Color Film of Iwo Jima

This is aomething we didn’t know existed: color film from one of America’s bloodiest WWII battles. It’s a bit blocky and artifact-laden in this digital transfer, but it’s interesting to see.

Some thoughts:

The place was as bleak as subsequent filmmakers made it out to be; both of Clint Eastwood’s Iwo movies, the miniseries The Pacific, and even the old John Wayne vehicle The Sands of Iwo Jima all showed a less color saturated world (well, Sands was in black and white, which is desaturation ridden all the way to the last station).

None of them seems to have captured the weird carpeting of ruined, twisted tree limbs. Any former grunt who watches this will pick right up on that: Ooh, that must have been the very devil to walk in. 

Flamethrowers may be marginal as weapons, but it’s hard to beat them as psychological engines of atavistic fear. Fun fact: there are no Federal restrictions whatsoever on the sale or possession of flamethrowers.

The Japanese POWs — the few of them — seem to be glad to be alive.

The Japanese fought, they thought, for their honor, their lives, their nation, their way of life, and their race. All of these are points of identity and you don’t reason a guy out of his identity. A war of identity, like religious or race wars for example, either settles into an equilibrium of violence that both sides can live with, or one side or the other crushes and annihilates or assimilates its foe. By this point, Iwo Jima, the military and naval power of Japan is nearly crushed (Okinawa would close that gap), and the nation is on an inevitable slide to assimilation into a postwar world dominated by the former Allies.

So why didn’t the professional military officers, who certainly know when they’re beaten, capitulate?  In part, because Japan’s totalitarian propaganda machine even propagandized its own leaders, lying about Japanese battle results and casualties, leaving them unable to deal rationally with a very tough problem set. And in part, because it was a war of identity, and you never ask a man to yield his identity, much less a nation, with any hope of success.

You ultimately have to kill him. Which is what we ultimately had to do to the Imperial Japanese Navy and the bulk of the Army.

In the peace, Japan did lose part of its identity, while — inevitably — it retained a great deal more, and it became a Japan more respected and beloved among nations that the victorious Japan of 1942 had ever been. At a price that was very great; cities erased (not just Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but much of Tokyo, thanks to fire-bomb raids more horrible than the A-bomb strikes); wealth and industry squandered; empty seats in every house — if the family had the good fortune to retain a house. Had the planned invasion of Honshu taken place, the American general’s threat that “the Japanese language will be spoken only in Hell” would have come close to reality. Extermination.

But… while the war brought incalculable suffering to Japan (suffering the island nation reaped as a whirlwind for having sown an ill wind), one suspects that today’s Japan is a better place on many levels, and her people better off, than had the militaristic and absolutist government of the 1927-45 era somehow continued.

Maybe those fortunate POW survivors in the film somehow sensed that. One hopes they lived to old age and sired happy families.