I recently watched 'Flags Of Our Fathers', a WWII tale of the "heroes" who raised the (second) flag at Iwo Jima. This was not a feel-good film - and it wasn't because of the blood and gore, either. We had plenty of that in 'Saving Private Ryan' which was nothing but a feel-good film, despite the severed limbs and high body count. 'Flags' was a scrutiny of a single event involving a small group of soldiers which highlighted all the worst parts of any war. The politicking, manipulation of the media, manipulation of the country's perspective, the outrageous funding efforts and the government's lack of compassion for the individuals.
My husband asked what I thought of this movie and my first thought was not about any of that. It was that a film like that could not have been made much earlier than now and been acclaimed. It has been more than 60 years since Iwo Jima and most of the people who remember it firsthand have died. So now, a movie that exposes the less-glamorous aspects of that particular war can be watched without it feeling like ripping a scab off a wound. World War II was, after all, our most popular war.
Yesterday was Holocaust Remembrance Day in the USA. I remember watching the miniseries 'Holocaust' on TV when I was a girl in 1978. Even though I was thirteen and had no family affected by that horror, I recall how controversial it was and how hard it was for Americans to watch. Persons personally affected by the Holocaust argued that it trivialized the tragedy, while supporters say it increased Holocaust awareness and helped it not to be forgotten. I believe it was simply too soon. Even though thirty years had passed, emotions still ran high.
In marked contrast, many all-too-realistic films have been made about our least-popular war, Vietnam. I still know many Vietnam vets and most do not watch any of those movies. It's too soon for them. Others watch them and the watching stokes their still-simmering anger about the futility of it all. No efforts ever made us feel good about Vietnam.
Lately, writers and film makers have been trying, tentatively in most cases, to create stories around the events of September 11, 2001. Those closest to the events still cry "too soon". Others argue that companies are cashing in on the tragedy, that these works trivialize the event. While this was a very personal attack for the US and it was certainly a senseless tragedy, in terms of scale only, it was not our most devastating loss. In terms of scale, it is on par with Pearl Harbor. It has been 65 years since Pearl Harbor and I have to tell my children every year what it was, because it isn't real to them as it wasn't real to me. It is history.
It has only been six years since 9/11. Should we, as writers, wait another fifty years before we create tales about it? Wait until the emotion fades, until we gain perspective? Until we see whether our ongoing war is among the most or least popular? Or is there something to be gained from plumbing what will someday be "history" for our readers today?