I saw this movie yesterday with my old man. I was excited because Eastwood hit the mark with "Flags of Our Fathers", and I expected him to finalize his WWII saga with another historically accurate film. I'm an amatuer military history historian, and my grandfather is a veteran of the Red Beach landing at Iwo Jima, being medevacd on day 21 after receiving shrapnel wounds to the face. We went to the movie with my grandfather, and he told us that the movie was "bull****."
There were parts in the movie that had me openly laughing at the absurdity of it.
#1: The Japanese rescuing an American soldier and providing aid/comfort.
This had me laughing. Not only are there no reports of this type of behavior occurring, there is exactly the opposite. Ralph Ignatowski, friend and fellow soldier of flagraiser John Bradley, was documented as having been captured by Jap soldiers. He was later found brutally tortured with his penis cut off and stuck in his mouth. It is a fact that the Imperial Army was the most ruthless, destructive army ever fielded. Depicting the Japanese going out of their way to rescue and treat a soldier on Iwo Jima is preposterous and a slap in the face to any Marine grunt that found himself bogged down in those evil black sands.
#2: American units performing military operations during the night.
This never happened. Ever. The complex system of tunnels and pillboxes on the island made forward movement incredibly dangerous even in daylight. The Battle of Iwo Jima was fought inch by inch. Literally. Wantonly moving around at night did not happen. To risk moving men under the cover of darkness is absurd, historically speaking. According to my grandfather, "you couldn't pull a needle out of your ass with a tractor trailer at night. Ain't no way no Marines is moving around at night."
#3: Randomly assigning two American soldiers to "stay back" and guard two Japanese defectors, at night. Wow. The inaccuracies here are astounding. First, Japanese soldiers were routinely shot on the spot. No questions asked. Shot. According to my grandfather "Prisoners? We got in fights over who got the right to shoot the Japs we found." Secondly, defecting at night was never recorded, and attempting to do so would have been a death sentence. The constricted nature of the battlefield made open movement dangerous, and many friendly-fire casualties resulted among Marines who were watching for fellow Marine movement. Think about what would happen to a lone Japanese figure slowly making his way towards an American position in the dead of night. An unarmed Jap moving toward an American position in the dead of night was a death sentence due to limited visibility and hair-trigger tempers.
#4 - Depicting the Jap as a weak-willed soldier wanting to defect from an unwinable war.
Taken as a whole, viewers are left with the impression that the average Jap soldier was a weak-willed coward that looked for any opportunity to either commit suicide or defect in the face of an American onslaught. Historically speaking, this was simply not the case. By and large, the Jap soldier was a brainwashed, fanatical killing machine completely devoted to the honor of the Emeror and the protection of the Empire. They were brutal, committed soldiers, fighting to the death. When Japanese soldiers did surrender, it was most often done with two grenades placed under their armpits. This led to the widespread practice of killing Jap soldiers on the spot. The vast majority of Japanese defectors were actually not defecting; rather, they were caught in an emaciated state without food, water, or a means of defending themselves. These men were not weak-willed; they were brave, gritty soldiers that wrought havoc on the Marines and ensured that the battle of Iwo Jima would go down as America's most viscious, terrifying battle.
#5 - General Kuribayashi's death.
The movie depicted Kuribayashi requesting to be sacrificially beheaded at the end of the movie. Marines (all 5 of them, which is another inaccuracy, for the Marines never travelled in small units due to the nature of the warfare, but thats another story) stumble upon the body of the General. However, this never happened. Kuribayashi's remains were never found, and the location of his death is a subject for debate.
I could go on and on about the inaccuracies of this movie, but I will spare you. If you do go to see this movie, keep in mind that it is a far-cry from historical accuracy.