Books on Japan: Field of Spears: The Last Mission of the Jordan Crew
Field of Spears
Field of Spears by Gregory Hadley
The field of spears is a tiny potato field in Niigata (northern central Japan) where villagers that had been emotionally, mentally, and physically suffering from the events of World War II found, captured, and tortured members of the crew of an American B-29 bomber on July 19, 1945.
Some of the frightened and angry local farmers were armed with homemade bamboo spears. After dropping a load of naval mines from a B-29, the most technologically advanced bomber at that date, the crew were subsequently struck by anti-aircraft fire. Most of the crew managed to parachute out of the flaming, tumbling plane before the crash.
The author zooms in and out of that tragic potato field and period of time to explore two greater fields of spears, the societies of Japan and the United States. The accomplishment of this book is that readers find themselves sympathizing with the villagers, the bombing crew, and with other ordinary people caught in military conflicts around the world, past and present.
The book focuses on one tragic incident while providing the background necessary for people who were not alive during the war, people who are not historians, and people who have never set foot in Japan to grasp many complex cultural, historical, and geographic aspects of that time period in Japan and also in some other countries. The book is a stimulating entrance into history, media studies, war studies, education, and international relations.
Author Gregory Hadley, a bilingual American who is currently living and teaching history in Niigata, not only dug up remnants of the plane from the very field it crashed in, but also interviewed some of the surviving villagers.
Moreover, he managed to track down and interview some of the surviving members of the crew of the American plane. Hadley's research for the book is precisely recorded. Chapter 4, Japan and Niigata in 1945, ends with sixty-eight footnotes to interviews, emails, and documents from the military of both countries.
Actual photographs taken by soldiers, villagers, and government workers help to give readers a better understanding of the geographical and social conditions of World War II. Young American soldiers smile and drink beer or stand in front of their airplanes. Japanese farmers haul rice onto a truck, just like American farmers might have hauled sacks of grain onto trucks somewhere in the Great Plains.
The in-depth reporting of the training, drinking, socializing, gambling, and other activities of the American soldiers succeeds in making the crew of that World War II bomber feel like they could be relatives or compatriots of the reader. Likewise, the living conditions of Japanese soldiers and villagers are also explained in detail.
While showing compassion for all of the participants in the field of war between Japan and the United States, Hadley does not hesitate to show the brutality that was planned by military leaders and that was doled out by combatants on both sides. No one is spared from examination.
The result is that the reader can understand how and why some of the Japanese hated and feared soldiers of the United States, and vice versa. One reads the story of a malnourished grandmother whose children and grandchildren boiled to death in a river during the firebombing of Tokyo. Wielding a saw, she tried to attack the apprehended American soldiers.
Where would war be without government propaganda to agitate support? Field of Spears leads readers to better understand how each government used media for its goals, which, while being in contrast, had the same purposes, to unite the populace and to demonize the people on the other side. An important lesson to be learned from this book is the power of the media to shape perspectives of others, to turn peoples from other countries or cultures, into enemies who lack humanity.
One of the most powerful observations made by the author and which correlates with current events unfolding in Africa, the Middle East, Europe, the United States, and many other locations is as follows:
What are labeled as atrocities after the fact are the acts that are often committed by the boy or girl next door. They do terrible things during wartime, not because they were particularly brutal in their temperament, but because their virtues and devotion had been co-opted by political forces larger than their own small dreams. Elites and their ideologies had induced them to pour their lives down the twisted drain of whatever national interest, holy war, or regional conflict happened to be pressing at the time. Intoxicated by the burning drink of nationalism, few were able to avoid the inevitable slide into darkness.
Field of Spears, published by Paulownia Press, is the best nonfiction book that I have read in many years. The book is an investigation of inhumanity and humanity on both sides. There are lessons for all peoples in this book. Historians and veterans of World War II have praised Field of Spears. Readers may not agree with all of the conclusions made by the author, but they are sure to find themselves considering matters of great importance to humanity. Field of Spears is a thoughtful book that had me comparing current tragic events with the events of World War II.
Review by Greg Goodmacher