"Pearl Harbor": Fact vs. Fiction

Article excerpt

Hollywood's latest take on Dec. 7, 1941, proves to be rooted in drama, rather than reality. The 2,403 Americans killed there deserve to be remembered as the events truly unfolded.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor has been on many minds of late, as the Sept. 11 attacks have been compared to it, and its 60th anniversary is on the 7th. Additionally, on this past Memorial Day Disney released its cinematic version of the "day that will live in infamy."

The film has riled critics of Hollywood's historical fiction, who point out its factual errors and distortions. Larry Suid, historian and war movie critic, says he gathered "more than five full pages of historical and factual errors." He adds: "The film got very little right except that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7"

Some, like Donald Goldstein, author of six books on the attack, are more sympathetic. "It's not that bad," he said. "But they got caught between good grammar and good taste: Do you want a good love story or a completely accurate film?"

Other than the primary event, the movie gets some things right. For instance, the two main heroes of the story are loosely based on two U.S. Army Air Forces pilots, Kenneth Taylor and George Welch. These two did get into the air during the attack and shot down several Japanese planes, as the movie depicted.

American pilots did serve in Britain's Eagle squadrons before the U.S. entered the war, as one of the movie heroes does. (But they would have had to resign their U.S. commissions to do so, which the movies hero does not.)

Nurses did use the crude methods the movie nurses do, such as marking patients with lipstick and using Coke bottles to hold donated blood.

Doris (Dorie) Miller was the USS West Virginia's boxing champion who was heroically depicted in the movie for firing on the enemy and being the first black American to earn the Navy Cross.

Despite these facts, however, many details were embellished, added or changed to make the movie more dramatic. And at the same time, they make the movie historically inaccurate.

So why are these historical inaccuracies important? John W. Dower of the New York Times believes that "while it is true that Hollywood's business is to entertain, it is also true that many people now get their knowledge of war and history in general from the movies."

Generally, school history books don't cover events in great depth because they have so many to cover. So details about Pearl Harbor or Doolittle's raid are relatively unknown to younger generations.

"Young people get more of their information from rock lyrics, MTV, videos and movies than from books or teachers," wrote Suzanne Fields in the Washington Times. "We cheat them if they're not taught to distinguish between creative corn and accurate chronicle. …