Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Great Raid


Members of the Sixth Army Rangers on the eve of the Cabanatuan raid.
Here is a good film to integrate into your history curriculum and/or family discussions about 20th century history—the dramatization of the largest military rescue operation in U.S. history, the liberation of 516 American prisoners of war from a Japanese prison camp on the island of Luzon in the Philippines during World War II. The prisoners, survivors of Japan’s Bataan Death March, were days away from being executed by their Japanese jailors at the Cabanatuan prison camp, when they were freed in January 1945 by several hundred soldiers of the 6th Army Rangers.

The film provides good material for discussing the war in the Pacific, MacArthur’s battle to return to the Philippines following the defeat of Allied forces in 1942, the cultural differences between the Japanese and Allied troops as reflected in their behavior on the battlefield and treatment of prisoners of war, the role of the Catholic clergy and Filipino guerrillas in the resistance, and the definition of the “just war” as discussed by Saint Augustine.


The film showcases the role of the young Captain Robert Prince, who formulated the plan for the raid and led two Army Rangers platoons to overtake Japanese defenses at Cabanatuan. Prince’s rescue plan, put assembled based on spotty intelligence, is still taught at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Prince received the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second-highest award for valor. The storyline also features U.S. nurse Margaret Elizabeth Doolin Utinsky, who organized a network to smuggle quinine and other medicine to U.S. soldiers, saving hundreds of lives between 1942 and 1945. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Harry Truman.
Although this film is rated R for violence and brief strong language, it is suitable for adolescents, with parental input: there is no gratuitous bloodshed, the portrayal of the Allied troops and civilians puts a high value on human life, and the religious life of U.S. soldiers and Filipino guerrillas is shown as a positive force in determining the outcome of the military action.