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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.

ET-Hanks

"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

 
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Mr. Goldstein, you are either intellectually dishonest or just not that bright if you do not find anything wrong with what Hanks said. Liberal Hollywood just isn't used to the existence of a Conservative Hollywood let alone an active one. Calling out the Hollywood Left on their constant bombardment of negativity directed at America is the mission of the Hollywood Right. Admittedly, Tom Hanks has always managed to keep his left leaning beliefs well masked up until now and I'm sure he loves this country as much as anyone on the Right, but, the growing Hollywood conservative movement has had to adopt a zero tolerance stance when it comes to these attacks or ill informed statements otherwise it will quickly go back to a one Party Hollywood community. Look around, we (the conservative Hollywood community) are growing in numbers and are more vocal than ever before. Hopefully the day will come when for every apologist like yourself there will be two off us. We are far from there yet but we will never arrive if we give people like Hanks a pass just 'cause he seems to be a nice guy. Wake up Macy's, a Gimbels has just opened across the street.

Apparently the American education system was no better when Tom Hanks went to school than it is today!

Tom Hanks and the right wing nut cases are both wrong. We are not in a war. We are in a police action. We did not declare war when Timothy McVeigh bombed Oklahoma- we arrested him. Those who believe we are in a war, still believe in the Bush era trickery that 9/11 (and Islam) had something to do with Afghanistan and Iraq. 9/11 was just an excuse to attack Afghanistan and Iraq. Well, may be we are in a war after all. But now that we realize the original assumptions were wrong, should we now get out of there? Well, there is still oil and proxy wars.

Now WWII? That last great war was the last great war of the last age of imperialism. The objective of that imperialism was the same as all imperialism: resource control. The operatus modi of that imperialist age was racism and brutality (racism justifies invasion and brutality). Note: American imperialism of that era was no different from that of the Japanese, Germans, British, Belgians, French, etc. We were waterboarding the Filipinos way before we waterboarded any Iraqis. The Japanese attacked US to prove it was a capable imperial power and to secure resources, it's Great Co-Prosperity Sphere of enslaving Asia.

As for the Japanese Samurai Bushido, it's an admirable fighting philosophy that had served the Japanese well- both in uniting the country, defending it, and invading other countries. But it's time the Japanese lived beyond Bushido and adopt a more humanitarian philosophy. They had their own reasons for what they did in WWII and the years of colonial expansion leading up to it. But it's time to become good neighbors in Asia in the emergent Pacific Century- US-China-Japan and the rest.

But we Americans were not anymore less brutal than the Japanese throughout our history. What did we do to our Indian natives- should we catalogue the ways we were brutal? Just take a chapter out of James Michener or the Trail of Tears. And the KKK and Manzanar and Dresden and Mai Lai. Brutality followed our wake through our subsequent wars and imperial expansions into the Pacific and beyond. The average GI Joe may have been befuddled at the Japanese tenacity- but as a nation, we are very tenacious and pragmatic where we need to be.

I consider myself a moderate liberal , voted for Obama. I am appalled at Tom Hanks comments. What gives him the right to put a spin on WW2? Cause he was in a MOVIE about it? The bottom line is that in the WW2 years many allied and axis powers countries invaded and occupied other countries. Compare and contrast how they treated the subject populations while they were there, and under what circumstances they finally exited. END OF effing STORY. And all this hype about "bigoted attacks" on Muslims....that never ever happen. Yeah a Sikh was murdered after 911 which was terrible but I don't remember hearing about the tidal wave of muslim hate you speak of. Its one thing to be self reflective, self loathing is another thing entirely. Mr Hanks with all due respect you are a dick and a tool.

Let me get this straight. If defending ourselves against Japan's declaration of war is racist, then none of our fighting men are heroes! So that demolishes the overriding premise of Tom's new show, "The Pacific." Unless, perhaps, he slightly revised the ending, had the U.S. apologize for encouraging The Rape of Nanking, and allowed the poor victimized Axis Powers to win the war.

If there has been any anti-Muslim sentiment on the part of Americans since the war on terror began, I haven't seen it. We're always warned about it happening by liberals (who always assume whites are on the verge of racial purging), but where is it?
How many Muslims have been attacked? All I see is the reverse. Do we forget Fort Hood? Where are the bigoted attacks on devout muslims? Who populates Iraq? Is any conservative opposed to the efforts there with (gasp!)..Muslims?
You article is only half right. I don't know any conservative who's made any argument against obama on the grounds that he is muslim. And to the very few extremists who DO believe that he is, their issue is with their perception of him lying about his faith, not being Muslim.
This part of the article is a mischaracterization of even the most extreme of Obama opponents.

The war with Japan was a war about oil... nothing has changed.

Fox News -- Greenspan: Oil the Prime Motive for Iraq War
America's elder statesman of finance, Alan Greenspan, has shaken the White House by declaring that the prime motive for the war in Iraq was oil.
http://tinyurl.com/2726hs

Bush gives new reason for Iraq war
Says US must prevent oil fields from falling into hands of terrorists
http://tinyurl.com/9l3ru

In Iraqi War Scenario, Oil Is Key Issue
U.S. Drillers Eye Huge Petroleum Pool
http://tinyurl.com/ygckzh8

In an effort to support Hanks, a commenter writes:
"Why did we not drop the A-bomb on Germany as well as Japan? We could have tried to intimidate the USSR much more by bombing Germany, which is closer to Moscow, than bombing Japan. Granted, the US did bomb Germany, but mostly factories, oil refineries, railroads, etc. It was the Brits that bombed the German civilian targets for the most part. BTW, the US blockaded Japan before Pearl Harbor and they saw that as an act of war and warned us to relent. We didn't and they attacked. Maybe the end justified the means for us, but to say that racism had no part is absurd."
With my whole being trying to resist becoming a complete cynic, I ask, "What world do you live in?" or better yet "What universe?" Firstly, the first atomic bomb (Little Boy) was not even completely assembled until July of 1945. I guess dropping an atomic bomb on a nation that had surrendered two months prior would have scared the Russians indeed. Secondly, what blockade are you referring to? This is an outright lie in a vain attempt to place some culpability on the United States for Pearl. True, America did place an oil EMBARGO on Japan prior to Pearl. Slightly different, well perhaps not slightly as you seem to suggest that even a tariff or tax might be rationale for going to war with another country.

It is a comment like this (here comes the cynicism) that makes the left seem to live in a fantasy land where truth becomes pliable in order to make a thin point. Santayana was right, not knowing your past (factually) can be a dangerous thing.


Why is it that people in Hollywood who have never served in the Military always have something to say that others actually listen to? They always have a "dad" or an "Uncle" that actually wore the uniform. And in Hanks case it was his Dad a rear echelon "mechanic" not a Combat soldier.

Moreover many of these people are not formally educated, yet are accorded credibility because they are famous. For example, the high school educated Sean Penn's megalomania is often listened to as if his service to the nation (none) was real and not on celluloid. Or Tim Robbins another strategic thinking intellectual in Hollywood whose dad didn't serve in uniform, but rather was a folk singer (gag!!!)

The good news is, no serious military leader takes these pretenders seriously. They make movies. They have not served the nation. Nor do they encourage Youth to do so. Hanks/Penn/Robbins are all cut from the same cloth. And it's color is Yellow.

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
Can you cite ONE concrete example of this?
Can you cite ONE moderate muslim condemning acts of terror by radicals?

 
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