What I’m Reading: Flags of Our Fathers (or, A Call for Some Perspective)

Flags of Our FathersA man in our church has loaned the book “Flags of Our Fathers” to me, and it’s a compelling read. The record is simultaneously heroic and tragic. It recalls the victory of U.S. Marines at Iwo Jima that culminated in the perfect picture of the American heroism of “the greatest generation.” Though it focuses on the stories of the six flag-bearers, it is the story of an entire Corps–an entire generation.

The book and the reminder of the sacrifices of WWII are especially striking to me as the media keeps broadcasing–and almost celebrating–the 3000th American casualty in Iraq. It’s big news–in the NY Times, the Boston Globe (which also provides several charts breaking down the casualties), CNN, etc., etc., etc.

Three thousand people is a lot. It’s more than were lost in the World Trade Center bombings. It’s a tragic number of lives to be lost.

But how about a bit of historical perspective?! Americans suffered 6140 casualties and almost 18,000 wounded in achieving victory on a tiny island called Iwo Jima. And they died not from car bombs, but from landing on beaches and charging gunners buried in a maze of tunnels and bunkers. The method of combat was sometimes to charge into the teeth of the battle, hoping someone would survive to stop the gunner and disable the Japanese artillery. And while even 6140 soldiers killed is a terrible number to ponder, it is small portion of the American losses. According to Wikipedia, the United States suffered 407,300 military casualties in winning WWII. Four hundred seven thousand. That’s a mind-numbing number. It dwarfs the 2400 lives lost at Pearl Harbor. Yet, the fact that our casualties in Iraq now outnumber the number of deaths on 9/11 is reported by media outlets as though it were an inconceivable and pernicious thing.

The point is, as sad as it is to lose even one American soldier, our losses in this war have been minimal compared to other wars and even battles in our glorious history. I don’t doubt that today’s soldiers are as brave as those who sacrificed to win WWII. I’m certain, however, that today’s citizens, politicians and media-types are weak-kneed compared to the citizens who mourned staggering casualties to achieve an essential victory over the Axis powers. Imagine the modern media’s response to Iwo Jima or Normandy–or Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for that matter. And you think our military hasn’t planned well for Iraq? There were times when we were absolutely flummoxed in the South Pacific. Yet, we persevered, and we won.

I understand that war is terrible. I also understand that the validity of this war is questioned by many–most of whom were “gung-ho” when it began, if you’ll remember. Most importantly, I understand that it’s easy for me to sit safely in my home in Ohio saying “it’s not so bad.” Of course it’s bad. Terrible. But war is always bad. And our soldiers deserve the citizens they are defending to be as determined and courageous in our safety as they are in harm’s way.

Our military has the stuff to endure and win a difficult war; our public doesn’t.


13 Responses

  1. Thank you for this post. This sounds like a book my soldier and fil would appreciate. I’ll add it to my list. :-)
    Happy New Year.

  2. I read it twice a number months back [yes, the book still looks like I just bought it, lol], and all I can say is that you will love it. You may even experience some emotional responses especially when Mr Brady is detailing the lives of the three men after the flag raising. Insipring book. Made for a great movie, too, if one is inclined to attend the cinema. My wife and I saw it the weekend it was released, and I cried along with the rest of the audience throughout the film.

    Real heroes are hard to identify because they don’t draw attention to themselves [“uncommon valor was a common virtue”]. Solidifies my feeling that the Hollywood crowd, sports figures, media folks, etc are mostly huge phonies.

  3. Sorry, the author of the book is James Bradley. Jim Brady was Reagan’s press secretary. My mistake.

  4. I would expect that many would argue that this war cannot be won (shades of Vietnam). Of course, in some respects this may be true for precisely the reasons you state. Everything is political – valor is definitely uncommon.

  5. Great post … I haven’t read the book yet. I am waiting for the movie to come out … Oh wait … already has. I heard it was a very powerful movie. I hope to see it sometime. But I want to read the book as well, but I have too many other half read books at the moment.

    The historical perspective thing is right. We talk about 3000 lost in 3 years in Iraq. That’s horrible, but not much compared to the perhaps 3 or so hundred thousand people killed by Saddam. And 3000 in 3 years??? At Normandy, the Allies reached 3000 casualties in a matter of hours, not days, not months, not years.

    Do you know that in a practice for DDay, more than 700 soldiers died? In practice? (Hear AI’s whining voice here). Practice … 700 dead for practice? But yes, it’s true.

    War is not pretty … It’s sobering to walk on some of these battle sites and imagine the waves of troops … to see the bunkers, gun placements, and know that under your feet drained the blood of people fighting thousands of miles from home for freedom from tyranny and genocide. It is something that is unimaginable.

    Can you imagine the modern press in WWII? I saw a few minutes of Keith Olberman last night on MSNBC. It is hard to believe that anyone, including himself, can take himself seriously in his rants about war and sacrifice and leadership. It is sad …

    Thanks for the reminder.

  6. “Oh beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife…who more than self their country loved…and mercy more than life…”

  7. This is one of those occasions where the book is better than the movie, and the movie is pretty good. The job they did filming it is amazing, but you have absolutely got to read the book first. – Not too many years back I did a job for an older gentleman at his house, and he showed me a photograph of the flag raising that he took standing next to the fella that took the now famous one; and at almost the exact same moment. I don’t know what happened to him or the photograph, but after reading this book I wish I could back to that moment when he showed me that picture, and express more gratitude to him for what he did on that island, for I wasn’t aware of it at the time.

  8. Pastor Chris: after our discussion about islands, I thought of the one I was trying to remember-Peleliu. Whether or not this was the one you were thinking, this was another brutal affair that I believe lasted 2 months. When you get the time I’m pretty sure I’ve got some info on that you can look at.

  9. You might want to check this out.

    It’s a satirical look at how the modern press would report WWII

  10. Chris, I read this book over vacation and found it gripping and horrifying at the same time. Thinking about the sacrifice these men made for our country made me feel downright selfish and stingy. Excellent book, well written, but since it is really about “The Photo,” it tends to be a bit anti-climactic. The battle ends about two-thirds of the way through the book and the rest seems almost irrelevant. Maybe that is the way it is supposed to seem. . . .

  11. I’ve got to be quick, Mark, but I finally finished the book a few weekends ago. It was one of many begun but not finished.

    It’s a great read, but it’s also devastating. You’re right about it making the reader feel selfish. In my original post, I essentially said that the modern press and modern society don’t have a clue about the difficulties of war. That’s true. But I don’t either. Terrible.

    I actually thought it was a good read all the way through. Thought-provoking, to say the least.

  12. […] Reading: Flyboys Awhile back, a friend from TCBC suggested that I might enjoy reading Flags of Our Fathers, James Bradley’s book on the WWII battle for Iwo Jima and the timeless picture that was taken […]

  13. […] Unbroken by Laura Hildebrand. I enjoyed her Seabiscuit and I enjoy WWII era stories (like Flags of Our Fathers and Flyboys). I started this in 2011 but didn’t finish it. Weird. I just got into other […]

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