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 flyers—who 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 surrender with 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.