“War is hell.”
What will it take for us to learn that war is ridiculous? Humanity’s greatest teachers, including Jesus Christ himself, have told us as much; but generation after generation, we continue to fight, hate, and make war on each other.
When will we ever learn?
Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima gives us one more chance to learn this lesson. This film chronicles the World War II battle (memorable to most of us as the time when the infamous ‘raising of the flag’ photograph was taken) from the Japanese point of view.
Telling it from Japan’s perspective gives us a chance to see war through the “enemy’s eyes.” In most World War II dramas, the Germans and Japanese are usually portrayed as faceless bad guys; but in this movie, we see the humanity of these soldiers including their struggles, their homesickness, and their compassion.
Our challenge in any conflict, from war to simple disagreements, is seeing the argument from the other side. Putting ourselves in another’s shoes can be hard to do, but even harder when that other person is someone you’re angry at (or in global affairs, someone you’re at war with). Regardless of difficulty, this is the gospel challenge we are given.
The Letters from Iwo Jima gives us a chance to do just that.
Upon leaving the movie theatre, will we get the point? Will we see that war is never an option for those who truly seek the Reign of God?
When we see World War II from the other side (as God sees all things: from all sides), we see just how ridiculous it is to fight. There is one scene in the film when the Japanese soldiers holed up on the island encounter a wounded American G.I. They see he’s not a savage, that the letter he holds in his pocket is a note from his mother (reminding them of their own mothers and families), and that his charge is simply “to do what is right.” In this scene, the Japanese fighters realize how futile and silly this war is, that the Americans on the beach of Iwo Jima aren’t all that different than them.
The film goes over this battle through the words of the letters that the soldiers write home, which are very much like the American’s letter from mom. It gives us a sense of humanity in an inhuman act of killing one another.
It is also revealing that, sixty years later, Americans and Japanese are good friends and international allies. Looking back, it really seems silly that we spent all that time trying to murder each other.
After a long military career, even belligerent U.S. General Patton had to confess, “War is hell.” War is truly the opposite experience of heaven and the Reign of God “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Today we are engaged in yet another senseless war. Americans are being told once again that our enemies overseas are savage and evil. We are being told that the lives of their former leaders (including Saddam Hussein) are worthless, ones which we can easily dispose of in routine hangings and executions. But how might God see this war and how might he see the other side?
I have a feeling that God sees each one of them as his beloved creation, and every time one of them dies at our hands (or at their own), his heart breaks, just as it would break at the death of one of our own American soldiers.
If only our political leaders would see them as God sees them.
If only the American public would see them as God sees them.
I pray that we will stop this senseless, ridiculous war, that we will work for peace and understanding, diplomacy and dialogue with all God's people. I pray that I will have the strength to stand up for the gospel, that others will join me, and that war is no more. I pray that we can elect leaders who will work for peace and that we might even become those leaders.
This movie will make us uncomfortable with war and all the death that comes from it. This movie will show us war through another’s eyes and that those eyes are just as human are our own. This movie will give us a golden opportunity to learn one more time the lesson of peace proclaimed by Christ and echoed by the greatest religious leaders of human history.
Will we ever learn? Will this movie help us learn? It helped me. I hope it helps you, too.