This book was painful to read.
The first 8 chapters are basically the same first 8 chapters in his other book The Imperial Cruise. It’s all the historical backstory of how the Japanese became Imperialist war-mongers = they learned it from the British and the Americans. America’s hypocrisy is plainly exposed but apparently Bradley wanted to make sure we got the point. The book drags along with no real movement to the supposed point of the book – the story of the American flyers that found themselves as POWs in the hands of the Japanese.
I put down the book twice. I kept coming back because Flags of Our Fathers was one of the best books I’ve read so I knew that Bradley could tell a great story. Plus I had a friend tell me how wonderful this book was. This is the same friend that sings John Denver songs on a ski life so take it for what it is worth.
As bad as the first 8 chapters are – the last half of the book is outstanding. It’s as if Bradley found the overdrive button. We hear the stories of the POWs, the atrocity of their captors, the hypocrisy of the US bombing runs, the moral dilemma the Air Force found itself in concerning the atomic bomb. We hear the horror from the Japanese perspective as they endured the burning of Tokyo to the ground, their complete ignorance of what was really going on in the war.
Bradley handles the hypocrisy of the United States quite well. You will cringe and be revolted at what the Japanese soldiers do to the American flyboys. There is no word to describe this kind of savagery. However, as soon as our moral superiority kicks in, Bradley reminds the reader that the American treatment of Filipino POW’s decades earlier was eerily similar.
The issue of bombing civilians is another example. The United States historically preached against such a practice. They would publicly chastise any government that would partake of such villainy. However, the U.S. had no such qualms in Doolittle’s attack against Tokyo or in subsequent bombing runs. One might argue that Japan practiced total war, putting strategic military targets in the middle of the civilian population. And that Japan was getting ready to arm women, old men, and children as the U.S. military approached Japan. But the U.S. still made the decision to bomb civilians with Japan but did not with Germany.
The decision “in the moment” to bomb Tokyo to the ground was about saving lives in the long run. The thinking was when the Japanese see the kind of destruction that the US could rain down on their cities, they would surrender and the war would be over. When Japan didn’t surrender, the decision was then made to drop the atomic bombs. That decision was about saving US soldiers lives. I agree with Bradley assessment – while the theory of civilian bombing is atrocious to me, in the case of Japan – she made it impossible to avoid.
The book ends with some nice epilogue moments. The family members getting closure on what really happened with their sons, George Bush returning to the island where he was shot down, as well as the ‘rest of the story’ for the Japanese soldiers involved in the story.
So what to do with this book? If you’ve read Imperial Cruise, take warning. The first half of the book is going to be a re-read and a painful one at that. In Imperial Cruise, it fit. In this one – it felt forced. If you haven’t read the Imperial Cruise, this may read just fine.
To be clear – I am glad I finished the book. The book is a graphic reminder of what price the Greatest Generation paid for our country. It’s a price that I pray no other generation has to pay. It’s a reminder of the legacy of compassion and courage we have as a country as well.