Clint Eastwood’s Flags of our Fathers, the first of his two Iwo Jima movies from last year, explores the war and its aftermath from the American side (Letters from Iwo Jima provides the Japanese perspective). Wonderfully conceived and executed, the film takes a look at the battle through the eyes of three of the men who were pictured in the famous flag-raising and subsequently shuttled around the U.S. in an effort to sell war bonds.
The film is structured as a series of flashbacks as the son of one of the men involved talks to his father’s comrades-in-arms in order to learn what happened. Within this frame, the three “war hero” soldiers, John “Doc” Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford), and Ira Hayes (Adam Beach) have their own series of flashbacks on the 35-day battle while on their trip to raise money for war bonds. If that sounds a little confusing, it actually all works quite well.
The movie explains that the picture of the soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima helped spawn a newfound confidence in the war and its direction. The government realized that the soldiers in the picture were instant heroes, and after discovering who they were, brought them back to the states in order to send them on a promotional tour. The government however failed to recognize that the soldiers weren’t raising the flag after they won the battle, and this wasn’t even the first flag raised on the island. Even after learning these facts, the three soldiers that were there and still alive went off on the war bonds tour, and were heralded as heroes.
They further had to deal with the mental repercussions of fighting for a cause, which they might support, for a government that didn't care to hear the truth about what took place. All the while, they were not able to properly mourn the death of their comrades. And, to top it all off, some of the incorrect soldiers were credited with raising the flag, but the U.S. government refused to rectify the names because the promotional plans were already in motion.