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Dear Home: Letters from World War Il I Landon Philip J. Landon University of Maryland, Baltimore County Dear Home: Letters from World War II The History Channel, Fall 1999. Produced by History Television Network (HTV) Productions Dear Home: Letters from World War II joins the legion ofWorld War II documentaries which air regularly on the History Channel. Letters linking fighting men with their distant homes have long been familiar images in both documentaries and feature films devoted to what Studs Terkle described as "the last good war." In Dear Home these letters , written by men and women from all the services, have been selected to represent a cross-section of American society . We hear, among the voices in these letters, the loneliness of a teen-aged Marine from Tennessee, the anxiety of a mother whose son was aboard the battleship West Virginia at Pearl Harbor, an ROTC lieutenant fighting in southern France, a fighter pilot in the South Pacific. The letters are read against a background of familiar World War II film footage, which provides their historical context and thus offers viewers an encapsulated version of the entire War. The first letters cover life in various training camps where new recruits learn the ways of military life as the country prepares for war. Then come accounts ofbeing shipped to the battlefronts and of the bitter fighting on New Guinea, in Italy, across Europe, and at Okinawa. The film culminates with descriptions ofvictory celebrations and the dreams of returning home. The letters are interwoven so that they not only offer a portrait of America at war, but they also serve as the collective voice of the nation itself. The service men heard in Dear Home, like the bomber crews and infantry squads of a Hollywood war film, become the emblem ofa united country engaged in a struggle to preserve democratic ideals. The sequence ofimages unfolding behind the carefully edited letters do a fine job of creating narrative and thematic unity, but they also leave the impression that the film is less about the War itself than it is about the idealized mythological history ofthat war. Watching it is a bit like watching John Huston's documentary account of the war in Italy, The Battle ofSan Pietro (1945), after it had been reworked by Norman Rockwell. The "home" of Dear Home is uniformly white and almost exclusively middle-class. The family photos and home movies evoke the America of a Frank Capra film. One shot of a mother in her kitchen worrying about the fate ofher son, an obvious re-enactment, appears suspiciously similar to a dramatic moment in Saving Private Ryan (1998) where we see Mrs. Ryan standing at the kitchen sink just before she learns of her sons' deaths. Occasional shots of black soldiers never mention military segregation, and, by alternating these images with those ofwhite servicemen, the documentary suggests just the opposite. Except for the stark images of the dead and wounded, which do emphasize the War's terrible cost, Dear Home offers viewers World War II from an interesting perspective, but a perspective refracted through the lenses of Hollywood - "Karl Marx goes West" continued from page 73 In their Marxist interpretation of American history, these films offer a different perspective from Classical Hollywood Westerns. They will make a valuable addition to any class on the American West. But in their emphatic claim for historical truth they may merely replace one myth with another . They need to be handled with just as much critical caution as any other Western. - "Jun Xing" continued from page 85 He could have explored some controversies like the representation of Indian men in Mississippi Másala. All in all this is an important contribution to Asian American cinema that brings the once obscure cultural practices to the forefront. Most important, Xing presents many difficult questions that have yet to be answered. As we grapple with them, his book is an encyclopedic reference on which to build. Vol. 30.1 (March, 2000) | 79 ...


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