Trajectories of War

Online review from KJ 72, BY KEN RODGERS

Field Of Spears: The Last Mission of the Jordan Crew
Gregory Hadley, Paulownia Press, 160pp

 
Published more than sixty years since the end of World War II, this a painstakingly-researched account of the downing of an American B-29 by anti-aircraft fire over Niigata City in July 1945 has a distinctly Rashomon-like quality, incorporating multiple viewpoints, both American and Japanese, in giving a detailed account “with respect and compassion for the people on both sides of this conflict.” Even today, the facts are sensitive and still contentious — “Those who have the least to say about such events are sometimes those who have the most to tell.”

Of the bomber’s 11-man crew, five among the survivors were still alive in 2002 when Prof. Hadley, a Niigata resident, commenced his research. Personal anecdotes trace the crew’s progress through training and deployment, moving across the Pacific as the war unfolded. Their progress is intercut, Grapes of Wrath style, with wider-context background on the historical events and strategic decisions that shaped their experience — and finely-detailed local history centered on their final target, Niigata, on Japan’s northern coast, revealing Japan’s trajectory from Meiji period zaibatsu “managerial familism” through imperialist “national family” (kazoku kokka) and proud Showa militarism to exhausted desperation, facing the inevitability of defeat. (In one nearby farming area “over 500 students from one graduating class… had been sent to the South Pacific in early 1944. By 1945, all were reported to have been killed or missing in action.” By this time “except for research institutes, schools had all been closed by the government in order to mobilize all but the youngest children to work as laborers for the war effort and to prepare for the final decisive battle for the home islands.”)

The “Jordan Crew” (so named for its pilot, Captain Gordon Jordan), participated in the devastating low-level firebombing raid on Tokyo in March 1945, in which 100,000 people — mostly civilians — died. The crew’s impressions “depended largely upon their educational background and the degree to which they had personalized the attack on Pearl Harbor or internalized the reports of atrocities committed by the Japanese army.” “For Spero [the tail gunner], the March 9 mission was described as ‘…boy, that’s the most beautiful fire I ever seen… all of Tokyo was burning.’ Garin [the navigator], whose schooling had allowed him to become classmates with the daughter of a Japanese diplomat who had been recalled to Tokyo just before the war, looked at the same inferno below, steeled his resolve, and hoped that his friend was still alive.”

By mid-July 1945 the crew had completed 32 of the 35 raids required to fulfill their “missions quota” and return home. They had been assigned to “Operation Starvation” — laying mines as part of the highly effective Allied shipping blockade. Niigata’s port was an important link with Manchuria, but the city itself (like Kyoto) had been left untouched as a possible future nuclear target. In the early hours of July 20th, as the crew completed their low bombing run over the port and turned for home, searchlights from a recently-installed radar-controlled anti-aircraft emplacement locked onto their “Superfortress.” Seconds later, the aircraft was hit.

“At the moment Jordan’s plane began to burn in the sky, an extraordinary transaction took place. What before had been for the citizens of Niigata an unassailable icon of death had now become a blazing symbol of hope. For the Jordan Crew, however, what had only moments before been for them a stronghold of American superiority now was rapidly becoming a brittle, burning deathtrap.”

href=”http://www.kyotojournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/defence.jpg”> The co-pilot, who chose to “ride the plane down,” and three other crewmenField of Spears is a valuable addition to the historical record, deserving a place next to such works as War Without Mercy by John Dower, and Perilous Memories, edited by Fujitani, White & Yoneyama. On my shelf it stands close by There’s No Future in It — my father’s personal account of WW II pilot training, completion of a full “tour” of operations, and subsequent test piloting of Lancaster bombers in England. Preservation of war memories is essential, if we are ever to achieve a world where war itself is no longer tolerated.

 

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