By Barbara DeSoto
“The Sands of Iwo Jima”
First-floor HBLL Auditorium
Admission is free.
John Wayne”s portayal of Sgt. John Stryker in “The Sands of Iwo Jima” was so important to his career that when his handprints and footprints were immortalized in front of Grauman”s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, sand was imported from the island of Iwo Jima and mixed into the concrete.
In honor of Memorial Day, the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Motion Picture Archive will screen “The Sands of Iwo Jima” tonight. The classic World War II film, made in 1949, wasn”t just a boon for Wayne”s career. It also changed American culture and views toward war with its portrayal of the U.S. Marine assault on Mt. Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima in February 1945 – an important strategic part of the United States” Pacific campaign.
“It is a historical time capsule as well as an entertaining war movie,” said James D”Arc, curator of the Motion Picture Archive in the Harold B. Lee Library.
D”Arc said the soldiers immortalized in the Washington, D.C., monument planting the U.S. flag on Mt. Suribachi portray themselves in the film.
The film also helped define the Marine Corps as a military body, said Mark Grandstaff, associate professor of history.
“At the time, there was confusion about what role it would play in the postwar period,” Grandstaff said. “Its identity was not as defined as it is today. Consequently, one of the film”s objectives was to help shape that identity and serve as a recruiting device. It defines what it means to be a Marine, what it means to be a man.”
D”Arc described “The Sands of Iwo Jima” as an atypical war film.
“It”s not the kind of war film where [the lead character] mops up the enemy and wins the war single-handedly,” D”Arc said. “[Styrker]”s a conflicted individual who loves his men, but knows he has to treat them tough.”
Stryker”s toughness and raw exterior not only defined the post-World War II Marine Corps, but also had an influence on young men and soldiers of future generations.
“In the 1950s and ”60s, men whom I have interviewed remembered growing up hoping to be like John Wayne and Sgt Stryker,” Grandstaff said. “Unfortunately, few can live up to the celluloid hero in the aftermath of Vietnam. The same young men recognized that they could not be like John Wayne, and it proved disillusioning to many that they couldn”t be like their fathers.”
Grandstaff acknowledged Styker as a tragic character who is only good at warfare and not at life or relationships.
“On the other hand, the young dissident Marine played by John Agar is the heroic protagonist. His journey speaks to a new type of man, tempered by war but still willing to teach Shakespeare to his son,” Grandstaff said. “Indeed, films like ”The Sands of Iwo Jima” made well after the war began to redefine the meaning of World War II and its legacy.”
America”s past wars still leave an impact today, especially on American attitudes toward recent and present military operations.
Grandstaff said because of the legacy of Vietnam, we are told we must connect support of the troops with support for the war, but that they are not necessarily inseparable.
In a political climate where approval for the war in Iraq is dropping, “The Sands of Iwo Jima” still raises questions about patriotism, war and the idea of the American soldier.
According to a recent ABC News poll, the number of Americans who still feel that the cost-benefit ratio makes the Iraq War worth fighting has decreased. In 2003, 70 percent thought the war was worth fighting and 27 percent thought it was not. The most recent polls, from May 2006, show that 37 percent think it is worth fighting while 62 percent think it is not.
“Maybe that is the ultimate lesson we glean from ”The Sands of Iwo Jima:” that the flag flies at its noblest when supported by the hands of people who understand what they are truly dying for,” Grandstaff said. “Heroes, patriotism and political agendas are not mutually inclusive.”