16 December 2006

Magnanimous Men

In Harm's Way by Doug Stanton is one of the most gut-wrenching accounts I have read about WWII and the terrible, heroic sacrifices that the ordinary people called to serve had made. In popular culture, the story of the U.S.S. Indianapolis survivors is best known through Quint's monologue on the subject in the epic movie Jaws, which I recall being absolutely terrified by when I first saw it.

The scientific explanations as to why the survivors drifed so far apart after the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis show a depth of research by the author that is unusual in the genre of war histories, that tend so often to have an overly patriotic, rah-rah tone. The stories shared by Lewis Hayes, the ship's doctor, are terrible and mighty. The ordeal of the survivors, their efforts to live, the delusions suffered by some lost in the briny water and the tropical heat (and nightly chill) are told so well that there is a sense of immediate realism and engendered sympathy. The efforts of the crew to later exonerate Captain McVay reads a little dully for those not interested in military proceedings, but holds the story together in the end as a motivating factor for the survivors. One very interesting outcome of their exoneration efforts was the amity that developed between the survivors and Mochitsura Hashimoto, the commander of the Japanese submarine that sunk the ship with a torpedo attack. In a day when resentments and slights seem to linger for too long, the magnanimous spirit of these men serves as an example to us all.

If you visit Indianapolis, be sure to see the monument raised to the memory of the missing shipmates of the survivors.


Richard said...

Such a great, great book. The back stories are fantastic, and the story of what the military did to the captain, and the tactics they used, shows to what depths a bureaucrat will go to CYA.