Flags of Our Fathers
The studies of historical events usually focus on the general and large-scale tendencies. If the researchers pay attention to the role of the individuals in the development of history, they are some important figures, like kings, generals or presidents. The fates of common people taking part in these events are in most cases unknown. However, they are perhaps the force without which these events would never happen. The book The Flags of Our Fathers does not follow this approach and tells the story of six young men that are portrayed at the famous photograph taken during the battle for Iwo Jima. This essay is devoted to the analysis of this book and will explore how the authors study the role of the individuals in the course of history.
The Flags of Our Fathers is written by the son of John Bradley, the man who took part in raising the flag on Mt. Suribachi, the highest point of the Japanese island Iwo Jima. Only three of six men who were shown at this photo survived the battle and John Bradley was one of them. After returning to the United States he avoided any talks about the battle of Iwo Jima and his children did not know any circumstances of these events. However, when John Bradley died, his son found several boxes with documents related to Iwo Jima at his father’s office and at that moment he decided to find out as much information as possible about the lives of the people from that famous photograph. Therefore, he conducted much research and contacted many people who could tell him about this event and the lives of the survivors after the war. In 2000 James Bradley published the book The Flags of Our Fathers and it has long remained on New York Times bestseller lists.
The book can be roughly divided into three parts. At the first part Bradley gives a short account of the lives the boys had before the war and describes their family background. It is quite symbolic that all the soldiers from the photo had different past and came from different social groups. For example, Mike Strank’s parents were immigrants from Czecho-Slovakia and Ira Hayes was a Pima Native American. It allowed the authors to call them “All American Boys” thus highlighting that the whole United States joined in their efforts to win the war (Bradley & Powers 12). It is notable that none of the boys truly understood the nature and causes of the World War II when they were sent to fight against Japan. They were very young and did not have enough life experience to imagine all the suffering and cruelty they would see during the war.
The second part of the book is devoted to the description of the battle. The authors did a thorough research and collected much valuable information both from the documents and via interviewing the soldiers who took part in this battle and survived. The chapters that have the “D Day” in their title constitute the most important part of this section. The authors do not focus here only on the six people from the photograph, but basing on the evidence taken from military documents and interviews give a broad account of the battle. This part also offers many examples of true heroism, like, for instance, the soldier of the 3rd Platoon Don Ruhl who showed great courage in fighting the Japanese in person to person combat.
The third part tells mostly about the legacy of the battle and the lives of the three soldiers who managed to stay alive during the battle of Iwo Jima. The most interesting chapters are surprisingly devoted not to the author’s father, but to Ira Hayes who exerted every effort to have a normal civilian life after his return to the USA, but failed. He probably suffered from some posttraumatic stress disorder as such terrible experiences as taking part in the war are unlikely to have no impact on the person’s psyche. He had problems with alcohol and was arrested many times for alcohol intoxication. The chapters devoted to Ira Hayes help the audience to understand how difficult it may be to overcome the terror of the war and fully return to quite civic life.
One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the way the authors understand heroism basing on the memories of those three soldiers from the photograph who survived the battle. “What gives this book its special power is his bittersweet understanding of the torment suffered by the surviving flag-raisers, who knew that the very act that gave them a kind of lifetime celebrity was one of the few acts carried out on Iwo Jima that was not especially noteworthy” (Bernstein). John Bradley, Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes did not considered their act to be heroic. They believed that it was a simple coincidence and did not have any influence on the development of the battle. It is a very thought-provoking moment as this attitude of the soldiers towards their deeds reveals the true nature of heroism that “does not want” to be heroic. It has nothing in common with the wish to become famous or be remembered by the future generations. The six young soldiers simply did their duty and did not consider their actions special or exceptional. The authors quote Jon Bradley who said, “It took everyone on that island and the men on the ships offshore to get the flag up on Suribachi” (Bradley & Powers 285). They try to draw the audience’s attention that it was not some personal heroic act of the six young men who were captured by the photographer raising the flag on top of the mountain, but a joint effort of many Americans who fought from the ships, on land or organized the whole operation.
However, the style of the authors is not perfect and there are too many personal comments concerning different aspects of this historic event. It is obvious that one of the authors writes about his father, so there should be some personal connections and attitudes. Nevertheless, this personal emotional coloring prevents the audience from getting a clear and unbiased picture of the battle of Iwo Jima. This aspect is especially evident in the third part of the book that is devoted to the life of the three soldiers after the end of the war.
To conclude, The Flags of Our Fathers is a brilliant non-fiction book telling a story that is very important for the history of the World War II. It studies the battle of Iwo Jima and the role of the individual soldiers in the overall outcome of this significant military episode. The perspective of the authors is different from the traditional historic approach as the book is full of personal details and information that is crucial for understanding the fates of the six young soldiers who were captured by the photographer. The book can be recommended primarily to those who are interested in the history of the World War II. However, it is a good and thought-provoking reading to any American as it commemorates the contribution of our ancestors into bringing peace to the humanity by putting the end to the most devastating military conflict in the world.
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