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Comments by YACCS
Wednesday, October 25, 2006

It's not just black people

332nd FG over Yugoslavia

Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Flags of Our Fathers Whitewashes War History

The Vets that gave a thumbs up on honesty to Clint Eastwood's sprawling battlefield epic, Flags of Our Fathers at a private screening weren't being totally honest themselves. They almost certainly know that white Marines and GI's weren't the only ones that fought, died, supplied ammo, and provisions, and carried the dead and wounded from the Iwo Jima killing fields.

Nearly a thousand African-Americans took part in the battle and hundreds more played vital support roles. Yet in the sprawling two-hour plus film, no black combatant is seen. This continues the insulting and infuriating pattern in books, films, and TV movies in which the monumental contributions that black men and women made to the fighting in the Pacific and Europe have downplayed, ignored, or deliberately whitewashed.

The invisibility of black soldiers in Flags of Our Fathers, and indeed, the legions of other bio-pic movies on World War II is no surprise to the many black vets that know the true story of the war. They have taken every opportunity they've gotten to protest the sanitizing.

The protest over their exclusion from the war effort began the instant the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor. The black press, black leaders, and black servicemen fought a bitter, and prolonged war, largely hidden from public view, for the right to fight the war on equal terms with whites. That war started before the first bombs fell on Pearl Harbor. The first racial battle was with the selective service system. Though three million blacks registered the first year of selective service operation in 1940, only 2000 were deemed eligible for service. They were rejected in droves by mostly white local draft boards. After the loud protests from the black press, and black leaders, more blacks were added to the boards. By 1942 nearly a half million blacks were in uniform, and by war's end nearly one million blacks would serve.

The fighting presence of black troops at Iwo Jima has been amply and meticulously documented in several books. The most recent being Christopher Moore's, Fighting for America: Black Soldiers--The Unsung Heroes of World War II, and Yvonne Latty's We Were There: Voices of African-American Veterans.

The galling thing is that Warner Bros knew about the substantial role that black troops played in the Iwo Jima campaign. A slew of writers and black veteran groups contacted the studio and implored them to accurately portray all those that took part in the supply of the soldiers as well as combat. In response to the criticism, the studio gave the cop out answer that the film was based solely on James Bradley's book. Is that to say that all bio-pics and historical fact based docudramas do or even should follow the book or story that it is based on to a fault? That's absurd and filmmakers know that.

16 million Americans served in World War II and more than 400,000 died in what many still proudly call the world's last great war for freedom and democracy. The record shows that twenty-two black tank, antiaircraft, engineer, tank destroyer and field artillery battalions fought in the Battle of the Bulge and in six European countries, and black combat, engineer and ordinance units participated in the island hopping campaigns in the Pacific. More than 80 black pilots won the Distinguished Flying Cross for aerial combat. But their gallantry and heroism meant little when it came to handing out the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation's top military award.

............... It would take a half-century, and the relentless demands of black leaders, before President Clinton in 1997 presented the award to 7 (6 posthumously) black World II servicemen for their heroism

Here's the problem, in movies like Flags of Our Fathers and Saving Private Ryan, which deals with the assaulting units on D-Day, there were no black soldiers in the infantry units. At best, they would be extras in the background, not part of the storyline in any significant way.

Only two movies, Home of the Brave and Go For Broke, deal with non-whites fighting in WWII. Even Windtalkers split the screen time between the Navaho and the white soldiers they served with.

The problem isn't that blacks aren't included in movies about war, but that the diversity of the US Army in WWII has never really been explained in full. Along with those 7 African Americans who were awarded the Medal of Honor, 21 Japanese Americans were awarded the MOH at the same time, including Sen. Daniel Inoyue, who lost his arm in France in 1944. He, and many other members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team were denied their MOH awards for lesser awards.

Despite a recent history of the segregated 761st Tank Battalion, it has not yet been turned into a movie.

Blacks and Asians have had some of their stories told, either in TV or cable films, but the least recognized group of Americans are hispanics. Despite Hispanics having the highest number of Medal of Honor winners, not one TV or feature film has been made about them. Their stories are totally lost to history. Not just film, but in print as well.

It isn't enough to add in a few blacks here and there as shore party, that doesn't do anything. They need to have their stories told in full. Showing blacks moving cargo isn't going to add to the story. They need to have their heroism recounted in the same details as white soldiers and sailors. The true story of the Battle of the Bulge, where black artillery and engineer units fought besides whites, has never been told in detail, or the heroics of the 332nd Fighter Group, except for an HBO movie, and not in the kind of accuracy that the subject can be treated with.

We don't need to squeeze into white stories, we need our stories, American stories, from Filipinos who served with the US Army, to Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans in white units, blacks in segregated then integrated units. We don't need to be a footnote to history. Instead of protesting not seeing a few black faces in the back, we need to explain how ALL Americans served their country in wartime.

posted by Steve @ 12:43:00 AM

12:43:00 AM

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