Flyboys: A True Story of Courage
Reviewer: David Stubblebine
Review Date: 7 Jul 2008
Flyboys follows up Bradley's Flags of Our Fathers but he uses a very different writing style. Instead of the unabashed flag-waiving of Flags, Flyboys describes some of war's horrors with stark, graphic, honest detail.
Following the saying, "The roots of one war can be found in the last war," Flyboys begins Japan's story of war with the remnants of Russo-Japanese War in 1905; citing the irony of the US President Roosevelt's praises of Japan for its surprise attack of an enemy fleet at rest - Teddy Roosevelt that is, speaking of the Japanese attack on the Russian fleet 35 years before Pearl Harbor. From there, Bradley outlines many Japanese WWII atrocities from Manchuria to Indo-China in some detail, and also describes some of the less-than-honorable acts committed by the allies in the same region at the same time that were not as well publicized.
Once Bradley established that War is Hell on all sides, he focused on the Japanese held island of Chichi Jima in 1945. Bradley learned of these events after the war-crimes transcripts describing them were declassified in 1997. The transcripts were brought to him by a once-young Army lawyer who attended every day of those trials in 1946, signing secrecy oaths each time he came or left the proceedings. Once the transcripts were declassified in 1997, this now-older lawyer obtained copies in the hopes he would find to right outlet for them, since he had always felt "these guys wanted their story told." In Bradley, he found that outlet.
Once Bradley's fuse was lit, he painstakingly researched the events and the people caught up in those events with the same depth and sensitivity seen in Flags. This research included copious input from former-President Bush, who flew against Chichi Jima at the same time. The actions on Chichi Jima, as told in Bradley's stark and graphic style, horrified me but did not offend me, because of Bradley's even reporting of the events without judging them - leaving the judgments to the reader.
I picked up Flyboys because I wanted to know about the day-to-day lives of naval aviators in the combat zone. The book did not have much of that, but I finished it with the belief it was one the most important books on World War II I had ever read. I recommend this book as highly as I can for anyone wishing to know the kinds of things that really happen in war, without the brass bands or tickertape.
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Chiang Kaishek, 31 Jul 1937