It may be fitting that I post this going into the Memorial Day holiday weekend. By the way for those overseas, Memorial Day here while it is supposed to carry a solemn reverence the truth is it falls far short in the U.S.A. People will be more concerned with taking a road trip, figuring out who is in charge of the grill for the cookout, and not having to show up to work until Tuesday as opposed to honoring war dead. It is the byproduct of an all-volunteer army. The meaning is lost on a general population.
I digress though from my post. Flyboys is the second novel from James Bradley, the historian whose father was one of the guys hoisting the flag on Iwo Jima in one of the most famous moments of WWII. This book covers the battle for the air in the Pacific. It does more though than that as it concentrates on the fates of 6 pilots captured by the Japanese in an incident that involved President George H.W. Bush (that is the first one for you who are easily confused) and his rescue by a submarine. The military had kept their stories under-wraps since the end of the war and it took Bradley to get it told.
This book is not for those with sensitive digestive systems. For all the attention paid on the European theatre and the Nazi atrocities, the truth is in many ways the Japanese were more brutal and bloodthirsty. Other books like The Rape Of Nanking by Iris Chang (who helped Bradley in this project) have detailed the horrors of the Pacific. Horror is an appropriate word to use.
This book covers the torture by Japanese, and the practice of cannibalism, among their troops especially when it came to captured soldiers. It talks about the medical experiments, other war crimes, and examines the unbelievable fire campaign by the Americans in which millions were killed and displaced by napalm bombings. The firebombing of say Tokyo dwarfed the firebombing of Hamburg and Dresden.
What I like about this book is Bradley’s concentration on root causes. He gives a history of Japanese society and how it came to be so militaristic and he compared it to the American mindset at the time. It was very revealing and gives a more complete picture than normally seen in a book of this nature. Bradley not only uses military records to piece his story together but he has the firsthand accounts of those who were there including George H.W. Bush. You really get a sense that you know what it was like for the players in the this story and how life was on the islands where the events occurred.
One thing I really appreciated was how toward the end of the book Bradley followed up with how the events impacted the families of the pilots. It was very moving. He then also devoted adequate print to exploring how the combatants on both sides had come to forgive and make peace with their enemies whether they were civilians or military personnel.
This is a fabulous read. I really came away from it having learned a whole lot about Japanese history and culture and about how the Allies waged war in the Pacific. This book not only educates but it makes you think and anytime you get a novel that does that, you know you have yourself a winner. I hope you’ll give this one a space on your bookshelf.