I have a post coming for the 75th anniversary of the Iwo Jima landings set to come out next month. I also watched the companion movie to Letters (they were made simultaneously) Clint Eastwood made in 2006 – Flags of Our Fathers. So you had 2 movies of Iwo Jima – from the perspectives of both sides.
It is all too easy to lump a wartime enemy into “they” with monolithic stereotypes and behavior.
In the early 90s, just a few years after the Soviet Union collapsed, I was able to tour some of Russia – taking a Volga River cruise on an old East German Riverboat – from Moscow to St Petersburg (the block-long former headquarters of the former KGB in St Petersburg was still a foreboding looking place that reminded me that you wouldn’t even want to be in its vicinity during the USSR days).
Several stereotypes of the Russian people changed for me on that trip.
For one, not all Russian women looked like heavy babushkas with a head scarf and a missing front tooth- a lot of Russian women were…beautiful.
But one encounter with a Russian woman stayed with me – and not a word was said. Ever have a feeling with someone that – despite no words being said – you are still communicating on a deep level?
I was at the Moscow circus – it is rather than a traveling show – a permanent venue in downtown Moscow – being seated in the front row – and this woman was staring at me. Not in a rude sort of way but …different.
Perhaps it was obvious that I was American – we usually are traveling the world – but in her look I sensed a desire that our peoples have an understanding with no more acrimony. It was a sense of longing and understanding. We had both lived through the recent Cold War but in her case, with far more deprivations.
In writing this I think a sizable number will think I am nuts – and I must say, a valid assumption – but it was a sense that I had. Just sayin’.
You be the judge.
She had probably came of age at the tail end of Stalin, lived through Khrushchev, Brezhnev, all the way to Gorbachev….
It was a sense that I had and have not forgotten that silent encounter in the intervening years.
I made prints of this trip (pre digital era!) and I just have to get off my duff and scan them and post them.
Anyway, getting back to the Japanese…
In another post I have been working on – a rather big undertaking – a historian was saying that while America in WW2 had a view of the Japanese as subhuman and inferior, the Japanese had the same view of us.
Letters From Iwo Jima humanized our enemy in WW2. There were of course the fanatics but also draftees who were bakers or similar professions and just wanted to get out of there alive (few did). You had a Japanese Colonel who was an equestrian champion at the ’32 Los Angeles Olympics and believed in treating his enemy humanly.
You had a war widow on the mainland victim of the cruelty of their secret police, the Kenpeitai.
No, I am not downplaying the many Japanese atrocities in Asia during that time but just saying there are always exceptions to people.
When we don’t know a people it is all too easy to lump them all together.