“The true soldier fights, not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” – G.K. Chesterton
This Memorial Day weekend I stayed home alone and got some productive work done, in between even longer bouts of productive loafing. And of course I watched a lot of old war movies.
I got to see “Destination Tokyo” again, with Cary Grant as a submarine skipper on a mission to insert a weather observation crew ashore in Japan to guide Doolittle’s Raiders on their mission to bomb Tokyo.
This movie is one for the ages. Since war from the viewpoint of a submariner is not as visually exciting as that of an infantryman, or fighter pilot, there’s a lot of time spent on character development.
I was impressed all over again how thoughtful it was. It was war propaganda for sure, but that’s what made it so moving. It was war propaganda in the mold of Capra’s “Why We Fight” series, an explication for reasonably intelligent people of the difference between them and us, and why we could not share a world in peace.
It’s entertainment and “propaganda” made for free people.
In a eulogy for a dead shipmate, killed by a Japanese pilot he was trying to pull out of the sea, a Greek-American sailor tells his reasons for fighting.
His uncle was a philosopher, “and you gotta be good to teach philosophy where they invented it.” But the Nazis stood him up against a wall and shot him. His dad was no good, an alky who died screaming of the DTs. But in America even a bum has a right to die in his own bed.
Capt. Cassidy (Grant) said their friend Mike had just bought a pair of roller skates for his five-year-old son. The Japanese pilot got a present from his father when he was five too – a knife. Maybe the one he used to kill Mike.
“There’s lots of Mikes dying right now,” Cassidy said. “And a lot more Mikes will die. Until we wipe out a system that puts daggers in the hands of five-year-old children.”
There is a reserve office on board who is key to the mission because he was born and raised in Japan and speaks fluent Japanese.
“There was a democratic movement in Japan after the last war. What happened?” Cassidy asks him.
“The leaders were assassinated,” Reserve Officer Raymond replies.
This was 1943! In the middle of that terrible war, they could find some compassion for a ruthless enemy whose people were subjects of a tyrannical regime.
It’s hard to imagine, “Destination Tokyo” was released 70 years ago!
I don’t think any conflict before or since has been so well-explained to the people who assumed the terrible burdens of war, in movies like “Destination Tokyo” and Capra’s documentaries.
They told our people this is why we were fighting, this is why a lot of people we love were never coming back. Our enemies were fighting to enslave the world, we were fighting to free it.
Call it propaganda, the term is quite correct in the strict meaning of the word. Which doesn’t make it any less true.
And how do I know this?
Because contemporary Japanese have told me so.
Since the end of World War II the United States has been involved in three major conflicts and a number of smaller military actions. None have had the same level of support from our citizens. In none have the reasons for going to war been as well-articulated, the justification so well-expressed. In none has the necessity for victory been so compellingly presented.
Will the justification for any future conflict ever be presented to our people this well? I wonder.