The movie Pearl Harbor tried its best. As all war movies do. It’s the valiant effort made to show us the horrors of war. But it’s nothing like really being there. Nothing.
Take your pick. Patton. Full Metal Jacket. Hacksaw Ridge.
Last year, shortly after Veterans Day, a columnist named Brittany Ramjattan wrote a piece titled, “Movies with the Most Realistic Combat Scenes, According to Veterans.” The objective was to hear which movies vets believed treated “its combat with the most respect and realism.”
Here’s were several picks of these veterans:
Dunkirk. Acclaimed as one of the best World War II films to this point, the film recounts the story of trapped British and French forces attempting to evacuate a war-torn beach in May, 1940. German forces closed in. “Dunkirk recreated the plight of tending to your fellow soldier while being under constant threat of bombardment,” said Tan Vega, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps.
Saving Private Ryan. Empire Magazine reviewed the Omaha Beach landing as “the best battle sequence of all time.” Portrayal of characters and the depiction of realistic war events was unique, in contrast to previous cinematic efforts. Saving Private Ryan is the story of a few soldiers who venture behind enemy lines to save Private James Ryan. “The most realistic thing about Saving Private Ryan is nothing is off the table,” said Gay Dimars, a veteran of the Vietnam War. “The water’s bloody, the soldiers are nauseous, and as an audience, we’re there with them.”
Platoon. Brittany Ramjattan’s article reveals, this “was the first Hollywood film to be written and directed by a veteran of the Vietnam War. The script capitalizes on Oliver Stone’s experiences in various combat units to expertly depict the severity of combat as well as the rippling effects of war.” Stone’s former platoon-mates were some of his toughest critics, saying “they felt too exposed after the film’s release.” In Platoon, the audience was able to sense “the confusion, psychological trauma, and deep-seated violence Vietnam veterans endured.”
Black Hawk Down. “The combat is realistic, but many details miss the mark,” said Sharm Ali, a US Air Force veteran. “What it does really well is explain how a noble cause could go south really quickly.” This was the Battle of Mogadishu. US service members were sent to kill or capture a Somali warlord, hoping to stabilize a country facing a humanitarian crisis. Instead, Somali forces shot down US helicopters and effectively trapped soldiers on the streets of the foreign country. This forced them to fight their way out. Filmgoers witnessed the harsh realities of urban combat that our soldiers were forced to endure.
And then there’s Pearl Harbor. The movie starring Ben Affleck. Nine members of the Toledo chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association attended the first screening near Toledo 60 years after the attack.
The men sat stoically as wave after wave of Japanese planes bombed ships at anchor in the harbor and grounded planes at the airfield. Paul McKinney was 20 years old when he left his mess hall in Pearl Harbor and first saw the planes. “They had red dots on the sides,” he said. “We didn't know what they were at first. Of course, turns out they were Japanese.”
From the nine Pearl Harbor survivors, seven described the movie as lame. The most common complaint? “Too spectacular.” Too many explosions, too many bodies tossed into the air—a historical event on steroids.
Tom Child was a 21-year-old torpedo officer at Pearl Harbor. He called the movie “…a disappointment. Overkill, overkill, overkill. The Japanese planes did what they were supposed to do and got out of there. They didn't fly around all afternoon like that.”
The Bible is replete with war stories. Killing upon killing. Blood flowing everywhere. Makes you wonder how God puts up with us. Yet the blood of one man paid the debt for the most gruesome transgressions of mankind. “He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.” Ephesians 1:7 (NLT)
War movies are only partially about telling a story. The behind-the-scenes reason for such films is the making of money. That’s why producers pump out $135 million for a movie on Pearl Harbor. (In 2001 dollars)
That’s a steep price. But it was nothing…compared to the real price paid by American servicemen and women on this date 79 years ago today.
(Note: When it comes to what really happened on December 7, 1941, you might try reading this: https://www.history.com/news/pearl-harbor-veteran-japan-bomber)
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