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Flyboys: A True Story of Courage Hardcover – September 30, 2003

3.9 out of 5 stars 707 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The author of Flags of Our Fathers achieves considerable but not equal success in this new Pacific War-themed history. Again he approaches the conflict focused on a small group of men: nine American Navy and Marine aviators who were shot down off the Japanese-held island of Chichi Jima in February 1945. All of them were eventually executed by the Japanese; several of the guilty parties were tried and condemned as war criminals. When the book keeps its eye on the aviators-growing up under a variety of conditions before the war, entering service, serving as the U. S. Navy's spearhead aboard the fast carriers, or facing captivity and death-it is as compelling as its predecessor. However, a chapter on prewar aviation is an uncritical panegyric to WWI aerial bombing advocate Billy Mitchell, who was eventually court-martialed for criticizing armed forces brass. More problematic is that Bradley tries to encompass not only the whole history of the Pacific War, but the whole history of the cultures of the two opposing countries that led to the racial attitudes which both sides brought to the war. Those attitudes, Bradley argues, played a large role in the brutal training of the Japanese army, which led to atrocities that in turn sharpened already keen American hostility. Some readers' hackles will rise at the discussion of the guilt of both sides, but, despite some missteps, Bradley attempts to strike an informed balance with the perspective of more than half a century.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Bradley's phenomenal best-seller, Flags of Our Fathers (2000), was rejected by about 20 publishing houses before Bantam took a chance. His new publisher is not leaving the popularity of the encore to chance, launching it with an intense promotional campaign. Structured similarly to Flags, which concerned the flag-raisers of Iwo Jima, this work reconstructs the lives of several young men at war. Eight pilots and airmen were shot down by the Japanese military at Chichi Jima in 1944-45, George H. W. Bush among them. A well-known part of his political biography, Bush's story of escape is recounted somberly (Bush's crewmates died). The fates of the others shot down, who were captured, Bradley gathered in part from a source that was secret until a few years ago: records of a war-crimes trial of Japanese officers in command at Chichi Jima. Bradley sensitively builds the trial's unpleasant evidence (concealed, presumably, to spare pain to the airmen's relatives) into the narrative, which he frames with a portrayal of the Japanese military mind-set, which condoned the commission of atrocities. There are many brutally graphic passages about the torture and slaying of the American prisoners, which may prove too daunting for some readers, but Bradley succeeds in restoring dignity to the American airmen. Sure to command a large audience. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 398 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1st edition (September 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316105848
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316105842
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (707 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #166,541 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I was born in Wisconsin surrounded by a loving family of ten and loved swimming in cold lakes. When I was a boy I read an article by former president Harry Truman recommending historical biographies for young readers. His reasoning was that it was easy to follow the storyline of someone's life, and they would absorb the history of the times on the journey. History soon became my favorite subject and I have been an active reader all my life.

When I was thirteen years old I read an article by James Michener in Reader's Digest which I paraphrase: "When you're twenty-two and graduate from college, people will ask you, 'What do you want to do?' It's a good question, but you should answer it when you're thirty-five." Michener went on to write that his experiences wandering the globe as a young man later inspired his works on Afghanistan, Spain, Japan and other places.

When I was nineteen years old, I lived and studied in Tokyo for one year. I later brought my Japanese friends home to Wisconsin. My father, John Bradley, had helped raise an American flag on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima and had shot a Japanese soldier dead. My dad warmly welcomed my Japanese buddies.

I traveled around the world when I was twenty-one, from the U.S. to Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, France, Germany, Italy, England and back to the United States.

At twenty-three I graduated with a degree in East Asian history from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

For the next twenty years I worked in the corporate communications industry in the United States, Japan, England and South Africa.

In my late thirties I took a year off to go around the world again. On this trip I made it to base camp on Mt. Everest and walked among lions in Africa.

My father died when I was forty years old. My search to find out why he didn't speak about Iwo Jima led me to write Flags of Our Fathers and establish the James Bradley Peace Foundation.

Flags of Our Fathers went on to be a bestseller and a movie, but few saw its potential at first. In fact, as this New York Times article documents, twenty-seven publishers turned the book down over a period of twenty-five months. This difficult and humbling birthing process inspired my live presentation Doing the Impossible.

In 2001 a WWII veteran of the Pacific revealed to me that the U.S. government had kept secret the beheading deaths of eight American airmen on the Japanese island of Chichi Jima, next door to Iwo Jima. After researching their deaths, I informed the eight families and the world of the unknown facts in my book second book Flyboys. (One flyboy got away. His name was George Herbert Walker Bush.)

After writing two books about WWII in the Pacific, I began to wonder about the origins of America's involvement in that war. The inferno that followed Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor had consumed countless lives, and believing there's usually smoke before a fire, I set off to search Asia for the original irritants. The result of that search is my third book, The Imperial Cruise.

I am working on my fourth book, about Franklin Delano Roosevelt and China.

Above my desk are the framed words of James Michener:

"Just because you wrote a few books, the world is not going to change. You will find that you will go to sleep and awaken as the same son-of-a-bitch you were the day before."

For the past ten years, the James Bradley Peace Foundation and Youth For Understanding have sent American students to live with families overseas. Perhaps in the future when we debate whether to fight it out or talk it out, one of these Americans might make a difference.


Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am old enough to have lived through the war and remember it well. I never knew why Japan declared war on the U.S., even though I have taken every history class offered throughout my school career. "Flyboys" is probably the most brutal book I have ever read, almost too difficult in places. I am grateful to James Bradley for having written this book, I now understand why America dropped the Atomic Bombs and put an end to that war. "Flyboys" is a must read.
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Format: Hardcover
What an odd book. Flyboys is the story of several air raids flown against the island of Chichi Jima, north of Iwo Jima, during 1944-45, by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, and more specifically it's the story of what happened to those airmen who were shot down over the island. The author, to write this story, uses extensive interviews he conducted with participants from both sides, survivors in their late 70s and 80s. This is all well and good, and if the book stopped at that, I suspect I'd be giving it a higher rating than I am.
What cripples the book is the author's belief that he has to give you a history lesson. As a result, he starts his account of the raids on the island by describing Japan prior to Admiral Perry's arrival in 1852. He takes a sort of anecdotal approach to things, recounting various events in American and Japanese history. His reason for doing this, apparently, is to give the events of the subject of the book context.
And that brings us to the main difficulty with the book. The author has a rather skewed view of American history, one that's decidedly more critical of it than is warranted, at least in my view. Further, his recounting of fact is at times inaccurate and incomplete. There is one good thing he doesn't do: he doesn't attempt to minimize Japanese atrocities in WW2. What he does instead is insist that the Americans committed crimes just as terrible, the implication being that the Japanese were punished because they lost the war.
Let me go over these accusations in some detail, so I'm not misunderstood and we're all clear.
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Format: Hardcover
I purchased the book with great expectations, having enjoyed the author's previous work, Flags of Our Fathers, albeit with a few reservations such as his continuing insistence of calling military men "boys", which we take as pejorative. Nonetheless, I expected similar quality of background research and details.

This book mainly centers on World War II action in and around the island of Chichi Jima, near Iwo Jima and what happened to a number of pilots who were shot down there and taken prisoner by the Japanese. What I found in reading the book was a jumbled hodgepodge of some of the same good historical background as in Flags, jumbled with some rather skewed and outrageous personal opinion of the sort I would have expected to read from former WWII Japanese officers. Worse, he makes one of a historian's most egregious errors, that of judging events and people out of the context of the time in which they lived. In doing that, he tried to use inaccurate and incomplete historic accounts of a few events in past US history to somehow justify the repeated barbaric actions of the Japanese toward their prisoners of war during WWII.

If one wants to get a more accurate view of the Japanese actions and motivations one should read "The Rape of Nanking" by Iris Chang, or more broad and accurate coverage from "Prisoners of the Japanese : Pows of World War II in the Pacific" by Gavin Daws.

This author, instead seems to try and go out of his way to include what I would have to feel are insincere and untrue personal accounts from some of the former Japanese, all of whom seem to be trying to ameliorate their willing complicity in Japan's institutionalized policy of horrific war crimes in much the same manner as did former Nazi's when tried for war crimes.
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Format: Hardcover
Filled with fascinating information about the Japanese WW2 mind and the accomplishments of the Flyboys, but too many attempts at moral equivalence for my taste; while describing the horror perpetrated by the Japanese, the author constantly points a finger at the US either in blame or charging hypocrisy (though his description of Japanese inhumanity eventually overwhelms).
While there may be some validity to these charges - and the author provides many examples of American butchery, all the way from the Native Americans to the Phillipines - some attempts are somewhat sickening. After describing the appalling butchery of POWs and other horrors practiced by the Japanese, and the outrage such savagery provoked here in the US, he describes some take-no-prisoners incidents perpetrated by the US, and wags his finger: "When U.S. prisoners were killed, it was 'murder ...' But when Americans murdered Others, 'they had it coming to them.'" Er ... excuse me, Bozo, but didn't you read what you just wrote?
To wit, the behavior of the Japanese. Did it not occur to the author that their rejection of the Geneva Convention, brutal treatment (rape, murder and torture) of civilians, and other scummy actions, such as this:
"The wounded wait until [US] men come up to examine them ... and blow themselves and the other fellow to pieces with a hand grenade" (p. 143)
could somehow lead American soldiers to regard their enemies as subhuman monsters? I dunno, I think it's possible. Sure, they look different ... but they also behave different, and that's the key.
How about slicing open living POWs and removing their lungs or stomachs, without anesthesia? Poking around in their brains with a knife and twisting to see what body parts jerk?
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