Today I watched the last installment of HBO’s The Pacific, culminating 10 hours of intense television that I had been anticipating for months. As with Band of Brothers before it, The Pacific was more than just education–it brought amazing perspective on the tragedy and violence of war and reenforced how small my own problems seem in comparison.
The Pacific was about as different from Band of Brothers as the Pacific Theatre was from the European during the war. As Eugene Sledge points out in this talk, the German soldier was a very competent killer, but in the end, wanted to get back to his family after the war. The Imperial Japanese soldier, however, had no higher honor than to die for the emperor. That led to a very different kind of brutality and a raw volume of killing thoroughly depicted in the series.
On balance, I felt Band of Brothers to be the better of the two–primarily due to the fact you are following one cohort through the war and get to know the soldiers, and their amazing leader Dick Winters, quite well over the 10 hours. The Pacific bounced around between different key Marines and only touched on some of the incredible leadership stories (Chesty Puller getting the most attention).
One of the most compelling stories, that of Captain Andrew “Ack-Ack” Haldane, deserved more attention. He represented the best America had to offer, a natural leader: captain of the football and baseball teams, president of the student council, beloved by his men and respected by his superiors. As you can read in this profile, and this news story, his impact is still felt.
Even as an American history buff, I did not know the whole story of John Basilone and intentionally did not read more about him beforehand so as to experience his story unfold in the series. That resulted in the second kick in the stomach of the series for me, the first being Haldane. After reading the citations for his Medal of Honor and Navy Cross, I couldn’t help but feel the depiction of both events in the series was lacking.
As with Band of Brothers, the series brought an amazing perspective to the “problems” I have in my “intense” and “stressful” corporate job. Since we don’t have cable at home, I bribed a history buff friend of mine to subscribe to HBO (thanks Scott!) so we could watch each episode over lunch at his house. The contrast couldn’t be more stark, going from my “hectic” office, to view (or rather experience) each episode in the dark of his living room, then emerge an hour later to a sunny afternoon in his bucolic suburban neighborhood. Each time I returned to the office, things seemed a little less dire at work.
Overall, I salute Hanks and the producers for putting this historic piece out there. It will educate countless viewers about what those men went through, and maybe make you think a little bit differently about Trumen’s decision to use the nuclear bomb to ultimately save lives. While I didn’t enjoy it as much as Band of Brothers, it is an important contribution to our historic memory and a superb tribute to those Marines.