electronic journal of contemporary japanese studies

Book Review 3 in 2007
First Published in ejcjs on 14 June 2007

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Field of Spears

The Last Mission of the Jordan Crew


Philip Seaton

Associate Professor
Hokkaido University

Author's Homepage

About the Author

Hadley, Gregory (2007) Field of Spears: The Last Mission of the Jordan Crew, Sheffield: Paulownia Press.
ISBN-13: 9780955558214, Paperback, 160 pages inc. index.
ISBN-13: 9780955558207 - Hardback.

On the evening of 19-20 July 1945, a B-29 bomber on a mining raid on the Japanese port city of Niigata was shot down by anti-aircraft fire and crash landed in fields a few miles from the city. Those crewmembers that survived the crash faced a double nightmare: vengeance meted out by spear-wielding villagers bitter over their own bereavement and war-induced hardships, and later interrogation by the infamous Japanese military police. Field of Spears, written by long-term Niigata resident Gregory Hadley, draws upon a variety of sources – contemporary media reportage, military documents and second hand histories, as well as his own interviews with survivors – to piece together the contradictory accounts of what happened that night.

Field of Spears is fast-paced and highly readable. The story of a B-29 bombing mission could easily lend itself to classic military history, which can often be detached or focus on impersonal operational details. However, Field of Spears uses an engaging social and oral history approach that centres on the personalities, experiences and motivations of the American and Japanese protagonists. Furthermore, it makes effective use of devices from the world of fiction to maintain narrative tension. For example, the opening pages introduce the Jordan Crew on the downed B-29. The narrative continues until they are about to embark on their ill-fated mission, when the focus switches to Niigata in 1945. Such interweaving of the narratives from both Japanese and American sides not only maintains the reader's interest but epitomizes Hadley's desire to balance both sides of the story.

Ultimately, many aspects of the last flight of the Jordan Crew remain shrouded in mystery. The deeper that Hadley delves, the more he realizes that the evidence is not always consistent, leading him to doubt the completeness or accuracy of certain testimony and accounts. Field of Spears, therefore, presents a subsidiary story beyond the events of that night in July 1945: the story of an historian seeking to piece together the past sixty years on. Hadley sometimes poses rhetorical questions, or even appears as a character in certain scenes when the context in which he receives his information becomes as important as the information itself. Ultimately, Hadley is forced to consider not only the importance of uncovering the truth but being sensitive to the feelings of his witnesses. 'Throughout the writing of this book', Hadley writes (p. 161), 'there was a constant tension between how the villagers of Yakeyama and the Jordan Crew wanted to be remembered, what they did, and what can be known.' Nevertheless, as the sleuth must do at the end of a detective novel, Hadley gives his 'whodunit'/'what happened' hypothesis regarding the enduring mysteries of the last flight of the Jordan Crew.

The book has four primary strengths. First, the characters in the story are brought to life through close attention to biographical and historical detail. There are numerous photographs and illustrations throughout the book which help the reader to put faces to the names. The descriptions of war horror are graphic but never sensationalist: the section describing the brutal conditions experienced by survivors from the Jordan Crew in a military prison is particularly well handled.

Second, rather than taking sides, Field of Spears attempts to let both Japanese and American characters give their versions of events. Hadley does not speak in simplistic terms of heroes and villains: echoing the sentiments of some of his interviewees, Hadley writes, 'there are no heroes in this story – only survivors' (p. 162). Instead, he tries to understand why people on both sides reacted in the ways they did in extreme life-and-death situations, and why some people remain reluctant to speak candidly about their experiences.

Third, Hadley provides a fascinating insight into the processes of trying to piece together the past when there is conflicting evidence and reluctance among some of the key characters in the story to speak candidly about what they know or experienced. Hadley is honest in saying what he has and has not been able to verify.

Finally, the book brings a welcome regional perspective to the Japanese war experience. One might think that the last flight of the Jordan Crew is simply a footnote in history: People who have not been to Japan can be forgiven for never having heard of Niigata (except perhaps in the context of the devastating earthquake there in 2004), and port mining missions are not the first images people might have of a B-29 raid given the dominance of images of the firebombing campaigns in 1945. Nevertheless, as Hadley's account illustrates, such 'minor' stories can illuminate important themes. The story of the Jordan Crew has generated a measure of local historical and media interest within Niigata. The book, therefore, gives valuable insights into how local war history relates to national memories in Japan.

Those who have become used to a diet of World War II history framed in predominantly national terms or told primarily from one nation's perspective may take issue with some of the lessons Hadley draws at the end of a book. There is no flinching in the descriptions of Japanese atrocities, but there are also some pointed questions concerning American conduct during and after the war. Overall, Hadley largely succeeds in his attempt to understand the actions of the people whose histories he tells without resorting to flag-waving or moralizing, which, given the often emotionally-charged nature of war history and the highly personalized nature of the story, is a major achievement. Furthermore, the treatment of World War II history simultaneously as trans-national, local and personal history brings a fresh perspective to the substantial existing literature on air raids, the treatment of POWs and war memories in the Pacific theatre.

For a scholarly audience, Field of Spears will be of interest primarily for its contribution towards deeper understanding of the ways that war memories continue to affect the lives of individuals decades after the end of the conflict, and the problems that the historian faces in uncovering a truly definitive account of the past. For a general readership, the book is a highly readable account of a fascinating but hitherto little-known incident that took place in a quiet corner of Japan in 1945.

About the Author

Philip Seaton is Associate Professor in the Research Faculty of Media and Communication, Hokkaido University, Japan. His research focuses on Japanese memories of World War II in Asia and the Pacific and their representations within Japanese-language media and popular culture. His first book, Japan's Contested War Memories: the 'memory rifts' in historical consciousness of World War II, is published by Routledge (2007). He has also published articles on various aspects of Japanese war memories. His article 'Reporting the 2001 textbook and Yasukuni issues' won the Daiwa Japan Forum Prize 2006 from the British Association for Japanese Studies. He is currently working on a project called 'War and memory in Hokkaido' funded by a 3-year research grant from the Japanese Ministry of Education.

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Copyright: Philip Seaton
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