Everything I know about World War II I learned from Steven Spielberg. This hard fact came to me last night when I was watching the new HBO mini-series "The Pacific" which was produced by Steven Spielberg. And while I can't say I can pick a better director to shape how we view history (Sorry Michael Bay, Pearl Harbor doesn't cut it), the fact that one person is shaping how we view such a huge part of history is a little unsettling.
One look at Spielberg's filmography reveals that he has had a hand in almost every great WWII film or mini-series. Here is the line up:
Schindler's List (Director)
Saving Private Ryan (Director)
Band of Brothers (Producer)
Letters from Iwa Jima (Producer)
Flags of Our Fathers (Producer)
The Pacific (Producer)
That is one highly decorated list, encompassing over 10 Oscars, Emmys, and Golden Globes combined. For someone like me who's first experience with WWII comes from stories from my grandfathers, the fact that the only "realistic" visual portrayals of WWII has come from one man is startling. When dealing with history it's crucial, at least for me, to learn all the sides of the story, something which is difficult to convey in a contained story, whether it's a film or a mini-series.
Considering that Steven Spielberg has only made democratic donations, it would be safe to assume that he is not completely neutral in the stories he tells, then again, no one is. Now, before all my readers think I've becoming Glen Beckinized, I'm just saying that the best history shows all perspectives. I realize that "Letters from Iwa Jima" focused on the Japanese, but that was only produced by him and it doesn't have the same visual and narrative style as "Brothers", "Pacific" or "Private Ryan."
As more WWII veterans pass on, our concepts of the war will now be defined by these films and mini-series. Kids these days are spending more time in front of screens and less time with books. As time goes on, these Spielberg stories will cease to be portrayal of the war, but rather THE portrayal of the war. As Churchill said "History is written by the victors," but in this day and age, all stories deserve to be told.