HBO’s The Pacific, Episode 4

If you’re following along at home, you’ll have noted that (A) I’m behind on my “regular” posting schedule and (B)I’m WAY behind on posting my thoughts on last Sunday’s episode. Last week, computer issues limited my access to this blog, then I was out of town. I hope to rectify this posting problem soon!

If Episode 3 was about how we tell war stories, then Episode 4 of The Pacific – which I finally caught up on yesterday – might be best characterized as a lesson in how war is hell.

But haven’t we seen all this before? This time, it’s Marines going a little crazy in the South Pacific. And as Hanks and Spielberg want to make clear, it’s a combination of the realities of combat and surviving the wet season on southern Pacific islands, where mud up to your ankles, constant rain, and bugs will wreck havoc on you.

I say none of this to diminish these veterans’ stories and experiences. They sacrificed so much in that war, and they deserve our respect and recognition for their hard efforts.

On the one hand, The Pacific offers an important, little-remembered perspective on World War II. American schoolchildren know all about the war in Europe. In third grade, I was learning about Ann Frank and getting my first tastes of the Holocaust. By high school, I felt pretty familiar with the European theater of war. Of the Pacific theater, we know mostly about Pearl Harbor – and even most of our knowledge of that (let’s face it) comes from things like film. (or at least my knowledge, for a long time.)

What I struggle with in The Pacific is that the story feels old, not new. This mini-series – so far – offers us nothing new in the way of how we remember, understand, or speak of war. The only things “new” are the venue (the Pacific theater) and the enemy (the Japanese). But we are no closer to understanding the enemy or even the venue. We see Americans, isolated in the middle of nowhere (except for that Australian respite). We see men writing letters home. We hear them use shorthand that most casual viewers have probably never heard, like “ETO” and “NCO”.

Just who IS the audience for this miniseries after all? Veterans themselves? Sure, that’s great. Their children and grandchildren, the American public at large? These are the people I envision watching this, wanting to learn. My grandfathers served in the Pacific, and I know nothing about their service – I’m sure plenty of other people also want to learn such stories that they’ve missed out on hearing.

And yet, The Pacific alienates civilians as often as it tries to draw them in. The Hanks voiceovers and the introductory oral histories are paltry attempts to draw connections for the viewer. These attempt to give context, but really, they don’t seem to add much (do we really have to buy the expensive companion materials to fully understand what’s going on?).

Further, the characters are fairly bland – aside from Leckie (who seems to be referred to as “Lucky,” but it’s always a bit unclear), I don’t really care about any of them so far with the potential exception of the kid from Jurassic Park who finally got INTO the Marines in last week’s episode.

I want more, Hanks and Spielberg. Where’s the heart? Where’s the connection?  But more importantly – can we stop with the cliches already?

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