In 1945, eight young American pilots were shot down over Chichi Jima. Seven of these officers were captured by Japanese troops and taken prisoner. The eighth, George H. W. Bush, was rescued by an American submarine -- decades later, he became president of the United States. In Flyboys, James Bradley reveals the never-before-told story of the seven brave airmen who subsequently disappeared from history. This is not only an arresting story of humans under astonishing adversity; it is the riveting account of a U.S. government cover-up that persisted for two generations.
The author of Flags of Our Fathers achieves considerable but not equal success in this new Pacific War-themed history. Again he approaches the conflict focused on a small group of men: nine American Navy and Marine aviators who were shot down off the Japanese-held island of Chichi Jima in February 1945. All of them were eventually executed by the Japanese; several of the guilty parties were tried and condemned as war criminals. When the book keeps its eye on the aviators-growing up under a variety of conditions before the war, entering service, serving as the U. S. Navy's spearhead aboard the fast carriers, or facing captivity and death-it is as compelling as its predecessor. However, a chapter on prewar aviation is an uncritical panegyric to WWI aerial bombing advocate Billy Mitchell, who was eventually court-martialed for criticizing armed forces brass. More problematic is that Bradley tries to encompass not only the whole history of the Pacific War, but the whole history of the cultures of the two opposing countries that led to the racial attitudes which both sides brought to the war. Those attitudes, Bradley argues, played a large role in the brutal training of the Japanese army, which led to atrocities that in turn sharpened already keen American hostility. Some readers' hackles will rise at the discussion of the guilt of both sides, but, despite some missteps, Bradley attempts to strike an informed balance with the perspective of more than half a century. And with a CNN prime-time documentary to air at publication and a 25-city author tour, he should have no trouble reaching all comers. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
The wartime exploits of George Herbert Walker Bush are well known. The youngest pilot in the Navy at the time, flying the burly Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bomber, Bush had an exciting but unremarkable war up until the day when his squadron bombed an enemy stronghold and the young man's luck ran out. His plane riddled with flak and burning fiercely with two dead crewmen in the back, Bush had to bail out into enemy waters. At that, he was lucky. This book is the tale of nine Navy airmen whose planes were shot down over Chichi Jima that day. Eight of them were soon captured, and suffered unimaginably before they were barbarously executed. An American submarine fished the ninth from the sea, and he lived to become the 41st president of the United States. Bradley revisits this tale of what happened in one day in 1945. Without cringing, he confronts the reader with war as it sometimes can be. While the Japanese brutality toward their prisoners is boldly presented, the book is not a polemic against the island's defenders. Instead, Bradley presents the tragedies as he sees them; both sides fight fiercely, average people do their jobs with unselfconscious bravery, and young people die. Bradley knows something about battlefield bravery. His father was one of the six Marines who raised the flag on Iwo Jima, and he wrote about it in the best-selling Flags of our Fathers (Bantam, 2001). Meanwhile, even as the historic episode was being photographed for posterity, the distressing events were taking place on nearby Chichi Jima. Unfortunately, however, Flyboys also has some inherent shortcomings. Retelling historical events through the eyes of its characters inevitably meansinventing dialog and putting thoughts into the heads of people long dead. This technique, now called "literary nonfiction," is becoming ever more popular among writers today. The author's motives are probably pure, but inevitably he must portray their most intimate behavior as he himself sees it. This book is also peppered with small technical errorseven the term Flyboy is mildly disparagingthat greater familiarity with the subject would have prevented. That said, the book remains a vivid and exciting lesson of one episode in WW II. KLIATT Codes: SARecommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2003, Little Brown, Back Bay, 404p. illus. notes. bibliog. index., Ages 15 to adult.
Raymond Puffer, Ph.D.
How can you follow up a blockbuster like Flags of Our Fathers? With a book that reveals what happened to seven U.S. airmen shot down over Chichi Jima and captured by Japanese troops, never to be seen again. An eighth airman who managed to escape happened to be named George H.W. Bush. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
An episodic account of a little-covered arena in the much-covered genre of WWII: close air combat in the war against Japan. Bestselling Bradley (Flags of Our Fathers, 2001) renders due homage to the exploits of long-distance bomber crews in the Pacific campaign, and particularly the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo in 1942, the net effect of which, along with 90-odd burned buildings, was that "Japanese belief in their invincibility had been rudely shaken." At the same time, half a year after Pearl Harbor, Americans got a good morale boost out of the bombing, and young men rushed to become flyerswho were already, thanks to Charles Lindbergh and company, perceived as "the coolest of the cool." Bradley’s account centers on the new crop of pilots, many of them teenagers when the war broke out, who piloted fighters and dive bombers against the Japanese in the last two years of the war. Most famous of the nine men he treats in detail is George H.W. Bush, who was shot down over the island of Chichi Jima in 1944, but not before delivering his payload of bombs. Bush survived, was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroism under fire, and went on, of course, to the White House. Bush’s eight fellow pilots were not so lucky: they were captured, and treated so brutally that the US Navy effectively whitewashed their story, offering only a censored version of events to their families while executing many of the Japanese captors for their war crimes. Bradley writes vigorously, if graphically, about torture, beheading, disemboweling, and other unpleasant realities of POW life on Chichi Jima, though he takes great care to air those events from the Japanese point of view, one that equated surrenderwith dishonor and that did not honor the Geneva Convention. Yet, American pilots acknowledged, they, too, behaved similarly in the name of duty. Said one survivor, wisely, "I believe any culture can be indoctrinated into any attitude that the leaders want to teach them." A memorable portrait of men in battle. Author tour. Agent: Owen Laster/William Morris
"Bradley combines his tenacious detective skills with his gifts as a master storyteller to produce a tragic epic of two empires." Iris Chang, author of The Rape of Nanking
"Flyboys is not just a 'true story of courage' but a frightening reminder of the savagery human beings are capable of and the terrible moral choices nations at war must make." James D. Fairbanks, Houston Chronicle
"A gripping story.... Bradley tackles thorny issues head-on." Mark Lewis, Los Angeles Times
"Bradley has written a clear-eyed, heartfelt approach to a little-known corner of the 20th century's largest and most violent upheaval, while at the same time shining a light on some of that generation's finest." Tom Walker, Denver Post