Iwo Jima


I watched Letters From Iwo Jima earlier tonight. As one of two movies about the same battle, this one from the Japanese perspective, it is a great example of post-modernist approaches going mainstream. Why show just one perspective, when there are – at least – two major ones, and then several perspectives within each of those? 

This is especially important when it comes to situations where it is easy to dehumanize the other, such as war. In this case, it took six decades to get enough distance to show the human face of the enemy, and the question is, can we do this earlier, maybe even as it happens? 

The standard argument against humanizing the enemy is that it will soften our resolve and – in war – that of our soldiers. But dehumanizing others have a cost as well, which may well go deeper and last longer. (It leads to actions that erodes respect, and the very act of dehumanizing creates wounds in ourselves.)  And there is no reason why humanizing others should interfere with decisive action. While it, hopefully, takes the edge off blind reactivity and irrational choices and actions, it may also give us valuable insights allowing for more effective strategies in dealing with them. 

So why not write news stories and make movies that shows the human face of our enemy today, such as Muslim extremists, or those who are scapegoated such as Muslim fundamentalists or Muslims in general. They act on what seems right to them, and any of us would easily do the same if we had their background and experiences.  

Many of course do tell those stories, including mainstream media in many western countries showing, for instance, the human side of the Iraqis during the Iraqi war and its aftermath. (Much more so in my home country than here in the US.) 

As usual, there is a practice aspect here as well. What happens when I dehumanize others? What does it do to me and how I relate to others in general? What beliefs do I find behind it? What beliefs about the other? What do I fear would happen if I didn’t dehumanize? That I would become like them? (Is it true? Is it true that I am not already?) That my actions would be less effective? Is it true? What happens when I hold onto and act on those beliefs? Who would I be without them, and how would I act? Can I find in myself what I see in the other? Can I see it, with specific examples? Can I feel it in my body? Can I notice it as it happens, including as I dehumanize others – even slightly? 


Initial outline….

  • letters from iwo jima
    • present both sides, the human side of both sides
      • present the human side of the other, the enemy (even as is obviously aimed – partly -at a US audience, with two of the “good” officers having lived in the US for a while)
      • still do what need to do, but less from reactiveness, less dehumanization 
      • easy to do decades after, but can also do as it happens, today w. taliban, al qaeda (media in my home country, much better job at showing the human side of the “other”, including the “enemy”)