It may seem odd or grim that I’ve been binging on World War II documentaries lately. The first few were true documentary series with film footage from the time across many episodes and mostly focused on the Pacific theatre of war. The current HBO MAX 10-episode mini-series, The Pacific, is an amazing production recreated with actors and is extremely period-accurate and realistic. Unlike many Hollywood war movies, this series shows what it probably really was like: the frightened kids, poor logistics, horrible conditions, unfathomable carnage, and more luck to survive it than mere bravado.
My father was a career naval officer, serving near the end of the war, and later as a pilot during the Korean War aboard a carrier in the north Pacific, then held a desk job until he retired when I was in high school. Since we lived in base housing throughout my growing up, my friends and I didn’t play cowboys and Indians, we played soldiers. Some of my fond memories as a 10-year-old living on the base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were those moments after DEFEX (defense exercises) when my buddies and I would go out exploring and find cool stuff left or lost by the soldiers. And while this isn’t a pro-war upbringing story, it is one of how WWII was the last war we fought united in a just cause. Later in high school I would forget those days playing soldier and peacefully protest our Vietnam War involvement (and escaped getting drafted).
Why I found these long documentaries and mini-series interesting about an insanely brutal conflict fought over 80 years ago with so much death and waste, was a bit of a mystery. I realized around the sixth The Pacific episode there was a parallel in deaths and loss, and a nation’s citizen involvement, between World War II and our current pandemic war. Both were times of collectively fighting a known enemy, but in WWII our foes were visible, whereas our pandemic war’s enemy is invisible.
Back in the ‘40s, patriotism pulsed strongly across America and played a significant part in why we prevailed. Now it seems we battle both the unseen enemy and a portion of our society who deny the science and ignore the rules of engagement that could help us win this war sooner. Back then, we eventually prevailed from superior manufacturing and technology. Today we are beginning to use the only “bullet” we have to fight this invisible invader: vaccines for the masses. Yet we may only prevail if we can unite under a common cause and be willing to do everything to keep ourselves safe and those around us.
After WWII, those who survived and returned had a hero’s welcome, but many returned scarred in unseen ways. We who hope to survive this current war will get to embrace a new “normal.” Those whose denial and selfish behavior contributed to themselves or others to suffer or die, sadly will probably carry the unseen scars of this pandemic war for the rest of their lives.