The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, July 29, 2001
Hollywood hues

A wartime tale of love & heroism
Rupert Butler

ON December 8, 1941, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt told Congress, "Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan."

Ben Affleck and Kate Beckinsale in Pearl Harbor
Ben Affleck and Kate Beckinsale in Pearl Harbor

The Japanese attack jolted America from peaceful isolationism to total war and altered the course of world history.

Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, Pearl Harbor focuses on two daring young pilots, played by Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett, and a nurse, played by Kate Beckinsale. It is a tale of catastrophic defeat, heroic victory, personal courage and overwhelming love set against a stunning backdrop of spectacular wartime action.

"Pearl Harbor is certainly a seminal event in history," says Bruckheimer. "It stands out as one of America’s worst tragedies, but it also reminds us that we can rise from the ashes and go on to triumph."

This film is a departure for us. Although it’s story of friendship and romance, overall it is a serious piece about the hearts of men and women, military and civilian, who lived through this period. Pearl Harbor galvanised the American people. Americans were not prepared for war. Boys became men overnight and nothing would ever be the same again.


"The Japanese as well were fighting for the survival of their homeland. You cannot forget there was an oil embargo against Japan, and they felt they had to do something drastic. As is the case with many military expeditions, the Japanese soldiers did not know where they were headed until their mission was well under way. "Taking all this into consideration, we wanted to create an entertaining movie, but moreover we wanted to capture the essence of that time in hopes of honouring those brave people."

Ben Affleck, now established as one of Hollywood’s top actors, echoes Bruckheimer’s sentiments. "I wouldn’t have taken the role if I thought the film was jingoistic propaganda," he says. "We tried to be fair and honest. The Japanese are presented as honourable people with a certain point of view. They felt threatened by the United States and did what they felt they had to do at the time. We have a great responsibility to honour all the parties involved."

With outstanding performances by Affleck, Hartnett and Beckinsale, plus solid support from a respected cast, including Alec Baldwin, Jon Voight, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Dan Aykroyd, Pearl Harbor is not to be missed.

To all Americans, it is the day in their history that will forever "live in infamy" the attack by Japanese forces on Pearl Harbor during World War II, spearheading a massive armed offensive to obliterate the might of US arms throughout the Pacific.

On Sunday, December 7, 1941, that single assault on the harbour in the Hawaiian island of Oahu killed 2,400 US servicemen and united a country hitherto unenthusiastic at the prospect of war. It was to take nearly four years of hard fighting before the Americans would leave the Pacific.

And now 60 years later, they are coming back. The occasion is the premiere of Pearl Harbor, a multi-million dollar film re-enactment of the attack. The premiere is being held in Pearl Harbor itself on a US nuclear aircraft carrier, complete with a Hawaiian choir.

In the real-life drama of Pearl, the central figure in the opening phase was Lieutenant William W. Outerbridge on duty aboard the patrolling destroyer USS Ward. Dawn was barely breaking on the day of the onslaught when Outerbridge spotted the outline of a small dark submarine conning tower to his starboard side. The progress of the submarine was clearly towards Pearl’s anchorage — orders passed speedily to Ward’s main guns which opened fire. The vessel, its conning tower struck, sank from sight. It was just the beginning. All too soon Washington and London were being flooded with reports of a succession of Japanese attacks.

Within hours and without any declaration of war, the Japanese had destroyed more than 500 US and British aircraft in the Pacific and Far East. All eight of the US Pacific Fleet’s battleships in Pearl Harbor had been destroyed. All but total dominance by Japanese forces of the air and sea extended eventually to Australia’s northern coast.

Naval and air men on Pearl, which had employed only the most primitive radar equipment, had been queuing for breakfast outside the mess huts and were momentarily paralysed, at first not taking in the tell-tale crimson sun insignia of the aircraft arrowing towards them. From his base overlooking Pearl Harbor, Commander Vincent Murphy, the Duty Officer, gasped down the phone to Admiral Husband E Kimmell, the Pacific Fleet’s Commander-in-Chief: "The Japanese are attacking Pearl Harbor, and this is no drill."

By the end of the day, the Americans had suffered 2,403 deaths, of which, 2,008 were from the navy.

But by now the Americans had recovered and the riposte was swift. Shortly before 1 pm on Monday, December 8, Roosevelt addressed Congress and the Supreme Court, asking Congress to declare war. (AF)