Review:

The Reincarnation of James
the Submarine Man

by
Rick Brown

This is one of the strongest reincarnation cases I know of. It was featured, as I understand, on "Unsolved Mysteries," and the author published an article about it, a condensed presentation of the book, in "The Journal of Regression Therapy," but the case has all but slipped into obscurity and the book is nearly impossible to find. It was self-published by hypnotherapist Rick Brown, who, according to my information, has since passed on.

Many of the classic elements of a strong reincarnation case are in place, including knowledge of obscure, specific, historically verified information before the subject had any reasonable chance of being exposed to it in any normal way; matching physical symptoms and phobias which were cured upon reliving the past-life death trauma; unexplained special knowledge relating to the past life; interconnected/continuous personality traits; and similar facial structure (the latter may not occur in all cases, but apparently does in many cases). While much of the information was retrieved under hypnosis, demonstration of special knowledge (of the working and architecture of WWII submarines) occurred while in normal waking consciousness. Fraud is not a reasonable alternative explanation in this case, as you will see by a thorough reading of the book. If the skeptic is to be honest, he must say grimly, along with Elrond, Lord of Rivendell in Tolkein's trilogy, "Our list of allies grows thin."

I've decided to make the contents of this book available for free download. Normally one does not retype and republish someone else's book. This is a case of civil disobedience, because the information should not be lost to posterity. If, however, anyone knows of a commercial source for this book, I will gladly link to that source instead, and remove this free download link. Note that I am a former professional typist and typesetter. I have used the spellchecker in Word, both while typing and after completing it. There were a number of grammatical, spelling and style errors which I corrected as I typed. However, I am human and may have inadvertently introduced a few myself. If you catch them, feel free to let me know and I'll fix them.

Finally, I must mention that the author, Rick Brown, took the opportunity when presenting this case to also educate the reader with his views on hypnosis, reincarnation, and karma. I do not entirely agree with these presentations. I am not convinced that hypnosis is entirely without potential risks, nor that it is a completely natural and normal state, nor that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis, nor that it cannot be used to influence people in ways they should not be influenced. It is a therapeutic tool, and like all tools, it is subject to misuse. I have heard and read of cases where there were unwanted side-effects from poorly-administered hypnotic regression, including "bleed-through" from less-than-desirable emotions and traits of the previous personality into the present-day personality. It occurred in Bruce Kelly's case--while visiting the submarine he reverted to James Johnston's personality, even though he was not at that time under hypnosis, and for several hours afterwards he expressed more of Johnston's sarcasm and aggressiveness. In another case I know of first-hand, bleed-through feelings of severe depression lasted for several months, because an unskilled hypnotherapist panicked and brought the subject out of trance prematurely. I have also read that while it is true that the hypnotist cannot make the subject do something against their ethics and moral standards, it is nonetheless possible to gradually influence someone in a certain direction over time via suggestion; and I have heard a first-hand account, from a very credible source, of a post-hypnotic suggestion remaining buried in a man's subconscious, only to emerge on cue some ten or twenty years later. None of these types of concerns are addressed in the author's chapter on hypnosis.

In addition, some portion of the presentation on reincarnation and karma does not entirely fit with my understanding of these subjects. For example, there is a theory, promulgated by Theosophy, I believe, that says that the reason we can't remember our past lives is because the physical personality dissolves at death and belongs only to that particular physical incarnation. According to my understanding, this is incorrect. The personality is found to be unchanged at death, except inasmuch as we naturally change when we are exposed over time to new circumstances and environments (some of this may be semantics). The reason we can't usually remember our past lives is because of a specific memory barrier or amnesia we take on when we incarnate; and because our awareness is now conforming to and utilizing a different physical brain. If the past-life personality "dissolved" at death, it could never be retrieved, as it often is, lock-stock-and-barrel, while in regression. Besides, most of one's current-life physical personality isn't even from this body. It's an amalgam of many previous personalities, stitched together from the most-relevant past lives that are brought forward for expression and resolution in this life (doesn't your significant other have an adventurous side and a cautious side, or a social side and an independent side?--all these are transplanted from previous incarnations, which is to say, we never really die--we've just been a lot of people). Similarly, the presentation of Eastern mysticism in the book is relatively advanced, but could be a bit more accurate. The term "Higher Self" is used loosely, for example, to mean any part of the person that is not the physical personality, where in actuality it is not quite that simple. The subtle body, which moves into physical bodies and out of them, is not the same as the Atman, which is the true Higher Self. The Atman is more like the movie-goer who sits in the chair and is the one experiencing the entire movie, including the parts of the movie where the subtle body takes on a new physical body or leaves one.

Past-life therapists may take exception to Rick Brown's method of insulating the subject from direct subjective experience of pain and discomfort (in contrast, Roger Woolger's method is to plunge the patient directly into it); but he got the desired result of abatement of the phobias and phantom chest pain. So therapeutically you can't argue with results. He was also rigorous in his research and, if the account is to be taken as presented, he avoided the serious errors of contaminating the results.

I have to qualify that statement because, while it is stated in a general way that Bruce Kelly stopped researching his own case after verifying the first few facts, and thereafter only Rick Brown did the researching and did not share what he found, the research results are not laid out in a systematic way chronologically. So we don't have a precise chronology of when such-and-such a fact emerged under hypnosis, and when such-and-such a fact was verified historically by the author. For this reason it may not have been pure science, but many of the results nonetheless stand as strong evidence, because you can still piece enough of this chronology together from the narrative to yield a very strong case. Bruce Kelly got his past-life full name, and the name and number of the submarine, before he even knew there had definitely been such a sub with such a man listed on the crew roster, and presumably without even knowing anything about WII subs or their naming conventions. If the narrative is to be believed, he got the full name of one of his ship-mates; he was able to draw a map of Celebes (a weird-looking island that's name has since been changed to "Sulawesi"), describe it and its location, and sketch it without prior knowledge; to know the precise location of where the Shark was depth-charged and sunk; to correctly link Tule Lake in California with the life of James Johnston and CCC camps); to know where the radio equipment was on a WWII submarine, despite its being behind an unmarked door; and to know there were two engine rooms and where the escape hatch was and how it worked. Cryptomnesia (unwittingly remembering something a person has been exposed to earlier in this life) is not a viable explanation for all these historically-verified memories, nor is coincidence an adequate explanation. It also was not ESP, because he experienced these things with powerful emotions in the first person, and he underwent a personality change while on-board the museum submarine which was observable by his therapist, who accompanied him (it is even apparent in the photographs taken on the scene--compare the facial expression in the photograph of James, with the photographs of Bruce taken on the sub--and incidentally, the two men's faces look similar to roughly the degree I have observed in other such cases, i.e. about 90% similar). That leaves fraud as the only remaining non-paranormal explanation; and if you read the entire book, including the excerpts from Bruce Kelly's diary, I believe you will be convinced, as I was, that both of these individuals were sincere.

It is worth noting that this case was investigated in the late 1980's, before the existence of the modern internet. If this case were developing today, Bruce Kelly would be able to do an internet search for information about the submarine, and obtain, within seconds, photographs and a crew list as I did after typing the book. However, in 1987, one had to look up even the most basic facts in the library, and for the more detailed information, one had to go through the time-consuming process of requesting historical documents from the Navy. Also, if Bruce Kelly had visited the past-life friends and family of James Johnston prior to Rick Brown's visits, to obtain information about his personal history and personality traits, they would have told Brown that Kelly had been there before him asking the same questions.

As I write this, I cannot think of a single fact that Bruce Kelly recalled that was proven to be incorrect historically, except that under hypnosis, Bruce Kelly was insistent that the cook's name was "Benny," which did not fit with the records, because, Rick Brown said, there was only one "Benny" aboard and he wasn't listed as a cook. I'd bet my bottom dollar that Kelly's memory was correct, and if it were possible, this could be verified. We would have to find a surviving family member of one of the crew who might know; or someone who sailed on that submarine but was transferred before it was sunk. (On the roster there is a Bennie John Polidori, EM1, which is an Electrician's Mate First Class. It is conceivable that he ended up as cook due to any of several possible contingencies such as the regular cook falling ill, especially if he had prior experience as a chef; or, as Rick Brown surmises, another crew member may have had "Benny" as a nickname.) It often happens in these cases that where a past-life memory appears to conflict with known history, further information clarifies that the memory was correct. In this case, it seemed incorrect that James Johnston would be in the crew's mess eating at odd hours with no-one else present, or that he would be relaxing in his bunk instead of on-duty. But it turned out he had been injured during a depth-charge attack a few days previously, and having broken two ribs, was relieved from duty. Of course there is no proof of the injury; but it is known from the historical records that there was a depth-charge attack a few days before the attack that finally sunk the submarine. Reliving the injury sustained by the first attack cured Bruce Kelly of a long-time phantom pain in his chest, which went back to that past-life injury.

While I have taken the author to task in some areas, it would be only fair to say that, although I am not an expert in the field of hypnotherapy, I strongly suspect that much of the success in this case was due to Rick Brown's skill as a hypnotherapist. It may have been fate that brought Bruce Kelly to him, and Bruce may have been a particularly good hypnotic subject with a recent, verifiable past life; but I am guessing that some of these precise historical details, so rarely reported in hypnotic sessions, emerged due to the hypnotist's skill and keen detective ability. Which is to say that in my opinion, while Mr. Brown had a reasonably good grasp of metaphysics, he was a truly gifted hypnotherapist. He was also strictly honest in his investigation and his presentation of this case, and his subject was likewise strictly honest and eager to cooperate. So the end result is this extremely rare combination of precise details, and no reasonable possibility of fraud. (Note that to be 100% rigorous, I must report that the cover photo of Bruce Kelly appears to have been mirrored to match the direction that James Johnston is facing; because the identical photograph is found inside the book facing the opposite way. This may have been done by the printer who thought he was adding his own artistic touch. Ironically, the photographs match more closely when you present them correctly.)

Enjoy "The Reincarnation of James, the Submarine Man," and pass it along to as many people as you think will be receptive (but please keep it intact). This book may have come close to sinking into obscurity, but it won't if I have anything to say about it.

UPDATE--1/24/07--Bruce Kelly, the subject in this case, has contacted me by e-mail and is in the process of answering a list of specific questions I designed to clarify some of the points described above (Carol Bowman, Jeff Keene and Bill Walker also contributed one question each). He will be signing, dating and notarizing his responses and mailing them to me. If he has no objections, I will post them here. So far, based on his comments, the case is holding up quite well--a few points are not as solid as my reading of the book would suggest, but enough of them are extremely solid that the case as a whole remains strong with no normal explanation that I can see. I am hoping to obtain a copy of the drawing that Bruce made of Celebes Island during or immediately after a hypnotic session, as Bruce tells me he does not recall ever having seen that island on a map before. Whether it is possible to draw such a complicated shape from memory under hypnosis based on having casually seen it on a map and forgotten it, is testable. If you hypnotize 100 people who say (honestly) that they have never heard of Celebes Island, and ask them to sketch it (i.e., on the spot, before they have time to look it up), I would guess none of them could do it. So if this is true, all that remains is to demonstrate just how accurately Bruce Kelly sketched this island, rather than simply having the therapist's characterization in writing that it was accurate. I believe that Bruce's comments will also put to rest any charges of fraud on the part of either Bruce or therapist Rick Brown that the book itself hasn't dispelled.

UPDATE--3/22/07--Bruce Kelly has sent me a letter which includes a Xerox copy of his driver's license, asking me to e-mail the list of followup questions again. So the identity question is resolved to my satisfaction, and we are just waiting on the responses.

Answers
My questions and Bruce Kelly's first round of answers, sent back by e-mail the following day. An e-mail I sent of follow-up questions, to clarify some of the points, was never responded to.

Here is a historical document I found on ancestry.com on 5/25/07, listing James Edward Johnston as killed in action.

 

As of 9/16/07, I have been requested to remove the link to the downloadable version of the book by the author's son. There is a possibility that he may republish it, and if so I have promised to do what I can to promote it. In the meantime I'm afraid it's very difficult to find; but well worth the effort.

 

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