S. Martin Shelton

Retired U.S.Navy Captain, Novelist

Archive for the tag “Military”

Book Review – Flyboys: A True Story of Courage

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Rating – Three Stars

As usual, my simple mind is confused. I do not know what to make of this book. It’s not a history of naval aviation in World War II, and it’s not a personal memorial to all the lost fliers “that did not return” to their aircraft carriers. It is a salmagundi of stories of naval aviators mostly dying. It’s a compendium of personal insights into naval aviators—officers and enlisted men that did not return—mostly.

Aside: Bradley’s use of “boys” throughout the text is an abomination and insult to the men of naval aviation who fought the good fight in the Pacific Campaign—many of whom did not return. I was in naval aviation for my entire career in the United States Navy. Prejudice against such disrespect is entrenched in me.

Also, to my amazement, Bradley fashioned the Japanese soldiers as “boys.” They were men.

Bradley rants pointedly about the USA’s eeevil colonialism in the Philippines and the diabolical war we waged on the populace—the slaughter of innocent civilians, internment camps, and the scorched-earth policy. I wonder what this screed contributed to Flyboys—perhaps only that war is Hell.

His detailed account of the Doolittle Raiders’ bombing of Japan on 18 April 1942 is compelling.

Bradley gets credit for his excellent research. His exposition of the Japanese army’s  training, discipline, and inexorable top-down chain of command is keenly informative and explains, in large measure, the inability of the on-scene commanders and their subordinates to make any decision of import without approval from the senior military clique in Tokyo—the “Spirit Warriors.” Of particular note is his explanation of their total disregard for the lives of their men. They sent soldiers to isolated islands. Their orders were to kill the American devils and to die for the Emperor. Surrender or failure to die was dishonorable and brought shame to their families. It was the Bushido code updated for the Pacific War.

Here’s one example. Japanese high command sent 130,000 troops to the island of New Guinea. After our navy’s victory in the battle of the Bismarck Sea, the Japanese soldiers were trapped. No supplies could reach them and there was no escape. The high command lacked concern—it was the vagaries of war and these men would die an honorable death. Nonetheless, the soldiers fought the Australian and American forces until almost all of the Japanese were dead—either killed or dead of disease and starvation. It’s in this story that Bradley tells us how the starving Japanese soldiers killed their own to keep from starving to death.

Bradley’s writing style is easy, fluid, and empathetic. And, that’s part of the problem with his book—it’s too empathetic, too vivid. We become immersed in his stories—we are at the location witnessing the details of the hideous torture, barbaric assassination, and gruesome cannibalism of our naval aviators. We attend the Japanese officers’ dining table to share the thigh of an enlisted gunner’s mate. Naturally, the reigning general has first pick.

Flyboys is a book suffused with death, torture, and cannibalism. I reckon that these horrors happened, but Bradley doesn’t have to be so dammed graphic about the details. This is not a book for the squeamish, the prudish, or the honorable warrior—in fact, I feel it’s a book solely for the Judge Advocate Generals.

My heart is greatly troubled by Bradley’s narrative. I regret having read his book. I’ve not slept well these past few nights. His images are too powerful. Flyboys is too personal, too engaging. I don’t want to witness the ignominious fate of my shipmates.  

Note: Many of these Japanese criminals were convicted of crimes and hung from the gallows.

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Book Review- The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945

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Rating – Five Stars

Toland presents in this superb tome a view of the Pacific War (1941-1945) that most of us have never thought about or seen. He writes in a smooth, engaging style. We are engrossed in the narrative of this page-turner. We view the details of this horrendous campaign from the Japanese perspective—it’s an eye opener incarnate. I was a young teenager on 7 December 1941, and followed the war closely in the papers, radio, and in newsreels. Finally, after all those years, I have a new perspective of the wherewithal—and it’s engaging.

In essence, the Japanese government and military convinced themselves and their public that the United States of America caused this war. Their rationale is complicated, self-deluding, and ignores their long-term ambitions of conquest.

As early as the late nineteenth century, the Japanese military had devised a scheme, dubbed the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, designed to forcefully take the rich natural resources of Southeast Asia that the home islands were deficient in—needed to make Japan a great nation. Such resources include: oil, rubber, tin, manganese, iron, silver, and a host of other items.

Following, Japan waged aggressive wars with its neighbors to implement this conquest plan: Sino-Japanese War, 1894 to 1895; Russo-Japanese War, 1904 to 1905; World War I, 1914 to 1945, Changkufeng incident with the USSR in 1938, Khalkhin Gol conflict with the USSR in 1939.

Tensions grew between Japan and the USA during the 1930s after the Kwantung Army invaded and conquered the Chinese Province Manchuria. In 1936, Japan invaded China proper. Within a few days, the Kwantung Army captured Peking, Shanghai, and other coastal cities.

In 1941 Prime Minister General Hideki Tojo told the Japanese Diet, “The Greater East Asia war is founded on the exalted ideals of the founding of our empire and it will enable all the nations and peoples of Greater East Asia to enjoy life and to establish a new order of coexistence and co-prosperity on the basis of justice with Japan as the nucleus.”

In July 1941, the Japanese Army invaded French Indochina for its many resources including rubber—the essential commodity for war. A few days later, President Roosevelt ordered all Japanese assets frozen and a complete embargo of oil and other resources. Great Britain and the Netherlands followed. These actions denied Japan her rightful place as the leader of Asia and challenged her very existence. Every day the Japanese navy consumed twelve thousand tons of irreplaceable bunker oil. With only a small reserve, Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoye said, “…the armed forces would be a helpless as a whale thrown up on the beach.”

At the military’s urging, Tojo convinced the Diet and Emperor Michinomiya Hirohito, to authorize the military to implement Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s plan to attack secretly the American fleet at anchor in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; and for the Army to launch the invasion of Hong Kong, Malaya, Singapore, Burma, Siam, the Philippines, Netherland East Indies, Guam, Wake Island, New Guinea, and Portuguese Timor.

From time to time, Toland personalizes the war, and we see the conflict from the perspective of the ordinary Japanese soldier. For example, we follow privates engaged in the Guadalcanal campaign, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, Leyte, Saipan, and Okinawa. Surprisingly, we begin to empathize with them—our pernicious enemy. Occasionally, he fails to follow through and we know not what happened to the soldier—killed, suicide, wounded, captured, survived?

I do have a few “picks to nit.” The most serious is Tolan’s diminution of the Japanese barbarous atrocities: the Bataan death march, Rape of Nanking, Death Railway in Siam, Rape of Manila, and many thousand other mistreatments of military prisoners of war and civilian captives. His Spartan coverage of these Japanese transgressions is curious—it’s almost a passing reference.

For the aficionados of the Pacific War this book is an essential reference.

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Book Review- Killing the Rising Sun

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Rating – Five Stars

Bill O’Reilly hits a home run with his compendium of the 1940s Pacific War. He writes in an easy, sparse, and empathetic style. He paints the big pictures of the major land and sea battles and tells the stories of the “grunts” that did the fighting and dying. We know these grunts. We identify with them, we are appalled at the horrendous casualties, we share the agony with the wounded, and we attend their burials at sea, in unmarked graves, and at Arlington.

O’Reilly sets the stage for the war in the Pacific with the Empire of Japan. We learn of the building animosity in the 1930s between America and the Empire of Japan. The animus began when Japan invaded the Chinese province Manchuria in September 1931. Japan was eager to implement its Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere to conqueror East Asia for its natural resources. The animus increased when Japan invaded China in July 1937. The Kwantung Army captured Peking, Shanghai, and other coastal cities in a few days. French Indo-China fell to Japan in July 1941.

Responding, President Roosevelt (with Great Britain and the Netherlands) imposed an embargo on petroleum products, steel, and other natural resources for Japan. At the time, the Imperial Japanese Navy had only three months of bunker oil. General Hideki Tojo ordered the implementation of Command Fleet Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s plan for a surprise attack on our fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii—Tora! Tora! Tora!

In the early morning on Sunday December 7, 1941, Imperial Japanese aircraft, from three aircraft carriers, bombed and torpedoed our fleet in Pearl Harbor with devastating results: sunk were the battleships, USS Arizona, USS Utah, USS Oklahoma, USS West Virginia, and USS California. Five other battleships were heavily damaged. President Roosevelt declared war on the Empire of Japan with the phrase, “a date which will live in infamy.”

O’Reilly guides us our journey through the bloody campaigns throughout the South and Central Pacific, and to the Japan’s home island Okinawa—where Kamikaze pilots drove their aircraft directly into our ships—causing devastating casualties in sailors and ships.

He details the great sea battles with cogency, Java Sea, Bismarck Sea, Coral Sea, Midway, Espírito Santo (“The Slot”), Battle of the Philippine Sea, Battle of Leyte Gulf, and the Okinawa Campaign. We crawl through the islands with the grunts: Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Buna, New Georgia, Mankin, Tarawa, Leyte, Saipan, Iwo Jima, Peleliu, and Okinawa.

Almost seventy percent of this book discusses the atomic bomb. We follow President Roosevelt’s approval, General Groves management of this titanic project, Doctor Oppenheimer assembling his team at Los Alamos, work, innovation, breakthrough, and testing. The bomb on board the B-29 dubbed Enola Gay, Hiroshima in flames; another bomb on the B-29 dubbed Box Car, Nagasaki in flames. We see General MacArthur on board the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay signing the instrument of surrender. The greatest, most deadly, and costly war has concluded.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Armies of Warlord China 1911-1928 by Philip Jowett

Armies of Warlord ChinaRating-Four Stars

This is a large (11” x 9”), heavy book–in weight and content. Jowett tells us just about everything we’d want to know about the history of the warlords of China that ruled the Northern provinces (and a few in the south). He laces his narrative with relevant photographs.

Unfortunately, the organization of this book is askew, and the narrative may need more copy editing. In the Introduction he relates a short history of China from the early 20th century to the early 1930s. Following is an extensive chronology of this history outlined in a bullet-type format where he introduces the warlords. Some of these entries are lengthy and introduce significant duplication of the information contained in the Introduction. There is also massive duplication of information in the subsequent pictorial biography of the major warlords and the captioned photographs of military activities.

I did enjoy the illustrated section of the aviation activities in the relevant time frame. The color drawings of the airplanes are well done and add credence to the narrative. There is also a section detailing the uniforms and equipment in the Imperial and Warlord Armies. The photographs of the warlords festooned in all their habiliments and the detailed drawings of the soldiers of the various armies in their uniforms are particularly informative.

The color pictorial of the badges and medals relevant to the National and Warlord Armies was excellent, but the captions are far too meager for the reader to understand their significance and order of importance.

This book is heady reading and designed for the cognoscenti of China’s milieu in that time period. It could be used as an important reference book for those seeking details of this not-well-known history of the Celestial Kingdom and the warlord wars (1929 to 1930).

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