The War in the Pacific Was Worse.
Inconcievably Worse

by
John D. Lukacs

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 The U.S. government’s wartime “Europe First” strategic mandate has seemingly lingered all the way into the 21st century, 70 years since the start of the war, and I believe it’s time to alter that perception.

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“…I cannot stand this constant reference to Europe…America writhes in anguish at the fate of a distant cousin, Europe, while a daughter, the Philippines, is being raped in the back room…”

The above words were uttered – blazing forth, in all probability, like a whooshing gush of blistering napalm from a flamethrower – by Manuel Quezon, the President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, on the embattled island of Corregidor in early 1942. Quezon, racked by tuberculosis, breathed those flammable words between violent coughing spasms after tuning in via shortwave radio to one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famed “Fireside Chats.”

Roosevelt’s broadcast singled out the war in Europe and boasted of America’s industrial potential, potential that would ultimately turn the tide of that conflict. Yet despite the fact that the only location on the globe where American forces were actively engaging an Axis enemy was the Pacific, there was surprisingly little mention of the fighting there, hence Quezon’s rightful indignation.

The other day, I finally had my Quezon moment, an emotional eruption that’s been building inside of me for quite some time. But wasn’t a radio broadcast from the President that ignited me (though any type of speech from our current president usually makes me angry) – it was mainly the Internet, e-mails and Facebook posts.

It started in May: there was a notice on the Military Channel’s Facebook feed about a new doc/show called “Surviving D-Day.” My first thought, Seriously, another show on D-Day?The war was fought around the globe, on every continent except for Antarctica, and I believe that we still haven’t discovered, let alone told every tale of the conflict (and likely never will), and some short-sighted suit is still greenlighting shows on D-Day? But I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Every June 6, my Facebook feed is filled with posts and memorial references to the Normandy landings, or links to stories about the same. Of course, it’s understandable due to the media brainwashing: every first week of June for the past several decades, the nation’s producers wrangle a few aging veterans in front of a camera, splice in the same grainy black and white combat footage and b-roll of the American cemetery in Normandy. Likewise, the print folks type up the same patriotic and usually purple prose and cookie-cutter columns. All that really needs to be changed is the year.

I’ve long wondered: why doesn’t this happen every August 15 (V-J Day)? Every September 2 (the official end of the war)? Or February 23 – the day the most iconic American image of the entire war (the Joe Rosenthal photo of Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima) was captured? Few Americans, and especially those in the media, seem to be aware of any significant Pacific war dates other than December 7. Likewise, the much larger American military cemeteries in Manila and at Hawaii’s Punchbowl are never accorded the same treatment. And every American has at least a basic understanding of the significance of the word Auschwitz, but I’m willing to bet barely a handful could probably tell you why the words Cabanatuan or Davao are similarly significant.

Thanks to my inbox, my blood began to simmer in the following weeks. My friend Capt. Wilbur Jones, USN (Ret.), a fellow author/historian, regularly sends out a series of missives on the topic of WWII history. These notes usually include reviews of new books, feature stories in various publications, photo slideshows and other war-related information. It seemed like every e-mail contained a story or book review that demonstrated a clear European Theater bias. The most shocking was a Wall St. Journal review of a new, all-encompassing book that attempts to tell the entire story of the war, from its 1931 beginning to its 1945 end. The reviewer mentions, however, that something like only four of the book’s seventeen chapters concern the Pacific portion of the conflict. I’ve never been good at math, but less than 25% deals with the Pacific? That’s utterly ridiculous. It’s akin to writing a book about the Civil War and devoting the bulk of the chapters to what happened in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Ignoring the Pacific war makes about as much sense as glossing over Civil War battles in Pennsylvania (Gettysburg), Mississippi (Vicksburg), Maryland (Antietam) or Tennessee (Shiloh).

Then there was a series of Facebook posts this past weekend alerting me that after a brief layoff, Hollywood is at it again – as in trying to use the swastika to cash in at the box office. This summer’s big blockbuster action film, “Captain America,” features a patriotic fight against – who else – Nazis bent on world domination. But the one that really raised my ire was the newly-released trailer for “Red Tails,” an SFX-laden release from Lucasfilms that will, presumably – between all the CGI dogfight sequences – also attempt to tell the stirring story of the legendary unit of black fighter pilots who flew combat missions in Europe during World War II, the Tuskegee Airmen. But more on this later.

After lamenting that Hollywood hasn’t produced nor adequately promoted a quality big-budget film about the Pacific war since perhaps “Tora! Tora! Tora!”, it finally hit me: like Quezon, I cannot stand this constant reference to the European war by our nation’s media and entertainment industries – and the continued, converse ignorance of the war that took place on the other side of the globe. And I can’t figure out why it’s always been this way.

Maybe it’s because of the bloody Brits…again. It was Prime Minister Winston Churchill, after all, who traveled to Washington, D.C. with his top-ranking brass shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack for the Arcadia Conference to charm, cajol and convince F.D.R. and the Americans of the necessity of a “Germany First” strategy. Today, Britain’s preoccupation with the Nazis is just as powerful, if not more so than in the 1940s. According to a recent brief in World War II Magazine, the BBC reported that 850 books about the Third Reich were published in the U.K. in 2010, up from 350 in 2000. British fascination with the Third Reich has likely crossed the Atlantic.

 

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"Cruel, distressing fact."