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Duration 00:36

The battle for Iwo Jima

This is newsreel footage of the Marine Corps Memorial Statue.  It is an American newsreel that was broadcast in 1951. British audiences would have also seen it. The sculptor of the statue, Felix de Weldon based his work on the famous picture by Joe Rosenthal.

What’s the background to this source?

During the 1930s Japan emerged as a major world power. It had ambitions to build a great empire in Asia and the Pacific. To do this Japan would have to defeat the USA, and in December 1941 Japanese forces attacked and sank the US Pacific fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Japanese successes continued into 1942 until May of that year when US forces destroyed Japan’s aircraft carriers at the Battle of Midway. From this point the USA gradually drove Japanese forces back. By 1945 US forces reached the first of the islands that made up Japan’s homelands – Iwo Jima.

The attack began on February 19th 1945. The Japanese plan was to cause as many casualties as possible to the invading Americans. The troops and their commander knew their role was to delay the Americans while their comrades prepared to defend the rest of Japan. It was effectively a suicide mission. Iwo Jima was heavily defended by over 20 000 troops with plenty of artillery and other equipment. They were dug into a system of caves and bunkers. They fought ferociously. When the battle ended on March 16th 1945 US casualties totalled almost 28 000 (with over 8000 dead). Japanese casualties were almost 21 000 dead out of a force of 22 000. Those not killed in fighting committed suicide.

It’s worth knowing that…

The American film star John Wayne made a film called the Sands of Iwo Jima in 1949. This was very patriotic and glorified the campaign. It is said to have inspired many young Americans to join the Marines during the war in Korea 1950-53. By contrast, the 2006 film Flags of Our Fathers by Hollywood director Clint Eastwood was more realistic and focused more on the human experience of the battle.

Eastwood was so inspired by his research for the film that he decided to make another film about Iwo Jima called Letters From Iwo Jima. This was filmed in Japanese and presented the Japanese point of view.

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