is simply the fact that I’ve seen BoB at least a dozen times, so it’s like an old friend. And to be honest, I think the acting in BoB was MUCH better than the Pacific … James Dale and Jon Seda are wooden and stilted, although I do like Mazzello (glad to hear he’s a nice guy).

    It almost jumped the shark for me in the last episode … one of the things that’s been nagging me is the total lack of story development and complete reliance on the shock factor of seeing another head blow up … again, and again, and again. I love the reality … in fact, one of the reasons I was anticipating the series is because I read and loved With the Old Breed (Sledge’s classic book). But I can’t shake the feeling that the producers fell in love with their technical ability and are relying on it instead of spending a little more time on the story.

    When one of the guys got killed last week, my wife turned to me and said “Who was that guy again”? A little more time on getting to know the guys and a few less heads exploding would have helped.

    Having said all that … I’ll be watching the finale tonight.

  18. #18 |  poetry | 

    War is always evil. The only defense of it that can be made is the following: “We must maim and burn their children before they maim and burn ours.” Anything else is just a variation of, or a prelude to this line of reasoning.

    An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. Or, to quote the same person whom you war-supporters must think utterly foolish: “What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?”

  19. #19 |  Toastrider | 

    Very well, Poetry. I respond with:

    “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”

  20. #20 |  Bronwyn | 

    This series certainly had a different feel than BoB. I don’t think the Japanese were handled with kid gloves, although perhaps my own knowledge backfilled with details that were left unspoken/unshown. The scene where they sent women down the hill, one with a bomb strapped around her waist, had me shaking. Maybe it’s because I’m a mother now, but every episode of The Pacific has gripped my heart – in sadness for the boys who went to war, and the fervent hope that my own sons never experience it.

  21. #21 |  cApitalist | 

    I haven’t watched the show yet, but look forward to the opportunity to do so.

    I’ve always had issues with defenses of nuking the Japanese. Pearl Harbor was a cheap shot, no doubt, but it was a cheap shot at a military target. Nagasaki and Hiroshima, while of strategic value, were full of innocent civilians. Strict adherence to nonaggression prohibits a “blow back” or “collateral damage” defense. If you kill innocent people while trying to punish/set right another’s aggression against you, you have yourself committed murder. If you can’t swing an invasion of the Japanese homeland, you come up with another plan. You can’t just toss nonaggression out the window when it becomes strategically inconvenient.

    Also, I’m a little surprised to see the state getting the benefit of the doubt in so many posts (this isn’t directed at anyone in particular). We’re all quick to pounce on the state’s contemporary transgressions against its citizens as well as those around the world, yet we see the Great Generation’s war through rose colored glasses. Our first thought in evaluating state actions should be, “Which crook benefited?” The state was then, as now, fundamentally based on the initiation of force against others. With such vile underpinnings, any action taken by state is highly suspect, even one as widely revered as WW2.

    Don’t get me wrong, I see the appeal of the version of events we were taught in public school. I’d love to think both of my beloved grandfathers were altruistic heroes off to protect the US from the Japanese and liberate Europe. Its just much more likely they were very young men coerced into fighting other even younger men to line the pockets or increase the power of their wicked masters.

    *ducks behind table to avoid flying bottles and rotten fruit*

  22. #22 |  James D | 

    To be fair, Radster, I’m only caught up to episode 8, but everything else I’ve seen has looked like ‘those poor Japanese’. But some of the stuff is downright gratuitous (yanking teeth out of living guys, playing ‘throw the stones’ into the half-skull, etc). It’s like someone took John Kerry (now known to be lying) type tales of ‘a few attrocities that I HEARD about from some guy’ and put those front and center. There are actual vets (among the few that still remain) that are actually pretty appalled at the series. I’m glad my grandfather passed away a couple years ago and missed it. Just like the Marines got the shittier equipment in the war, I’d say they are getting the shittier treatment in this series compared to BOB.

  23. #23 |  Radley Balko | 

    James D —

    I think you’re being a bit too sensitive. It was only one guy doing both the teeth digging and throwing the stones into the skull (both incidents were the same guy, if memory serves). The other Marines were clearly disgusted by him in both scenes. And that same guy later warns Sledge not to fall into the same dark hole. I’ve talked to Marines who are fond of the series. Not WWII vets, though.

  24. #24 |  Terrorific | 

    I’m surprised that you like this show Radley. Being a resident of Japan for most of the decade, I thought it would be interesting to watch, but found its pro-USA feeling pretty predictable and tiresome.

    I can see how libertarians would like this show, however, since being a “libertarian” these days means that it’s ok to blow people up as long as you mumble something about freedom when you pull the trigger. As a voluntaryist, and as someone who knows Japan rather well, I would disagree that there was anything noble about the war in the Pacific. After all, it started when one gang’s military attacked another gang’s military in response to being blockaded by said gang. Seems pretty standard as far as gang warfare goes.

  25. #25 |  Radley Balko | 

    I can see how libertarians would like this show, however, since being a “libertarian” these days means that it’s ok to blow people up as long as you mumble something about freedom when you pull the trigger.

    Really? That’s what you get from this site? Pro-war nationalism?

    What site have you been reading? Please go back to reading it.

    We require some basic reading comprehension here.

    As a voluntaryist, and as someone who knows Japan rather well….

    Tell me, what was “voluntaryist” about the 3 million to 10 million Chinese and Koreans the Japanese killed in the 1930s and 40s?

    I’m generally anti-war. But spare me the revisionist history. The Japanese empire was evil.

  26. #26 |  scott | 

    I haffta side with James D. I have most of Leckie’s books including “Helmet For My Pillow” and began watching the series while re-reading Sledge’s “With the Old Breed”. There are some distinct things that stand out when the books and the show are compared side by side.

    Sledge makes a point in his memoirs of cautioning that the line between performing the duties of a US Marine in the Pacific and retaining some semblance of humanity while doing so was often completely obscured by the horrors he witnessed. He really pulls no punches when it comes to describing the horrible things he saw US servicemen do in the war, many of which are portrayed in gory detail in the series. But he also notes that the Japanese never displayed any amount of humanity and that fact constituted the bulk of the Marines’ feelings toward them. Aside from the scene with the booby-trapped woman carrying a baby there is little that is shown about Japanese tactics of the time; shooting stretcher bearers and other medical personnel, for example. Or how about any reference to the treatment of Allied POWs in Japanese prison camps. The Burma railroad, Bataan, etc…. all would have been worth mining to give a visual conception of what Japanese soldiers were known at the time to be capable of and why it colored troops’ opinions of them on the battlefield.

    Sledge’s chapter on the Okinawa invasion alone is as brutal, heartwrenching and shocking as just about any other description of “modern” warfare as you’re likely to find. And it certainly makes the worst of the Marines’ actions understandable even if not entirely forgivable.

    Also, as a former enlisted man I can’t help but balk at the portrayal of Captain “Mac”, “Ack-Ack’s” replacement after the latter was killed by a sniper. In fact, if Sledge’s description of Mac is accurate he was pretty much a walking stereotype of all of the worst elements of the Marines as conveyed by the series. The show just makes him seem like a prick rather than the complete tool he was.

    Having said that, I love the show for a lot of reasons. Not the least of which is that the war in the Pacific theater has been woefully neglected by popular culture. The acting is fantastic (though Snafu comes across as a complete psychopath rather than just an odd, if oddly endearing, kind of guy as described in Sledge’s book) and I’m glad the Aussies got huge props at the beginning of the series. They certainly deserve it.

  27. #27 |  Les | 

    The scene with the soldier throwing stones into the half-skull is taken directly from an interview in “The Good War” with a soldier who saw it. While the war was justified, many of our tactics were not. In fact, today’s military is much more humane than the one that fought WW2.

    Terrorific, please provide some links to libertarians who support our recent military ventures. If you can’t, please consider reading actual libertarian writings. The fact is, Republicans and Democrats alike are much more likely to support war as a political tool than libertarians are.

  28. #28 |  Lucy | 

    cApitalist, non-aggression was long out the window before Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I have debated this to myself a lot, so now I ask? What was so much worse about those? Weren’t the Blitz, Berlin, Dresden, Tokyo pretty much the same? With thousands, upon thousands being killed?

    They’re all the same, and they’re all evil.

    I agree, I’d like to be able to feel okay with even the “good war.” The high-light of my life was interviewing a man who in the real Great Escape. I have been fascinated with wars, particularlly WWII since I was about nine.

    But I can’t. I couldn’t thank a man for his service last week after interviewing his wife for history class. Because soldiers aren’t all fighting for me and my freedom. They don’t magically get my respect, except the respect I offer a human. I am not going to thank them, because maybe they were some 19 year old kid who got forced to go kill other kids, or drop bombs on that kid’s parents and siblings.

    Nothing against everyone else, except the overwrought Tim Tomato, but the more you learn WWII, the less justified it feels. I don’t really think they ever are. Maybe I am an anarcho-capitalist after all.

    But on the other hand, yeah. I want to watch “The Pacific.” I’m going to finally tackle all of “Band of Brothers” which I get my wisdom teeth out.

  29. #29 |  Contemplationist | 

    I’m not sure I consider the dropping of the atom bomb to be a good thing. Conservatives of course are comfortable in this opinion while simultaneously dissing jihadis for killing civilians. One can argue that bombing will inevitably involve “collateral damage” (sorry for using tht term), but a bomb dropped on two civilian centers with 99% of its kills being civilians can hardly be accepted mindlessly.

  30. #30 |  Ronald Pottol | 

    It would have been a much different series if the theater commanders had used the mustard gas that had been released to them. It was loaded into shells that had normal high explosive markings, to be used early in the month or two of bombardments before we invaded an island.

    Seeing as we captured a total of 1500 prisoners, about half from labor battalions, the half that were military were generally severely wounded, all not using it did was kill americans.

  31. #31 |  Papa Lazerou | 

    I read the main books that the series is based on before I watched the series itself. in one sense I wish I hadn’t . Having read the source material I find the series a bit disapointing. Read “Helmet for my pillow” by Robert Leckie and particularly “With the old breed” by EB Sledge and you will pick up on numerous seeming inaccuracies.

  32. #32 |  Lee | 

    I watched the last episode last night.

    I think it is a far better series than BoB (being a Marine probably has something to do with it). It really captures the degradations the Marines had to go through in the Pacific. In the last episode there is a brief comment that addresses a small part of that difference.

    Sure there were a lot of inaccuracies. For instance the first episode had the Marines land in Higgins boats and most of the boats in the background seemed to be Higgins boats. This simply was not true. Higgins boats were used extensively only later in the war. But this is TV, not a documentary.

    The show did show the brutality of the Japanese army. One of the first shots in the jungle of The Canal is of the mutilated bodies of the Marines. This is about Marines, not about the Japanese. So obviously it will show the actions of the Marines.

  33. #33 |  deadcenter | 

    Check out the documentary “Victory at Sea” produced in the mid-50s. The episode(s) covering the island hopping campaigns, focusing on Peleliu if memory serves, are amazing. The entire series is superb, but the footage of the island fighting, especially the brief glimpses of the kids doing the fighting are what I found to be most memorable.

  34. #34 |  Cynical in CA | 

    “Without ever questioning the legitimacy or justness of the U.S. war effort in the Pacific (and I think even strident libertarians can agree it was both) …”

    Well, I’m no strident libertarian.

    I’m an anarchist.

    And WWII was neither legitimate nor just. As war can never be.

  35. #35 |  Cynical in CA | 

    Realize that when you down-arrow #34, you are admitting you are a war lover. That is a terrible thing to admit, tantamount to being soulless, but I do believe being honest about one’s character (or lack thereof) is superior to pretending to be what one is not.

  36. #36 |  cApitalist | 

    “Well, I’m no strident libertarian.
    I’m an anarchist.
    And WWII was neither legitimate nor just. As war can never be.”
    -Cynical in CA

    What about a war to overthrow an oppressive state (assuming those rebelling have no intention of replacing it with a government of their own)? That seems okay to me. Cynical, what say you?

    “Tell me, what was “voluntaryist” about the 3 million to 10 million Chinese and Koreans the Japanese killed in the 1930s and 40s?
    I’m generally anti-war. But spare me the revisionist history. The Japanese empire was evil.”
    -Radley Balko

    Mr. Balko, I agree 100%, the Japanese Empire was incredibly evil. But an evil opponent does not a just war make. The former Iraqi government was unquestionably evil.

    I’m quite familiar with your writings and do not question your opposition to war in the broad sense, I do however question your position on the second World War. As Lucy noted above, far to many noncombatants were knowingly killed (one would be too many). I think a case can be made that a sneak attack on a military target full of volunteer soldiers is less evil than the purposeful annihilation of tens of thousands of civilians in a Japanese city.

    I’ve often wondered if anyone suggested a “warning shot” at the time. Could an atom bomb detonated on an isolated island display enough destructive capacity to have brought about the Japanese surrender, sparing thousands of lives?

    This is becoming an interesting thread. I’m enjoying everyone’s comments.

  37. #37 |  ech | 

    A cousin of my father was a mental casualty of the Pacific theatre. He was valedictorian of his high school class with multiple scholarship offers from all over. He intended to study engineering or science, so he would have been draft-exempt. Instead, he signed up and was a combat engineer in the Pacific. My dad said it was like 50 points had been cut from his IQ. He came back from the war, got a low-level job and never really advanced himself. However, it didn’t keep him from getting married and raising a family.

    My dad was a surgical assistant on a hospital ship in the Pacific and refused to talk about it in any detail for almost all of his life. He did tell me that the movie “M.A.S.H.” was very much like his ship. The one time that he tried to talk about it was to my daughter, who had a school assignment to talk to someone who had been in a war. She stopped asking him questions after about 10-15 minutes because he couldn’t go on, 50 years after the end of the war. One thing he did reveal was that his ship was hit by Kamikazis at Okinawa and some friends were killed.

    War is not glorious. It’s not glamorous. It is, to borrow a phrase, nasty and brutish.

  38. #38 |  Lucy | 

    I have heard suggestions that the US could have dropped a nuke over the ocean (screw you, fish!) I don’t know if that could have worked.

    Also, did any country in WWII NOT draft? Basically, trying to turn murder

    Maybe WWII was justified, if that exists, but I think it’s a really good exercise to really think about whether that’s even possible. Pat Buchanan, idiot in many ways, at least asks this. History should never be laid to rest in the good column, especially not one where some of the good guys killed 30 million of their own and others locked up their own citizens in the supposed land of the free.

    I’m not asking all libertarians to be pacifists, but really? World war II? Where every side was statist, oppressive? Where the civilian casualties were unprecedented? Why trust that as right, when we trust to little about the state?

    I don’t know what the answer was, but I’m still not comfortable with qualifying any war as just. They’re never okay. Count me in the anarchist column, I guess. Taxes are theft, the draft is slavery, war is terrorism and murder. I’d like to think otherwise, but I can’t find a counter-argument that convinces me.

  39. #39 |  Lucy | 

    Also, they obviously should have waited a few more days between the nukes. There’s an Onion article that sums it up nicely — something about the other nuke would have just “sat around.”

    This is a good thread. Occasional insane people notwithstanding, people here are less absurd than the Reason-ites.

  40. #40 |  ech | 

    cApitalist asked:
    “I’ve often wondered if anyone suggested a “warning shot” at the time. Could an atom bomb detonated on an isolated island display enough destructive capacity to have brought about the Japanese surrender, sparing thousands of lives?”

    Yes, it was suggested. hte proposal was to warn Japan, offer to transport observers to see the shot, and send them back. One reason for rejecting it was the fact that we only had sufficient fissionable material for two bombs, and there would have been a few months until we had more. It was felt that we needed both in case one turned out to be a dud. And note that it took two cities being destroyed to get Japan to surrender.

  41. #41 |  poetry | 

    The Japanese empire was evil.

    So is the American empire. Are you saying, Radley, that the Chinese would thus be justified in firebombing our cities, murdering hundreds of thousands of U.S. civilians?

  42. #42 |  Cynical in CA | 

    #36 | cApitalist — “What about a war to overthrow an oppressive state (assuming those rebelling have no intention of replacing it with a government of their own)? That seems okay to me. Cynical, what say you?”

    I say that waging war to overthrow an oppressive state is a continuation of war. Violence can never end violence, it only perpetuates it. In other words, overthrow the oppressive state by violent means and a new oppressive state will rise in its place. Witness WWII.

    Unless and until individuals regain control over their own lives and cooperate with their neighbors, perpetual war is the future of humanity.

  43. #43 |  Cynical in CA | 

    #38 | Lucy — “Count me in the anarchist column…”

    Hooray!!! That makes about five of us on this one little website! We’re gaining on you, statists!

    Great post Lucy. It never ceases to amaze me how certain adults can’t grasp concepts that a five-year-old would understand (all war is evil).

  44. #44 |  markm | 

    One issue is that we were bluffing: if the first two A-bombs didn’t bring about a surrender, it was several months before we’d have more. By that time, given the political pressures, we’d already have invaded Japan. Conventional bombing and combat would have flattened much of their cities, rendering tens of millions homeless. Much of their fall harvest would haver been lost – and I don’t see any way that enough food could have been shipped to make up for that. Even if the Japanese government surrendered a month after the Marines hit their beaches, millions of civilians would have died that winter.

    Of course, a slight bit of cultural sensitivity might have made quite a difference. “Unconditional surrender” was good policy for Nazi Germany; the Germans generally understood what we would and would not do as conquerors (we might hang some, but there’d be nothing like the Bataan Death March – or Buchenwald). To the Japanese, it meant something else – as illustrated in Bataan – and they might have negotiated a deal far worse than what we finally did, but they weren’t going to surrender without some kind of deal until they were convinced that resistance was entirely futile. Hiroshima and Nagasaki might well have been the minimum convincers…

  45. #45 |  cApitalist | 

    “Hooray!!! That makes about five of us on this one little website! We’re gaining on you, statists!”
    -Cynical in CA

    Right on. Odd that we’re all commenting on this one particular thread. Perhaps this question just highlights these differences in libertarian thought. Interesting.

    “I say that waging war to overthrow an oppressive state is a continuation of war. Violence can never end violence, it only perpetuates it. In other words, overthrow the oppressive state by violent means and a new oppressive state will rise in its place. Witness WWII.”
    -Cynical in CA

    Please allow me a thought experiment to help me understand your view (no intention of trashing it). Suppose ten people are stranded on an island. 9 of the 10 completely embrace a prohibition on the initiation of force against others, and live peacefully. The tenth, let’s call him Jack (thanks Lost) declares himself to be in charge and begins demanding 10% of everyone’s property to sustain himself (if only taxes were so low). The other 9 try to convince him of the error of his ways, but he won’t listen and continues to rob them of 10% of their property.

    One gentleman, let’s call him Hurley, finally refuses to pay. Jack beats him to death with a rock while Hurley makes no attempt to stop him or at least fails to deflect the blows. Jack then steals all his property and goes on his merry way.

    The next woman, let’s call her Sun, refuses to pay and avoids the beating by trapping Jack in a cave. She sustains him with food but keeps him imprisoned for several weeks, but he eventually escapes and resumes his antics.

    Finally, another gentleman named Sawyer gets fed up with things, refuses to pay, and throws Jack off a cliff. Good riddance.

    So, which of the characters behaved admirably? Morally? Disregard the cave escape part (it was for narrative purposes) and assume Sun can successfully imprison him indefinitely. I realize this doesn’t equate perfectly to overthrowing an oppressive state. I’m more interested in hearing your views on each characters’ use/nonuse of retaliatory violence. Is it okay to kill him? Is it okay to imprison him? Even if its immoral to kill or imprison him, aren’t these responses effective? Don’t they end the violence without precipitating more? I appreciate you indulging my curiosity.

  46. #46 |  Joe | 

    If you liked the Pacific miniseries, I would strongly suggest you go read the books it was based upon. With the Old Breed, in particular, is a masterpiece. Sledge’s book captures the horror of war with simple straightforward prose. It is patriotic in the sense of a shared sacrifice and personal honor, without glorifying war in the least. From now on, when I have a particularly bad day, I hope I can pause and say…well it is not as bad as those guys had in the Pacific. Not even close.

    I know most of those WWII vets are gone now, but I thank them for their service. And of course, without forgetting that some of our troops are experiencing their own slice of this hell now in multiple tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. I thank them too.

  47. #47 |  Lucy | 

    Cynical, I’m not calling the all these folks statists, particularlly Balko. If I was THAT picky about my allies, that would be truly shooting myself and my beliefs in the neck.

    Nevertheless, I’ve still never heard a good argument against the aforementioned. So if that makes me an anarchist, so be it.

    I’m assuming my fellow freedom fans don’t condone the WWII draft, do they?

    Joe, why are we thanking them? Because our moron president sent them to Iraq? Because they signed up for a career that requires a great deal of obedience? Some of them are brave, good people. But they’re not all fighting for us or freedom. Everything is more complicated than that.

  48. #48 |  Cynical in CA | 

    “Please allow me a thought experiment to help me understand your view (no intention of trashing it).”

    My pleasure, Capitalist.

    “Suppose ten people are stranded on an island. 9 of the 10 completely embrace a prohibition on the initiation of force against others, and live peacefully. The tenth, let’s call him Jack (thanks Lost) declares himself to be in charge and begins demanding 10% of everyone’s property to sustain himself (if only taxes were so low).”

    First, each individual is responsible for his/her own self-defense. Given your parameters, I see no mechanism for Jack to enforce his claim on 10% of the property of the remaining 9. Does he have a technological or some other advantage? Even if he could overpower each individually, the 9 could ally themselves and would presumably be able to thwart Jack’s evil designs.

    “The other 9 try to convince him of the error of his ways, but he won’t listen and continues to rob them of 10% of their property.”

    Anarchy means being an individual political sovereign and respecting all individuals as political sovereigns. Jack’s attempt to extract taxes is an initiation of force, and as such, can be met with resistance. There are means of resistance besides violence, such as ostracism, defensive contracts, walls, moral suasion, etc. If Jack’s level of force rises to physical violence, then each individual must decide whether to defend himself with physical violence. While pacifism is the only morally pure course of action, I cannot condemn an individual for violently resisting aggression, even though it perpetuates the violence.

    “One gentleman, let’s call him Hurley, finally refuses to pay. Jack beats him to death with a rock while Hurley makes no attempt to stop him or at least fails to deflect the blows. Jack then steals all his property and goes on his merry way.”

    Well, that’s murder. The others may now ostracize Jack and give fair warning to him that his presence among them will result in the assumption that he means them harm. If Jack does not heed the warning, then the remaining 8 may take all necessary steps to defend themselves from him. This covers the remaining two examples you provided. By murdering, Jack has separated himself from the group permanently. The others may act according to conscience alone if he refuses to remove himself.

    “So, which of the characters behaved admirably? Morally?”

    The perfect moral case is abstention from violence in all cases (pacifism). This is the only way to remove violence from human interaction. Of course, it is entirely possible that violence is a core characteristic of humans and can never be eliminated. In that case, the non-aggression principle is the next stop from pacifism to anarchism. This concerns the initiation of force, such that defensive violence is morally permissible.

    An interesting answer to your question is that as long as each individual is freely deciding according to his/her own conscience how to react to Jack’s initiation of violence, then each answer is morally correct, even killing Jack. In a just society with a legal system interested in truth only, any of these courses of action would be judged by all the individuals concerned as to their appropriateness, especially regarding the initiation of violence — e.g., if imprisoning him made more sense than killing him. Overstepping in retaliatory violence could lead the others to view the retaliator as a new threat.

    The quality this system would have is to make the resort to violence an extremely grave decision that could carry lifetime effects even for the retaliator. I find this interesting.

    “Even if its immoral to kill or imprison him, aren’t these responses effective?”

    As a rule, I don’t go in for utilitarian arguments. Anything can be justified on utilitarian grounds. It’s far more interesting to discuss morality, for everything flows from morality. The reason the world is the way it is today is because morality has been neglected in favor of utilitarianism.

    “Don’t they end the violence without precipitating more?”

    It’s important to keep terms constant. Violence doesn’t just refer to physical harm or killing — any restraint on an individual’s freedom of action is violence. Thus, in your very first example, Jack’s demand for 10% from his victims is an initiation of violence and worthy of a strong response from his victims. Imprisoning Jack without killing him is violent as well, but as a response to his initiation, it is morally permissible at the individual level. At the societal level, there may be disagreements and it may fracture the society, possibly irreparably, but as long as the truth is discovered and the individuals are acting freely, then any result is acceptable.

    There are volumes written about this subject Capitalist, please search the non-aggression principle and the morality of violence for more perspectives. Thanks for an interesting thought exercise.

  49. #49 |  Cynical in CA | 

    #47 | Lucy — “Cynical, I’m not calling the all these folks statists, particularlly Balko. If I was THAT picky about my allies, that would be truly shooting myself and my beliefs in the neck.”

    I respect your principles Lucy. But I do view anarchy/statism as a switch. There’s no such thing as a little statism. One either believes that violence is an appropriate mechanism for resolving human conflict or one does not. The moment one endorses the most minimal initiation of violence, one has declared oneself a statist.

    That being said, I don’t want to label anyone, but your arguments have a strong anarchist flavor and bring a nice counterbalance to the milquetoast statism that dominates this and just about every other libertarian site on the web.

    It’s the truth that matters. Better to know something by its true name than deceive oneself.

  50. #50 |  cApitalist | 

    Thank you Cynical for your well reasoned response. While I’m completely on board with your take on the nature of aggression and the complete prohibition of its initiation, I’ve never quite gotten or accepted pure pacifism. Admittedly, I’m not well read on the subject (Robert LeFevre is about the sum total of it). Supposing mankind one day achieves a stateless society without institutionalized aggression, we’ll grab a pint and hash out the nonaggression vs pacifism thing. Again, thanks for your comments.

  51. #51 |  Cynical in CA | 

    You’re welcome Capitalist, anytime.

    “we’ll grab a pint and hash …” You bring the pint, I’ll bring the hash. ;-)

    I also note that I have an admirer. Keep the down-arrows coming. I use them as fuel for my future posts.

  52. #52 |  Lucy | 

    I’ll bring the tunes! And the Everclear!

  53. #53 |  Patriot Henry | 

    “Without ever questioning the legitimacy or justness of the U.S. war effort in the Pacific (and I think even strident libertarians can agree it was both)”

    No real libertarian would ever agree that murdering people for power and profit is legitimate or just.

    “I’m generally anti-war. But spare me the revisionist history. The Japanese empire was evil.”

    So was the fledging American empire. You are revising history when you demonize the Japanese empire and glorify the American one.

    “Really? That’s what you get from this site? Pro-war nationalism?

    What site have you been reading? Please go back to reading it.

    We require some basic reading comprehension here.”

    That poster was correct. You are advocating pro-war nationalism. It was not a reading comprehension error on their part – it was a logical and moral consistency error on your part. When you make pro-war statements in favor of one nation – then yes, you are supporting pro-war nationalism.

    “Cynical, I’m not calling the all these folks statists, particularlly Balko.”

    I’ll call Mr. Balko a statist – because he is a statist. The current development of the police state that Mr. Balko specializes in documenting is a direct descendant of the war state he supports. He supports the cause of the effects he opposes, and thus is a hypocrite. Is it his fault? Sure, in the sense that we are all responsible for ourselves, but there are many other factors that explain his hypocrisy. He was most surely indoctrinated in his school days with his current views, and his time in college most surely failed to expose him to contrary views or to a wider grasp of history or to a deeper understanding of human action. Since that time he has specialized in what he got his degree in – and outside of the very narrow bounds of his specialty he is quite lost. He also spends his time either with his colleagues and their ilk, few of whom are pure libertarians and none of whom probably have the time or means to discuss the wide and deep scope of knowledge needed to understand the incredibly complicated history and nature of the state, and in his free time he watches popular media programs such as “American Idol” and the program that is the reason for this particular post – none of which is going to challenge his statism.

    Perhaps in time he will be exposed to more sources of history and to thought provoking arguments. Otherwise I do believe the positive effects of his anti-statism shall outweigh the negative effects of his pro-statism – although the former would certainly be far more formidable and effective if he was to overcome the latter.

  54. #54 |  Patriot Henry | 

    “The perfect moral case is abstention from violence in all cases (pacifism). This is the only way to remove violence from human interaction. ”

    Abstaining from using defensive violence to thwart offensive violence is a means of encouraging offensive violence. The perfect moral case is abstention from offensive violence and from pacifism. There is no way to remove violence from human interaction – pacifism is nothing more than a fantasy.

    With regards to the Pacific campaign of WWII- first, we failed to use defensive violence to thwart the Pearl Harbor attack, and secondly we used offensive violence to attack the Japanese empire. Two wrongs don’t make a right and three wrongs also don’t make a right.

    Guy breaks into your house and shoots your wife – it is legitimate and just to shoot him in defense of your wife and yourself and your house. Stand there and do nothing and wait for him to leave and then go over to his house and shoot his wife – that is not legitimate or just in any way.

  55. #55 |  Patriot Henry | 

    “The indiscriminately destructive power of the atom bomb ended the war, an unquestionably positive outcome.”

    Wow. That is a hell of a statement. I have, can, do, and will question that outcome – it isn’t positive from any non-state perspective so far as I can see. When one evil empire conquers another evil empire – that is a negative negating another negative. If the Crips defeat the Bloods that is not a positive outcome – and saying that it is an unquestioningly positive outcome is absurd.

  56. #56 |  Patriot Henry | 

    “But in unleashing such a destructive technology, one that would eventually carry the capacity to end every life on earth a dozen times over, we also lost a piece of our collective humanity.”

    Our collective humanity? Only the collectivists lose their humanity – I and other individuals fully retain ours. Mr. Balko – wholly reject statism and it’s crimes and you can reclaim your own humanity and individuality.

  57. #57 |  Cynical in CA | 

    Great posts Henry. I appreciate your logical foundations.

    In making the case for pacifism, I only state the logical extreme of anti-violence to set the boundary of morality. Yes, from an individual perspective, pacifism is so contrary to the survival instinct as to render it impractical from a biological standpoint. This alone justifies the use of defensive violence. But from a moral standpoint of eliminating violence (I agree that violence is written into the code, more properly expressed as “control”), the only way to eliminate violence is to cease to practice it.

    The ultimate question is where does the authority to practice defensive violence reside? Anarchists like you and I believe it rests in the individual, statists believe an unaccountable superagency drawn from the same pool of imperfect individuals have the sole authority.

    You touch on many cogent reasons why statists believe the way they do — it is belief, not thought. That is the strength of the anarchist — anarchism can only be arrived at through conscious reasoning, where statism is a mystical revealed religion.

    It is always a pleasure to discover thinkers like yourself, Henry. There are a few that post here. One named Steve Jean is another. I look forward to your future comments and the unwavering logic contained therein.

  58. #58 |  Patriot Henry | 

    Dear Cynical in CA,

    “But from a moral standpoint of eliminating violence (I agree that violence is written into the code, more properly expressed as “control”), the only way to eliminate violence is to cease to practice it.”

    That isn’t true. It might be true if all homo sapiens were human beings, but there is a small fraction that are not human beings. Current labels for these monsters are “sociopaths” and “psychopaths”. A subset of these people as well as a subset of human beings are naturally prone to violence. Human beings could be trained not to be violent, or they might not be violent if the world didn’t mess with their heads so much. Naturally violent naturally born sociopaths are always going to be violent.

    One way others put it is that there are three type of people: sheeple, wolves, and sheepdogs. Sociopaths/psychopaths are the wolves. Sheeple are “the masses” which I believe are a product manufactured from human beings by the wolves who control our world. Sheepdogs are those who naturally go after the wolves to protect the sheeple. By this metaphor I would be a sheepdog, but I would actually add a fourth category: farmers. I’d like to cultivate sheeple/people and sheepdogs while fighting the wolves.

    I recently began to read a little known but highly acclaimed book, “Political Ponerology” It’s available on Amazon for or if you email me at my screen name @ gmail . com I’ll send a copy along when I get to it. It’s also available at Demonoid.com if you have a membership.

    “The ultimate question is where does the authority to practice defensive violence reside? Anarchists like you and I believe it rests in the individual, statists believe an unaccountable superagency drawn from the same pool of imperfect individuals have the sole authority.”

    I wouldn’t say it lies in the authority of the individual. The authority of the individual only applies to the individual and their property and those individuals who are involved in a mutually consensual action with in the bounds of the contract between them.

    The authority lies in the nature of the situation, the natures of the two parties, and the nature of the types of interaction between them. If there is an offender who uses violence against a victim, then by the nature of that the victim has a natural right to defend themselves against the offender.

    That assumes though that the interaction takes place in “civilization”. Outside of the bounds of civilization then the law of the jungle “Might makes right” would apply.

    I think my greatest achievement yet was summarizing the natural law/God’s law in only two words:

    NO STEALING

    It’s a lot easier to say and remember than the standard libertarian non-aggression principle, and it more naturally prohibits stealing via fraud. Any “law” or action that is not in accordance with that supreme law is not a law anywhere there is civilization.

    “You touch on many cogent reasons why statists believe the way they do — it is belief, not thought. That is the strength of the anarchist — anarchism can only be arrived at through conscious reasoning, where statism is a mystical revealed religion.”

    Indeed. I had a thought strike me today that statism (and other false religions) and other forms of collectivism are created by grown adults playing pretend. I played that game in a variety of ways as a child, where one person makes up something and the other people go with that and make up something …repeat until the child grows up…which is an increasingly uncommon event at least here in America in 2010. The remarkable increase in lifespans that is so widely remarked upon has been matched by a much greater decrease in maturity.

    The more I think about it the more it makes sense. I work in the food service industry. At my job I had that realization, these people are just playing pretend restaurant as I did when I was 7 and 8. Watching Gorden Ramseys Kitchen Nightmares last night – an owner of a restaurant bought all of the ingredients for the restaurant at the supermarket. The retail supermarket. That’s what a little kid playing would do, because they wouldn’t know any better. The same is true of doctors, shrinks especially, scientists, cops, businessmen, teachers, professors, politicians – all a bunch of artificially retarded adults with the intelligence of children – but with enough training to run the world. That’s why the world is such a scary place – particularly because usually the only people who understand the situation are the wolves.

    “It is always a pleasure to discover thinkers like yourself, Henry. There are a few that post here. One named Steve Jean is another. I look forward to your future comments and the unwavering logic contained therein.”

    Thank you much. Much obliged for the discourse.

  59. #59 |  Patriot Henry | 

    I recently began to read a little known but highly acclaimed book, “Political Ponerology” It’s available on Amazon for 35 bucks new and half that used: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1897244258/theagitator-20/

    I haven’t finished reading the introductions but the first introduction made the claim it was the most important book I’d ever read. Other readers have said much the same.

  60. #60 |  Laertes | 

    Patriot Henry: You’re an interesting read. Here’s a tip: Avoid using the word “sheeple” at any cost. More people than you might imagine who’d be willing to read you and take you seriously will stop, cold, at the sight of that word and move to the next article. Using that word makes you look a lot less serious than you are.

  61. #61 |  Oxymoron | Truth and Justice For All | 

    […] of which the troops learn of the destruction of Hiroshima. A commentator I follow, Radley Balko, writes admiringly of that penultimate episode, and I concur in his […]

Leave a Reply