5. An accurate depiction of battle, of course. Unfortunately, film can only go so far when it comes to recreating battle. One of the most important features of the battlefield that is absent in film is the smell. Movies cannot show us what the smell of rotting flesh, discarded food, gunpowder, spent artillery, and burnt rubbish must have been like.
“Occasional rains that fell on the hot coral merely evaporated like steam off hot pavement. The air hung heavy and muggy. Everywhere we went on the ridges the hot humid air reeked with the stench of death. A strong wind with no relief; it simply brought the horrid odor from an adjacent area. Japanese corpses lay where they fell among the rocks and on the slopes. It was impossible to cover them. Usually there was no soil that could be spaded over them. Just the hard, jagged coral. The enemy dead simply rotted where they had fallen. They lay all over the place in grotesque positions with puffy faces and grinning buck-toothed expressions. It is difficult to convey to anyone who has not experienced it the ghastly horror of having your sense of smell saturated constantly with the putrid odor of rotting human flesh day after day, night after night.”
- With the Old Breed, by EB Sledge at Peleliu
4. More significantly, I would like to see an accurate depiction of the natural environment that the soldiers faced in the Pacific. The Marines not only had to face the Japanese soldier, but contend with the nature of the environment as well. Malaria, jungle rot, heat exhaustion, etc.
“Glad to leave the stinking foxhole, I got up and carefully started down the slippery ridge. My buddy rose, took one step down the ridge, slipped, and fell. He slid on his belly all the way to the bottom, like a turtle sliding off a log. I reached the bottom to see him stand erect with his arms partially extended and look down at his chest and belt with a mixed expression of horror, revulsion, and disbelief. He was, of course, muddy from the slide. But that was the least of it. White, fat maggots tumbled and rolled off his cartridge belt, pockets and the folds of his dungaree jacket and trousers. I picked up a stick and handed him another. Together we scraped the vile insect larvae off his reeking dungarees.”
– With the Old Breed, EB Sledge in Okinawa
3. Hierarchy and Class Relations within the 1st Marine Division – something that might get glossed over in many books and films about war is the inherent division between enlisted man and officer. The difference between a commissioned officer and an enlisted man (or NCO) was usually always a matter of socio-economic class and education, not experience or ability. In both Helmet for My Pillow and With the Old Breed the enlisted men express a general disdain for officers…at least for the less competent among them. I am interested to see if The Pacific keeps many of the incidents between enlisted men and officers described in the books.
“He [a doctor] began to question me about my experiences in the war, and, as I told them to him, he shook his head from side to side, as though to indicate that my whole division, not only myself, ought to be psychoanalyzed. Then we talked of books for he was well read, and philosophy. Suddenly he broke it off and said, “What did you say you were?”
“A scout,” I said proudly. “I used to be a machine gunner.”
“But that’s no place for a man of your caliber.” Now I was shocked! The old shibboleth, intelligence! Had not our government been culpable enough in pampering the high-IQ draftees as though they were too intelligent to fight for their country? Could not Doctor Gentle see that I was proud to be a scout, and before that a machine gunner? Intelligence, intelligence, intelligence. Keep it up, America, keep telling your youth that mud and danger are fit only for intellectual pigs. Keep on saying that only the stupid are fit to sacrifice, that American must be defended by the lowbrow and enjoyed by the highbrow. Keep vaunting head over heart, and soon the head will arrive at the complete folly of any kind of fight and meekly surrender the treasure to the first bandit with enough heart to demand it.”
- Helmet for My Pillow, Robert Leckie at a hospital before Peleliu
2. A fair and realistic depiction of Japanese soldiers. Japanese soldiers were not fanatics, nor were they all brainwashed into worshipping the emperor as a god. Though they were prepared to die for their country, letters and diaries written by Japanese soldiers show that as they prepared to face death their thoughts were for their families and countries, not the emperor. However, the fact that American soldiers could not understand the extreme determination of Japanese soldiers is part of the reason why the war in the Pacific was so frustrating and difficult.
“Four Japanese soldiers and one officer has been taken alive, and had been brought down to the C.P., their arms bound behind them, knives at their throats, and from them we learned that the 3rd Company, 53rd Regiment of the Japanese 17th Division had been dispatched from the main body at Cape Gloucester to Tawali to defend against our landing.
Their passage had been through near impenetrable jungle and they had not arrived on the scene until two days after our own coming. Nevertheless, they attacked us. They attacked us, some one hundred of them against our force of some twelve hundred, and, but the prisoners, we had annihilated them. Were they brave or fanatical? What had they hoped to gain? Had their commander really believed that a company of Japanese soldiers could conquer a battalion of American Marines, experienced, confident, better armed, emplaced on higher ground? Why had he not turned around and marched his men home again? Was it because no Japanese soldier can report failure, cannot “lose face?”
I cannot answer. I can only wonder about this fierce, mysterious enemy – so cruel and yet so courageous – a foe who could make me, in his utmost futility, fanaticism, if you will, call upon the best of myself to defend against him. ”
– Helmet for My Pillow, by Robert Leckie in Guadalcanal
1. An honest depiction of the level of cruelty both Japanese and American soldiers were capable of. The war in the Pacific was a brutal war and that brutality led men on both sides to do things considered unimaginable in other circumstances. On the Japanese side, the harsh discipline and training that soldiers underwent definitely helps us understand why they were capable of now infamous acts of brutality.
“Once on another patrol, I saw him taking great pains and efforts to position himself and his carbine near a Japanese corpse. After getting just the right angle, Mac took careful aim and squeezed off a couple of rounds. The dead Japanese lay on his back with his trousers pulled down to his knees. Mac was trying very carefully to blast off the head of the corpse’s penis. He succeeded. As he exulted over his aim, I turned away in disgust.”
- With the Old Breed , by EB Sledge at Okinawa