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Nick Nolte as Lieutenant Colonel Tall in The Thin Red Line Merle W. Wallace easy nostalgia, the soothing nostrum of a nice little history lesson served up by syrupy Spielberg. The film compresses the American combat experience on Guadalcanal six months of fighting from August 1942 through February 1943 into an indeterminate space of time. The fighting was prolonged and bloody. American casualties included 1,600 dead and 4,245 wounded; Japanese, nearly 15,000 dead \(another oner. Malick chooses to concentrate the combat sequences on the daunting task of taking out some machine gun bunkers hidden in heavy grass on a ridge and later, on the overrunning of a Japanese camp, and a third sequence along a river. Such fighting occurred on Guadalcanal, as This Is Guadalcanal: The Original _Combat Photography makes evident, but the main fighting was at night and in the terrifying form of Banzai attacks all-out charges by Japanese soldiers that caused every Ameri can who ever witnessed them to think of the word “fanatical.” Historians today speak of Japanese bravery, but at the time the American view was more like astonishment. Halfway through the film, Malick’s Japanese soldiers are faceless riflemen or machinegunners, but during the attack on the camp the Japanese suddenly begin to seem like the innocent Sioux in Little Big Man, overrun by powerful and relentless American forces. American soldiers exhibit some brutality toward the Japanese in the film, but there is little sense of the lengths to which each side actually went in a war without mercy. The Americans felt that the Japanese started the atrocity stuff, and stories of beheadings and ghastly mutilations of Americans circulated among the soldiers. They had big-picture history, too the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Bataan Death March to provide a context for Japanese ferocity encountered on island after island. E. B. Sledge, for example, in With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, recorded the following from his own observation: “In disbelief I stared at the face as I realized that the Japanese had cut off the dead Marine’s penis and stuffed it into his mouth.” Sledge’s book, which Paul Fussell calls “one of the finest memoirs to emerge from any war,” is filled with details of barbaric behavior by the Japanese. But he also notes American barbarities, concluding: “The fierce struggle for survival in the abyss of Peleliu eroded the veneer of civilization and made savages of us all.” It was a very nasty war, and Malick is wrong not to depict the Japanese more accurately. For corollary information on Japanese military practices, see Iris Chang’s recent book, The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust, which contains photographs of Chinese women with bayonets thrust into their genitalia. Americans tended to collect parts of the dead, including gold teeth and enemy skulls. One such skull, “found on New Guinea” by See “World War II,” page 31 FEBRUARY 5. 1999 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 27 -imommourmilmesw ,Asmorrawks 11