Some Enchanted Evening

I watched the classic “South Pacific” last night and had one of those “ooh, US/UK different” moments when I realized that I’ve never heard anyone in the UK mention Japan in the context of World War II. And it’s not like the Brits are over WWII, it gets mentioned ALL THE TIME! If you ask an average American to quick say the first five things that come into their heads in the context of WWII, I would guess both “Pearl Harbor” and the Nagasaki/Hiroshima bombs would rank pretty high. Probably also Hitler and Anne Frank. My own grandfather served in the Pacific, as a Pharmacist’s Mate in the Navy. He got malaria and barely recovered in time for his wedding in late 1945. So the Pacific theatre was always an important part of my own WWII reading. (Amusingly enough, my sister and I found that our American History courses in school often started with the colonies in September, made it through the revolutionary war and then only made it just past the Civil war by June, at which point we’d break for the summer and start all over again the following year… if I was relying solely on my formal education I’d know lots about the American Revolution and nothing about WWII–thank goodness for books!) I’d love to know how much coverage the whole Japanese aspect of WWII gets in British schools, so if anyone can pipe up and fill me in, that would be most excellent. And in the meantime, although it’s not my favorite musical, the music in South Pacific is darned good. The plot doubly invokes my pet peeve about movies in which the characters supposedly fall in love while barely knowing each other (or in the case of Lt. Cable and Liat, not even being able to speak the same language) so it’s never going to become a true favorite of mine.

8 responses to “Some Enchanted Evening

  1. > I realized that I’ve never heard anyone in the UK mention Japan in the context of World War II.

    That’s odd, when you consider how many of us have relatives and friends who fought the Japanese in Burma and other parts of the South-East Asian theatre of war (see Wikipedia at for an overview).

  2. Good point, Howard. Including my father in law who was a Chindit (have the Americans ever heard of the Chindits, I certainly never hear them mention it?), and fought the Japanese to a standstill for 2 years in the Burmese jungle, thus stopping the invasion of India. My father in law marched over 1000 miles with his British and Gurkha comrades, fought hand to hand with the Japanese, was behind enemy lines for 7 months at a stretch, and to this day thinks the Gurhkhas (ever hear of them, NFRH?) are the bravest soldiers in the world. He suffered malaria for many years afterwards, and is now 89 and in poor health. I told him about this post, and he asked me to make two points. One, that the World War last from 1939 to 1945 and had it not been for Pearl Harbour, the Yanks would still be sitting on the sidelines. Tw0 , movies are made in Hollywood, so any none American contribution to the war is either ignored or stolen.

  3. Wilma the Terrible

    At the age of 6 my mother was evacuated to the countryside and hardly saw her family for 2 years. Then when she returned to London the family were bombed out of their home. Her father died in the D-Day landings. She is still disgusted at how long it took the USA to enter the war and how they carry on as if they were the only people who fought in it. Thats probably why the british schools -which btw hardly teach history anyway- concentrate on the whole war, and dont much mention the Pacific

  4. Ok, the Americans came late to the wars; heard it. And as for Hollywood, I am as dismayed as anyone at the ‘history’ they portray (you Brits should have sued them over ‘Enigma’).

    But the main point of the post is something I have noticed as well. The British were heavily involved in the Pacific in WWII but nearly every mention I encounter here in Britain is in reference to the European theatre.

    I have had serveral conversations with ex-solidiers and most of them fought in the Pacific during the war. Makes me wonder why it’s not more prominent than it is.

  5. Mike, glad to hear that you have noticed this too.

    I certainly never intended to imply that South Pacific was a work of historical quality, being musical theatre, just that watching it made me notice my main point (echoed by Mike) that living in the UK I personally have heard plenty about the European theatre and nothing about the Asian-Pacific one.

  6. Mike – if only American re-writing of history was confined to Enigma – what about The Few, where Tom Cruise plays Billy Fiske, an entirely unmemorable American pilot (one of only twelve who fought with The Few) with no confirmed kills. In the film, he wins the Battle of Britain single handed. Hollywood also has americans leading The Great Escape (they didnt), fighting their way across Europe with no mention at all of any non-american involvement (Band of Brothers), winning D-Day by themselves in Saving Private Ryan – I could continue, but what’s the point? I feel like Basil Fawlty – ‘dont talk about the war’! particularly to Brits if you are american – it instantly raises our hackles.

  7. Hi! I know I’m arriving to this discussion when it’s already finished, but I just found this blog yesterday when I was googling for something to assuage my homesickness.

    I only did History up to GCSE, so I stopped it when I was 16, but in all the years of History before that we studied WWII a few times. At younger ages it was mainly the Battle of Britain, evacuation, rationing, Home Guard, etc, which I personally find the most interesting part. Later on we learned about the concentration camps and death camps (watched a video of when Auchwitz was opened at the end of the war- harrowing 😦 ) and the beliefs of the Nazis and what they did, and in the year before I dropped the subject we studied the history (particularly political) of Germany from before WWI, right through the Weimar republic, hyperinflation, depression, to the rise of Hitler, then the steps after that which culminated in war being declared. After that it was a more general view, not focusing on the actual fighting, more the political strategies and circumstances of the countries involved. There was a short bit on Pearl Harbour, a lot about what the Nazis did to various minorities during the war, and a bit on the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So there was a lot to cover and individual battles or battle areas weren’t the focus.

    Sorry for the unnecessarily long reply; you can tell I’m procrastinating! I hope you’re having a nice summer and finding some leisure time to spend in the UK; you seem to travel and work a lot! 🙂

  8. Yes the Pacific Theatre is often under-represented in the school curriculum. I’ve studied history at both GSCE and A Level and concentrated on the European Theatres. Even at Degree Level (at least as part of mine with the OU) it was touched upon but not gone into in the depth that Europe was. Personally this just piqued my interest, as does Finland’s involvement, something that I had not really come across before. I think that often the reason for the British school system mainly concentrating on the European Theatre is due to the accessibility of documentation and source material due in part to proximity for that aspect of WWII, it is also often a matter of interest in regards to the general public and those who create the curriculum (this annoys me as in order to gain an interest you have to know something about it).

    Also I was talking to an American friend some months ago about the American History module that was part of my studies and she felt that it barely scratched the surface compared to her studies. Again this may be due to interest (or lack of), proximity, availability of documentation and various other reasons.

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