The premiere cablecast of The Pacific—HBO’s latest mini-series event—grinds to a close over the next two Sundays, May 9 and May 16. An impressive achievement in verisimilitude, this harrowing series may be the most grim television show since 1983’s The Day After, which depicted a hypothetical nuclear holocaust in Kansas. And like The Day After, which was screened on network television only once, The Pacific may be a singular sort of event. TVLand won’t re-run The Day After anytime soon, and likewise, HBO may not aim this high with a war series anytime soon.
In “The Pacific,” war is most definitely hell—an actual living, inferno on earth. Soldiers on both sides descend into absolute savagery and few are left on the battlefields of the Pacific beside the dead and the dying. The extended sequence in episodes 5 through 7 depicting the brutal battle waged by U.S. Marines on the remote island of Peleliu is Saving Private Ryan without Private Ryan—no one is saved.
And yet the human side of the story is told with energy and verve, and the performances are so honest that what emerges from the savagery is something like nobility. What these young men and women on both sides of the war sacrificed for God and Country and ultimately for each other over half a century ago and half a world away, may never be depicted as candidly or truthfully again. Make time for The Pacific. Maybe then the young veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan will also appear in a new lens. And that won’t happen by watching Dancing With The Stars.