Posted: Friday, April 9, 2010 8:01 pm
By: Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
By DOUGLAS COHN
and ELEANOR CLIFT
WASHINGTON – The HBO series “The Pacific” simultaneously helps and harms our understanding of the history of World War II. It should be possible to honor the heroic sacrifices of the Marines on Guadal canal without directly or indirectly denigrating the accomplishments and suffering of the Army and Navy. The statistics alone tell the terrible tale:
Branch Killed (including died of wounds)
During the six month campaign, the Navy fought seven sea battles in the waters off Guadalcanal, losing two aircraft carriers, six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and 14 destroyers. The Australian Navy lost one heavy cruiser.
Interservice rivalries have often proven to be an impediment to success in battle, and a series that perpetuates this problem does a disservice not only to the memory of the fallen soldiers, sailors and Marines, but to the history so essential in the formulation of future defense planning.
On the positive side is the awareness that such a series creates, with its graphic portrayals of the horrors of war to remind us of the debt we owe to those who fought to keep our nation free and safe.
Such series typically contain errors, sometimes for dramatic effect, other times through poor research. In “The Pacific,” for example, men bunch up rather than maintain the all-important intervals to lessen target opportunities for the enemy. Machine guns are fired without letup instead of in the short bursts so essential to prevent the guns from overheating and jamming. Such seemingly minor points are only important because they cause the informed viewer to question the film’s accuracy and attention to detail.
A prime example of this problem was Ken Burns’ flawed Civil War series that aired more than a decade ago. It contained so many factual errors that one professor of history told us he counted 20 errors in 20 minutes and turned it off. Yet the series was given rave reviews and became a primary source of misinformation for a generation of Americans. The series got places, names, dates and photographs wrong, and we can only hope “The Pacific” lives up to a higher standard.
Its producers can begin by using the narrative preceding the early segments to place the situation in proper perspective, something along the lines of: “The United States took a calculated risk at Guadalcanal, going on the offensive to keep the supply lines open to Australia before we had sufficient resources to ensure success.
“Germany First” was the Allied strategy and the scheduled invasion of North Africa was given priority. As a result, Marines were thrust into the jungles of Guadalcanal against a Japanese foe that had until then proven to be unstoppable by both the British at Singapore and the Americans in the Philippines. That changed at Guadalcanal. The Marines, then the Army, held the lines on the island in defense of the all-critical air strip, Henderson Field, while the Navy suffered some of its worst defeats and gained some of its greatest victories, desperately fighting to hold the Japanese Navy at bay. The lessons in combined operations America learned at Guadalcanal were the key to victory in The Pacific.”
Published in The Messenger 4.9.10