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A retired pastor lent me his copy of The First Heroes: The Extraordinary Story of the Doolittle Raid- America’s First World War II Victory by Craig Nelson. I wondered, “how can a book about a single raid be so big?” I put off reading it until vacation.

This is a great book, and I’m very glad I read it. It was about much more than the Doolittle raid as he provided the larger context of the raid and background on some main characters in this event. He also told the story of the men after the raid and the many consequences of the raid.

This means that Nelson spends time talking about the Japanese empire, the rise of ultra-nationalism and the oil embargo that triggered the attack on Pearl Harbor. He spends time describing that attack that triggered the U.S.’s unwilling entrance into World War II. He discusses the aftermath of the Doolittle raid and how the rest of the war played out. As such, this was an extraordinarily interesting book.

It begins with the volunteers for the raid. It was a novel idea, having land-based bombers take off from an aircraft carrier. This required special training that would take place in Elgin, FL. Preparing for this mission was particularly difficult for a country, and military that wasn’t ready for war despite the fact that one had been going on for 3 years. Much of the equipment was outdated and the soldiers unprepared from combat. The nation was still in shock from the attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent victories of the Japanese military throughout the Pacific. Much of its navy was sitting at the bottom of Pearl Harbor.

For this crazy mission they modified the B-25s to increase fuel capacity (nearly double) and minimize fuel usage. Other “unnecessary” weight would be removed in the hopes that the planes would be able to make to airfields in China, the part not occupied by the Japanese. They learned how to barnstorm in B-25s in order to gain an advantage in their bombing run.

Image result for B-25The book then moves to “The Man Who Can Never Stand Still”, a brief biography of James Doolittle, the record-setting pilot who was tasked with putting together the mission. He wasn’t supposed to actually fly on the mission. At the last minute he finagled his way into flying the mission. He’d missed aerial combat during World War I, and now was his chance.

The next topic is the ship who carried them, the USS Hornet. The pilots trained in Elgin (the Florida panhandle) and then transported their planes to Alameda, CA. The men needed to keep absolute secrecy on their mission. They could never mention it to anyone or on the phone with each other. The mission was not announced to the crew of the Hornet until they had left the harbor. The sailors were excited to learn they would strike the heart of Japan. Unfortunately some mechanics didn’t know that the planes had been modified to make this trip and returned the engines to specs.

Nelson moved to Japan’s increased militarism. The plan to bomb Pearl Harbor was inspired by a novel by Hector Bywater called The Great Pacific War written in 1925. It was translated into Japanese and became popular with cadets in their military academy. The U.S. and Japan were engaged in a trade conflict over oil. America and Britain had begun an embargo against the Japanese. The enraged Japanese leaders decided to initiate the war by attacking Pearl Harbor. What followed was a series of blunders by the U.S. as the Japanese used their embassy in Honolulu to do reconnaissance. Whenever information arose indicating this plot, the U.S. wrote it off as impossible for them to execute. Nelson provides a fairly detailed account of the attack which was planned by Yamamoto, and the led by air chief Fuchida Mitsuo.

The book then shifts to FDR and how the plan for the Doolittle raid came to fruition. It was frustrating to read of the agreements FDR had with the press to keep his polio from the people. It was also frustration to read of the the ineptitude of the administration in missing the signs of the impending attack. It was similar to the years leading up to 9/11.

After all this background, Nelson returns to the mission itself. It already had a high degree of difficulty, but it was going to be made more difficult by two important factors. First, they were spotted by a Japanese boat on civilian patrol. After notifying the mainland it was sunk. But now the planes would have to fly farther than anticipated or put the task force at risk of destruction by the more powerful Japanese navy. Secondly, a storm was tossing up the ocean. The pilots had to time their takeoffs so lift off occurred as the waves pushed the nose of the ship up. Amazingly they all took off without incident to begin the long flight to Tokyo and other targets.

The planes never got into formation since they had to stretch their fuel even farther. They were not sure they’d make it to China. They lost bearings due to the storm. This would work to their advantage since they arrived at different times from different places. The Japanese air defense couldn’t predict anything. While doing some damage to a few airplanes, none of them were shot down over Japan. All but one continued on to China. That one, thinking they wouldn’t make it flew to Russia (though at war with the European Axis, it wasn’t at war with Japan).

While that plane landed safely in Russia, the rest crash landed in the China Sea or in China. After leaving Japan the storm ended and they got a favorable wind extending their fuel range. But they all ran out of fuel before making the appointed airstrip as they encountered another storm over China. Amazingly, only a few men died. Doolittle was the only one who had parachuted before. Some were injured while parachuting, but none of the injuries were life-threatening. The most serious injuries and deaths occurred for the planes that crash landed in the sea. These men, who ended up on an island, would be captured by the Japanese. The others, including a man whose leg would be amputated in China, would get to safety.

All of those who were captured would be tortured. Some would be executed as war criminals, allegedly for strafing schools. The Japanese had their manufacturing surrounded by residential areas. Much of the strafing was likely from the Japanese fighters attacking the bombers whose defenses were greatly limited to make this flight. Another would die of starvation in the POW camp. The others were in solitary confinement for 3 years. One of them would have profound psychological issues as a result. Another would become a Christian after nagging the Japanese guards for a Bible. As the war ended, he believed God was calling him to return to Japan as a missionary.

Nelson discusses the battle of Midway as part of the Japanese retaliation for the Doolittle raid. This was a key naval battle in which they hoped to eliminate the rest of our navy. But we had cracked their code and with an inferior force crippled their navy which turn the tide of the war.

YImage result for fuchida mitsuoou can see why this was an interesting read. He covers plenty of territory in this book. It isn’t just about events, but the people who were a part of them. We see the eventual conversion of Japanese hero Fuchida Mitsuo through the ministry of former POW Jake DeShazer. Some of his former guards also became Christians, as did a woman who initially went to the evangelistic meetings to kill DeShazer. I appreciate Nelson’s willingness to include this part of “the rest of the story”. Many historians would likely eliminate it as non-essential.

The survivors of this raid were a band of brothers. Many of them would attend the reunions. Eventually wives and families were included. Eventually it became a benefit, allowing people to mingle with these men and hearing tales of their unlikely adventure. This is a story, not just of war, but of men, and a very satisfying read.

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There are not many contemporary books on the on-going persecution of Christians so when I had the opportunity to get a review copy of The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution I took it. This is an important book and I encourage American Christians to read it, but it is not without its weaknesses. It is helpful for American Christians to understand what their brothers and sisters in many parts of the world experience. This is not a book about what American Christians experience. It goes outside of our experience and this is important to do. This is why I think they should read it. They need to pray for their siblings in Christ, and also themselves because such persecution may not be too far away for us.

The author, John Allen Jr., is a senior news correspondence and has many connections around the world to gain access that others may not have. He also draws on the research of a number of government and private agencies that track these things. As a result he will talk about bigger picture systematic persecution as well as more personal stories. These stories are not pretty and they can be difficult to read. For instance, in the introduction he talks about the Me’eter military camp and prison in Eritrea ( a country I hadn’t even heard of before) that is pretty horrifying to consider. Here the one-party nation, ironically called the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, continues to imprison, torture and rape its citizens who are without legal representation and often without medical care in this desert prison. Though their actions are well-documented this has not been a matter of concern for the press, the UN or any nation.

The weaknesses of the book are obvious in some ways. It is hard to write a book like this. Due to the number of narratives it often feels disjointed. While they all follow a similar theme they aren’t connected by characters. This is not the author’s fault, but just the nature of the type of book he’s chosen to written. The reader can feel overwhelmed at times. At others confused as he will make mistakes in how he communicates this material. There are paragraphs in which he shifts from one event to another when there is no specific connection between the events except what all of them have in common.

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I still remember seeing the trailer for Alien in the theater as a kid.  “In space no one can hear you scream.” Of course we heard them all scream since they were in a pressurized ship, but that is beside the point. It became a franchise that captured our imagination, and kept 20th Century Fox afloat.

The movies boasted some amazing directors at the beginning of their careers. It was the beginning of Ridley Scott’s amazing career. While Terminator had been filmed, it had not yet been released when James Cameron started working on Aliens. David Fincher is an amazing director, even if this wasn’t anywhere close to his best work.

I watched all of the movies this winter while my family was on vacation. Someone lent me the boxed set. As a result I watched all the director’s cuts and lots of the special features.

What could they do next? They really didn’t want to do another sequel. Ridley Scott was fascinated by the idea of a prequel, to explore the origins of the alien. Sounded good to me. I really wanted to see it in the theater, but just didn’t get around to it. The reviews were quite mixed. The movie was quite interesting, in my opinion.

I watched it the other night after recording it on one of those premium channel free previews. It was better than I thought it would be.

It began in an unlikely place and at an unknown time. An alien is left stranded by a gorgeous waterfall. He then drinks something and soon his body is disintegrating. Okay, you think, what is that all about? But they show you the DNA strand to give you some hints.

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Someone sent me a link today for an article in Psychology Today called Why Atheism Will Replace Religion.  It claims to have evidence to support this assertion. To steal a phrase, “that’s mighty bold talk for a one-eyed fat man, I mean soft science!”

What is the evidence offered? First, atheism is on the rise in industrialized nations. It is most prominent in Europe, and nearly non-existent in sub-Sahara Africa.

Atheism is correlated with higher education and affluence. The author sees religion as a way of coping with fear. In those prosperous nations, there is less to fear. This is particularly true as they have developed extensive social welfare programs.

These nations, he notes, are also marked by a decreasing birth rate. This is because fewer people are needed to work the land. He sees a tie between an agrarian economy, birthrates and atheism.  The modern man has “tamed” much of life’s unpredictability, he thinks, and no longer needs God. Or children.

As an “evolutionary psychologist’ the author, Nigel Barber sees this as a good evolution.

So, what is the problem?

11 “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, 12 lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God,… Deuteronomy 8 (ESV)

Approximate 3,400 years ago God predicted this exact pattern in the life of Israel. It is not a new thing. Prosperity produces pride which means that people forget God. This begins with practical atheism and morphs into theoretical atheism. The rise of theoretical atheism in Europe should not surprise the biblically informed person. This has been happening for thousands of years!

But I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior. 5 It was I who knew you in the wilderness,    in the land of drought; but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me. Hosea 13 (ESV)

But can atheism replace religion? In the short term, yes. In the long term, no.

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