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Friday, December 19

"Kamikaze 1945"

No single person in the electronic news media can match John Batchelor's accounts of America's wars. Lucky indeed are those who heard his 2003 accounts of the Battle of Gettysburg and the Battle of Princeton -- and luckiest of all, those who were tuned in the night in 2004, the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Normandy, when John; his father; John Loftus; Max Hastings, the great British war historian, and Patrick K. O'Donnell, who wrote a first-hand account of the Battle of Fallujah and whose oral history project captured the recollections of OSS veterans, gathered around the radio microphone and paid tribute to the battle.

John's father, in his 80s, who has since died, had never talked to his sons about his war experiences but that night he did talk, in his dry unemotional tone, about his recollections of taking part in the Normandy landing.

Loftus contributed a tale about Operation Overlord, Max filled in many details of the battles that raged that day, and as the men continued to talk, the walls of wherever you were sitting and listening to the radio fell away, and you were once again a child, hiding, listening intently to the discussions of grownups who thought the children were asleep in their beds. In a way that the graphic depictions of Saving Private Ryan could never quite convey, you were in the midst of war -- pondering the wrenching decisions of commanders and the unspeakable courage of men who wanted to live, who wanted to return to their families, but who knew they were cannon fodder.

I think that this week's John Batchelor's Sunday show will be another riveting account of war: this time, a return to Pearl Harbor. John will be interviewing Maxwell Taylor Kennedy, the author of Danger's Hour: The Story of the USS Bunker Hill and the Kamikaze Pilot Who Crippled Her.

In preparation for the interview, John has written a review of the book that is a small masterpiece. If you're an American and think you couldn't bear to return to that awful moment in American history, think again, for as John explains in his Kamikaze 1945, tragedy is not all that happened on that day:
About ten minutes after the explosions, Carmichael heard a rumor spreading that the ship was sinking. He took to the public address system and gave a speech that matches anything of Caesar's in strength and valor:

"This is the chief engineer speaking. This ship is not sinking. It is not in any danger of sinking. And it will not sink. So put your minds at rest on that."
What happened next -- read the review, and tune in this Sunday, and keep to heart John's closing observation:
What is the significance today of the suicide attack? That it will succeed to do great damage, however that it demonstrates a failure of the attacking force to be more than a futile fever, a banal evil, the losing cause that is eventually swept into the dustbin of history.

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