Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 5 Nov 2005
Originally published during war time, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo was probably written partly with propaganda in mind. Nevertheless, the book was not only extremely enjoyable, but it also made the readers understand what distances people were willing to go for one another when pitted against a common foe.
The author, Ted Lawson, was the pilot of the B-25 bomber "Ruptured Duck". Like all his comrades on the mission, he crash landed in China. Having been thrown through the windshield, he and his crew suffered various degrees of wounds. The remainder of the book, which was still the bulk of the book to come, gave account of his travels from the Chinese coast into the interiors of the country, attempting to meet with American airmen who could airlift him back to the United States. Underneath the travel logs, however, the underlying theme was not the war with Japan, but rather the generosity of the Chinese civilians who risked their very own lives to get the downed airmen westward toward the war time Chinese capital of Chungking. It was apparent that the book's objective was to represent the Allies as a cohesive unit, fighting alongside each other against the common foe of Japan. Propaganda or not, the effects were felt, and one could only imagine the stubborn struggle on the part of the Chinese against the invaders, and their true appreciation for American aide in what they consider to be a fight to save their homelands.
The writing style was plain, but written in everyday language it felt true to heart as if engaging in conversation with an old friend. The narratives of the journey kept the reader on the edge of the seat, making the book a real page turner. The excerpt below will give a small taste of Lawson's captivating storytelling:
"Without a word our new coolies dumped us in the ditch. When we cried out from the shock of the fall and tried weakly to find out what was being done to us, the guerillas who had flattened out next to us held up their fingers for silence. They peered out intently over the edge of the ditch."
"I raised my head so I could see a little. A Japanese gunboat was coming around the promontory off the beach. With sick, mingled fears I watched it come up briskly to the side of the junk. I could hear the Japanese question the men on the junk. It was torture to lie in the junk, waiting. Physical and mental torture. The Japanese must have spotted us, I reasoned. They must be wild to catch us, for certainly they had been informed of the raid and our route to China. They surely had found the plane by now. They would make one of the men on the junk tell..."
Through the book, the reader could certainly understand his frustrations when he heard of the Pearl Harbor attack, and his wish to "go all the way over there to punch back and get even", something he was given an opportunity to do. Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo was truly a personal account of one of the many events that collectively came to be known as the Pacific War, and as the author intended, it provided a window for the reader to learn of the selfless attitude of the Chinese civilians who put themselves in danger to save utter strangers. As Lawson stated that there were no words that could possibly describe his gratitude for all those who helped him, it is similarly impossible to describe how the book smartly gives the readers a precious window to learn history of WW2 with personal experiences and human emotions.
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939