- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2001

The much-ballyhooed "Pearl Harbor" opens at theaters Memorial Day weekend with a script that keeps Japanese sensitivities in mind.
Disney backed the three-hour potential blockbuster to the tune of $135 million. And the Pentagon, choosy about the treatments it will endorse, reinforced the production. It supplied the Pearl Harbor location, airfields and offices. The carrier USS Constellation appears in the movies grand finale — a re-enactment of the daring launch of Jimmy Doolittles fleet of B-25 bombers that struck Tokyo on April 18, 1942.
But war veterans should not look to "Pearl Harbor" to demonize wartime Japan as did a string of earlier Hollywood productions.
In this politically correct era, with Japan now one of the United States strongest allies, the script focuses on the combatants heroism and a love story about a Navy nurse and her two Army Air Corps suitors.
"The filmmakers made a conscious decision to keep it very neutral," said Navy Lt. Melissa Schuermann, the Pentagons "Pearl Harbor" project officer. "That was their choice, although we were very sensitive to Japan."
Lt. Schuermann said there were even diplomatic overtures to Japan to make sure Tokyo did not interpret the project as Japan-bashing.
"[The film producers] were very center-of-the-road here," she said. "They werent trying to do it either side."
Of course, many war veterans argue that Japan was, in fact, the villain. On Dec. 7, 1941, Japans fascist, expansionist regime orchestrated a sneak attack that Sunday morning on an unprepared Pacific Fleet. More than 2,000 Americans were killed in the seminal event leading to the United States entering World War II.
But Pentagon officials say the importance of "Pearl Harbor" should not be lost in its "neutral" approach. The Pentagons chief film reviewer, Philip Strub, who recommends whether the military should support a production, said the movie will enlighten the American public. And, it will pay tribute to a dwindling number of Pearl Harbor survivors. Overall, the World War II generation is dying at the rate of 30,000 per month.
Said Mr. Strub, "We saw this first and foremost as an opportunity to inspire Americans, to motivate Americans, to influence Americans to find out more about this important historical event and the people who were part of this great historical event that took place at Pearl Harbor immediately after the attack and the Doolittle raid."
Mr. Strub said the Pentagon did not insist on the films neutral stance, but did welcome it.
"The Pentagon did not take an active role in trying to influence the portrayal of Japanese forces," he said. "But we noted from the outset that the film did not intend to demonize the Japanese military. We simply took note of that, and it certainly wasnt troubling to us. I think we would have been troubled if they tried to demonize them."
Still, Mr. Strub said, the Disney producers "make no bones about Japan being an aggressor. They make quite a point of Roosevelts historic speech. Its depicted with unabashed patriotic fervor."
A studio official yesterday vehemently denied a British tabloid report that Disney deleted a closing voice-over by the nurse from the version being shown in Japan. People who have viewed the movie say her remarks are a tribute to the fallen and could in no way be viewed as offensive to Japan.
The Pentagon provided Disney office and airfield space on Ford Island at Pearl Harbor, several ships in port and the Constellation (standing in for the USS Hornet) off the coast of San Diego. The military is billing producers about $1.5 million.
"Whenever the department works with a film company, there is no cost to the taxpayer," Lt. Schuermann said.
Mr. Strub, whose official title is special assistant for entertainment media, was among 2,000 government officials, top brass, Hollywood stars, sailors and World War II veterans who attended a premiere showing Monday night at Pearl Harbor on the flight deck of the carrier John C. Stennis.
In waters holding the sunken battleship USS Arizona, the Stennis hosted a mix of grizzled veterans and preened glitterrati.
The guests attended pre-screening parties, watched the action-filled movie and heard the playing of taps by Pearl Harbor survivor Richard Fiske.
Now 79, Mr. Fiske was a teen-age bugler aboard the USS West Virginia when Japanese torpedoes and bombs hit his battleship, killing 106 shipmates.
The former Marine and Air Force enlisted man harbors no ill feelings toward his one-time enemies. In fact, he helped organize in 1991 in Hawaii the first reunion of sorts of those who bombed Pearl Harbor and those who defended it.
He said he is not offended by the films neutral stance and uses the word "awesome" to describe director Michael Bays re-creation of the attack itself.
"That attack on Pearl Harbor was just awesome," he said. "When I first saw it, I just stood in my seat there and every time there was a bomb I would jerk. I just put myself right back in the thing. I just kind of relived it. Its awesome."


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