In conflict, both sides are human

Every once in awhile, I see a film that serves a greater purpose than entertainment; it provides insight into the human condition and the world at large. In the past month, I’ve been fortunate enough to see two such films: Clint Eastwood’s “Letters from Iwo Jima” and Just Vision’s “Encounter Point”.

In “Letters from Iwo Jima”, director Clint Eastwood boldly portrays the illustrious 1945 Iwo Jima conflict from the enemy’s perspective. He renders the untold stories of gentle Japanese soldiers and their compassion. There is one instance in the movie when one of the Japanese army’s lieutenant colonels, Baron Nishi, a former equestrian champion that competed alongside Americans in the 1932 Olympics, orders his men to rescue and treat a wounded American soldier.

He tenderly talks with the young soldier about his experiences in America while the boy receives medical attention. When the soldier later dies, Baron Nishi eulogizes him by reading his last letter from home, which was from his mother. As the Lt. Colonel translates the letter, the Japanese soldiers listen in carefully, visibly identifying with every word. It’s almost as if everything that divides the two warring nations disappears at this moment. The Japanese soldiers suddenly see the American as a son, maybe even a father or a husband. They realize that the Americans are really no different from themselves.

The documentary “Encounter Point”, which was shown at Cosford during “Communication Week,” demonstrates the inherent human connection between another set of combating groups, Israelis and Palestinians. The film details the efforts of several courageous, altruistic Israeli and Palestinian citizens to promote a nonviolent resolution to the Israel/Palestine conflict. Each of the citizens featured has incurred heartbreaking losses, such as the deaths of children, as a result of the vicious conflict. One might expect these individuals to be angry and vengeful; however, they instead channel their grief into the prevention of more human carnage. One of the ways they seek to do so is by advocating empathy. At the Bereaved Family Forum, which several of the film’s subjects operate, they bring together Israeli and Palestinian families that have lost loved ones to see firsthand that both sides are being devastated by the fighting.

The lessons doled out in both of these movies are especially applicable to the United States, given our ever-growing number of adversaries that we egotistically believe are totally unlike ourselves and reprehensible. Perhaps we wouldn’t be at such odds with the rest of the world if we bothered trying to understand our political rivals and showing some consideration for their humanity.

The need for nonviolent coexistence with our ideological opponents is more pressing than ever because of recent, unpopular and forceful U.S. foreign policies. Even former President Bill Clinton noted the need for peaceful and diplomatic international relations in his address at this year’s Spring Convocation. He declared, “We must try to have a world with more partners and few enemies.” Clinton also spoke about the “globalized” and “interdependent” nature of our contemporary world. These conditions necessitate that the U.S. cooperate and get along with both its friends and foes.

“Letters from Iwo Jima” and “Encounter Point” recognize the humanity of both sides of a conflict—a crucial step toward global coexistence. Hopefully more leaders like Clinton will support foreign policies rooted in such sentiment.

Victoria Genuardi is a freshman majoring in communications. She may be contacted at