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Documentary | War

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3 August 1995 (USA)  »

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Absolutely essential to understanding the war with Japan in WWII
28 February 2011 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

The last months of World War II in the Pacific did not get much attention even in the press at the time, because attention was focused on Europe and the defeat of Germany. And so the details of events told in "Victory in the Pacific" have largely gone unknown. So opens this excellent documentary.

This has led to historical misconceptions on both sides, by Americans and Asians. Some view the attitudes of the American military and media as racist. But when you see, through documentary footage and interviews, what the Japanese did, you see that certain attitudes were understandable. Racism is never justified, but the attitudes toward the Japanese military and leadership was directed at the Japanese, not to other Asians; in fact, America and its Allies were liberating other Asian nations at great cost of lives. And it was due to actions by Japanese soldiers that are so horrible I cannot describe them here, but the documentary does.

Even before the fall of Nazi Germany, the eventual defeat of Imperial Japan was inevitable. Yet the Japanese military leadership refused to face reality.

The Japanese military leadership did not seem to care if every Japanese soldier and civilian died due to its refusal to surrender, and I mean EVERY. They had the Japanese people so brainwashed that they would and did calmly commit suicide, taking their children and babies with them, rather than surrender to Americans, whom they were told would commit acts of barbarity toward them (acts Americans did not commit, but Japanese soldiers did). This is documented here, in interviews with witnesses and survivors, and in film footage that will be seared into your memory forever. (In The War, by Ken Burns, witnesses said Japanese soldiers forced Japanese mothers to jump off cliffs with their children at gun point, rather than surrender.)

When you see this documentary, you will understand why Harry Truman never had any second thoughts about his decision to use the Bomb against Japan, though he certainly gave the decision plenty of careful thought beforehand. It was not just our soldiers' lives at sake; defeating Japan with the Bomb, rather than invasion, saved millions of Japanese lives, too.

As to the Japanese internment camps, facts have come out since this documentary showing why they were needed, sadly. We had broken the Japanese code. There were secret radio transmissions from the West Coast, especially around Seattle, in the Japanese code coming from spies living among Japanese-Americans. We knew where they were, but couldn't arrest them because that would give away that we knew the code. (Some Japanese spies were arrested around Seattle and Portland before the internment, and had radio gear, weapons and explosives.) We also knew from intercepted Japanese MAGIC coded transmissions that there were Japanese-American spies working in defense-related factories. So the only option to stop the spies was internment of ethnic Japanese living on the West Coast. This is discussed in a wikipedia article on Japanese American Internment.

I was told about this by a veteran with first-hand knowledge of spy intercepts back in the 1990s, and I see that a book was subsequently written about it. It is historical fact, though not well known. The internment of innocent Japanese, the majority of whom were loyal to America, (along with the spies) was sad and regrettable. But the decision by FDR was not racist.

(Another little known fact is that many Japanese-Americans served loyally in the Pacific to help decipher Japanese military radio traffic, which was kept secret at the time.)

To watch this documentary is to understand why so many Americans became so angry at the Japanese soldiers, who were more sadistic than German soldiers. Some never forgave them. The remarkable thing is that any Americans did.

It is important to remember that to some extent Japanese soldiers were pressured into their extreme actions by the military, and through the Japanese system that enforced social conformity through sanctions against one's family.

According to the documentary, the Allies pushed for unconditional surrender because they knew they had to dismantle the social system that enabled the imperial military leadership to dominate a willing country.

Some may view my comments as shocking and even biased. But look at "Victory in the Pacific." It presents the facts more completely in a way that I think the viewer will find even-handed and objective. Every American, every Japanese, every Asian should watch "Victory in the Pacific." Seeing this documentary is vital to forming an informed opinion of your own, whatever your perspective.

Note: I am a bit puzzled. There are two "Victory in the Pacific" documentaries listed in IMDb, 1995 and 2005. Are they different? This review is for the American Experience 2005 version.


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