10 December 2006

Flags of Our Fathers

I am not done with the book Flags of Our Fathers but sure have learned a few things about recent American history. I love history, even though I know it's mostly written by victors. At least with American history, I get to know ugly chapters like those referring to the maltreatment of Native Americans.

The movie/book Flags of Our Fathers is about the lives of the Marines who raised the American flag on Mount Suribachi of Iwo Jima - a famous scene to anyone who knows anything about World War II. The men, or rather boys, were John Bradley, Franklin Sousley, Harlon Block, Ira Hayes, Rene Gagnon, and Mike Strank. Personally, I can count at most only five people in the photo. The book was written by James Bradley, son of John Bradley. Through years of research about the six Marines and many people in any ways attached/related to them, with references to historical events, the book brought to light the climate at the time, the life, the characters' background and upbringing, the battle for Iwo Jima itself, the after-effect of the flagraising incident on the six Marines, a whole saga. I am only up to the end of D-Day, February 19, 1945, the day invasion of Iwo Jima (Sulfur Island) occurred, which is just a tad past half of the book. Here are some interesting facts I've picked up so far:

  • In comparing the different types of warfare being waged in Europe and Asia, the book mentioned that in the European theater, the fighting followed certain traditional "rules". For example, generals would call off the fighting at 5 o'clock in the evening or that there were time-out for medics to come out to tend to the wounded. On the other hands, Japanese fighters were told specifically to target medics to hasten the deaths of more U.S. Marines. Also, the Japanese soldiers would always fight to the death and would employ tactics such as the blowing themselves up as U.S. medics approached them to help, just to drag a few more lives with them on the way out of this world.
  • The Navy was mostly useless to the Marines. Bombardment before the invasion was ineffective, both because the Japanese were covered well in their underground network of fortress, but also because of the Navy's selfish crave for publicity. The Navy supposedly had already allocated ships to bombard mainland Japan to look good in the public eye and gave the Marines all kinds of excuses not to help with the bombardment prior to the invasion.
  • I read Helmet for My Pillow years ago and knew Guadacanal played some important role in WWII, but with FoOF I learned that it was on Guadacanal that the Japanese suffered their first defeat. At the hands of the Marines no less. Again, the Navy was of little help, as their ships withdrew from the beginning of the battle after losing some ships.
  • One recurring theme throughout the book was that many young boys went through much troubles to get into the armed force. Some lied about their age, others ate bananas to gain weight, and then some simply signed up even though they were not U.S. citizens. Perhaps it was great government propaganda. Or maybe it was just true patriotism, with Pearl Harbor as a background. Some people I know in Vietnam were not eager to join the war. One of my uncle, I believe who was already in the armed force, used some kind of eyedrops, made for the purpose, to make his eyes crossed so he could be discharged. Others he knew carefully blew up their own index fingers using hand grenades to make themselves unfit for battle. I guess it's one thing to be young, unmarried, and gung-ho, but it's a totally different thing to be drafted into an armed force run by corrupted government officials. It probably didn't help that these Vietnamese men probably already had wives and children waiting at home.

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