"When faced with a problem you do not understand,
do any part of it you do understand; then look at it again."
~(Robert A. Heinlein - "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress")

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

"Never ascribe to malice ...

... that which is adequately explained by incompetence."
 ~Napoleon Bonaparte

23 Mar 2013 - Updated at end.

Caught Emperor (2012) Saturday night at the River Oaks theater and was surprised to find a packed auditorium for an independent film with almost no advertising. Admittedly, it's a pretty small auditorium, being one of two that the original balcony was divided up as, after being walled up from the main auditorium below. But, still ...
Matthew Fox (left) & Tommy Lee Jones (center) as General Bonner Fellers
and General Douglas MacArthur respectively.    From mysanantonio.com

24 Mar 2013 - A commenter noted "By the way, that is NOT Matthew Fox in the picture above!". He's right. See correction below.

The official storyline ...
A story of love and understanding set amidst the tensions and uncertainties of the days immediately following the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II. On the staff of General Douglas MacArthur (Jones), the de facto ruler of Japan as Supreme Commander of the occupying forces, a leading Japanese expert, General Bonner Fellers (Fox) is charged with reaching a decision of historical importance: should Emperor Hirohito be tried and hanged as a war criminal? Interwoven is the story of Fellers' love affair with Aya, a Japanese exchange student he had met years previously in the U.S. Memories of Aya and his quest to find her in the ravaged post-war landscape help Fellers to discover both his wisdom and his humanity and enable him to come to the momentous decision that changed the course of history and the future of two nations.

Ok. When I heard that Tommy Lee Jones was playing Douglas MacArthur, I knew I had to check it out.

He does just fine; handling his Texas accent the same way Sean Connery handled his Scottish accent when playing a Lithuanian captain of a Soviet submarine in "The Hunt for Red October" and Arnold Schwarzenegger handles his Austrian accent when playing anything: with an attitude of "Accent? WHAT accent?!!!".

I really liked this movie; which the Philadelphia Inquirer dismissed as "an unsatisfying history lesson" (probably because of the interwoven love story which was used as a device for exploring the differences between Japanese culture and ours).

My biggest gripe (and the reason for the title of this post) comes during the end credits.  As with many historical dramas, they show pictures of the real people involved, with a short blurb about their fate.

In the case of General Bonner Fellers, the blurb notes that he was demoted to colonel by General Eisenhower, without a single word as to why, leaving you to wonder if Fellers screwed up or something.

I did a little research to confirm that what I thought may have happened was really the case.

What happened was that the war was over, and we no longer needed the huge army we had built up. The army doesn't hang on to officers unless there is something for them to command; a command appropriate to their rank.

Excess officers can either leave the army, or accept a lower rank for which more commands may be available. In October 1946, Fellers reverted to rank of colonel as part of a reduction in rank of 212 generals.

A total of about 16,000,000 Americans served in some branch of the armed forces during WWII. The U. S. Army had risen from a strength of just 190,000 soldiers in 1939 to a peak of 8,290,000 in March of 1945.

But, until the advent of the Korean War and the Cold War, the U.S. had a history (and a doctrine) of not maintaining a large standing army during peacetime. Thusly, by the end of 1948 that force had been reduced to 554,000, approximately one-sixteenth of its earlier size. Whole divisions and brigades ceased to exist except as placeholders in the organization structure (Order of Battle). Simply a case of "too many chiefs and not enough indians".

Fellers retired from the Army on November 30, 1946. In 1948, his retirement rank was reinstated as brigadier general.

I do not believe for a moment that the end credit slight was deliberate, but just a lack of thought by whoever worked up the end credits sequence. But if any of Bonner Fellers family is still with us, they deserve an apology.

Hence, the title of this post. :(

Update 1440 CDT 23 Mar 2013 - My site meter shows this modest little post getting lots of hits, from all over, by people who (like me) were curious about why Fellers was demoted and were sent here by google and other search engines.

I hope they are satisfied with the explanation I have offered, as I feel it is accurate. I place absolutely no credence on some rumors of bad feeling between Eisenhower and Fellers (they had both served under MacArthur) as the cause. If there's anyone for whom Ike may have had some animosity, it would have been MacArthur himself, having remarked once that he "had studied dramatics under MacArthur", probably considering him a self-promoting showboat.

Correction 1035 CDT 24 Mar 2013 - A commenter noted "By the way, that is NOT Matthew Fox in the picture above!". He's right. The source for the picture identified him as such (as did many other sources using that same picture).

BUT, while I thought it looked a bit like him, the problem is the insignia on his collar.

A brigadier general wears a single silver star there.  I couldn't get enough resolution on that picture to really make out the insignia, but it is definitely gold. I thought it might be the gold oak leaf of a major, but it appeared too wide for that. The best guess I can make is the "Rising Eagle" of a  warrant-officer.

Here's a picture that really is Fox (no longer "LOST") as Fellers ...
from facebook.com



Anonymous said...

I think a lot of people were curious about that statement. I looked it up as well and read about the 214 generals who were all demoted. Thank you for the extra detail! By the way, that is NOT Matthew Fox in the picture above!

Paul Gordon said...

There certainly were a lot of people curious enough to look it up (and get sent my way). I'm delighted that there were that many who had even seen the movie and that there was that level of curiosity.

Good catch on Fox. You are right, and I've made the correction.


flascribler said...

If the faux Fox above were a WO, the eagle would be on the left collar with a lt.-size silver and black bar on the right. Willing to bet good money this a major`s gold oak leaf.

P. Spencer

Paul Gordon said...

Thanks, flascribler:

You could be right. I did NOT know about WO's wearing different insignia on the right and left collars.

My feeling about the insignia being too wide for a major was from its appearance on a photo that really didn't have enough resolution to be certain.

As an aside, I finally got around to renting the DVD of the movie and found it to contain the same issue I had with the movie: mentioning Feller's demotion without any explanation.

In my post, I felt that it was just thoughtlessness; not a deliberate slight.

Now, I'm not so sure.

There's a commentary on the DVD, from the director Petter Webber, and a woman producer. When that note about the demotion appears in the end credits, Webber mentions getting lots of tweets and emails about that, asking WHY.

He just says that it's a long story and people will just have to look it up.

Well, if THAT's how he feels, WHY in HELL did he even bring it up that way?

I stand by the reason I gave for the demotion. Webber could have mentioned that his demotion was part of a reduction in rank of 212 generals because of demobilization after the end of the war -- could probably have done it in a short paragraph -- but, he DIDN'T.

Ferdous Anam said...

Thanks for the explanation. Enjoyed the movie!

Anonymous said...

I have seen the movie tonight, translated to italian.
Thanks for the explanation, I also was asking to myself why General Feller was demoted. In fact that was a misleading blurb.
Thank you
from Italy

Jim Czekaj said...

I was in the US Army near and at the end of the Vietnam War. There was a similar situation with officers at that time, where many officers found they had no positions available available to them. Interestingly the positions with the most downward pressure were helicopter pilots and fighter pilots (yeah we are headed there...) . Even those in the National Guard and Reserves felt this pressure. Many pilots (who depended on the money to pay their bills) had to really struggle to maintain active flight status. Others found they were not really required for monthly drills and their two weeks of active duty so there was not a major price to pay for non-attendance. By the letter of the law, missing drills without an excuse could get you activated. But with the reduction in forces that was in effect, there were very few openings for officers on active duty. Especially those with skills with obsolete weapons.

Dixie D said...

Glad I found your blog to explain about the demotions. My Dad was in WWII and said Eisenhower hated MacArthur.

Jerry Pournelle said...

Is that an officer at all? He has no gold on his hat.

Paul Gordon said...

Dr. Pournelle: I've googled images of officers caps in WWII, and seen a number of them without any gold; the only metal on them being the insignia, like THIS overseas version,


(Of course, this assuming that the prop department for the movie got it right, in the first place. One of my absolutely favorite movies if John Sayle's "Lone Star" http://paulinhouston.blogspot.com/2011/06/you-gotta-be-careful-where-you-go-pokin.html in which a bird colonel is wearing his eagles upside down on his shoulders. I have difficulty imaging how THIS could have happened on a production that would have had almost a hundred people around; some of whom almost certainly had mikitary service, but who knows? :-) )

Anonymous said...

If you dont mind, where do you host your web site? I am searching for a great host and your web site appears to be fast and up just about all the time

Paul Gordon said...

Dear Anonymous:

You may note that my URL is http://paulinhouston.blogspot.com/. That "blogspot" denotes google's blogger.com. Do a google search on "google's blogger.com" and check them out.

Best of luck. :-)


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