Sunday, July 25, 2010

Bush and Flyboys of WWII

(July 14, 2010) Below, right: Former President George H.W. Bush watches flight operations from the landing signal officer's platform aboard the aircraft carrier that bears his name, USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). Bush and his wife, Barbara, spent their time aboard watching flight operations, touring the ship and visiting the crew. George H.W. Bush is conducting training in the Atlantic Ocean. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nicholas Hall/Released)

Review by Bill Doughty

When the former President and First Lady visited namesake USS George H. W. Bush, (CVN-77) this month, among other things, they watched flight operations, toured the tribute room where a model of his WWII ship USS San Jacinto (CVL-30) is on display, and visited the ship’s library, a place filled with books, including good reads about Navy history and heritage.

Bush, one of the “Flyboys” described in James Bradley’s 2003 primer on aviation in WWII, was barely 20 when he and his flight crew were shot down after a bombing run on Chichi Jima, the island near Iwo Jima from which the orders to bomb Pearl Harbor were transmitted.

The book, on the Navy’s supplemental reading list, describes Bush’s rescue by the submarine Finback (SS-230) and the tragic loss of his two shipmates, gunner Ted White and radioman John Delaney.

Bradley delves into the horrors of war, carefully documenting incidents of torture, cruelty, even cannibalism, and explaining how such inhumanity arises from hatred, racism and xenophobia.

Less than one hundred years after Matthew C. Perry was welcomed at Chichi Jima in 1853, the tiny island was a focal point for bombing, POW abuse and fierce fighting.

Bradley interviewed then-President Bush and transcribes emotional memories of personal loss and tragedy, focusing on his sense of duty and personal ethos, his coming to terms with the tragedy of war, and ultimate transcendence, with his return to Chichi Jima in 2002, to face the ghosts of war.

Bradley, son of the Navy Corpsman who helped raise the flag on Iwo Jima, author of Flags of Our Fathers, says he is dedicated to disproving philosopher Immanuel Kant’s contention that, for humans, “the normal state of nature is not peace but war.”

In Bradley’s words, “war is the tragedy of what might have been.”

The USS George H. W. Bush is training to prevent war, to protect and defend peace, but to respond if called upon. No doubt it will have opportunities to interoperate with American allies and U.S. Navy partners -- including Japan.


The following interview with former President George H. W. Bush can be found at Both the former president and former first lady are big supporters of literacy, learning and reading. While president, Bush participated in Read Aloud events, sharing the gift of reading with young people.

Was there a book that inspired you?

George H.W. Bush: One of the historians here in Williamsburg talked about War and Peace. I had to read that in school. It was an inspiring, lengthy treatise. I read it twice. It taught me a lot about life. There was a marvelous book by Salinger called Catcher in the Rye. There was a book about discrimination called Gentleman's Agreement. These books I think helped shape my life.

Was there an experience that changed your life?

George H.W. Bush: I think the major event that shaped my life was being a Naval aviator. I got my commission and wings at 18 years old, and then I went into combat at 19. And I think, as I look back on it, that whole experience probably shaped my life more than any incident, or any event. Although I remember when I was shot down in that war. I remember how terrified I was.

ATLANTIC OCEAN (July 15, 2010) Command Chaplain Cmdr. Cameron Fish and former First Lady Barbara Bush tour the ship's library aboard the aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). The library is dedicated to the former president's daughter, who is also the ship's sponsor. Bush, along with the ship's namesake, George H.W. Bush, spent their time aboard watching flight operations, touring the ship and visiting with the crew. The aircraft carrier is underway conducting training in the Atlantic Ocean. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Nathan A. Bailey/Released)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Warfare - 1876 to 2010

Reviews by Bill Doughty

Two books I just finished -- The Last Stand by Nathaniel Philbrick and War by Sebastian Junger -- take us into combat, more than a century apart. Each is filled with rich characters, strong personalities and gruesome details about individual acts of courage in the face of death. Both books were published in 2010.

Philbrick’s book, subtitled Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Big Horn, brings the West to life through the men and women who lived, fought and died in the Kansas, Dakota, Wyoming and Montana Territories.

Philbrick reveals the importance of good intelligence and command and control -- key to success in warfare over the centuries. George Armstrong Custer learned the challenges when he raced off to chase a buffalo:

“Only gradually did he realize that these rolling green hills possessed a secret. It seemed as if the peak up ahead was high enough for him to catch a glimpse of the regiment somewhere back there in the distance. But each time he and his horse reached the top of a rise, he discovered that his view of the horizon was blocked by the surrounding hills. Like a shipwrecked sailor bobbing in the giant swells left by a recent storm, he was enveloped by wind-rippled crests and troughs of grass and was soon completely lost... This same trick of western topography would lure him to his death on a flat-topped hill beside a river called the Little Bighorn.”

Sitting Bull, Hunkpapa Lakota leader

Philbrick’s carefully researched and documented book is packed with photos, maps and descriptions of the history of cruelty that unfolded in the wake of the Civil War and moved westward against Native Americans.

Custer was killed on June 25, 1876, just nine days before the United States Centennial.

In War, Sebastian Junger shows the hardships of combat from a remote outpost in eastern Afghanistan named for a beloved medic, Juan “Doc” Restrepo. Junger describes the sounds, smells and feel of combat and the long lulls before and after.

He smacks readers with sudden, shocking violence. With the forced detachment of a journalist, he reveals the life and psychology of the soldiers he came to know and care about while on assignment for Vanity Fair.

A reward comes at the end of the book when he puts his observations in the context of history and evolutionary biology.

What motivates warriors? Why is a certain size group most effective -- 30-50 for hunter-gatherer family tribes and 150 for communitiy groups, comparable to platoons or battle companies, respectively.

It is more about buddies and loyalties than big ideals and politics. A powerful motivator is simply not wanting to let your teammates down.

A fitting quote for this Independence Day introduces Book Two, entitled Killing. The quote is attributed to Winston Churchill and possibly George Orwell:

“We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.”

Restrepo, a documentary in association with National Geographic, filmed by Junger and Tim Hetherington, earned the 2010 Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

PFC Juan Restrepo