Movie Night: Flags of Our Fathers


Hero.  Heroic.  Heroism.  Bright shining words that we use with pride, words that give us a sense of hope and of safety.  Clint Eastwood’s film Flags of Our Fathers asks us to think about those words, what they mean and how that meaning differs from person to person, circumstance to circumstance, and era to era.

The film considers the famous photo of the Iwo Jima flag raising from a number of interesting and provocative angles.  Eastwood reveals to those who did not know (and I did not know) that the photo we have practically deified or certainly considered to represent all that is good and noble and honorable about America is actually a photo of a second flag being raised in that spot.  The men who raised the first flag walked up a dangerous mountain, uncertain at each step of what they might find or who might be shot.  The men who raised the second flag followed not long after (at least in the film), and the area had been pretty well cleared.  Now this is not to undermine what either group of men accomplished, but Eastwood wants us to know the photo is not all we thought it was as he explores the naivete and needs of the American public.

We need heroes.  We need hope.  We needed both in abundance during the Second World War, as now.  And the politicians, the public latched onto that photo, a fake in some ways, and imbued it with meaning.  And we do that, too, don’t we?  Imbue all sorts of things, people, images with meaning; it’s what makes humankind so wonderful.  And so awful.  Instead of finding out who the first group of men were, the military (in need of war bonds, funds for the war effort) and the civilian press went with the one they had and made heroic the men pictured, much to these men’s torment (and guilt).  Now, to my mind, there is no doubt that the men who raised both flags as well as the many hundreds of thousands of men and women not pictured were all heroes of the Second World War, but it does make you wonder what is going on, how we are being led down the garden path when it comes to the things we take so firmly to heart:  our heroes, our hope.

Eastwood asks us to consider the men who fought and died for us as heroes, and I think that we do, but he asks us to remember that they are in extreme circumstances, dependent the one on the other, and surrounded each day with the most obscene images of bodies ripped to pieces, blown apart, and the body parts of their buddies littering the ground they fight on and try to capture.  These men, Eastwood asserts at the end of his film, fight for their country, yes, but they fight first and foremost for their fellow soldiers, their buddies, their friends.  

Anyone upset by this or confused or disillusioned need only consider that big ideals like “country,” “patriotism,” “courage,” “valor,” “hero,” and even “God” (if He can be called an ideal) aren’t always in focus, aren’t always the driving force because they are so large, so big, so beyond easy contemplation, and so the men who fight for each other, for the guy in the next fox hole or behind them in line, to my mind, fight for us all, that we might hold on to some part of our hope.  And can there be anything more heroic than that?



6 thoughts on “Movie Night: Flags of Our Fathers

  1. Phewwww…amber wipes swet off brow and starts thinking of response….

    Right here goes.

    When I see this picture, I immediately think of the similar picture of 9/11 and the firemen. Both very moving and stirring images. Imagines that strengthen my faith in our country and the values I preceive our government to have. I am no one’s fool and know that both photos were “photo ops”. Photos generated to increase moral and belief in a cause. I say more power to any photos that can boost the countrie’s moral and strengthen our beliefs and resolve.

    Does it matter that another flag was raised first. No not to me. Does it matter that it was not an american flag. No not to me. Because the symbolism is that we were there. Now that I know, it was appropriate our flag was not there first as it was not our fight.

    Our heros…hmmm…this will not be popular but service men and women are not my heros. Read on before you judge me. A hero is by defination a person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life. I have no heros. War is so common place that I feel I am desensitised to it all. Its an everyday occurance and there is no draft. People go willingly into the armed forces and know they may face battle and death. Now if we talk about firemen and policemen, I might find a hero or two. Perhaps the firemen that were at 9/11 or the local policemen who ran into a burning building to save a puppy. Something more real, more close to home and outside of the ordinary. I hope I am getting my point across here. Don’t get me wrong service men and woman are great for deciding to go fight for our country and I feel for the families they leave behind. But hero…no not for me.

    The picture above does not say anything to me about service men and woman. Its makes me think of our country and our drive to conquer good over evil.

    Right, I am sure to get a busted ear over my views here….

  2. Let me see now. How can I make your blog even more contraversial than Amber already has? I have a mixed opinion about our soldiers fighting right now a battle against terrorism in another country. True there is not draft and true these boys sign up willingly? They more than likely are very aggressively sought after by neanderthal recuiters even before they graduate from high school. Still wet behind the ears and idealistic it is easy for these seasond ape men to manipulate and play on their fears and their sense of patriotism. So these young boys with only a 6 week basic training program go to fight against people who will not fight fair. They are taught not to. They are taught to kill as many of the enemy as they can even when it means suicide for them. I feel grief for these young tender boys who are taught to kill or be killed. I feel sorrow for the tenderness of their hearts to be hardended and their souls turned into killing machines. God help the poet or the artist or the musician when their creativitiy consists of how to properly keept heir guns clean and in working order and when they come off the battlefield worn and tired and scared and jaded because of what they have witnessed. Because then their only escape temporarily is the haze that overtakes them as they swill down about a case of beer or a fifth or two of something more substantial. Because they find themselves in a war they had no idea would be this bad and all they want to do is come home. The real heros to me are the ones who wait patiently and faitfully for thier sons, brothers, husbsands, and friends to come home. The real heros pray for their safety. The real heros raise their children when their fathers have fallen in battle. The real heros will fight against the tyranny that this governement has become..untill that day when we will win our country and our freedom back. The real war is right on our doorstep and the heros I see are the ones whos eyes are open.

  3. This is a wonderful blog. It is hard to express my thoughts and feelings about the picture and the subject of heroes.
    I Know when I see a picture like the one above I think of my son. I pray that he will never have to go to fight and kill anyone. I thank god that these soldiers have fought to keep the peace and preserve our freedoms. I know that many of our soldiers today volunteer for service. But to me if they are fighting for my sons freedom and safety than they are heroes in my eyes. I can not imagine having to go through what they have to go through.
    I think everyone has a hero inside of them. I think it is up to the individual if they want to show their hero.I also think a Hero is someone who does not need praise or recognition. Someone who performs a service because it is needed. Because it is the right thing to do.
    I was aware that the picture above was not the original. To me that does not matter. I could not tell you the names of the soldiers.But I can tell you what the picture means to me. I think this was what pictures of this nature are intended to do.

  4. I am going to mix it up even more. I recently photographed the original sculpture that the one in Arlington was made from. It is located in Harlingen, Texas at the military academy. Apparently this moved so many people not only by the pic but the fact that that several men who did this photo died within weeks of the photograph, still at war, so some were truly heroes. You can find more info on my website at I have never seen the Clint Eastwood movie, so I will have to check it out. Thanks Fuzzy!

  5. Wow! This is an amazing and very very welcome surprise! I love that you guys have written such extensive and thoughtful comments, and I’ll try to respond to each in full.

    BBB/RLF/BFF–I don’t think there is anything wrong with your view of a hero; indeed, in some ways, I agree with you. A hero seems to be someone in an extraordinary situation doing the extraordinary, and if we see war as ordinary . . . well, it follows. Policemen and fire fighters definitely don’t join up thinking that they’ll never be injured or killed in the line of duty; I think that’s what makes them heroic, as well, that they choose a career to help people, knowing that it puts themselves in harm’s way. And I just LOVE the reference you make to the 9/11 pic; wish I’d thought of it and included it in my blog post!! Huggs and love to you, Amber! I always love hearing what you have to say.

    Aw, Mavis, how beautifully and passionately written!! I felt a whole ground swell of emotion as I read what you had to say, and I am thunderstruck by you. The only thing I have to say is really speculation more than anything (reaches for a glass of wine); I know that some of my very favorite poetry (and yours) came out of the Great War and that some of those soldier poets signed up (somewhat willingly, though through much coersion from groups like the White Feather ladies), but I do wonder how many of our poets, artists, and other artistic souls are rushing for the war. I hope not that many (for several reasons, some you may find insulting, and the very last thing I want is to insult you!!).

    Thanks, Bert! I definitely understand your thoughts and concerns as coming from a maternal perspective and thinking about Dylan, that really brings home Mavis’ point about the heroes being the ones who pray and wait and carry on at home (did you two plan that? wink and a smile). It’s original enough of a photo, the second American flag–this one in the photo–seems to have been raised within hours of the first. And the intent of such photos is one of the main themes of Eastwood’s film, have you seen it yet?

    Well, Scarlett, I sure hope I didn’t ruin the film for you; my whole blog is a bit of a spoiler, but there is so much to see and understand and take from this film that it’d be difficult to address it all in one brief entry. And definitely thanks for that link!

    Huggs to you all!! You’ve each given me something new to think about, and you’ve all shown that part of Eastwood’s premise (though not original to him, of course) that we need heroes is so very true.

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