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Kyle Smith (Twitter: @rkylesmith) is critic-at-large for National Review, theater critic for The New Criterion and the author of the novels Love Monkey and A Christmas Caroline. Type a title in the box above to locate a review.

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    Say What, Tom Hanks?

    By Kyle | March 12, 2010

    Tom Hanks says the war against Japan was one of “racism and terror.” True, the Japanese were racists and terrorists. I have no problem with that. They were in many ways even more inhuman than the Nazis. The Kamikazees were classic suicide terrorists. And the entire island nation appeared willing to commit suicide by continuing to fight — up until the second Bomb dropped and saved an immense number of Japanese and American lives. Absent the Bomb, we of course would have been forced to blockade Honshu until it starved. Who knows how long surrender would have taken under such slow-drip circumstances?

    Hanks loses me when he disparages the US mission during the island-hopping campaign as simply being to “kill them all” and ties that to today’s war on terror — “is there anything new under the sun?” Er, what? Does Hanks think the War on Terror is about killing all Muslims? Or is he saying the Muslims want to kill all Christians, as indeed the Koran invites them to do? Could it be that Hanks thinks it is the US that deployed “racism and terror” in the cause of defeating an enemy that attacked us? Hanks, it seems to me, is having a very hard time of it. He is genuinely interested in US history and yet when he reads about the heroism, the moral authority and the sacrifice something shorts out in his soggy liberal mind.

    Topics: History, Movies, Politics, TV | 44 Comments »

    44 Responses to “Say What, Tom Hanks?”

    1. JimmyC Says:
      March 12th, 2010 at 2:08 pm

      So fighting the white Nazis was necessary, but fighting their Japanese allies, the ones who actualy attacked us, was racist?

      This is the same idiotic mentality that refers to the Japanese-American internment camps as racist, even though (a) We were at war with Japan, and closed the camps as soon as the war ended, (b) we also interned German-Americans, (c) we were trying to prevent being infiltrated by Axis spies, which was a legitimate risk.

      I’m not saying the internments were right- they were a hugely unnecessary overreaction on FDR’s part- but to label them racist is absurd.

    2. schotz Says:
      March 12th, 2010 at 2:45 pm

      To bad, another actor that made my no watch and no buy list–the list is getting long. He is a good actor but I will not support his dribble–I have an idea for hollywood–just act and make movies stop preaching!

    3. Christian Toto Says:
      March 12th, 2010 at 3:14 pm

      et tu, Tom Hanks?

    4. Pete Says:
      March 12th, 2010 at 3:28 pm

      1. Jimmy, no offense, we didn’t round up every German-American in the country and herd them into internment camps for no other crime than being German. We didn’t round up every Italian-American in the country and herd them into camps. We did that to the Japanese, EVERY single Japanese-American. Do you really think that little kids who were put into the camps were potential axis spies? To argue that racism didn’t play any part in the internment camps is obtuse at best.

      There was an awful lot of racially based propoganda directed towards the Japanese. Any number of war posters of the day depicted the Japanese with the stereotypical thick glasses and buck teeth. Much of the anti-German propoganda was simply directed at the Nazi leadership. Small but subtle difference.

      Hanks misspoke, but he wasn’t entirely incorrect.

    5. blackhawk12151 Says:
      March 12th, 2010 at 3:32 pm

      Forget the fact that what he says is ridiculous and slanderous towards those who fought in WWII, the real point here is that it displays a simplemindedness that is so prevalent on the left that it can’t be shocking anymore. To them, everything this country does is motivated by racism, or sexism, or any other -ism.

      Plus, these leftists always seem so eager to draw historical parallels between stuff happening today and stuff that happened in the past. It’s almost like they have an obsessive need to reinforce their own opinions as soon as they’re formed, but that can’t be the case. Can it?

    6. Pete Says:
      March 12th, 2010 at 3:36 pm

      BTW, here’s the complete quote, notice how Hanks is actually talking about BOTH sides and the individual animosities that were on display. I say BOTH sides because the quote specifically says “BOTH sides”

      “The war in the Pacific was a war of terror and racism, of suicide attacks. Both sides viewed the other side as being subhuman dogs”

    7. blackhawk12151 Says:
      March 12th, 2010 at 3:45 pm


      Insensitive propaganda is one thing, but that is not what Hanks was talking about. He was saying our motivations for going to war were about killing people who were different than us.

      Also, I think the interment camps were a disaster for our national image and a gross overreaction by FDR. However, it’s not true that every Japanese person was rounded up. It was a majority, for sure, because the majority resided in the western US, but it was not all. Second, saying that the kids were interned as well does not prove it was motivated by racism, which was certainly a motive, but a miniscule one. If you removed every single racist motivation from the mix they still would have been interned. The kids were there because that is where their parents were.

    8. Karen R Says:
      March 12th, 2010 at 3:47 pm

      Guess Tom Hanks never heard about the “Rape of Nanking”.

    9. TruthBTold Says:
      March 12th, 2010 at 3:56 pm

      While it was a shameful thing to inter the Japanese, if you study history you’ll find that it was because the Japanese attacked us on US soil and the high fear of them actually invading the US that caused the interment camps, not the fact that they looked different than we did. If we had feared the same thing from Germany I believe we would have probably done the same thing to German immigrants.

    10. Pete Says:
      March 12th, 2010 at 4:01 pm


      First off, WWII was justified, and the atrocities committed by the Axis armies deserves every bit of condemnation that history has heaped upon them. Just want to be clear there.

      I did say that I feel that Hanks’ misspoke. Frankly, an objective argument can be made that the way the two theaters of war were “marketed” (for lack of a better word) showed some pretty major differences.

      The German people were seen as under the thumb of a totalitarian regime, and the war propaganda was aimed almost exclusively at the Nazi regime and Nazi military leadership. On the other hand, when it came to Japan, you didn’t have the differentiation between the oppressive Japanese government and the oppressed Japanese people. Nope, instead you had posters warning of the “yellow devils” and other grotesque stuff.

      Memoirs of Japanese people from WWII make it pretty clear that there was a big disconnect between what the Japanese government did and what the Japanese people felt about it (Kurosawa wrote extensively about this in his excellent autobiography)

      It is interesting to observe that the US population seemed to forgive the German people MUCH sooner than the Japanese. I’d imagine that when the Kurosawa/Ozu films began playing in the US in the 50’s, some people were sincerely shocked to find out that the Japanese people in general weren’t the duplicitous bloodthirsty “yellow devils” war posters made them out to be.

    11. Pete Says:
      March 12th, 2010 at 4:09 pm

      8. I’m not entirely sure I agree with you there. It is a lot easier to sell a war if the enemy (legitimate or otherwise) doesn’t even physically resemble you. Not once did anyone in the WH or Congress propose interning German-Americans en masse as a precautionary move. Even when German subs showed up off the East Coast, you didn’t see a call for internment.

      I get it. There are obviously some people (not you, mind you) who are subtlely rewriting the history of the Japanese internment in order to, well, justify some modern day attitudes towards another ethnic minority group.

      Again, Tom Hanks shouldn’t have said what he did.

    12. voted against carter Says:
      March 12th, 2010 at 4:10 pm

      Hey tommy,

      Can we say “Battan death march”?

      Ohh, wait. I forgot. You usually have SOMEONE ELSE write your dialogue for you. You might want to stick to that in the future.

    13. blackhawk12151 Says:
      March 12th, 2010 at 4:11 pm

      I agree that there was more overt racism directed towards the Japanese than the Germans. It is much easier to demonize people who look different. But words like “kraut” and “hun” were thrown about all the time. It just wasn’t as easy to capture stuff like that in artwork because, besides their penchant for black socks and perfectly round glasses, Germans look like us. Bigotry is on display in every war between nations because it is easier to dehumanize your opponent by focusing on differences. There is just more evidence of it against the Japanese remaining.

      But that still doesn’t change the fact that Hanks was talking about our motivations for going to war. We went to war because Japan was an imperial nation that threatened the world, not because they were “yellow dogs.”

    14. EdSki Says:
      March 12th, 2010 at 4:20 pm

      Mr. Smith – Sounds like Hanks has been spending too much time with the Howard Zinn acolytes in Hollywood. The code word racist is a tip off.

      Correct, the government did not round up and inter every German in America. Just the Germans and the Italians they worried about, and they weren’t interred, they disappeared.

      A couple of years ago a local resident wrote a letter to the editor relaying their experience as a kid during WWII. Her family rented the attic out to an Italian immigrant, who had a fascination with short wave radios.

      One day a couple of FBI agents showed, took him away, and he was never heard from again.

    15. BlackHawk Is an Idiot Says:
      March 12th, 2010 at 4:31 pm

      You people are complete retards (don’t worry, I use that only as satire).

      Do some research (that means find your own books, folks) and read a li’l bit about the propaganda campaigns during World War II. You’d have to be an uneducated yokel to not understand what Hanks is addressing … “nip the nips,” eh? Hard to stifle the laughter at the usual incredulous “Conservatives” who can’t bear to know or comprehend history.

    16. Pete Says:
      March 12th, 2010 at 5:00 pm


      I think the “kraut” and “hun” stuff was MUCH more prevalent during WWI (as was overt discrimmination towards German-Americans it must be pointed out).

      I think we are in the neighborhood of agreement that anti-Nazi propaganda of WWII still made some differentiations between the German *regime* and the German *people*, a luxury the Japanese people were not accorded.

    17. blackhawk12151 Says:
      March 12th, 2010 at 5:09 pm

      I’ve got my own tribute commenter. Thanks. I’m honored.


      Yeah I think we agree more than disagree. I won’t defend any of the racist propaganda during WWII, and I believe you are right about the lack of differentiation between the people and the leadership of Japan. I still take issue with Hanks premise though, and I know you acknowledged that he misspoke, but I think it was more than that. I think he was talking the long road to a short thought and missing the mark completely.

    18. Pete Says:
      March 12th, 2010 at 5:12 pm


      Don’t you think on some level if Hanks had taken time to say “WWII propaganda directed towards the Japanese was based on some part on racial stereotypes” or some such, that the usual suspects in the Breitbartaverse would be screaming the exact same things that they are saying about this quote?

    19. Sparrowhawk Says:
      March 12th, 2010 at 5:59 pm

      “Hanks, it seems to me, is having a very hard time of it. He is genuinely interested in US history and yet when he reads about the heroism, the moral authority and the sacrifice something shorts out in his soggy liberal mind.”

      I am not a Tom Hanks fan. His remarks about the nature of the American Pacific campaign against Japanese imperialism (and racism) cannot be written off as his “Forrest Gump” moment. His patriotism has always been founded on unformed ideas of what America was intended to be and what it was all about for about a century and a half. His “John Adams” series was a mess, because it never delved into the ideas that were the foundation of this country (individual rights, the government being the servant not the master), it was only about what happened to Adams here and there and everywhere, not what animated Adams. When a man has nothing but lumps of glop as his moral premises, he is bound to default to liberalism and America-bashing. Look at Obama. He’s worse in that respect.

    20. blackhawk12151 Says:
      March 12th, 2010 at 6:35 pm

      Ok I really do have to go but one more comment.

      Pete, you probably don’t believe me but I really don’t. I don’t believe there would be the same level of criticism (although there probably would be some) because if Hanks said that he would simply be stating a fact. Hanks didn’t do that though, he said what he said, and we will never be able to know what would happen if he said something else. He drew a completely false historical parallel and that is what I and most people in the “Breitbart-verse” are objecting to.

    21. Kevin Stowell Says:
      March 12th, 2010 at 6:40 pm

      Ever oblivious to the condescending way blacks have been treated by the DemoCretins for as long as I can remember.

    22. Pete Says:
      March 12th, 2010 at 6:52 pm

      21. I want to agree with you, but color me suspicious about how the Breitbart-averse would react if Hanks had narrowed his assessment of racial attitudes towards the Japanese CLEARLY towards propaganda rhetoric of the day (which I wonder if he was clumsily trying to do that anyway)

      The thing that disappoints me the most about Big Hollywood is that ANY small deviation from the conservative orthodoxy results in frothing denunciations from both the posters and the bloggers themselves. I began to wonder if the site was detached from reality when during Oscar 2009, more than a few posters condemned Slumdog Millionaire as somehow being anti-American.

      Getting one’s hackles up at what one thinks is unfair criticism towards America is one thing. However, it’s been my experience that ANY criticism directed towards America by someone not seen as being appropriately conservative enough results in an over the top reaction.

      Not to muddy the waters, but is it really that false of an analogy to say that a propoganda mindset that fails to differentiate between a bad regime and the citizens of the regime is REALLY that different than the mindset that says that murderous religious radicals are exactly the same as anyone who follows the religion?

    23. Pete Says:
      March 12th, 2010 at 6:52 pm

      I mean 20 on my last comment.

    24. Harley2002 Says:
      March 12th, 2010 at 7:44 pm

      Remember Leftists the racist that rounded up the Japanese and put them in camps was your hero Franklin D.Roosevelt. Strange how his name is NEVER brought up in reference to this. I guarantee if the BUSH did this his name would be front and center every time it is mentioned.

      As far as Hanks he must have drank from the same punch bowl that drove Gore insane. To bad I used to really like him. But I can’t pay to see an actor that insults my beliefs the way he has. Amazing how pompous actors get once they make their money. And how they hide it when they are starting out. Danny Glover is another good example.

    25. kathy Says:
      March 12th, 2010 at 8:42 pm

      My grandfather was required to register any weapons he had during World War II – he was an Italian American.

    26. bob smith Says:
      March 12th, 2010 at 11:18 pm

      This site should be retitled Kyle’s Amateur Historical Revisionism.

      Kamikazes were “classic suicide terrorists”? Except they didn’t target civilians and their acts occurred during a declared war. They don’t fit into any neat category.

      As for the Koran inviting Muslims to kill Christians, the same could be said in reverse of the Bible (particularly the Old Testament). But don’t let that get in the way of sliming a whole religion.

      How many Germans or Italians were in camps? Only a few thousand out of millions in America of those ethnicities. And Japanese? Over 100,000, including virtually ALL Japanese in the western US. Not racist? Only in a revisionist’s dreams.

    27. semus Says:
      March 13th, 2010 at 12:47 am

      Hanks when pressed isn’t a very strong actor either, he Ok on the easy stuff, but his luck has been handed to him. Now I think he’s made te mistake of his career.

    28. semus Says:
      March 13th, 2010 at 12:50 am

      He’s OK on the easy stuff I meant to write. Anyway I really believe that. Kathrine Hepburn once said acting is easy even little children can do it, thi smay not be an exact quote but it’s close.

    29. Victor Erimita Says:
      March 13th, 2010 at 1:40 am

      We fought the Japanese not because they were different, but because they attacked us and killed a lot of our people. Di we develop a loathing for them? After the Bataan Death March and countless other atrocities visited on us and millions of Asians…yeah, we did. And it was utterly justified by their inhumanly cruel treatment of everyone they came in contact with.

      Do we still have that attitude today? No, we do not. Do the Japanese? Well, why do they continue to call us and other non-Japanese “gaijin?” Do they still see us as hairy, unclean, barbaric, sexually potent aliens? Do they welcome “gaijin,” which include even native-born Japanese who live abroad for more than the requisite number of years and thus become not quite “pure?” No, they do not.

      Hanks’s remark is brainless, fashionable liberalism, a double standard applied only to us, ignoring the continued intense racism and xenophobia that is still all too common in modern day Japan, let alone Imperial Japan.

    30. JohnBissell Says:
      March 13th, 2010 at 9:32 am

      not “dribble” drivel!

    31. blackhawk12151 Says:
      March 13th, 2010 at 3:30 pm


      I really don’t know what kind of people you surround yourself with. I don’t know the circles you travel in. And I really don’t know where you are getting this notion that anyone is saying there is no distinction between Muslim terrorists and Muslims who aren’t terrorists. Who is saying this? Where do you hear this notion being expressed? By a few isolated people you know? People in your family? Casual acquaintances? I really don’t get the parallel, and I don’t see people expressing that idea. I didn’t see it from the previous administration and I don’t see it from this one.

      Maybe it’s all in code and I’m just not picking up on it. Maybe you have the ability to discern this code and have discovered the insidious strain of anti-Muslim sentiment sweeping the country. Or maybe you are seeing what you want to see because for some reason you don’t understand the fact that the vast majority of Americans are not bloodthirsty xenophobic racists who bristle with rage at the site of someone different from them.

      The fact is there is no anti-Muslim movement in the country and no effort to equate Muslim terrorists with moderate Muslims. So I’m going to go ahead and stick by my theory that Hanks was making a dull, trite, leftist point that he knew would be applauded as open-minded and progressive in the circles he travels in and his attempt to back it up betrayed a very limited understanding of history and the American people. Feel free to believe what you want.

    32. blackhawk12151 Says:
      March 13th, 2010 at 3:36 pm

      As to your point that the Breitbart-verse targets people who are not sufficiently conservative you have only betrayed the fact that you don’t spend all that much time reading anything that comes out of there. You probably skin the headlines and then read the reactions from places like HuffPo and the like. The thing about the Big blogs is that there is a diversity of opinion, unlike most leftist blogs and sites I visit. I am a frequent visitor to both Slate and HuffPo and enjoy many of the pieces there even while I disagree with them.

      Big Hollywood spends a lot of time criticizing left-wing stars, absolutely. But that is because they get a free pass to express their views in virtually every other media outlet. Sean Penn can say that people who call Chavez a dictator should be thrown in jail and no one bats an eye. I have seen criticism on Big Hollywood that is unfair, and some that reaches to far just to make a political point and coin a catchy headline. But I don’t think it is a bad thing that there is a media outlet finally challenging the views spouted of by left-wing stars that is simply accepted as gospel in other outlets.

    33. Brian Moore Says:
      March 13th, 2010 at 7:29 pm

      Even if the motivation behind the U.S. war against Japan was somehow racist – which I doubt – isn’t that motivation pretty low on the immorality totem pole relative to the Japanese atrocities noted above; e.g., Bataan, Nanking, western Pacific imperialism by force, etc.

      Hanks’s problem is that he thinks racism is the worst thing in the world. It’s bad, of course. But it’s not the worst thing in the world. Not even close.

    34. Pete Says:
      March 13th, 2010 at 8:35 pm

      Blackhawk (and here we were being cordial, let’s endeavor to keep that going),

      1. I think the number of “profile all Muslims who get on a plane” articles that popped up after the Undie bomber makes me wonder if some are losing sight of differentiating between Islamic Radicals and Muslims as a whole. I would direct you to any Breitbart article that Drudge links to that has Muslim in the article lead. Some of the comments in there are blood curdling and NOT removed or voted down. Go to any Pajamas Media comment section or Debbie Schlussel. Those people are out there, and pretending that they aren’t does no one any good.

      The fact that AQ did the sadly logical thing and appears to be recruiting blonde, blue-eyed white people makes me wonder where the “profile the brown people with the Muslim names” crowd is going to go.

      My point about the analogy between the treatment of Japanese Americans and Muslims lies in the fact that Michelle Malkin ironically wrote an entire book DEFENDING the Japanese internment camps, and Anne Coulter has made the same argument as well. It’s not too much of a leap to think that people who were ok with what was done to the Japanese in the US in 1942 might be ok doing the same to Muslims.

      2. Please don’t try to pretend that there is a “diversity of opinion” on Big Hollywood. Unless you count “diversity” as meaning Right and FAR Right. I actually read Big Hollywood a lot, desperately hoping to see some actual film criticism. More often than not, I see films judged exclusively on whether they faithfully tow the conservative political line. John Nolte in particular is pretty bad about that (despite his one moment of clarity where he managed to judge Che on its artistic presentation and not just on its politics). It would be nice if BH could break the habit of picking their villain of the week, and devoting every other post denouncing them. This week it’s Matt Damon, last week it was Hurt Locker, the week before Roger Ebert. It gets tiring.

      The fact that BH allows Ted Behar access to blog makes me wonder how serious they really are about anything.

    35. Pete Says:
      March 13th, 2010 at 8:37 pm


      If it makes you feel better, I don’t read HuffPo, because their habit of putting “so and so actress flashes a nipple on the Red Carpet” article teasers on their front page to increase the hit count.

      I prefer the Atlantic.

    36. blackhawk12151 Says:
      March 13th, 2010 at 9:09 pm


      Not all Muslims are Islamic terrorists, however, all Islamic terrorists are Muslims. That is an unfortunate reality. I’m not advocating the internment of Muslims or even the profiling of them. However, I would much rather see someone’s feelings being hurt as opposed to someone blowing up a plane. Are there racists out there? Yes, there will always be, but there is no concerted effort on the part of the American people to demonize Muslims. I realize it is terribly un-PC of me to say this, but a lot of bad has been done in the name of Islam. It is not just Christianity that has been used to justify men being complete tools to one another. The Muslim world is in a state of flux. There are large sectors of the Muslim population that are still stuck in this 10th Century mindset and are struggling to make themselves relevant in this world. The larger Muslim population has to either drive these more extreme factors out or drag them into the 21st Century. But we have to stop pretending that Islam is completely innocent and any criticism leveled at it is overt racism. Whether you where shoes inside your house is a cultural difference. Stoning a woman for “allowing” herself to be raped is barbarism, not matter how much multicultural BS you cloak it in.

      As far as BH goes, fair enough. People rarely see anything other than what they want to see in any media outlet that isn’t specifically aligned with their world view, I’ll count myself among them. You see people on BH criticizing films for their left-wing message and I see every other media outlet giving films and actors passes as long as they push the right viewpoint. It is never as clear cut as that but I’m done trying to argue that this-or-that site/blog is better than this other one. People tend to stay in the media outlets that reflect their world-view. It’s unfortunate and I try to read stuff from many different places.

      I’m a fan of The Nation myself.

    37. blackhawk12151 Says:
      March 13th, 2010 at 9:10 pm

      Sorry Kyle, I seem to be tripping the moderation switch every time I comment.

    38. kishke Says:
      March 13th, 2010 at 9:30 pm

      As for the Koran inviting Muslims to kill Christians, the same could be said in reverse of the Bible (particularly the Old Testament).

      Really? Please cite the verse in which the Old Testament urges the killing of Muslims.

    39. Pete Says:
      March 15th, 2010 at 9:51 am


      Your first sentence in post 36, um, yeah. Not all Muslims are terrorists, but not all terrorists are Muslim. By the way you worded your opening sentence, it would be very difficult for non-Muslims to in fact be Islamic Terrorists.

    40. kishke Says:
      March 15th, 2010 at 10:16 am

      Not all Muslims are terrorists, but not all terrorists are Muslim.

      Most terrorists are Muslim. Specifically, the terrorists threatening the US today are overwhelmingly Muslim. Let’s not pretend differently.

    41. Pete Says:
      March 15th, 2010 at 3:36 pm

      40. Can we at least stop pretending that Iraq had anything to do with either 9/11 or terrorist plots against the US?

    42. kishke Says:
      March 15th, 2010 at 5:15 pm

      Sure, you can stop pretending that if you like.

    43. Mr Rflkt Says:
      March 17th, 2010 at 2:32 am

      Is everyone just stupid? I mean seriously, does anyone understand anything about ww2 and what hanks is saying. No one has any idea what they are talking about and more often than not everyone’s point contradict each other. Most of you guys need to take a serious history lesson and not act like you know everything that happened in ww2.

      Oh and if you didn’t think there was racism in ww2 then you, my friend, are ignorant. You can ask any veteran nd they’ll tell you what terms they used.

      My god, living in a world of retards is hard… very hard. Since I’m assuming a lot of you are republicans, go back to your Faux News to suckle on the teat of Glenn Beck.

      One more thing… does anyone here know what a fallacy is? If you don’t, learn what it is so I don’t have to read ignorant posts.

    44. golden32 Says:
      March 26th, 2010 at 3:21 pm

      Mr. Rflkt,

      Democrats are the true “retards” (nice intellect there, I thought Democrats had all the intelligence and answers?) and put history into their own perspectives just like you claim Republicans do. I guess attacking Japan had nothing to do with them killing 3,000 of our unsuspecting troops in a surprise attack isn’t reason enough, we wanted to kill Japan because they were yellow, wait I forgot, Japan sent us peace medals before the war and we were on pleasant terms with them. Get off of your high horse and learn some history. You’re quite a buffoon….