Tag Archives: Pacific War

Reading: Pacific War Nonfiction Update

7th February 2018

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:

retribution

Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45 by Max Hastings

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.

atwarwiththewind

At War With the Wind by David Sears

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.

hirohito

Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan by Herbert P. Bix

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.


Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II by John W. Dower

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.

Islands of Destiny: The Solomon Campaign and the Eclipse of the Rising Sun by John Prados

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.

Reading: Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War by Susan Southard

9th August 2015

nagasaki*I requested this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 In her preface to Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War, Susan Southard talks about living in Yokohama in high school as an international student. On a school trip, her class visited Nagasaki, and only there did she realize the lack of knowledge she had about this city’s role in World War II.

As I mentioned in my Pacific War reading post, I felt (and feel) the same way. Southard – and others who write on this topic – discuss that many people do not even realize that there was a second bombing. Hiroshima was the first, and for many, it dominated the news, leaving Nagasaki to suffer quietly.

Strangely, though, Nagasaki was subjected to the more powerful of the two bombs, a plutonium bomb. Just three days after the devastation of Hiroshima, when news of the extent of the destruction had not yet reached Tokyo, the U.S. flew by its original destination because of low visibility and headed to its next target, Nagasaki.

Though some survivors of Hiroshima arrived in Nagasaki and were able to warn family and friends to wear white and lay low, the majority of the city was immune to the air raid sirens, and no siren sounded prior to the bombing. The result was utter decimation of a city, its people, and its culture.

The hibakusha, “bomb-affected people,” survived against all odds. Those not initially killed suffered from flash burns, inhaled glass and other matter, and, what would soon come to be called, Disease X, or radiation disease.

As Pellegrino does, Southard illustrates the mayhem directly following the bombing, but she specifically tracks five hibakusha and their struggle to recover, both physically and mentally.

Japan was already hurting, and citizens of Nagasaki were hungry and malnourished. With little medicine and virtually no support, survivors depended on the doctors and others who worked, some ill themselves, to provide them with whatever care they could. Once Japan surrendered and MacArthur and his troops stepped in, the general’s censorship left the country with little to no knowledge of the effects of the atomic bombings. The spread of misinformation to the rest of the world and America’s unwillingness to treat hibakusha lest such an act look like an apology, further restricted the help available.

The unknown and terrifying effects of radiation disease made hibakusha pariahs, and many refused to leave home because the physical marks of the bombs made them easily identifiable. Later, some hibakusha were unable to obtain jobs and marriages because of their statuses, forcing many to live in silence.

Southard talks about the challenges in telling the stories of Taniguchi, Do-oh Mineko, Nagano Etsuko, Wada Koichi, and Yoshida Katsuji, acknowledging, as she says, “the inherent limitation and unreliability of memory, especially traumatic memory” and counters this through extensive research and fact checking. Photographic evidence and vivid scarring reinforce their stories, and these five travel often, speaking of their experiences and calling for an end to nuclear warfare.

Their remarkable stories and desire to speak globally for peace makes for a sobering, necessary book, yes, especially 70 years after the fact. Southard quotes Yoshida: “At first I hated Americans for what they did to me…I didn’t understand how any nation could use such a cruel weapon on human beings. But in my old age, I have learned that holding a grudge does nobody any good. I no longer hate Americans. I only hate war.”

Regardless of your own (hopefully) conflicted notions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War will certainly further develop a story many of us may have only seen as a mushroom cloud, illuminating those beneath it.

Add this to your Goodreads list.