Jewish World Review June 1, 2001 / 10 Sivan 5761
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- HOW can a mouse without a heart make a movie about American heroes? How can a company in the throes of political correctness portray patriotism?
They can't, of course. That's why Disney's "Pearl Harbor," which opened last weekend, ultimately is insipid -- failing to inform or inspire.
Dec. 7, 1941, was a time of tragedy and heroism. Of the 15 Medals of Honor awarded for valor during the fighting, eight were posthumous.
On that dark day, 2,388 Americans lost their lives in a sneak attack that mobilized the nation for its bloodiest foreign war. "Remember Pearl Harbor" became World War II's most enduring slogan.
Scenes of devastation wrought by dive bombers and Zeroes are the movie's only memorable part. The filmmakers managed to capture the agony of sailors trapped in the hull of the U.S.S. Arizona and the chaos of an Army hospital as frantic nurses care for the critically wounded.
At the same time, besides obsequiously editing the version of the movie shown in Japan, Disney tries to exonerate the Japanese. Admiral Yamamoto, who planned the attack, is presented as a wistful figure. The admiral explains he really doesn't want to go to war with the "sleeping giant," but the U.S. oil embargo has forced his nation's hand.
The film fails to explain that our embargo was in response to almost a decade of Japanese aggression in the Far East, including atrocities to rival Nazi barbarism.
Still, we see dedicated Japanese pilots writing letters to their families and toasting the emperor with ceremonial sake before flying off to serve their country -- by strafing civilians and attacking a nation with whom they were officially at peace.
Outside of war scenes, the film's focus is the typical Hollywood love triangle resolved in the usual contrived fashion.
AWOL from "Pearl Harbor" is any expression of the patriotism that inspired the greatest generation. With newsreel footage as a backdrop, a voiceover by Franklin Roosevelt tells us the Germans and Japanese are bent on world conquest and we must join the Allies in a fight for survival.
But not one line of dialogue explains why America is worth fighting for. There are no appeals to our past. None of the characters notes that our freedoms are based on a noble vision and were secured by the sacrifices of generations of pioneers, settlers and soldiers. There isn't even a passing reference to America's greatness -- to our grand experiment with democracy -- the type of appeal Abraham Lincoln made so eloquently.
By contrast, movies of the World War II-era abounded in inspirational flag-waving. In "Sergeant York," the World War I hero, a religious pacifist, doesn't want to join the fighting over there. His base commander gives him a book of American history. In a moving scene, York is recruited for combat by the words of George Washington, Andrew Jackson and Daniel Webster.
But in Hollywood today, the American saga is reduced to "Amistad," "Dances with Wolves" and "Platoon."
The gloom even pervades Disney's premier theme park.
At Disney World, EPCOT has national pavilions for a dozen countries. All but one offers an upbeat assessment of the nations' history and heritage.
The one exception, as I ascertained during a 1994 visit, is a travesty called the American Experience, for which U.S. history consists of slavery, Wounded Knee and the Great Depression. The display is infused with the spirit of Oliver Stone and Jane Fonda, among other notable patriots.
While Americans of the World War II generation weren't vocal in expressions of patriotism, they were animated by a profound love of country. They were educated at a time when our schools still taught American history, including Valley Forge, the Alamo and Gettysburg.
They grew up in an era when Hollywood made movies like "Drums Along the Mohawk," "Young Mr. Lincoln" and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." The industry didn't have computerized special effects and $140-million budgets. It did have heart and soul and a sense of history as more than mere spectacle.
Disney should stick to visual candy of the animated variety. It doesn't do America
JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.