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The Image as History: Clint Eastwood’s Unmaking of an American Myth


ISSUE:  Spring 2007
 
History is always the interpretation of the present.
—George Herbert Mead

In a speech delivered on August 30, 2005, the eve of the sixtieth anniversary of the American victory over Japan, President Bush declared, “In World War II, wherever our troops raised the flag of victory, they would also sow the seeds of liberty, and as a result, the world is better off.” The speech, delivered at the North Island naval air base near San Diego, was a typical rhetorical performance from the president in that it was long on grandeur and patriotic fervor and gestured heavily toward the eternal themes of duty and honor and sacrifice, themes the president is mysteriously presumed to know a lot about. While he never came out and said it, never came out and placed the torch into the waiting hands of the troops, Bush took pains to compare our current lot with that of the World War II generation, in one breath talking about “bringing terrorists to justice in Iraq,” in the next rhapsodizing about “the power of freedom to transform the bitterest of enemies into the closest of friends.” Jerry Coleman, the official announcer for the San Diego Padres and a World War II fighter pilot who proceeded the president to the rostrum put it even more bluntly: “The greatest generation is right now. They’re out there looking at me.”

Like so much official oratory nowadays about Iraq and the misnamed war on terror, the V-J Day observance at North Island was an attempt by the administration to poach some of the moral purpose of the Good War for their own political purposes, namely to link the Iraq War dead with the one conflict in our recent national history that is ethically rock solid. Rarely a month goes by without either the president or the vice president appearing at a VFW hall in a red state and trying their damnedest to justify American casualties, sermonizing about the sacrifices of the Greatest Generation within the context of the ongoing debate about American policy in Iraq. This is more than just garden-variety political stagecraft. Bringing up World War II, and the indelible images associated with it, is a sort of rhetorical atom bomb for our times. Doing so is a lot like comparing a foe of whatever sort to Adolf Hitler: it’s a terrific way to end debate, because who would dare to question the sacrifices of our forefathers who fought at Midway or Normandy or Iwo Jima? Who would dare to impugn the justice of their cause? Even Democrats, who have only recently proven themselves to be something other than born losers, aren’t that stupid.

As our post–9/11 world grows ever murkier and more troubling, we grasp for that precious set of symbols and images which helps steady us as a nation and evokes the time when everyone seemed to be pulling together, the time where the issues and our enemies were clear. The darker the news from Iraq gets, the more we need our sanitized view of World War II to make us feel better about ourselves. Not even our national creation myth, the Revolutionary War, with its undercurrent of an interfamily squabble with the Brits, can compare to World War II in its palliative effects. And it is exactly this mythic, sentimental view of World War II as the Good War that makes it so useful to politicians. Wielding the war and its lexicon of finest hours and arsenals of democracy in speeches and campaign oratory allows politicians to sanctify the fallen and quell dissent over the current war, the cudgel going something like: The Greatest Generation didn’t whine, they came together, put their heads down, and beat back a common enemy that attacked the homeland. If only we could be as good as our grandfathers! And as American casualties have continued to mount and the war has grown increasingly unpopular, the president and his lieutenants have grown correspondingly reliant upon the images of World War II to bolster support for the Iraq misadventure.

Americans are perhaps the most individualistic people in the world, and there is little else that really gets us going like a good war, and politicians have known this for a long time. Whenever presidents or other national leaders hope to inspire the public they grasp for the language of war: there’s the LBJ’s War on Poverty, Reagan’s War on Drugs, the War on AIDS, to name only a few. Nevertheless, World War II, or at least the popular Disneyfied version of it that has been propagated by the likes of Stephen Ambrose and Tom Hanks, remains one of the administration’s chief literary tools in its mission to distract us from the fact that Iraq is arguably the most profligate war in American history.

We have Hollywood to thank for our fascination with World War II. For better or worse, the movies are where we dream as a nation, where we fantasize about our better selves, about the America That Could Be—and perhaps no other event in history has inspired more films than World War II. It was the war that gave us our ultimate masculine symbol, John Wayne, in movies such as Sands of Iwo Jima, The Fighting Seabees, The Longest Day, and Flying Leathernecks. Modern American manhood is unimaginable without John Wayne and John Wayne is unimaginable without the role of Sergeant Stryker (which earned him his first Oscar nomination) and the dozen-odd other World War II roles that made his career.

Our most recent national love affair with all things World War II began with the near-simultaneous release of Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation in 1998. These two works, and the legion of imitators that followed them, traffic in what is, in essence, a ready-made symbology that is every propagandist’s deepest fantasy. It’s all there: the unprovoked attack upon the homeland (never mind the fact that Pearl Harbor wasn’t technically American soil yet, only a US possession), the megalomaniacal enemy who while consummately evil always donned a distinctive uniform and fought conventionally, the evil military genius bent on world domination. It was, everyone agrees, our finest hour, the one time when the goodest good guys defeated the baddest bad guys of all time. This system of symbols is so compelling that that even George Lucas, acolyte of Joseph Campbell and mythmaker nonpareil, modeled Darth Vader’s low helmet off of the Wehrmacht design.

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Which brings us to the most recent entries into the Hollywood World War II–epic derby, Clint Eastwood’s pair of films chronicling the penultimate battle of the Pacific War, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima. The latter effort, an account of the Japanese side of the famous battle, features Japanese dialogue with English subtitles. It is one of the most unusual World War II movies ever filmed and among the most rewarding. Taken together the two films form a sort of revisionist diptych, a radical re-imagining of the Second World War and a repudiation of the Spielbergized version of the war that has dominated the American imagination ever since the release of Saving Private Ryan.

Flags of Our Fathers, based on James Bradley’s best-selling book of the same name, tells the story of the famous flag-raising during the battle and the profound effect the photo of the flag-raising had on the lives of the survivors.

The photograph, taken atop Mount Suribachi, the dominant terrain on Iwo Jima on the fourth day of what would end up being a thirty-five day battle, was a total fluke. An American commander sent a patrol up the mountain to secure the summit and as an afterthought gave the patrol leader a small American flag, saying “If you get to the top, put it up.” As fate would have it, James Forrestal, the then-Secretary of the Navy watched this first flag go up from the beach below and remarked “the raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next 500 years,” and demanded the flag as a souvenir. As a result of this request, a second larger flag was ordered to be put up. It was this replacement flag that would make history.

Flag in hand, a second patrol was launched up the flanks of Mount Suribachi. In the middle of the patrol column was Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal, sweating his way through his third invasion with the Marines. Upon gaining the summit the Marines began searching for a flagpole and discovered a heavy twenty-foot-long metal pipe. The pipe, which the Japanese defenders had previously used to collect rainwater for drinking, weighed over a hundred pounds and a few Marines began wrestling it upward. Some other Marines on the summit saw that their comrades needed a hand and jumped in and helped raise the flag and inadvertently found themselves frozen into the collective memory of a nation. Chatting with a nearby photographer, Rosenthal almost missed the moment. Spotting the movement, he swung his camera towards the Marines and snapped off a shot without even looking into the viewfinder. As so often happens, history was made but the making of it was only dimly apprehended by those present at the time. “No one else on the summit paid much attention to what was going on. The action had all the significance of a new football being tossed into a game in progress,” Bradley, son of one of the flagraisers would later write of the event atop Suribachi.

Eastwood’s movie about the iconic photo and its aftermath is a confusing, unsettling, deliberately unsatisfying film. Told using a serpentine flashback structure, the film seems to mimic post-traumatic stress disorder in the way it insistently revisits horrific events as survivors of combat do, and in its seeming compulsion to find order in the welter of human memory. The movie is ostensibly about World War II, but its true subjects are the exploitation of the common fighting man by the government and the role of mythmaking in war.

When I first saw the previews for the film I was disgusted. I had just returned from a reporting tour of Iraq, and the film’s sepulchral images of marines storming the beaches of that godforsaken sulfurous island churned my stomach. Like a lot of former marines, I have a deep-seated suspicion of public flag-waving—I wince when the national anthem is sung at sporting events—and the idea of releasing what looked to be a backslapping-war-is-hell-but-ain’t-it an-exalting-kind-of-hell movie when so many young Americans are losing their lives overseas offended my sense of decorum. Why now? I thought. Such a film might have been appropriate in 2002, but not now. Now it just seemed downright obscene, and I gave even Hollywood enough credit to realize that.

I hadn’t yet read the book Flags of Our Fathers, but I felt like I knew a thing or two about Iwo Jima. As a lieutenant, I’d visited the island and walked the ground and subsequently, at Camp Pendleton, met with veterans of the battle. Furthermore, my skepticism of the World War II–glorification industry that had so recently sprung up from the likes of Spielberg, Hampton Sides, and the late Stephen Ambrose was derived from a lifelong study of the war beginning in elementary school.

Growing up I had been a thoroughgoing World War II geek. When most other kids were obsessing over Pete Rose, Reggie Jackson, or Walter Payton, I had my nose buried in Richard Tregaskis’s Guadalcanal Diary (which I reread yearly according to the advice of the Marine Commandant of the time), E. B. Sledge’s With the Old Breed, an account of the Pacific battles of Peleliu and Okinawa (I would later serve in Sledge’s unit, Kilo Company, Third Battalion, Fifth Marines), Gordon Prange’s seminal history of Pearl Harbor, At Dawn We Slept, and John Toland’s biography of Adolf Hitler. I could quote the numbers of American casualties at every major engagement by the time I was in the eighth grade. I looked askance at these Johnny-come-latelies because I had outgrown World War II by my junior year of high school. I had graduated to Mao and Clausewitz. To me the Good War was old hat. I mean, hadn’t these dilettantes read Slaughterhouse-Five? Heard of a little police action called Vietnam? I loved a good war movie as much as the next guy—hell, I’d snuck into Sam Fuller’s R-rated The Big Red One when I was ten—but to my jaded eyes, the last thing the nation needed was another facile call-to-arms flick, and I was loathe to see the war’s most horrific battle put to use as agitprop.

I have also come to feel recently that the American obsession with World War II is a dangerous form of escapism because it leads us to think that there might be a good war to fight, a war like our grandfathers fought, in Iraq, and that the issue there is one merely of sticking to our guns. Quasi-triumphalist World War II movies are perilous in ways that The Lord of the Rings and other escapist entertainments are not; watching the former, we think we’re actually learning something new about our world. All of which might be fine if it weren’t for the sheer repetition of World War II–inspired works in the theaters and on bookshelves today. As we sink deeper into the quagmire in Iraq and we continue as a culture to insulate ourselves from the rest of the world, it has become increasingly difficult for me to distinguish some recent works about World War II from propaganda.

Of course, I understood that Clint Eastwood was helming Flags of Our Fathers. I was familiar with his legacy of subversive filmmaking. Unforgiven remains, in my mind, one of the defining statements on the western, and any serious-minded film about the American West has to answer to it as much as to the prose of the hallowed Cormac McCarthy. I was simply agnostic about the idea that any mainstream filmmaker could make a World War II movie that wouldn’t come across as hopelessly retrograde and out-of-step with the times. The country was embroiled in a misbegotten, mismanaged latter-day insurgency; the last thing the viewing masses needed was Band of Brothers 2.0.

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Whenever a realistic war picture is released, critics inevitably ask the question, Is this an antiwar movie? The query is usually lobbed at the director of the film and the implication within intellectual circles seems to be that in order to be artistically respectable, a war movie must in some way be subversive and include a suitable number of gory and horrific scenes, lest the filmmaker be accused of mindless jingoism. Tellingly, World War II movies seem to be the exception to this rule and are judged according to a different rubric. Saving Private Ryan, which in some ways can be viewed as the paragon of the classic World War II movie, ends on a solemnly patriotic note, that of the American flag backlit by the sun, waving grandly in the Normandy breeze. (As J. Hoberman noted in the last issue of VQR, President Bush cites Saving Private Ryan as his favorite movie.) With Flags of Our Fathers, Eastwood seems bent upon inverting the World War II movie formula and debunking the major body of myth that politicians have come to depend upon so dearly. Rather than having made an antiwar movie, he has created what amounts to an anti–World War II movie and has done so in the most dramatic way possible, namely by showing us the troubling and untold story of the war’s most iconic image, that of the Marine flag-raising atop Mount Suribachi.

Through a series of looping flashbacks, we are repeatedly ushered in and out of three timeframes: the battle itself, the propagandistic war-bond tour that the government sent the flag-raisers on, and contemporary scenes involving the son of one of the flag-raisers and his attempts to reconstruct the event. Unlike most war movies, the most affecting parts of Flags of Our Fathers aren’t the actual battle scenes. To be sure, there is unmistakable heroism on display when the Marines hit the beaches, but Eastwood seems intent upon focusing our attention on the aftermath of the battle and the flag-raising, and accordingly the most powerful scenes are the quietest ones: Ira Hayes, the most troubled of the flag-raisers, confessing through tears, “I can’t take them calling me a hero”; the scene of the marines quietly struggling with the flag atop Suribachi; the movie’s closing shot of the surviving marines swimming in the ocean as the battle winds down. In this way, the film resembles great war literature in that the most interesting things happen when no one is shooting.

As Nietzsche said, “Reflection kills action,” and with the contemporary Hollywood war movie, the dramatic reconstruction of combat can have the inadvertent effect of glorifying the violence (e.g., Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down). Even Francis Ford Coppola, auteur of Apocalypse Now—perhaps the greatest war film—admitted that any movie that meticulously recreates battle scenes can be interpreted in some way as being pro-war, in that it glorifies, even if only for the sake of the larger story, the barbarous machinery of war. For those who pay attention to what war movies actually do, it should come as no surprise that Apocalypse Now, while being stridently anti-American and antiwar, is still fetishized and quoted endlessly by contemporary American soldiers. (I will confess that this past summer in Iraq, when I found myself in the unfortunate position of being fired upon while riding in a helicopter, my mind kept returning to the scene when Chef asks another soldier, “Why do all you guys sit on your helmets?” “So we don’t get our balls blown off!”)

As I watched Flags of Our Fathers I couldn’t help but wonder if Eastwood had read Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. At one point in the book, which is, at its heart, a meditation on memory and trauma, O’Brien writes:

I’m forty-three years old, and a writer now, and the war has been over for a long while. Much of it is hard to remember. I sit at this typewriter and stare through my words and watch Kiowa sinking into the deep muck of a shit field, or Curt Lemon hanging in pieces from a tree, and as I write about these things, the remembering is turned into a kind of rehappening. Kiowa yells at me. Curt Lemon steps from the shade into the bright sunlight, his face brown and shining, and then he soars into a tree. The bad stuff never stops happening: it lives in its own dimension, replaying itself over and over.

Eastwood’s film seems to embody this view of human memory in its jumbling and mis-ordering of recalled events and in doing so takes another swing at the idea that war movies need to appeal to our crudest patriotic impulses. The film lacks the typical propulsive drive of action movies, the incessant ramming forward and ratcheting-up of the melodrama that is best exemplified by every Jerry Bruckheimer film. Instead, Flags ruminates, circles back, revisits, processes. Watching the movie, I could hardly believe it was made by an American, so insistent it is upon not just seeing but also understanding. Here we get a snatch of exposition about the history of the survivors’ families, then we snap back to a battle scene, then we flash-forward to a scene of tasteless celebration of the flag-raising event in the middle of the war-bond drive as the survivors are forced to symbolically raise the flag over and over again. In this way, the film could be described as a post-Vietnam war movie, and it, unlike Saving Private Ryan, seems to be reaching for something deeper than a mere grandiloquent revivification of World War II.

There is in Flags of Our Fathers none of the obsessive fetishizing of combat, none of the extended tableaux of meticulously re-created mass violence. If Spielberg’s opus was a blood-soaked opera about World War II, then Flags of Our Fathers is a requiem. Still, there are elements of the Eastwood film that clearly gesture toward Saving Private Ryan. The Iwo Jima landing sequences are unavoidably reminiscent of the opening twenty minutes of the Spielberg film: it is impossible to watch them without cringing, waiting, impatient almost, for the murderous Japanese fusillade to begin. The film’s color palette retains the trademark Spielbergian desaturated sepia tone that seems designed to read like slightly colorized Robert Capa photographs. But the emotional register of the film is so distinct from the self-congratulatory tone of Saving Private Ryan, and of the Spielberg-produced Band of Brothers, that it is easy to forget that these productions take the same war as their subject.

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Letters from Iwo Jima, the companion piece to Flags of Our Fathers, manages to trump the first film in its defiance of expectations and breaks down the final convention of the classic World War II film in that it humanizes an enemy who has so steadfastly remained a cipher in American cinema. Even the genocidal Nazis have fared better under the lens than the Imperial Japanese military, but, in a rare feat of cinematic alchemy, Eastwood shows us an aspect of the war that had defied most attempts at depiction, even in Japan, where the war has been systematically ignored by the culture.

This second film is remarkable on a variety of levels and works in concert with Flags of Our Fathers in showing how a complicated and confusing piece of history has been massively oversimplified and allowed to ossify into a museum piece that’s trotted out at official occasions but never contemplated in any serious way.

The film, told from the viewpoints of Tadamichi Kuribayashi, the commanding general of the island, and Saigo, a private soldier, in a linear, straightforward style, gives us the Japanese experience of the battle. The defenders know that they are doomed and so the question becomes one of how to die with maximum honor. Some of the more traditional Japanese officers on the island decide that suicide is surest way to glory; they do themselves in with hand grenades. Kuribayashi, an officer and former military attaché in the States, sympathetic to the American way of life, nevertheless urges his men to fight on in order to inflict higher casualties upon the invading Marines. What results is a resonant meditation upon the futility of war and the sacrifices made to a lost cause.

As I watched the film, parts of which were filmed on Iwo Jima, I was overwhelmed by my own feelings about the battle, my tour of the island so many years ago, and what the site has come to mean to modern-day US Marines. Among marines, Iwo Jima is sacred ground: Gettysburg, Jerusalem, and the Alamo all rolled into one. But as I walked around the battlefield and I tried to force myself to think appropriately holy thoughts, my mind kept wandering. I couldn’t reconcile the place with the historic images of the battle that had haunted my head since grade school. The battle seemed an impossibility, a distant fiction, and I had to repeatedly urge myself to recall that it had actually happened. The image had superseded the reality.

Amazingly, Letters from Iwo Jima revolutionized what I thought were fairly well informed views of the battle and showed me a side of World War II that I’d never really considered. I mean, who cares about the mindless automatons who died in squalor in the caves of Iwo? The island—a godforsaken rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean which had improbably found itself remade into an American temple, a memory palace for marines—had come to seem like one-sided affair, a venue to display the marines’ now-famous uncommon valor. In typical solipsistic American style, I had forgotten there is more to the world than our view of it. It is rare indeed that a movie actually teaches us something about ourselves. Letters from Iwo Jima is just such a movie.

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At one point in Flags of Our Fathers we are told portentously that, “The right picture can win or lose a war.” The connection Eastwood seems to be making here between the flag-raising on Iwo Jima and the war in Iraq and the notorious photos from Abu Ghraib seems obvious enough that I need not recount it here. Eastwood has claimed in interviews that he’s not attempting to draw any connections between the events of the movie and our own era, but the very structure of the film puts the lie to this idea as it insistently demonstrates how the past can come to haunt and even transcend the present, and over the course of the film we are repeatedly reminded of the degree to which certain accidental images have come to define America and her wars.

It is a commonplace among journalists that the camera, and now the digital camera, has made it increasingly difficult for governments to hide their atrocities from the world, but it’s possible that the converse is also true. The proliferation of photographic images has made it hard for governments to do much of anything when enough of them are around, especially during times of war, and this is probably a good thing. While I support an absolute freedom of the press and feel that the Bush administration’s ban on photos of coffins of Iraq War dead is outrageous, there are times when raw, unexplained images get ahead of the public’s ability to interpret them. Like the world they capture, photographs are often made of ambiguous details that can support multiple interpretations. For instance, there is the disturbing case of the marine, caught on video during the second battle for Fallujah, in November 2004, who was condemned in the court of public opinion for shooting an apparently defenseless insurgent inside of a mosque. That the marine was wounded and that the insurgent in question had, as was reported to me by marines present at the time, fired at one of their Humvees with a machine gun, was never reported in the press.

All of which makes the subject of Eastwood’s film, which discusses the life of a single photograph, all the more appropriate for the times we live in. As Freud tells us in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, the public “thinks in images, which call one another up by association (just as they arise with individuals in states of free imagination), and whose agreement with reality is never checked by any reasonable agency.” So it is that certain images that seize the public imagination, whether for bad or for good, can come to govern our perception of events. In the Civil War, it was a hastily staged photo of Ulysses S. Grant leaning against a tree in City Point, Virginia, taken by Matthew Brady. In Vietnam, it was the image of a naked girl running away from her village, which had just been napalmed by American planes. In World War II, prior to Iwo Jima, it was pictures of dead marines lying facedown in the surf at Tarawa. (After seeing them, one grieving mother wrote a commander, “You killed my son on Tarawa.”).

In the present day, your political inclinations will dictate whether you feel the Bush administration to be either exceptionally misguided or exceptionally unlucky with the way a few unpleasant images have come to define the war on terror. Regardless of how you happen to feel about America’s conduct in Iraq, it is a fact that America’s position in the world has been defined to a striking degree by three images: US Marines pulling down the Saddam statue in Firdos Square in 2003; President Bush aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln with the MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner behind him; and a hooded Iraqi prisoner, in a US military prison west of Baghdad, standing atop a small box, electrodes taped to his fingertips.

To some, the contrast between the photo of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima and the images that emerged from Abu Ghraib visually demonstrate how far we have fallen as a nation. The former is the embodiment of all the best things we have come to associate with American soldiery, a conclusion underscored by the fact that the flag-raising wasn’t staged and was a piece of found art in the strictest sense of the word. (Remember Rosenthal wasn’t even looking in the viewfinder when he took the shot.) As James Bradley takes pains to communicate in the book Flags of Our Fathers, the flag-raisers were a cross section of America. There was a marine from Texas, a marine from New Hampshire, a medical corpsman from Wisconsin, even a Pima Indian from a reservation in Arizona. As Bradley, son of the corpsman, put it: “History turned its focus, for 1/400th of a second, on them.” By contrast, the images of abuse at Abu Ghraib, captured between October and December 2003, are grotesquely arresting because they are so depraved and represent the darkest form of sadism that lurks beneath the surface of all military units. These images, which have been received internationally as emblematic of the entire erroneous enterprise in Iraq, represent a low point for the reputation of the American military—lower even than the Vietnam era because the Abu Ghraib photos read almost as tableaux vivants of torture.

Unlike the providential Rosenthal photo, the Abu Ghraib shots were staged. The marines at Iwo Jima were tragically unaware of the power of the lens. The soldiers at Abu Ghraib were keenly aware of the camera’s power but were posing, playing perversely with their image in the viewfinder—and it was this sense of sadistic glee, the idea that they were self-consciously making a snuff film, that outraged as much as anything else. The diversity of the image-staging was truly remarkable and showed a malice aforethought that is breathtaking. There is the prisoner cloaked in a black poncho that recalls both the KKK and Christianity in its crucifix-like geometry. The repeated images of naked prisoners stacked like cheerleaders rehearsing for Homecoming. Viewed as a single work, the images seem to mock the wholesome American culture that the Rosenthal photo celebrates. They are the antipode of the idealized American citizen-soldier that we have come to associate with World War II and that many had hoped would be on display in the streets of the “liberated” Baghdad of 2003.

Of course, this aesthetic distinction is, on some level, an illusion. All wars are obscene and involve incidents that are morally troubling. Events and ideas that don’t fit neatly into our Norman Rockwellized version of World War II—the firebombing of Tokyo and Dresden; the friendly fire incident at Saint-Lô, France, which caused over 600 US casualties; and the argument advanced by historians and by General Holland M. Smith that the invasion of Iwo Jima was unnecessary—are conveniently overlooked whenever the war is remembered. Instead, we remember the flag going up. The image of the marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima has long represented everything that we want to believe was true about the war. It revealed the war, but, in its transmission and never-ending propagation, it also hid the war. (Some historians have argued that one reason the Rosenthal photo was distributed by the US government was to deflect attention from the argument that Iwo Jima was an unnecessary slaughter. A similar controversy over the grim photos that emerged from the butchery at Tarawa had nearly resulted in a congressional investigation in 1944 that was stopped only by the personal request of the Commandant of the Marine Corps.)

With the release of the images of Abu Ghraib we came to understand a different, darker side of the American military experience, one that has always been there. Abu Ghraib undoubtedly hid other aspects of the Iraq war from us, kept us, for instance, from counting the cost of the first battle of Fallujah in April 2004. (I was embedded with a Marine unit in Fallujah during this time frame and I noted the conspicuous exodus of reporters from the Fallujah area. They were all going to cover the Abu Ghraib story.) You could say that Bradley and Eastwood have done something invaluable with Flags of Our Fathers. While paying homage to the sacrifices of the soldiers, they are pulling back the curtain and showing us a side of history that had been hidden behind the seductive image.

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