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Friday, July 13, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Danger's Hour: The Story of the USS Bunker Hill and the Kamikaze Pilot Who Crippled Her

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Danger's Hour: The Story of the USS Bunker Hill and the Kamikaze Pilot Who Crippled Her:


What to make of this book. Not being a professional historian working in this area but with some interest in things nautical, I have no in-depth knowledge of the factual nature of this book. Nevertheless, there were some little things that struck me: the Langley (CV-1)described as having begin its life as a light cruiser (it was a collier - note that a later USS Langley CV-17 was indeed originally ordered as a light cruiser), “heads” being called bathrooms, the “rising sun” insignia described as being on the tail of a plane (all pictures I’ve seen had the red ball on the fuselage and the wings,) and bombs are not usually attached to the landing gear.

So I poked around in some reviews and leaving aside the inevitable antagonism toward the Kennedys -- why can’t we see people as individuals instead of part of the inevitably hated tribe -- there were several naval types who railed at the naval errors which they reported filled the book. (One wag reported that reading the first half of the book was like “walking around with a pebble in your shoe” - what a great line.)

On the other hand, the goal of the author was to celebrate the ordinary seaman and aviator (ironically both Admirals Mitscher and Burke were aboard the Bunker Hill); to examine why they performed such heroic actions under impossible conditions; why Japanese often flew their planes willingly into American ships; and to examine whatever cultural differences might exist between the two countries that might explain the differences.

A basic tenet of western culture is that suicide is immoral, yet despite our celebration of the individual as opposed to the Japanese adoration for those who subsume themselves for the group, we, too, honor those who “give their lives for their country.” That implies a willful act, one that could be considered suicide and it’s certainly done for the “greater good.” Charging the machine gun to certain death gets the country’s highest honor. If these values were not inculcated into us from birth, I suppose the military could not exist.

So the question I continue to ask myself, and sought from this book, is just why we are so willing to give our lives for something as ephemeral and inconsequential as a political entity we call a country and/or a political system which many of us could not define except in mythological terms. My nephew and I once had a most interesting debate over lunch in Wurzburg where he teaches ethics and philosophy about a statement made by a German(!) professor I had in college who said that “no political system was worth one life.” If one accepts that one might be, just where does one draw the line: a thousand, ten thousand, a million? So my expectations for the book had less to do with whether the author was a Kennedy or whether the original Langley started as a collier, or where the Japanese planes painted their insignia. It was why people do what they do in times of extreme stress and how we define heroes. I still cannot answer that question to my satisfaction.

The book has an extraordinary bibliography and Kennedy has clearly done his homework. The rather obvious mistakes I noted above should probably be chalked up to bad editing at Simon & Schuster and not seen as a reflection on the entire book which is extremely interesting.


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