Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Dark Reality Of Kokoda's Heroes

A new generation of film-makers discover there is so much more to the horror of Australians fighting in New Guinea during World War Two than they ever could have imagined :

Structured around candid interviews with saddened Australian veterans, this beguiling piece of filmmaking by two young director-producers, Stig Schnell and Shaun Gibbons, also speaks publicly for the first time with still-shocked Japanese warriors. With a production team made up of both nationalities, Beyond Kokoda provides a deeply personal account of the thoughts, feelings and experiences of those directly involved in the awful battle that lasted from July 1942 to February 1943.

Of course, the film revives the simmering debate over whether the Kokoda campaign was not just a decisive Australian victory but one that delivered Australia from Japanese encirclement and possible occupation.

"This film doesn't attack the national character; we just want to raise questions about what we have been told about Kokoda," Schnell says. "So many books are about beating Australian nationalistic drums, and the jingoism takes us away from what really happened."

...Schnell says he and Gibbons wanted to strategically pinpoint the corrosive and increasingly pervasive Kokoda myths, not only the notion that the Japanese were poised to sweep into Australia but also the feel-good mythology of the so-called "fuzzy-wuzzy angels", who helped transport Australian wounded.

"No one has told us before that they were principally indentured labour, slaves really," Schnell says.

They were also occasionally executed to set an example to the rest, not to help the Japanese, not to refuse orders and not to steal.

In this documentary, the veterans from both sides sadly distinguish the Kokoda experience as a campaign of exceptional savagery. Few prisoners were taken; most were shot. War conventions were routinely flouted by both sides. The troops were reduced to a primal level, such were the inhuman conditions in which the battle was waged and the impossible expectations made on soldiers of both sides at the front line. "Bombs, mortars, screaming, yelling, swearing, bayonets; you name it, it was there," says the dapper sergeant Joe Dawson, one of the most articulate subjects, a strong man who wears compassion for his enemy easily on a tired face. "It was a shocking state of affairs; the fellows were going down like flies."

The physical torture, the mental assault, endured by both the Australians and Japanese soldiers in New Guinea - and many of them were children, really, late teens, early 20s, who had never traveled more than a few dozen miles from home before they went to war - is unimaginable, incomprehensible to us today.

The documentary discussed above, ' Beyond Kokoda' is screening on cable and digital, but I'd imagine it will be on DVD by Christmas :

Kokoda was a living hell torment shared by the Japanesel :

Heres' Kokoda veteran Graham Palmer, at The Australians At War Film Archive, telling a story of simple humanity amongst the madness :
"I have seen blokes crying with fatigue. They had to drag themselves up the side of a mountain, and sliding, and scared of being left behind, and being isolated, it's very frightening country...

"...we were trying to drag ourselves up the side of a mountainside, he was a big strong bloke, and I had my rifle, and I wasn't going to make it. He didn't say a word to me, he just reached over, and took my rifle, and put it on his other shoulder....He did not say a word...and that got me to the top."