IT IS TIME to rescue The Great Raid.
The Great Raid is in theaters now, though it may not be for long unless movie-going America quickly realizes that there is a wonderful and inspiring film in its midst, one that celebrates courage, sacrifice and endurance, and which unabashedly proclaims that hope (plus superior firepower and tactical surprise) can conquer all. It is a movie which deserves a vast and appreciative audience.
It is 1945, and Douglas MacArthur has returned to the Philippines. More than 500 American survivors of the Bataan Death March languish at the Cabanatuan prison camp, and the Japanese plan to exterminate them, rather than allow them to survive and bear witness to Japanese war crimes. The men of America's untested 6th Army Ranger Battalion set out to save these prisoners. This exceptional movie tells the stories of the warriors who went to save the captives, the prisoners who endured unspeakable cruelty, and the Filipino resistance that came to the aid of both.
As with Saving Private Ryan, audiences have been lingering at the end of the film. There is spontaneous applause. And there are tears. The generation that fought to liberate the Philippines is passing away, but those who survive and the best of their children and grandchildren are appreciating the movie.
The Great Raid has received favorable reviews from esteemed and honest critics such as Michael Medved and Roger Ebert. But the bulk of the high-brow reviewers have rejected the movie. The New York Times's Stephen Holden represented the caucus of the dismissive when he wrote that "it is not the actors' fault that their characters fail to establish any emotional connection; they aren't given the words for the task." Holden damned the film as "a tedious World War II epic that slogs across the screen like a forced march in quicksand," and slammed it for "its scenes of torture and murder [which] unapologetically revive the uncomfortable stereotype of the Japanese soldier as a sadistic, slant-eyed fiend."
Holden isn't reviewing a movie; he's defending his own politics, as he's done before. In an October 2003 review of the documentary Fog of War about former Kennedy/Johnson administration Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Holden rebuked McNamara for serving during World War II under Gen. Curtis LeMay, thus being "part of the team that made the decision to firebomb 67 Japanese cities, killing large numbers of civilians. In Tokyo alone, more than 100,000 civilians died one night in March 1945." It is not difficult to conclude that any war movie that celebrates American resolve while neglecting to savage American hubris and American cruelty is going to fare very poorly at Mr. Holden's hands. This is the political agenda that The Great Raid is up against, and it is not limited to the New York Times and Stephen Holden. To praise The Great Raid is to praise America, and that's too much to ask of many film critics, especially in this era of the global war against terror.
Director John Dahl's dad served in the Philippines, and he told me that as he came to understand the story of The Great Raid, he also came to realize--again--the incredible modesty of the generation that beat back Hitler and Tojo. So modest are they that they have refused to proclaim their stories. We are lucky that directors such as Spielberg and Dahl have come along to do it for them.
The West is once again under siege, as it has been in the past and will be again in the future. Brave men have always risen up to defend the West--even when the odds were long--and to take the necessary but often harsh measures required to preserve civilization. Wars to preserve freedom can require terrible, but just, measures. Enemies of freedom can be the worst sort of human beings, and their defeat may indeed require devastating blows.
Now in the middle of another such struggle a movie has arrived which celebrates the very virtues that allow free men to survive, and many in the chattering class have dismissed it as crude and "disconnected" from their emotions.
"The secret to happiness is freedom," wrote Thucydides. "And the secret to freedom is courage."
Courage is on display in The Great Raid.
Celebrate courage and thus freedom. Take everyone you know to see The Great Raid.
Hugh Hewitt is the host of a nationally syndicated radio show, and author most recently of Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That is Changing Your World. His daily blog can be found at HughHewitt.com.