The 2019 Movie Version of Midway

Personally I loved this 2019 version of the battle, just the opposite of most film critics. You see it’s customary for Hollywood to build their movies around theit star actors. Not so in this epic war extravaganza. In this flick the star is actually the early months of the Second World War in the Pacific itself — Pearl Harbor to Midway, early December 1941 to early June 1942 — with actors filling in, as events require. In other words it is not a soap opera set against a war backdrop.

For military realism I would put this show right up there with Saving Private Ryan and the HBO mini series Band of Brothers. Yes, it could have been better as, say, a four part mini series rather than cramming an enormous amount of historical action into a two-hour time limit, like trying to stuff a size 12 foot into a size 10 shoe. And yes, because so much is pushed into so little time there is no space for detailed character development.

Even so I was blown away by the spectacular accuracy by which the movie presented the military planes and ships of that era, especially the Navy’s old Douglas Dauntless dive-bombers that was responsible most of the damage done to the Japanese fleet.

You see, the Navy’s old torpedo bombers, which by naval doctrin were supposed to be the main attack weapon against ships, were too slow and thus were slaughtered almost totally without effect. But even if they had reached their target, America’s torpedoes of that period were cursed with faulty firing mechanisms and more often than not didn’t explode. Thus it was the men of Dive-bomber 6 that were responsible for the victory.

Yet indirectly this might not have been the case had not the low and slow torpedo planes caused the Japanese fighter cover of their carriers to be brought down to lower elevation with them, opening the way for the dive bombers to bore in on the enemy carriers. All in all the American victory at Midway was a combination of extreme courage and incredibly blind luck of timing between the torpedo planes and dive-bombers

I have been reading and writing military history for over forty years, especially the 1940’s war in the Pacific, so I was glad to see that not a single critical point of those events went missing. Also it should be noted that the movie does a nice job of presenting the highlights of the Japanese side of the Midway campaign without bias.

Let me give you a quick overview of the situation facing America at that time from a military standpoint, much of which the movie brings out as context. First off, the United States was not a military super power at the time of the Japanese attack on the US Pacific fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. But what America had was enormous industrial potential at a period in history before the A-bomb limited what even a super power might dare do. In point of fact, WWII turned out to be an industrial based war. Whichever side could out produce the other in war making goods was eventually going to win regardless of tempory victories or losses on the battlefield, and America had it all in that department.

Commander of the Japanese Imperial Navy, Isoroku Yamamoto — having extensively traveled across America in the 1930s and seen its many steel mills and other manufacturing facilities such as the auto plants, a man who had roamed the vast Texas oil fields and was intimately acquainted with our top military brass — had no illusions that Japan could ever hope to win a long war with the United States and her allies. This he famously expressed after the Pearl Harbor attack when he said, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”

The real Japanese villains of those days were the leaders of the Japanese army. It was they who were viciously pushing a war of aggression in China and wished to dominate all of the Far East. But Japan was without the raw materials for waging a modern war of conquest. In fact the United States had been supplying Japan with scrap iron and oil, of which these critical materials were in serious danger of being soon cutoff.

Therefore the Japanese saw the Dutch East Indies with its oil, rubber and metals as a target for takeover. But first it must neutralize the American Pacific fleet the only factor of possible interference to their plans.

There has always been talk, then and even now, of the American victory at Midway being all that stood between the Japanese attacking the West Coast of the United State. This is pure nonsense. Japan had all it could possible handle in supplying it hundreds of thousands of ground forces in China and needing the navy to help it take over the East Indies resources.

From the Japanese point of view the Pearl Harbor attack was simply a spoiling action meant to clear its path for military operations elsewhere. It had no interest at the time in attempting, what for them, would have been an impossible logistical nightmare of also trying to invade the American West Coast.

From the American point of view the victory at midway provided time for the US to upgrade and enlarge its Pacific fleet of ships and planes during the remainder of 1942 and 1943. Thus by 1944 new American battleships, cruisers, destroyers and especially newly designed aircraft carriers were pouring into the Pacific to overwhelm the Japanese military until Japan finally went down in devastating and total defeat.

This movie, Midway, is about that period in time that looked to average Americans as a desperate holding off of the rampaging Japanese Empire. Those interested in history should love it, kids interested in computer war games and action moves might actually find it interesting, but the general movie going public I fear will simply overlook it. It’s not a typical Hollywood fluff piece. In fact when I saw it at 3:20 on the opening Friday afternoon I doubt the theater was ten percent full — mostly gray heads.

While the acting, which I will not go into in any meaningful detail, except to say that in a few places it was a bit over-the-top, but otherwise was perfectly in line with the style of the movie as directed by Roland Emmerich. I will, however, say this about the fine actor, Woody Harrelson, I was pleasantly surprised by his portrayal of the mild mannered fleet admiral Chester W. Nimitz. Denis Quaid, though, as Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, Jr. was to me the only disappointment. His few scenes seemed like armature over acting of the 1930’s vintage. But to be fair, Halsey was a very gruff fellow.

In any event, well read persons, whether of military history or not, should have no difficulty in understanding the flow of the action — and it is, indeed, some very intense action.

The bottom line here is that even if you aren’t a history buff, I would highly recommend that you give this 2019 version of Midway a look.

Jim Ridgway, Jr. military writer — author of the American Civil War classic, “Apprentice Killers: The War of Lincoln and Davis.” Christmas gift, yes!

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