Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Pacific

Something I just read tweaked my memory, and my annoyance, at the TV miniseries 'The Pacific'.

As campaigns go, the US operations in the Pacific in World War II barely figure as world changing events. While of course for the participants in them they were tremendously important, for everyone else, pretty much not.

This probably very expensive mini-series tries to turn the not epic into an epic. By every measure, the US pacific campaign was strategically unimportant. Imagine a world where Japan controlled all the islands in the Pacific? Mmmm. Scary it isn't. The Phillipines, I hear you ask? Yes, Saudia Arabia might have to forego its domestic staff. Eeek.

On all measures, this was a small-time deal. Numbers of men involved: numbered in the thousands, at most tens of thousands. Both the Eastern and Western fronts in Europe counted combatants by the hundreds of thousands and millions. Strategic value of what was being fought over: most of the islands fought over in the Pacific were insignificant specks in the vast expanse of the ocean.

My biggest bugbear is the strategy chosen by the US commanders. With the exception of a few bigger islands like Guadalcanal and Guam, none of the other islands needed assaulting. Unless the island had airfields or naval bases, they didn't need attacking at all. What is the worst thing about an island? It is very easy to besiege. Just cut it off from supply by sea and air and wait.

So what did the US Admirals choose to do? Yup. No waiting!! Hell no. We can't just wait six months until they are all starved and thirsty, and just take them prisoner. Nope. Gotta go in there with guns blazing and get a few hundred more marines killed. Makes for much better television.

Even the bigger islands, like the Phillipines and Okinawa, could have been reduced slowly, with the understanding that the Japs had no means of resupply. So rather than charging at the machine guns, the US could simply have squeezed like a python, reducing the area controlled by the enemy and denying him movement and resupply. But no. Lives must be expended, heroes created, and myths promulgated.

Mostly though, what annoys me about 'The Pacific' is that there is no equivalent of the lavish mini-series for the many, vastly more strategically significant Eastern front campaigns. For no good reason that I know of, the Russians have never taken the time or the effort to memorialise the seven million men who died fighting the Nazis in this way. I wish they would, as an antidote to that strain of American braggadocio which continually tells us that it was they who 'won the war'.

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