Monday, June 11, 2007

Flags of Our Fathers - Heroes or Celebrities?

I just finished reading the best book I have read in years. It was a bestseller a few years ago and was made into a movie for which director, Clint Eastwood, won an academy award. The book is the story of the six men photographed raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima in 1945. The author is the son of the last surviving one of the six photographed soldiers.

Of course, I had seen this photograph many times, and I knew quite a bit of the history of the battle. After all, I was born just two weeks before the "day of infamy" at Pearl Harbor; and my very young father was a Marine who fought in the South Pacific during the time period of the events at Iwo Jima. In fact, I believe he was at Iwo Jima, just thankfully not during those 34 days of the intense battle that cost the Marines so many fatalities and injuries. I was not, however, at all cognizant of the importance of the battle at Iwo Jima or of the fervor caused in the U.S. by the photograph taken when the flag was raised there.

This book tells the story of each of the six photographed Marines from his childhood, through the war, and his post-war celebrity; and it tells of the lifelong effects of the war and the photograph on their lives.

One of the most thought-provoking passages in the book was a discussion of the difference between "heroes" and "celebrities." (Found in chapter 14)

James Bradley writes of finding, after his father's death, an old newspaper article:

It screamed, "You've seen the photo, you've heard him on the radio, now in person in Milwaukee County Stadium, see Iwo Jima hero John H. Bradley!"

....Today the word "hero" has been diminished, confused with "celebrity." .....
Celebrities seek fame. They take actions to get attention. Most often, the actions they take have no moral content. Heroes are heroes because they have risked something to help others. Their actions involve courage. .... However he valued or devalued his own achievement, it did stand as an accomplishment....

...The moment that saddled my father with the label of "hero" contained no action worthy of remembering.....the raising of that pole was as forgettable as tying the laces of his boots.

....The irony is, of course, that Doc Bradley was indeed a hero on Iwo Jima -- many times over. the flagraising, in fact ,might be seen as one of the few moments in which he was NOT acting heroically.

I encourage you to read this book. I could hardly put the 500-plus page book down once I started reading it.

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