Quote 4

“Across the bay, masses of civilians stood in the streets, looking at the sky. As the plane passed into the civilians’ view, Frank Tinker heard the people shouting […] Louie glanced toward the south end of camp. The Bird was standing just outside his office, motionless and expressionless, watching the plane. ‘It was not their Messiah,’ Martindale wrote, ‘but ours.’”

This passage is found in Chapter Twenty-five. The date is November 1, 1944. Louie is imprisoned at the Omori POW camp, along with Frank Tinker, Bob Martindale, and others. The Bird is also there. In this passage, the first B-29 Superfortress is seen in the sky over Tokyo. This is the first time an Allied plane has been seen flying over the skies there. The plane is a new breed, large and powerful. The passage contains a great imagery, mostly visual but also auditory. Mostly the passage is about the visual experience of the plane and of the prisoners registering the reactions of others. The passage culminates with the interpretive commentary of Martindale. The sight of this plane is the first sign that the Japanese might not be the ultimate victors in this war.

This sign is seen from multiple perspectives and means different things for the people who view from each perspective. The Tokyo civilians see it and shout, presumably in fear or alarm that the enemy is flying over their city. The Bird views the plane too. For the Bird, this sight might trigger multiple emotions and thoughts. He has been in a position of power over men, and now that power might be threatened. The reader can only imagine what he was thinking, especially because he does not register his emotions in ways the prisoners can read. The prisoners, and the readers too, can only infer his thoughts. As a sadistic leader, he might have immediately started to think about killing the men. Perhaps he thought about escape, as self-preservation was ultimately his course of action. For the POW officers, the B-29 is a positive and hopeful sign. Martindale even uses religious terminology and metaphor when he calls the plane our “Messiah.” This moment serves as a harbinger of the ultimate climax to come, when the Allied forces will defeat the Japanese, when the war will end. The sight of this plane means that the Allied forces are approaching -- and that Louie and other soldiers might someday be rescued. Of course, they also know that even if Allied forces arrive, they might nonetheless be killed.


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