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Flyboys    by James Bradley order for
by James Bradley
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2003 (2003)
Hardcover, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Sally Selvadurai

Flyboys is a riveting read, but it's not by any means pleasant. The author delves into the history behind many events of the Pacific arena of World War II. We are not only forced to acknowledge the incredible atrocities of war ('Nations tend to see the other side's war atrocities as systemic and indicative of their culture while their own are justified or the acts of stressed combatants'), but the author also portrays the slaughter of civilians through the history of the United Stated first with native Americans, and later the 'tak(ing) of the Philippines and Hawaii by bayonet.'

James Bradley quotes Charles Lindberg at the beginning of Chapter Ten ('Yellow Devils, White Devils') with the following: 'We hold his examples of atrocity screaming to the heavens while we cover up our own and condone them as just retribution for his acts. We claim to be fighting for civilization, but the more I see of this war in the Pacific the less right I think we have to claim to be civilized. In fact, I am not sure that our record in this respect stands so very much higher than the Japanese.'

This is the impression Bradley instills, even as he is aiming to educate us about the fate of very specific airmen on the island of Chichi Jima. The author describes their unspeakable demise at the hands of a few of the Japanese officers in charge. The story is horrifying, but so too are the details Bradley gives us of civilians running for their lives as Americans firebombed Tokyo. 56.3 square miles of the city were flattened and burned, while Osaka's damaged area was 16.4 square miles.

Bradley's account is objective, covering brutality on both sides of the war, including orders from the top down to kill Japanese soldiers rather than take them prisoner, or blanket bomb residential areas to inflict maximum casualties. War brings out inhumanity, and this historical account is an important reminder of the need for vigilance about the morality of any leader's orders, especially in wartime. Flyboys is not a book for the faint-hearted but is highly recommended to those interested in what can be learned from history.

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