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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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'The Pacific's' Tom Hanks: The right wing's new boogeyman

Poor Tom Hanks. He was purring along, sounding like a younger version of Hal Holbrook in Douglas Brinkley's positively reverent Time magazine cover story--the one where Brinkley calls Hanks "American history's highest-profile professor"--until the penultimate graph of the story, timed to tout HBO's new series, "The Pacific," which debuts Sunday night at 9 p.m. That's when disaster, of a kind, struck. After spending thousands of words paying tribute to the U.S. soldiers who fought in the Pacific theater (like Hanks' dad, who was a naval mechanic there), Hanks suddenly veered off course, going from being a gauzy celebrator of the importance of studying history to an unruly political activist.


"Back in World War II," he told Brinkley, "we viewed the Japanese as 'yellow, slant-eyed dogs' that believed in different gods. They were out to kill us because our way of living was different. We, in turn, wanted to annihilate them because they were different. Does that sound familiar, by any chance, to what's going on today?" In a separate interview, Hanks referred to the war in the Pacific as one of "racism and terror."

Well, that was enough to set off alarm bells everywhere in the right-wing blogosphere. It was bad enough that the worshipful tone of the Time cover aroused dark suspicions among media critics about the whole thing being a hype job, since Time and HBO are sister companies both owned by Time Warner. But conservatives were in an uproar, no doubt made worse by the fact that "Green Zone," the Matt Damon film opening this weekend, is already a subject of right-wing attacks for its critical portrayal of Bush-era American bungling in Iraq.

But World War II is sacred ground, so the fact that Hanks--who has been treated with respect from the right in the past, largely thanks to his "Band of Brothers" series--was using the greatest war of all as a way to disparage today's war on terror was viewed with horror. In a blog post titled "Is Tom Hanks Unhinged?," Pajamas Media's Victor Davis Hanson got right to the point: "Hanks' comments were sadly infantile pop philosophizing offered by, well, an ignoramus. Hanks thinks he is trying to explain the multi-faceted Pacific theater in terms of a war brought on by and fought through racial animosity. That is ludicrous."

The New York Post's Kyle Smith was also up in arms. Responding to another Hanks quote, where the actor-producer said that the only way to complete one of the island-hopping battles against the Japanese was "to kill them all," Smith offers this retort: "Does Hanks think the War on Terror is about killing all Muslims? Or is he saying the Muslims want to kill all Christians, as indeed the Koran invites them to do? Could it be that Hanks thinks it is the U.S. that deployed 'racism and terror' in the cause of defeating an enemy that attacked us? ... He is genuinely interested in U.S. history and yet when he reads about the heroism, the moral authority and the sacrifice something shorts out in his soggy liberal mind."

Brad Schaeffer, writing on FrumForum, also got in a few digs, writing: "Perhaps the most ignorant observation Mr. Hanks makes, however, is his comparison to our modern day war against terror. To make the claim that we are waging war on Islamofascists because, presumably, we view Muslims as 'different' not only is an insult to the nation but betrays a stunning ignorance of contemporary history.... So in answer to Hanks' question: 'Does [killing those different from us] sound familiar, by any chance, to what's going on today?' I can answer that--NO!" 

I certainly have no intention of dragging all of us through a complex history lesson here, but I suspect that both sides have fair points here. It seems totally disingenuous for conservatives to argue that the war on terror hasn't inspired all sorts of bigoted and ignorant attacks on innocent, devout Muslims, especially when a host of right-wing wack jobs, in an attempt to discredit and demonize Barack Obama, have based their argument around the claim that the president was himself Muslim.

On the other hand, I think Hanks is on dangerous ground trying to compare and contrast our attitudes toward the Japanese during World War II with our attitude toward today's bloodthirsty terrorists. As some of the conservative commentators have pointed out, the Japanese military had plenty of racist tendencies of its own, having waged a brutish war against its Chinese neighbors long before it launched its surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

All war is hell, just in a different form for each generation. And its always difficult to judge whether horrible deeds, done in the heat of battle, were right or wrong. On the wall of my office I have a photo of my Uncle B.B., who also fought in the Pacific. The picture was taken in New Britain, near the Solomon Islands, after his unit had landed there in 1944. In a letter that accompanied the photo he explained: "We had pushed all the Japs back into an enclave known as Rabaul and left them, without supplies, to starve until the end of the war."

I don't think he said it with pride or with any regrets. War wasn't so complicated back then. Men like my uncle figured they were doing what they had to do to survive. But today's wars, fought so far away and with such harder to define goals, aren't so simple, which is probably why Tom Hanks should have just stayed on safe ground and stuck to talking about history, instead of trying to wrestle with how it might apply to today's battles. When you talk about war today, everyone wants to pick a fight with you.  

Photo: Tom Hanks. Credit: Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press

Comments () | Archives (140)

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WOW! Some folks here sure are ignorant of history. German-Americans WERE interred in America during WWII, just not as many (and remember, our beef was primarily with the nation that attacked us, NOT the Germans). And I'd bet you'd be SHOCKED at the hate crimes committed vs. German-Americans in WWI after Americans entered that war.
We didn't drop the bomb on Germany because we didn't NEED to: they surrendered FOUR MONTHS before Japan. Japan's high military command, on the other hand, had shown NO inclination to surrender. And oh BTW: check your map. Russia's NOT FAR from Japan in it's easternmost territory. How do you think they were able to invade Manchuria after we dropped the first bomb?
And beowulf: a "D" for your history knowledge. Or did you NOT know that Muslim and Asian traders enslaved just as many million East Africans during the great West African diaspora? I guess not.
Finally, just because we are a "Christian nation" (or were, at one point), doesn't mean that "Christianity" was the basis for ANY decision regarding acts of war in the 20th century. The Muslim terrorists, on the other hand, freely acknowledge their "faith" as the source for their acts of terror. If you believe otherwise, then you are hopelessly naive. As for anyone branding U.S. bombing from drones "an act of terror", well, I guess anyone can make any claim they want without explaining it. That's what makes "the great American dialogue" so interesting.

When will we learn that only one Hollywood star has every had anywhere near the 138 or 156 IQ of Sharon Stone and yet: In October 1997, she was ranked among the top 100 movie stars of all time ... Most of the rest, including Hanks, need a lot of help when it comes to being real. Once in a while we have a Reagan that makes a Governor and great President. Be thankful we now know where this man, we all loved as an actor, is far from being the same man in his individual beliefs. His comments are only made at a time in history when nations need all the healing they can get, including ours, but more, responsible and intelligent people being quoted by the press. Let us not take such, as described, infantile comments seriously. That gives them weight and they are not worthy of the trash pile. Any real Christians out there...maybe you can pray for Tom. He sure needs all the help he can get.

"Why did we not drop the A-bomb on Germany as well as Japan? "

For one thing the bomb wasnt ready to be deployed in April, 1945. Another reason is that the German army had already been defeated in the field of battle. The 4 main Japanese Islands had yet to be invaded and the cost in lives; especially Japanese lives; would have been horrific if Japan been invaded.

"But getting behind the rhetoric, the US and western powers really had had a policy of strangling Japanese industry, going back into the 30s and 20s. "

Embargoes were only instituted after the Japanese invaded China.

Sorry Tom. I'm a left-leaning moderate, and even I know that fighting Japan wasn't about race. They attacked us. Remember?

Goldstein evidently believes that if right-wingers disagree wtih someone's viewpoint ("horrified" in Goldstein's words), that viewpoint is instantly validated. In fact, in this particular case, the right-wingers are dead on. (I say this as an Obama-loving progressive Democrat.) When are we going to be spared the ignorant, idotic over-reaching of arrogant movie stars?

And when are we going to be spared simplistic and snarky pundits like Goldstein who all share the same narrow, bottle-necked cultural background and point of view? I'm feeling claustrophobic.

In support of Hanks, Goldstein cites his relative's letter re American atrocities -- rooted in our singular bigotry, apparently. Yet, he fails to mention the thousands of American soldiers who died in the Bataan Death March (essentially executed) and of starvation and dysentery In Japanese POW camps (which get far less attention than Nazi concentration camps yet were every bit as lethal with 80-90% moratlity rates). Shall we jsut say the Japanese were racist killers and leave it at that?


In June 2003, former Christian in Chief George W. Bush told Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Shaath and President Mahmoud Abbas,

"I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, 'George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.' And I did, and then God would tell me, 'George go and end the tyranny in Iraq,' and I did."

On God's behalf, fueled by his Christian beliefs, propped up by the "coalition of the coerced" and funded by the US taxpayers, he dropped plenty of bombs on and murdered thousands innocent Iraqis of every religious stripe.

Clearly it takes less courage to sit in Washington and send soldiers to do your crusading for you than it takes to strap a bomb on and intentionally kill yourself for your beliefs, but no one ever accused Bush and his chicken-hawk buddies of being courageous.

That disparity of courage and conviction by the way, is the reason that the only way we could "win" in Iraq is by paying huge bribes to the war lords who had only recently been killing American soldiers there to stop shooting at us- a.k.a. the "real surge".

Conservatives and their Pavlovian responses are predictable, yet tiring. Any time someone speaks up and tells the truth about anything, they start freaking out.
Truth and reality are anathema to conservatives. Its like Dorothy throwing water on the Wicked Witch of the West. "Truth?!! I'm melting... I'm melting..."

Tom Hanks just went up several notches in my estimation. He obviously has more guts than most of Congress put together, and more courage by far than the squeamish little upstart who excreted the above article. It isn't news that there are a lot of dewey-eyed chickenhawk war condoners out there. And I don't give a hoot who's upset at his remarks: Hanks is absolutely right.

There's far too much historical revisionism going on about wars America's been involved in. Not a single one of these wars has been worth the savage amounts of damage caused, their only advantage being to the purveyors of second-rate materiel at taxpayer expense. And all the racist tub-thumping propaganda efforts to justify warfare makes it that much more execrable.

This is the 21st Century, America, time to stop exporting commercial war and elaborate financial excuses. Time to end crimes of war, once and for all. Peace.

Sorry to hear these comments from an actor that I USED to respect. Sure he has to right to say what he wants. I also have the right to no longer support him or any project he is a part of. I have to wonder if Japanese people appreciate being compared with terrorists?

I once thought Mr. Hanks was smart. He is full of more S--- than a X-mas turkey. If we didn't kill em, we might be speaking Japanese in Calif. right now and he would not be raking in millions in Follywood. You better hope we get em all in this war because those nuts outnumber us all other this planet.

@ beowulf:

Remember that Christians have only been a part of history for 2,000 years? I seem to recall that slavery existed for thousands of years prior to Christianity and that genocide has been committed against and by countless groups of people. If you want to preach respect for people of all backgrounds, please acknowledge that no one group of people owns the corner on suffering. In addition, the Native Americans and the Africans, like numerous others, both committed genocide against and enslaved other people as well as their own.

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