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 |  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.

  2. #2 |  Lucy | 

    I’ll bring the tunes! And the Everclear!

  3. #3 |  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.

  4. #4 |  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.

  5. #5 |  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.

  6. #6 |  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.

  7. #7 |  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.

  8. #8 |  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.

  9. #9 |  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.

  10. #10 |  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.

  11. #11 |  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 […]