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The Guns of August
Barbara W. Tuchman, Robert K. Massie
Flyboys: A True Story of Courage - James Bradley I tried to read [b:Flyboys: A True Story of Courage|202146|Flyboys A True Story of Courage|James Bradley|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1344264029s/202146.jpg|22829] twice before and always stopped when the author tells the story of a Japanese soldier who rapes and kills a young girl after he kills the father. What turned me off was the author appends the honorific “–san” to this soldier. It pissed me off to show that respect. Well I powered through on the third try and glad I did. There is a reason the author did that which you only find out about later. This is a 5 Star history if there ever was one! You will ache for the families of the lost, the Americans and some of the Japanese. Terrible things were done, a savage vengeance was wrought on Japan, not unjustified but terrible nonetheless. I am so glad I read this amazing story.

Some highlights:

George H. W. Bush at war is shown for the hero he is. A brave young man, he might have been captured at Chichi Jima and suffered a terrible fate, rather than the admirable and honorable career he had. Here is a young George Bush after several months at war in the Pacific:

At 7:15 A.M., after a breakfast of powdered eggs, bacon, sausage, dehydrated fried potatoes, and toast, George lifted his torpedo plane off the carrier with Ted White and John Delaney in back. Each boy wore a Mae West over his flight suit. George’s plane carried four 500 pound bombs.

As the Flyboys winged toward Chichi Jima, the enemy was monitoring their progress, Emperor Hirohito’s antiaircraft gunners scanning the telltale pips on their radar screens.

At 8:15 A.M., George and his squadron initiated their glide-bombing run. Mount Yoake and Mount Asahi and their radio stations were easy targets to spot. The twin peaks rose abruptly from the Pacific to a height of about one thousand feet and were distinguished by their forests of antenna towers, which served as the Japanese military’s radio transmitters and receivers. Surrounding these radio towers were nests of antiaircraft guns and radar facilities, now homed in on George and his group.

The lead plane went down through black clouds of antiaircraft fire, followed by the second. The two dropped eight bombs — two tons of explosives — on the radio complex. Now, however, the Japanese gunners had the Flyboys’ range in their sights. George was the next to dive. He could see that he had to fly into the middle of intense antiaircraft fire.

Fifty-seven years later, I asked George Bush what it was like to dive straight toward antiaircraft gunners trying to blow him out of the sky.

“You see the explosions all around you,” he said, “these dark, threatening puffs of black smoke. You’re tense in your body, but you can’t do anything about it. You cannot take evasive action, so you get used to it. You just think to yourself, ‘This is my duty and I have got to do it.”

Bush paused for a moment and then added, ‘And of course, you always thought someone else was going to get hit.”

But on September 2, that “someone else” was George Bush. At release altitude, a Japanese shell tore into his plane.

George Bush is literally going down in flames. I think about all the terrible things that were said about G.H.W. Bush as a politician and I get pretty ticked off. He wasn’t the best politician but is a better man than most.

The book is not just about the island of Chichi Jima and what happened there. The bombing campaign against Japan was horrific even before the bomb was dropped. It is hard not to sympathize with the targets of our bombers and wonder if we really needed to do this. Fire bombing of Tokyo, March 1945:

The fire was so hot that “superheated vapors rushing ahead of the wall of flames killed or knocked unconscious its victims even before the flames reached them.” The temperature reached 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. Babies exploded on mothers’ backs, and cars on streets were “consumed like crumpled paper.”

Iwao Ishikawa remembered being trapped by the fire in a group of about forty people. “Because of this inferno, this burning hell, a young father right next to me didn’t seem to know that the child on his back was on fire,” Ishikawa said. “People on the outer edge of the group fell one by one, dead from inhalation.”

Rivers of fire flowed down the streets. Canals boiled and humans burst spontaneously into flames, blazing like matchsticks. People’s heads exploded in the heat, the liquid brains in their burst skulls bubbling an eerie fluorescence. The feet of the fleeing masses scrunched eyeballs that had popped from sockets under pressure.

Miho Yoshioka ran into a temple for safety. She remembered thinking that she saw “a lot of statues of guardian deities inside, just like the ones outside. I suddenly realized they were really burned bodies, still standing upright.”

Nineteen-year-old Kimie Ono saw a mother and child running. ‘Suddenly the firestorm swept out a finger to lick them, and in a second the mother and child burst into flames... . Their clothes afire, they staggered and fell to the ground. No one stopped to help them.”

Hidezo Tsuchikua rushed with his two children to the Futaba School, famous for its large swimming pool. He went to the roof, where flames lapped at them. Inside the school building, thousands were baked to death and “looked like mannequins, some of them with a pinkish complexion.” Tsuchikua will always remember the sight of the pool: “It was hideous. More than a thousand people, we estimated, had jammed into the pool. The pool had been filled to its brim when the first arrived. Now there wasn’t a drop of water, only the bodies of the adults and children who had died.”

On July 26, 1945, President Truman issued the Potsdam Declaration. Once the Potsdam Declaration for unconditional surrender is announced, plans are made for the elimination of the POWs. Minister of War Shitayama issued an order to POW camp commandants, instructing them what to do in the event of an invasion:

When the battle situation becomes urgent the POWs will be concentrated and confined in their location and kept under heavy guard until preparations for the final disposition will be made. Although the basic aim is to act under superior orders, individual disposition may be made in certain circumstances. Whether they are destroyed individually or in groups, and whether it is accomplished by means of mass bombing, poisonous smoke, poisons, drowning, or decapitation, dispose of them as the situation dictates. It is the aim not to allow the escape of a single one, to annihilate them all, and not to leave any traces.

Flyboy Charlie Brown, shot down on February 16, was wasting away in the Ofuna POW camp when he got the word. “It was a casual comment as one of the guards was tapping me on the head with a bamboo stick,” Charlie told me. “The guard said, ‘If there is an invasion you will all die.”

Flyboys were already dying. As revenge for B-29 attacks in May and June, Professor Fukujiro Ishiyama, director of external medicine at Kyushu Imperial University, had strapped eight captured American crewmen to operating tables. The professor didn’t administer an anesthetic. He began to cut.

He sliced out one Flyboy’s lung and placed it in a surgical pan. The patient was alive. Then he slit his lung artery and watched the boy gurgle to death in his own blood. Another boy had his stomach cut out —while conscious. Professor Ishiyama then cut five of the boy’s ribs, slit an artery, and watched to see how long his heart would pump before he died. Professor Ishiyama bored a hole in one Flyboy’s skull. Then he inserted a knife and twisted it around in his brain. The professor wanted to see what parts of the boy’s body jumped and jerked with each turn of the knife.

The atomic bombs were there and would be used after our experience on Okinawa. The arguments over their use rage on but those against really don’t have weight in context of the war:

“Pika-don,” the survivors called it. Pika (flash) don (boom). Flash-boom. Pika-don Thirty seconds after the pika, explosive wind blew out Windows 6.6 miles away. Within eight minutes, a mountain of smoke and debris arose as tall and massive as Mount Everest. An estimated 140,000 people would die.

To Curtis and many Flyboys, the atomic bomb was not the destructive quantum leap many have since claimed. Plain old fire killed most of the Hiroshima victims, and Curtis had killed almost as many in Tokyo with napalm. The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey stated that the atomic bomb at Hiroshima was the equivalent of 220 fully loaded B-29s, “Accordingly, a single atomic explosion represented no order-of-magnitude increase in destructiveness over a conventional air raid.”

Likewise Curtis did not think a moral boundary was crossed. Later, he wondered if people thought it “much more wicked to kill people with a nuclear bomb, than to kill people by busting their heads with rocks. I suppose they believe also that a machine gun is a hundred times wickeder than a bow and arrow.”

“Having found the bomb,” President Truman said, “we have used it. We have used it to shorten the agony of young Americans.” A few days later, he explained his motives in a letter to the U.S. Federal Council of Churches of Christ. He told the Christian leaders, “When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him as a beast.”

Few people now reflect that samurai swords killed more people in WWII than atomic bombs. WWII veteran Paul Fussell wrote, “The degree to which Americans register shock and extraordinary shame about the Hiroshima bomb correlates closely with lack of information about the Pacific war.”

Marine veteran and historian William Manchester wrote, “You think of the lives which would have been lost in an invasion of Japan’s home islands - a staggering number of Americans but millions more of Japanese — and you thank God for the atomic bomb.” Winston Churchill told Parliament that the people who preferred invasion to dropping the atomic bomb seemed to have “no intention of proceeding to the Japanese front themselves.”

Japanese pilot Mitsuo Fuchida led Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1959, Fuchida told Paul Tibbets: “You did the right thing.”

Former President Bush and a Japanese soldier meet on Chichi Jima as old men and tell their stories. An emotional and wonderful meeting of former enemies, it still chokes me up, a transcendent ending to the story.

As Iwatake told the story, tears ran down our cheeks. Then it was on to the sunlit shore where the handsome twenty-four-year-old Texan had rolled down his collar. The two former foes, Bush and Iwatake, placed one flower each to mark Warren Earl’s death spot. They lingered to speak privately. I knew President Bush held Iwatake-san in special esteem.

Earlier I had told the president how Iwatake-san’s life story seemed to sum up all the twists, turns, and contradictions of Japanese-American relations in the twentieth century. He was born Nobuaki Iwatake, the American son of Japanese immigrants. He recited the Pledge of Allegiance in Hawaiian grade school. Later, the Japanese army drafted him from a Tokyo college and slapped Yamato damashii into him. Then American submarines torpedoed him and Flyboys flung bombs at his head. Awaiting slaughter by the expected soon-to-invade American devils, he assisted Japanese intelligence while seated at a radio console trading jokes with a Cherokee Marine. Having formed a close bond with this kichiku, he came to loathe Captain Yoshii for ordering Warren Earl’s death. Months later, on August 6, 1945, Iwatake-san was still atop Mount Yoake with his headsets. He was startled to hear about an explosive device called the atomic bomb. His extended family lived in Hiroshima. He later learned that his younger brother had been vaporized near the detonation point. Bearing no grudges, he promoted friendship between America and Japan as a longtime employee in the press section of the United States embassy in Japan. Iwatake-san is retired now and lives in a comfortable section of Tokyo. He holds Japanese and American citizenship.

Standing where Warren Earl had died, I was moved by the sight of the old Flyboy and the old issen gorin together — once boys whose divine mission had been to kill each other, now wiser men lost in the quiet murmurs of mutual understanding.

The Flyboy who got away became president of the United States. What might have been for Warren Earl, Dick, Marve, Glenn, Floyd, Jimmy, the unidentified airman, and all the Others who had lost their lives? A Nobel prize, a wife’s love, a daughter’s soft memory? And what might have been for those millions of doomed Japanese boys, abused and abandoned by their leaders? War is the tragedy of what might have been.

I give it my highest possible recommendation.