Archive for August, 2006

The Cold War at it’s most fundamental was a clash in political and economic ideologies: capitalism and communism. The nations aligned with capitalism, or The West, were led by the United States while the nations alinged, willingly or not, with communism were lead by the Soviet Union or USSR. It grew out of the waning days of World War II. As the Soviets drove the Germans back toward Berlin they came into possession of most of the countries of Eastern and South Easern Europe: Poland, Hungaria, Bulgaria, Romania, among others. The Allies, who were allied with the Soviets against Germany were concerned that Stalin would not liberate these countries after driving the Nazi’s out and tried to get assurances from Stalin that his forces would indeed leave after the war and these countries would be free to govern themselves. This did not happen. After the war, the USSR continued to occupy most of these countries, including eastern Germany which was then divided into capitalist West Germany and communist East Germany or the German Democratic Republic (GDR) which was neither democratic nor a republic…discuss. Basically, after WWII the alies told Russia “Get out of Eastern Europe!”, the Russians said “Make us!” and the two sides stood and stared at each other across the Iron Curtain (a phrase coined in a Winston Churchill speech) for the next nearly half century. Meanwhile on the other side of Asia, the communist forces of Mao Zedong defeated the nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-chek turning the worlds most populace country red.

That half-century, the two sides engaged in a struggle to contain the other and bring as many nations as possible onto it’s side. It’s called the Cold War because the two main advesaries, the US and USSR, never engaged each other in open warfare. They pawed at each other through espionage and war between proxies like the Korean and Vietnam wars (though Soviet and American pilots did face each other in the skies over Vietnam, but neither nation acknowldged this). Though there were those who advocated outright war with the Soviets, Patton the most notable, the threat of nuclear war overshadowed everything. However, at the time of Patton’s, eh, “admonishments”, immediately after the end of WWII in 1945, the USSR did not yet have nuclear capability. But they had a lot of dudes in Europe. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

By the 1950’s both nations had substancial arsenals of nuclear weapons and the spector of world annihilation was a very real and legitimate fear. Both country’s were aware of the devastation that nuclear war would do, and though there were a few close calls, the Cuban Missile Crisis being the most famous, cooler heads always prevailed and no nukes were ever launched. The doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) went along way to keeping a relative peace between the advesaries. By this time both superpowers had an entourage of like-minded nations, willing or otherwise, along side them. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the West and the Warsaw Pact on the communist side. WWIII was a very real possiblity.

Over the next few decades there were various crises and flashpoints but never a face to face meeting of the superpowers, other than the skies over southeast Asia. All the while, for the people living in countries behind the Iron Curtain life was hard as personal freedoms were repressed, economies stagnated, and individual political will was non-existent. One party, the Communist Party, ruled the day behind the walls. Meanwhile, those countries in the West thrived. Personal freedom was guaranteed, economies were growing, and leaders came and went by the will of the people. Never was the dicotomy more apparent than in the Germany’s. By the 1980’s the communist system was showing it’s age. Though the system had been on the decline behind the scenes for some time, to those on the outside this was not apparent. The events of 1989 surprised nearly everyone. The people behind the curtain began to speak out against an unjust system, and their leaders couldn’t silence them anymore. In that year the Berlin Wall was torn down by demonstraters and by 1991 the Soviet Union itself ceased to exist.

In China however things weren’t not as good for democracy. The then leader of China, Deng Xiaoping, while encouraging a freeer market, capitalistic, economy, was not prepared to allow those under his rule political freedom. A student demonstration for democracy in Tiananmen Square in Beijing was violently put down on his order in April of 1989, the very same year that German demonstraters had torn down the Berlin Wall with virtually not consequences.

So, I have no idea if that even answered your question. If not, please ask more questions. That’s kind of the point of this blog.

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Flags of Our Fathers

In October, director Clint Eastwood will release Flags of Our Fathers, based on the James Brady book of the same name. The movie, and book, tells the story of the five Marines and one Navy corpsman who hoisted the flag on Mt. Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima during World War II. The photograph of the raising of the flag, taken by Joe Rosenthal, became an American icon and won Rosenthal the Pulitzer Prize in 1945. Rosenthal died just this past week at the age of 94 in Novato, CA.

Unfortunately, the subjects of his photograph did not enjoy similarly long lifetimes; three of them died during the war and the other three either struggled with living up to the legacy of that image or rarely spoke of it again. The author of the book, Flags of Our Fathers, was the son of one of these men and never knew his father was one of the men in the picture until after his death. The book is his journey to find out who his father was as well as the Battle of Iwo Jima itself.

Iwo Jima was one of the bloodiest of many bloody battles against the entrenched Japanese during the United States’ island hopping campaign in the Pacific during WWII. Iwo Jima was to serve as a weighstation for bombers returning from missions over the Japanese home islands. The Japanese defended the eight-square mile island with about 22,000 defenders dug deep into bunkers and caves that covered the volcanic atoll’s surface. The fighting was fierce, as Marines probed the caves with grenades and flamethrowers to root out the determined defenders. Nearly 7000 Marines were killed and all but about 1000 of the Japanese soldiers were killed. One quarter of all Medals of Honor issued to Marines during WWII were given to those who fought on Iwo Jima. The battle did not end at the raising of the flag, however. The island was not declared to be secure until 31 days later.

I havn’t read Bradley’s book, but I’ve been anxiously awaiting this movie for some time. I’ve enjoyed Clint Eastwood’s last few films and am confident that he can deal with as weighty a subject as this quite deftly. From what I have read about the film, it will cover the battle and also follow the men back home for the War Bond/publicity drive that followed. Few war movies ever take us back home where the warrior has to cope with the mundane activities of everyday life. It will be interesting to see this perspective for a change. I can think of a couple movies that deal with the theme of the returning soldier, Born on the Fourth of July and The Best Years of Our Lives, neither of which I have seen. At any rate, given the real life facts surrounding these men, I’m not sure we’re looking at a real uplifting film. War is hell, and for those that fight it it doesn’t end when they get home. They live the rest of their lives with the sights, sounds, and even smells of the terrible things they witnessed.

In January, Eastwood (and Stephen Speilberg who is producing) will release Red Sun, Black Sand (or Letters From Iwo Jima, as it is being called in Japan) as a companion to Flags of Our Fathers. This film will look at the same battle but from the perspective of the Japanese. Should be interesting to see how this is treated. Hopefully, it won’t downplay the fanaticism of many, or most, of the Japanese.

We havn’t had any good WWII movies come out for a while, so I’m pretty excited about these two. Here is a combined trailer released in Japan. Until next time….

Update: I just bought Flag of Our Fathers today and plan on reading it before the movie comes out. I’ll give a review when I do.

Update #2: I mentioned that there haven’t been any good WWII movies out for a while, but I’m wrong. Last year The Great Raid which is an excellent movie about the true story of the most successful rescue operation in US history in the Phillippines, and 2004 had Der Untergang (The Downfall) about the last days in Hitler’s bunker. This was an incredible German-made movie with an amazing performance by Bruno Ganz as Hitler. Quite chilling. Both of these are well worth seeing.

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