Best Defense

HBO’s ‘Pacific’: Someone please flush!

Here is a guest review by Eric Hammel, author of a boatload of military histories, including well-known books about the battles of Chosin Reservoir, Hue City, Khe Sanh and Beirut. Not only does he specialize in Marine Corps history, he has written more books about World War II in the Pacific than many military history ...

Jason Merritt/Getty Images
Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Here is a guest review by Eric Hammel, author of a boatload of military histories, including well-known books about the battles of Chosin Reservoir, Hue City, Khe Sanh and Beirut.

Not only does he specialize in Marine Corps history, he has written more books about World War II in the Pacific than many military history buffs have read, including these titles:

By Eric Hammel
Best Defense
guest TV reviewer

Tom Hanks is an accredited war history buff, and I think he really has put his heart into paying homage to WWII vets. His heart’s in the right place, but his head is in Hollywood.

Why should I be surprised a "docudrama" like The Pacific is shit? The whole effort behind the docu part is invested in toys such as gunner’s gloves. I long ago boycotted documentary filmmakers who want my brand to legitimize their sorry little TV vignettes. Their objective is entertainment centered on the dramatic visual, not the intellectual, and not quite the historical. If self-professed documentarians can’t get it right because they edit the talking heads to accommodate their thin film libraries, why should self-professed entertainers make a better effort, show greater concern?

Has anyone else noticed that the talking heads — nameless, unexplained vets — in The Pacific seem to be reading from scripts rather than dipping into memories? They merely mouth error-filled platitudes. Band of Brothers used interesting people with interesting observations. This is the worst way to exploit vets — making them look like idiots.

It is difficult to frame this story using this set of icons. But the people behind The Pacific volunteered for this. This is their befouled vision, perhaps with the aid of a few bought historians who were probably ignored when the script — a visual outline — was fabricated from its many disparate parts. Their good intentions ran afoul bad toilet training; they left the seat up and neglected to flush.

It all comes down to adults making bad, ill-informed, drama-driven decisions that end up befogging the teachable events in bullshit that must be the knee-jerk impulses of people trained to do what they do.

Was there not a reasonable effort made to understand that selecting relatively rare machine gunners as focus for two out of two visually entangled storylines would confuse rather than enlighten? Why is the basic philosophy of The Pacific romance while the hallmark and touchstone of Band of Brothers is true grit? Does anyone ever say "No!" to Spielberg?

Waiting to see if Part 3, etc. are better overlooks that the series was filmed and edited as a whole. I doubt it, because it’s not like a regular TV series, where the third episode is being filmed the same week the first is shown, as scripts for episodes four and five are being tweaked. This mess was conceived, edited, and market-tested as a single unit long before Part 1 appeared. So it can’t get much better. There’s no way to change to a course that’s backed by anything better than the bad decisions we’ve already seen manifested in Parts 1 and 2.

These people got hung up on knick-knacks and drama, but they sacrificed the history and clarity they implicitly promised by advertising it off Band of Brothers. That’s a dishonest coattails strategy that dishonors the memory of all who were there.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1
Tag: Media

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