Just finished watching the first two episodes of The Pacific, the quarter of a billion dollar HBO 10-part series from Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks examining the Second World War in the Pacific from the viewpoint of a number of US Marines. I was a big fan of Band of Brothers which was made by the same people. Band of Brothers was such a great show partly because each episode began with an snippets discussing the events covered from some of the actual people involved who were members of Easy Company whose story the series told. You never knew who was who until the end of the series, and the documentary that accompanied it. I wasn’t sure if The Pacific would do the same, given that it concentrates on fewer people and that being made a decade later there must be significantly fewer survivors. Thankfully, this series also started with interviews with (still anonymous) veterans. It may be a false feeling, but seeing veterans talk, even if only for one or two sentences, before the events is a much more effective reminder of the reality of the war than even the best war film or TV series.
That said, is it any good? The short answer is yes. It was superb, just as good as Band of Brothers was, even if it skipped the training regimen that was covered so well by Band of Brothers. That meant less time for characterisation, but the quality of the writing and the whole production, including the battle scenes, was such that it didn’t matter. What The Pacific had that Band of Brothers didn’t was an element of the view from back home in the United States. And more bad language. Both of which gave added depth of a different nature. Tom Hanks, in the publicity for the show, has been making the point that the war in the Pacific was different to that in Europe. To paraphrase, he has been saying that in Europe, you had people who at least recognised each other as forming part of the same civilisation, and accepting of the same rules of war, such as taking prisoners. He has been saying that in the Pacific it was instead a battle between two sets of people who both believed in their own racial superiority and the barbarism of their enemy. It was thus a nastier and more lethal conflict.
These interviews may cause us to doubt Hanks’ grasp on the war on the Soviet front, but it seems to me there is a lot of truth in what he is saying about racism being an important factor in the way the conflict in the Pacific was fought (it seems to me no accident that the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan rather than Germany). Having said that, in the first two episodes there was not much overt sign of the racial element, other than in the odd reference to Japs, Nips, and disparaging references to yellow monkeys and the like. They felt more of a passing nod than anything else, but that may change in the future.
Overall then, this was event television at its very best, bringing home the brutality of the conflict, the desperation and reckless courage of those involved, and doing so in such a manner that it flew by. I can’t wait for next week.