American Heritage Reviews “The Pacific”

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[Jennifer J. Rodibaugh is the Assistant Editor of American Heritage Magazine.]

As I write, tens of thousands of American soldiers are scraping out a life of tedium, punctuated by moments of terrible violence, in a rocky landscape of scorched earth far to the east. They seek an enemy that slips effortlessly through the terrain, is incomprehensible in its motives, and which attacked us first. Sound familiar?

With this in mind, it is difficult not to question Steven Spielberg’s motives in producing his latest and most unabashedly patriotic war flick, The Pacific, HBO’s 10-hour miniseries debuting March 14, 2010, in which men who fight are lauded, and men who don’t are disappointments. As a male Navy nurse wipes a bloody nose, he laments to a veteran of Guadalcanal that, “This is as bad as my war gets.” Longing to join his best friend, PFC Sidney Phillips, who enlisted while the wreckage of Pearl Harbor was still smoking, Eugene Sledge of Mobile, Alabama writes, “You’ll never have that nagging thought that you let your family, your friends, and your country down.” Perhaps wisely, Spielberg does not attempt to draw parallels between World War II and the present or to consider the justness of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His epic depiction of three marines’ war experiences is an unapologetic panegyric to the ordinary citizen soldier of the Greatest Generation; and judged solely on that scale it is wildly successful....

The most resonant portion of the miniseries is the homecoming, the painful and evasive thaw into normalcy that even the most well-adjusted survivor never completely achieves. As one-by-one former comrades-in-arms return to their families, who have not witnessed what they witnessed or done what they have done, The Pacific illustrates that any true accounting of war’s toll must include the young men left alive, “whose souls have been torn.” War is neither romanticized nor polemicized in The Pacific, nor does the series offer anything particularly new. What it does is to reverently pay homage to millions of servicemen who fought and thank them for their sacrifice.

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