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When To Quit.
14 June 2015 | by (Deming, New Mexico, USA) – See all my reviews

An exceptionally thoughtful documentary.

As other reviewers have said, this isn't a broadly painted picture of the war in the Pacific theater. It begins with the invasion of Saipan in mid-1944, the first island that had a Japanese settlement and was characterized by Japanese culture. It quickly became clear that the islanders were not willing to surrender to the Americans, not even the civilians. Whole families jumped from cliffs. The only other battle covered in any detail is Okinawa. But by this time it was clear to everyone on both sides that the war was lost to Japan.

By this time, Japan was ruled by a military faction that was free to ignore the civilian government. The prevailing spirit was a modern version of Bushido, the code of the Samurai, of which there were several versions, some advocating mercy, which was seldom practiced by the Japanese armed forces. Their treatment of civilians in China, and their treatment of POWs later, has aptly been described as barbaric. Their treatment of their own military was less brutal but still painful. Cadets at the Naval Air Academy were regularly beaten with sticks and heavy ropes during their training.

The Japanese had correctly predicted that, after Saipan, the Marines and Army would land at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and that the next target would be the home islands, specifically the southernmost island of Kyushu. As the American forces closed in a ring around Japan, the resistance grew still more skilled and determined. The idea was that if Japan could inflict enough casualties on Americans, they would offer an acceptable treaty of peace. This code of fighting to the death is pictured as alien to Americans, but I'm not sure why. We have our own version of it, reflected in such expressions as "Death Before Dishonor" and, to peek into the past, "Better Dead Than Red." What is fanaticism to some, is patriotism and gallantry to another.

With the taking of Saipan and Iwo Jima, the home island came under attack by B-29s. It was quickly found that high altitude bombing was inaccurate because of fierce rivers of wind that came to be known as the jet stream. So General Curtis LeMay -- one of those cigar-chomping, hard-charging, incredibly brave, moral nihilists, -- changed tactics. LeMay stripped the B-29s of their guns and gunners, loaded them with napalm-filled incendiary bombs, and sent them in at altitudes of only a few thousand feet. The first target was the Sumida district of Tokyo. The housing and other facilities were made of flimsy material like wood and tar paper. The resulting holocaust was complete. B-29 crews were tossed around by the rising heat, and they could smell burning wood and flesh. More people died in this single raid than died in any of the two nuclear explosions that were to follow. LeMay considered it a great victory which, in its own hideous way, it was.

The two atomic bombs, dropped three days apart, made it obvious even to Emporer Hirohito that the next step would be the complete destruction of the nation by air. No invasion, no final battle, was necessary. In his opinion now, his military advisers had paid too much attention to spirit and too little to science. A last ditch coup by ardent militarists was foiled and Hirohito made his announcement ending the war to a population that had never before heard his voice.

The film is made up of newsreel and combat footage, expert talking heads, a few veterans from both sides, and period still photos. There are no reenactors. The graphics are clear and meet the requirements. The documentary's tone is reasonable and dispassionate.

It's refreshing to see a documentary finally come to terms with what was called "combat fatigue." We even see film of Marines -- Marines, mind you -- whose inner mechanisms have fused and who are unable to carry on. More than 1,200 Marines would be evacuated from the battle for a single hill -- Sugarloaf Hill -- because of combat exhaustion. I said it's "refreshing" but that's the wrong word. "Admirable" is probably better. It takes a good deal of courage for producers of these films to admit anything resembling weakness on the part of our troops. Weeks of night-time shelling, seeing friends dismembered, living among rotting corpses, brushing your food to keep flies from landing on it, who were probably fasting on cadavers a few minutes before, will do that to you. I've often thought that it was one of the bravest things a man or a country could say -- "I've had more than I can take."


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