Since my last post detailing my Pacific War Nonfiction reading, I have written full reviews of To Hell and Back by Charles Pellegrino and Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War by Susan Southard. I closed out that year with James Bradley’s Flag of Our Fathers. The year 2016 took me much deeper into my Pacific War reading. In 2017, I proposed teaching a study abroad course in Japan and switched my focus to Japanese novels and articles about Japanese literature, though I still have a mile-long list of nonfiction I’m eager to hunt down and read.
If you didn’t read my first post about my venture down the rabbit hole of out-of-print books on the subject, it all began when I watched Unbroken in the theater and realized just how little I knew about the Pacific Theatre in World War II – specifically, what a broad, isolated war it was because of the remoteness and distance between the islands on which the battles were fought. Initially, I searched for books in my local library and read their references. Then I joined a WWII reading group on Goodreads, and those guys had some really great recommendations.
Here’s some of what I’ve read since my previous update:
How I wish I had read this book earlier in my quest for more information on the Pacific War. Though this book focuses on the last year of the battle with Japan, Hastings writes a multi-faceted look at the push to end the war – detailing key figures, battles, and political background. Because of this, readers get quite a lot of information, yet little context for what precedes it.
That isn’t to say, however, that this book is light fare. Hastings covers the Japanese in China, the British in Burma, the American re-entry into the Philippines as well as the impending threat of Russia in Manchuria and the widespread American firebombing of Tokyo, depicting the slow but steady tightening of the screws on Japan.
While not a play by play and casualty list of battles, Retribution is a fascinating, necessary read to pull together the various characters and stages of the Pacific theatre, and I plan to add his Armageddon to my reading list.
The first 135 pages of this book are essentially a primer on the Pacific War – if you’re new to the subject, that might be helpful. However, even with my relatively limited reading, I was familiar with most, if not all, of the preview. Additionally, unlike other writers who include bits of soldier stories throughout the narrative, Sears includes details about soldiers in such a way that I had difficulty separating one from another.
Once the discussion of kamikaze pilots actually began (on page 136), the book continues to include dates, times, ship type, description of the kamikaze attack, and numbers of dead and wounded. The relay of this voluminous information becomes monotonous, and, at least personally, boring.
I also anticipated a bit more information on the psychological impetus for the kamikaze attacks and Japanese perspective, but the book did not address this.
While I can appreciate the feat of Bix to write such a sweeping biography of the war-time Japanese emperor, this book is a beast. At 832 pages, reading Hirohito is an undertaking, particularly as Bix takes readers back to Hirohito’s childhood, to help shape the image of Hirohito the country develops.
Bix was able to access primary documents of which previous biographers could only dream; however, none of Hirohito’s diaries is public, so reading much of the book was difficult, as I keenly felt the distance between the writer and his subject.
Unlike other readers, I did not feel that the biographer tried to change tack and absolve Hirohito of his responsibility. In fact, after reading of Hirohito’s near addiction to involving himself in his empire’s affairs, I don’t see how anyone could. Reading of his and MacArthur’s relationship and the American interest in keeping Hirohito on the throne only confirmed what I’ve read of the political machinations behind the occupation.
Not for the casual reader, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan was arduous but ultimately necessary for readers of Pacific War nonfiction.
John Dower manages, in 676 pages, to make reading about post-World War II Japan gripping in a way few historians can. With photographs, documents, and both American and Japanese newspaper accounts, Dower details the immediate aftermath of the war as well as the six years of American occupation in an eye-opening account of American intervention in post-war Japan.
Japan, in 1945, was a miserable place to be. People were starving. Several of the largest cities were near decimated, and industry, which had been completely turned to producing for the war effort, left in shambles. Many women, left without husbands, turned to prostituting themselves to the occupation troops. Morale was incredibly low, and war crimes were being prosecuted, with military men shunned in the streets.
The question of what to do with Hirohito weighed heavily on MacArthur and the General Headquarters. So many Japanese gave their lives in the name of their emperor, the symbol of Japan. How the Americans transformed Hirohito from one for whom you must fight the white devils to a peaceful symbol of Japanese heritage was quite a feat. The efforts of the Americans to manipulate the Japanese government while simultaneously donning near invisibility in the machinations was both impressive and disturbing.
I’d venture to say that no journey into the Pacific War or post-war Japan is complete without reading Embracing Defeat.
Prados introduces Islands of Destiny as a groundbreaking look at the battle he says actually turned the tide of the fight with Japan, the Solomon Islands campaign. For decades, the Battle of Midway was given pride of place as the moment Japan began to wane. Yet Prados points out that the Japanese had the upper hand in terms of strength going into Guadalcanal, and the Solomon Islands were strategic in terms of air support. Prados details each battle, complete with casualty lists, common to these battle histories, but at times the minutiae overwhelmed me.
That said, Prados also focuses heavily on intelligence and its role in the successes and failures of both the Americans and the Japanese and introduced the Australian coast watchers who were instrumental in intelligence gathering. This aspect of the book was fascinating to me, and I plan to seek more information on both the coast watchers and the Sea Bees, also of major strategic importance in the Pacific islands.