Vets Don't Razzle Dazzle War
Bill Eichenberger, writing in the Columbus Dispatch (Feb. 3, 2004):
In two best sellers, historian James Bradley has addressed conflict in the Pacific during World War II.
Flags of Our Fathers (2000) tells the story of the six "boys" who raised the U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi during the battle for the island of Iwo Jima.
The photograph of the event is considered the most-reproduced image in history.
Flyboys (2003) tells the story of the eight airmen who were shot down on or near the island of Chichi Jima and captured by the Japanese near the end of the war. The airmen were executed and, later, their captors convicted of war crimes at a secret trial.
Not once in the combined 782 pages does Bradley use the words patriot or patriotism .
"I've interviewed hundreds of veterans of the Pacific, and I've never had one of them say the word patriotism, " the author said in a recent telephone interview. "The guys on Iwo Jima, the guys on the aircraft carrier didn't want to be there. They wanted to be at home. They were there because they had to be. They were truly fighting for their country."
He knows whereof he speaks: His father, John, helped raise the flag on Iwo Jima.
Patriotism, Bradley said, is a word not for his father's generation but for younger generations -- "a glean that someone who wasn't there puts on a horrific experience."
Responses to Flags of Our Fathers raised flags for him.
"I got a lot of letters that said, 'Wouldn't it be great to return to such a patriotic time?' Those letters turned my head. Iwo Jima was a massacre on both sides. I thought at the time I'd written a book about a time we'd never want to go back to."
He feels a kinship with historian Paul Fussell, who wrote in the book The Boys' Crusade :
"The historiography I've been drawn to abjures attractive cuteisms like 'the Big Red One,"Hell on Wheels,' and 'the Rainbow Division,' as well as charming troop-friendly allusions to things like 'the deuce-and-a-half truck.' The world of ground warfare can never be truly recalled by such stuff, which belongs to the history of sentimental show business, not the history of real human action and emotion, especially as triggered by intimate horror, death, and sorrow."
In Flags of Our Fathers and especially Flyboys, Bradley looks unflinchingly at such death and sorrow. And, controversially, he does so from the viewpoints of the Americans and the Japanese.
Flyboys recounts a scene in which the mother of Glenn Frazier, a flyboy beaten to death on Chichi Jima, asks one of his friends to point out the island on a map:
" 'Oh! It's so far away,' Mrs. Frazier said. Then she broke down and sobbed in Lyle's arms."
Kazuyo Funato, who lost two siblings when the United States dropped napalm on Tokyo, took his mother to the graves:
" 'She'd pour water on them and say: 'Hiroko-chan, you must have been hot. Teruko-chan, you must have been hot.' "
Bradley understands that not every World War II veteran appreciates the balance.
"They think I'm criticizing them, and I'm not," he said. "I told a veteran once: 'Sir, if I had been of age during World War II, I would have been fighting right beside you. Anybody would have. It was war.' "
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