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.