Friday, November 15, 2013

Flyboys by James Bradley

Flyboys focuses on a slice of World War II that took place on Chichi Jima and Iwo Jima.  It especially highlights the lives of eight American fliers who lost their lives in their effort to wrest these islands from the Japanese.  (The story is not to be confused with the 2006 movie of the same name which features fliers from the First World War.)

Cons: Bradley writes from a liberal perspective, comparing the brutality of the Japanese with the "white supremacist” treatment of Native Americans, which seemed more than a little out of place considering the immense difference in the way the Allied and Axis nations treated their prisoners of war.  His view of Chinese history was skewed, to say the least, when he described Mao Tse Dung as law-abiding and dismissed Chiang Kai Shek as ruthless. In addition, his prolonged and repetitious descriptions of cannibalism among the Japanese were unnecessary. 

Pros: That said, this book had the most comprehensive explanation I’ve ever read on why the Japanese behaved as they did.  In light of their training to despise any soldier “cowardly” enough to surrender, it is amazing that some of the Japanese befriended the pilots who were captured.  Bradley does a good job of piecing together the stories of each of the eight flyboys many years after they lost their lives.

Lauren Hildebrand’s Unbroken awakened my interest in military airpower so I was delighted with paragraphs such as this in Chapter Sixteen: The B-29 was to airplanes what rifles were to slingshots.  It was the biggest, longest, widest, heaviest, fastest, and longest-flying airplane in history.  Its four propellers were each sixteen feet long.  It could carry ten tons of bombs and still fly 357 miles per hour.  It could remain airborne more than sixteen hours while providing living room-like comfort to its eleven-man crew.  Other planes required bulky clothes and cumbersome oxygen masks in the minus 50-degree cold at thirty thousand feet.  But this “Cadillac of the skies” had pressurized crew quarters, so airmen could lounge comfortably in their regular clothes.  And once the kinks had been (mostly) worked out, it became the most devastating weapon of WWII.

Bradley also does a good job of emphasizing the sheer enormity of the Flyboys’ task: The Pacific war was fought over the largest theater in the history of warfare.  Islands - sometimes spits of sand or hard, unforgiving rocks like Iwo Jima – determined America’s strategy.  The Marianas – Guam, Tinian, and Saipan – provided the long airfields needed for the B-29s to bring the war to the island of Japan. . . . The biggest obstacle on a bombing run was presented by Iwo Jima… It would have to be eliminated as a threat for the Flyboys to effect the downfall of Japan. . . . Flyboys bombed Iwo Jima for seventy-two straight days before the February 19 invasion.  After the war, navy analysts declared the tiny island the single most intensely bombed spot of the Pacific war. . . .  All for this tiny speck of cooled lava in the middle of the vast Pacific.  Driving your car on the highway, it takes just five minutes to go five miles.  It took the slogging, dying Marines thirty-six days to conquer the same distance. (from Chapter Fourteen)

A fascinating and informative book.

(Orginally published on 9/7/12 on my WWII blog - now defunct)


Annette said...

I've not read this book, but will put it on my list to be read. My dad passed away in August. Earlier this year he read, "A Higher Call" by Adam Makos. Dad said this was one of the best books he'd ever read. Have you read "A Higher Call"?
Have a great weekend!

hopeinbrazil said...

Annette, You are the second person to point out Makos' book to me. I've got it on my TBR list now.