Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45

Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45

by Max Hastings


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By the summer of 1944 it was clear that Japan's defeat was inevitable, but how the drive to victory would be achieved remained unclear. The ensuing drama—that ended in Japan's utter devastation—was acted out across the vast theater of Asia in massive clashes between army, air, and naval forces.

In recounting these extraordinary events, Max Hastings draws incisive portraits of MacArthur, Mao, Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, and other key figures of the war in the East. But he is equally adept in his portrayals of the ordinary soldiers and sailors caught in the bloodiest of campaigns.

With its piercing and convincing analysis, Retribution is a brilliant telling of an epic conflict from a master military historian at the height of his powers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307275363
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/10/2009
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 688
Sales rank: 392,807
Product dimensions: 5.18(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.36(d)

About the Author

Sir Max Hastings was a foreign correspondent for many years, reporting from more than 60 countries for BBC TV and the London Evening Standard. He reported conflict in the Middle East, Indochina, Angola, India, Zimbabwe and finally the 1982 Falklands War. He has presented historical documentaries for television, including series on the Korean War and on Churchill and his generals. He is the recipient of numerous British awards for his books and journalism, including Journalist of the Year (1982), and Editor of the Year (1988). He has written 18 books on military history and current events. Some notables are Bomber Command, which earned the Somerset Maugham Prize for nonfiction, The Battle for the Falklands, Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy, both of which also received awards. For 16 years, he was successively editor-in-chief of the British Daily Telegraph and Evening Standard, from which he retired in 2002. He has published two memoirs, Going To The Wars (2000) about his experiences as a war correspondent, and Editor (2003) about his time running newspapers. He lives outside London.

Read an Excerpt

Dilemmas and Decisions1. War in the EastOur understanding of the events of 1939–45 might be improved by adding a plural and calling them the Second World Wars. The only common strand in the struggles which Germany and Japan unleashed was that they chose most of the same adversaries. The only important people who sought to conduct the eastern and western conflicts as a unified enterprise were Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and their respective chiefs of staff. After the 7 December 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor caused the United States to become a belligerent, Allied warlords addressed the vexed issue of allocating resources to rival theatres. Germany was by far the Allies’ more dangerous enemy, while Japan was the focus of greater American animus. In 1942, at the battles of the Coral Sea in May and Midway a month later, the U.S. Navy won victories which halted the Japanese advance across the Pacific, and removed the danger that Australia might be invaded.Through the two years which followed, America’s navy grew in strength, while her Marines and soldiers slowly and painfully expelled the Japanese from the island strongholds which they had seized. But President Roosevelt and Gen. George Marshall, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, resisted the demands of Admiral Ernest King, the U.S. Navy’s C-in-C, and of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander in the south-west Pacific, for the eastern theatre to become the principal focus of America’s war effort. In 1943 and 1944, America’s vast industrial mobilisation made it possible to send large forces of warships and planes east as well as west. Most U.S. ground troops, however, were dispatched across the Atlantic, to fight the Germans. Once Japan’s onslaught was checked, the Allies’ eastern commanders were given enough forces progressively to push back the enemy, but insufficient to pursue a swift victory. The second-class status of the Japanese war was a source of resentment to those who had to fight it, but represented strategic wisdom.The U.S. and Britain dispatched separate companies to Europe and Asia, to perform in different plays. Stalin, meanwhile, was interested in the conflict with Japan only insofar as it might offer opportunities to amass booty. “The Russians may be expected to move against the Japanese when it suits their pleasure,” suggested an American diplomat in an October 1943 memorandum to the State Department, “which may not be until the final phases of the war—and then only in order to be able to participate in dictating terms to the Japanese and to establish new strategic frontiers.” Until 8 August 1945, Soviet neutrality in the east was so scrupulously preserved that American B-29s which forced-landed on Russian territory had to stay there, not least to enable their hosts to copy the design.To soldiers, sailors and airmen, any battlefield beyond their own compass seemed remote. “What was happening in Europe really didn’t matter to us,” said Lt. John Cameron-Hayes of 23rd Indian Mountain Artillery, fighting in Burma. More surprising was the failure of Germany and Japan to coordinate their war efforts, even to the limited extent that geographical separation might have permitted. These two nominal allies, whose fortunes became conjoined in December 1941, conducted operations in almost absolute isolation from each other. Hitler had no wish for Asians to meddle in his Aryan war. Indeed, despite Himmler’s best efforts to prove that Japanese possessed some Aryan blood, he remained embarrassed by the association of the Nazi cause with Untermenschen. He received the Japanese ambassador in Berlin twice after Pearl Harbor, then not for a year. When Tokyo in 1942 proposed an assault on Madagascar, the German navy opposed any infringement of the two allies’ agreed spheres of operations, divided at 70 degrees of longitude.A Japanese assault on the Soviet Union in 1941–42, taking the Russians in the rear as they struggled to stem Hitler’s invasion, might have yielded important rewards for the Axis. Stalin was terrified of such an eventuality. The July 1941 oil embargo and asset freeze imposed by the U.S. on Japan—Roosevelt’s clumsiest diplomatic act in the months before Pearl Harbor—was partly designed to deter Tokyo from joining Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa. Japan’s bellicose foreign minister, Yosuke Matsuoka, resigned in the same month because his government rejected his urgings to do so.Only in January 1943, towards the end of the disaster of Stalingrad, did Hitler made a belated and unsuccessful attempt to persuade Japan to join his Russian war. By then, the moment had passed at which such an intervention might have altered history. Germany’s Asian ally was far too heavily committed in the Pacific, South-East Asia and China, gratuitously to engage a new adversary. So perfunctory was Berlin’s relationship with Tokyo that when Hitler gifted to his ally two state- of-the-art U-boats for reproduction, German manufacturers complained about breaches of their patent rights. One of Japan’s most serious deficiencies in 1944–45 was lack of a portable anti-tank weapon, but no attempt was made to copy the cheap and excellent German Panzerfaust.Japan and Germany were alike fascistic states. Michael Howard has written: “Both [nations’] programmes were fuelled by a militarist ideology that rejected the bourgeois liberalism of the capitalist West and glorified war as the inevitable and necessary destiny of mankind.” The common German and Japanese commitment to making war for its own sake provides the best reason for rejecting pleas in mitigation of either nation’s conduct. The two Axis partners, however, pursued unrelated ambitions. The only obvious manifestation of shared interest was that Japanese planning was rooted in an assumption of German victory. Like Italy in June 1940, Japan in December 1941 decided that the old colonial powers’ difficulties in Europe exposed their remoter properties to rapine. Japan sought to seize access to vital oil and raw materials, together with space for mass migration from the home islands.A U.S. historian has written of Japan’s Daitoa Senso, Greater East Asian War: “Japan did not invade independent countries in southern Asia. It invaded colonial outposts which Westerners had dominated for generations, taking absolutely for granted their racial and cultural superiority over their Asian subjects.” This is true as far as it goes. Yet Japan’s seizures of British, Dutch, French and American possessions must surely be seen in the context of its earlier aggression in China, where for a decade its armies had flaunted their ruthlessness towards fellow Asians. After seizing Manchuria in 1931, the Japanese in 1937 began their piecemeal pillage of China, which continued until 1945.Inaugurating its “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere,” Japan perceived itself merely as a latecomer to the contests for empire in which other great nations had engaged for centuries. It saw only hypocrisy and racism in the objections of Western imperial powers to its bid to match their own generous interpretations of what constituted legitimate overseas interests. Such a view was not completely baseless. Japan’s pre-war economic difficulties and pretensions to a policy of “Asia for Asians” inspired some sympathy among subject peoples of the European empires. This vanished, however, in the face of the occupiers’ behaviour in China and elsewhere. Japanese pogroms of Chinese in South-East Asia were designed partly to win favour with indigenous peoples, but these in turn soon found themselves suffering appallingly. The new rulers were inhibited from treating their conquests humanely, even had they wished to do so, by the fact that the purpose of seizure was to strip them of food and raw materials for the benefit of Japan’s people. Western audiences have been told much since 1945 about Japanese wartime inhumanity to British, Americans and Australians who fell into their hands. This pales into absolute insignificance beside the scale of their mistreatment of Asians.It is a fascinating speculation, how events might have evolved if the U.S. and its Philippines dependency had been excluded from Japanese war plans in December 1941; had Tokyo confined itself to occupying British Malaya and Burma, along with the Dutch East Indies. Roosevelt would certainly have wished to confront Japanese aggression and enter the war—the oil embargo imposed by the U.S. following Japan’s advance into Indochina was the tipping factor in deciding Tokyo to fight the Western powers. It remains a moot point, however, whether Congress and public sentiment would have allowed the president to declare war in the absence of a direct assault on American national interests or the subsequent German declaration of war on the U.S.There was once a popular delusion that Japan’s attack smashed the American Pacific Fleet. In truth, however, the six old battleships disabled at Pearl Harbor—all but one was subsequently restored for war service by brilliantly ingenious repair techniques—mattered much less to the balance of forces than the four American aircraft carriers, oil stocks and dockyard facilities which escaped. Japan paid a wholly disproportionate moral price for a modest, if spectacular, tactical success. The “Day of Infamy” roused the American people as no lesser provocation could have done. The operation must thus be judged a failure, rendering hollow the exultation of the Imperial Navy’s fliers as they landed back on their carriers on 7 December 1941. Thereafter, Americans were united in determination to avenge themselves on the treacherous Asians who had assaulted a peace-loving people.The only important strategic judgement which the Japanese got right was that their fate hinged upon that of Hitler. German victory was the sole eventuality which might have saved Japan from the consequences of assaulting powers vastly superior to itself in military and industrial potential. Col. Masanobu Tsuji, architect of the Japanese army’s capture of Singapore and a fanatical advocate of national expansion, said: “We honestly believed that America, a nation of storekeepers, would not persist with a loss-making war, whereas Japan could sustain a protracted campaign against the Anglo-Saxons.” Tokyo’s greatest misjudgement of all was to perceive its assault as an act of policy which might be reviewed in the light of events. In December 1941 Japan gambled on a short war, swift victory, and acceptance of terms by the vanquished. Even in August 1945, many Japanese leaders refused to acknowledge that the terms of reference for the struggle ceased to be theirs to determine on the day of Pearl Harbor. It was wildly fanciful to suppose that the consequences of military failure might be mitigated through diplomatic parley. By choosing to participate in a total war, the nation exposed itself to total defeat.Although the loss of Hong Kong, Malaya and Burma in 1941–42 inflicted on Britain humiliations to match those suffered at Japanese hands by the U.S., its people cared relatively little about the Far Eastern war, a source of dismay to British soldiers obliged to fight in it. Winston Churchill was tormented by a desire to redeem the defeat in February 1942 of some 70,000 combat troops under British command by a force of 35,000 Japanese. “The shame of our disaster at Singapore could . . . only be wiped out by our recapture of that fortress,” he told the British chiefs of staff as late as 6 July 1944, in one of his many—fortunately frustrated—attempts to allow this objective to determine eastern strategy.To the British public, however, the Asian war seemed remote. The Japanese character in the BBC’s legendary ITMA radio comedy show was Hari Kari, a gabbling clown. In June 1943 the Secretary of State for India, Leo Amery, proposed forming a committee to rouse the British public against its Asian enemies. The Minister of Information, Brendan Bracken, strongly dissented:"It is all very well to say “We must educate the British public to regard the Japanese as if they were Germans, and war in the Pacific as if it were war in Europe.” But, while the Japanese remain many thousands of miles away, the Germans have for three years been only twenty miles distant from our shore and, too often, vertically overhead. Interest and feeling follow where friends and loved ones are fighting . . . Europe is very much a home concern, whereas knowledge of or interest in the Far East is sparsely distributed in this country . . . I do not think that any committee could do much to alter “the state of morale” . . . The people have been left under no misapprehension by the PM that it is their duty to turn and tackle Japan when the time comes . . ."Those Britons who did think about the Japanese shared American revulsion towards them. When reports were broadcast in early 1944 of the maltreatment of prisoners, an editorial in the Daily Mail proclaimed: “The Japanese have proved a sub-human race . . . Let us resolve to outlaw them. When they are beaten back to their own savage land, let them live there in complete isolation from the rest of the world, as in a leper compound, unclean.” The American historian John Dower explains Western attitudes in racist terms. U.S. Admiral William Halsey set the tone after Pearl Harbor, asserting that when the war was over, “Japanese will be spoken only in hell.” A U.S. War Department film promoting bond sales employed the slogan: “Every War Bond Kills a Jap.” An American sub-machine gun manufacturer advertised its products as “blasting big red holes in little yellow men.” There was no counterpart on the European fronts to the commonplace Pacific practices of drying and preserving Japanese skulls as souvenirs, and sending home to loved ones polished bones of enemy dead. A British brigade commander in Burma once declined to accept a report from the 4/1st Gurkhas about the proximity of “Nips.” Their colonel, Derek Horsford, dispatched a patrol to gather evidence. Next day, Horsford left three Japanese heads, hung for convenience on a string, beside his commander’s desk. The brigadier said: “Never do that again. Next time, I’ll take your word for it.”But those who argue that the alien appearance and culture of the Japanese generated unique hatred and savagery seem to give insufficient weight to the fact that the Japanese initiated and institutionalised barbarism towards both civilians and prisoners. True, the Allies later responded in kind. But in an imperfect world, it seems unrealistic to expect that any combatant in a war will grant adversaries conspicuously better treatment than his own people receive at their hands. Years ahead of Pearl Harbor Japanese massacres of Chinese civilians were receiving worldwide publicity. Tokyo’s forces committed systemic brutalities against Allied prisoners and civilians in the Philippines, East Indies, Hong Kong and Malaya—for instance, the slaughter of Chinese outside Singapore in February 1942—long before the first Allied atrocity against any Japanese is recorded.The consequence of so-called Japanese fanaticism on the battlefield, of which much more later, was that Allied commanders favoured the use of extreme methods to defeat them. As an example, the Japanese rejected the convention customary in Western wars, whereby if a military position became untenable, its defenders gave up. In August 1944, when German prisoners were arriving in the United States at the rate of 50,000 a month, after three years of the war only 1,990 Japanese prisoners reposed in American hands. Why, demanded Allied commanders, should their men be obliged to risk their own lives in order to indulge the enemy’s inhuman doctrine of mutual immolation?

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Maps

Chapter One Dilemmas and Decisions
1. War in the East
2. Summit on Oahu

Chapter Two Japan: Defying Gravity
1. Yamato Spirit
2. Warriors

Chapter Three The British in Burma
1. Imphal and Kohima
2. “The Forgotten Army”

Chapter Four Titans at Sea
1. Men and Ships
2. Flyboys

Chapter Five America’s Return to the Philippines
1. Peleliu
2. Leyte: The Landing

Chapter Six
“Flowers of Death”: Leyte Gulf

1. Shogo
2. The Ordeal of Taffy 3
3. Kamikaze

Chapter Seven Ashore: Battle for the Mountains

Chapter Eight China: Dragon by the Tail
1. The Generalissimo
2. Barefoot Soldiers
3. The Fall of Stilwell

Chapter Nine MacArthur on Luzon
1. “He Is Insane on This Subject!”: Manila
2. Yamashita’s Defiance

Chapter Ten Bloody Miniature: Iwo Jima

Chapter Eleven Blockade: War Underwater

Chapter Twelve Burning a Nation: LeMay
1. Superfortresses
2. Fire-Raising

Chapter Thirteen The Road past Mandalay

Chapter Fourteen Australians: “Bludging” and “Mopping Up”

Chapter Fifteen Captivity and Slavery
1. Inhuman Rites
2. Hell Ships

Chapter Sixteen Okinawa
1. Love Day
2. At Sea

Chapter Seventeen Mao’s War
1. Yan’an
2. With the Soviets

Chapter Eighteen Eclipse of Empires

Chapter Nineteen The Bombs
1. Fantasy in Tokyo
2. Reality at Hiroshima

Chapter Twenty Manchuria: The Bear’s Claws

Chapter Twenty-one The Last Act
1. “God’s Gifts”
2. Despair and Deliverance

Chapter Twenty-two Legacies

A Brief Chronology of the Japanese War
Notes and Sources

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Retribution 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Retribution is a history of the last year of the war in the Pacific. Hastings is British and right from the beginning his English writing style is on prominent display -- early on he actually writes that a British soldier ¿smote¿ a Japanese soldier!! On the positive side, Hastings provides fairly comprehensive coverage of the land and sea battles from both sides¿ perspective without delving too far into the details of any single battle. He describes the personalities of the military and civilian leaders and how their personal foibles shaped their respective forces¿ strategies (he is far and away particularly critical of MacArthur¿s military leadership). Above all, I was most impressed with his effort to remain objective throughout the book. He constantly challenges those who have had the hindsight of fifty plus years to question allied actions and never excuses Japanese or Russian barbarity. While it is clear that he does accept that some American and British actions were arguably barbaric (but almost inevitable), he points out, for example, that there really wasn`t any difference between the destruction that resulted from fire bombing and atomic bombing. On the negative side, Hastings largely ignores the battles in the air unless it involved US Navy aircraft or Army Air Corp B-29`s. But the most important negative of the book is his confusing conclusion that the Japanese would have surrendered regardless of many of the allied actions (such as the invasion of the Philippines or the dropping of the atomic bombs). On one hand he recognizes that allied leaders did not have the luxury of knowing whether the Japanese were on the verge of collapse, but on the other, he asserts that surrender would have occurred at roughly the same time due to the country¿s rate of logistical strangulation. This is difficult to accept when Hastings provides example after example of both Japanese military and civilian intransigence. Still, this is a very good book and I recommend it to anyone that wishes to gain a general level of knowledge about the closing phase of the war.
JGreen More than 1 year ago
British historian Max Hastings relates a story during his account of the battle in the Philippines that illustrates the frustration Japanese soldiers felt at seeing how much better equipped and supported Americans were than they. One Japanese soldier found American gum wrappers by a road and a wad of gum stuck to a weed. The soldier related: "Here we were, holding on for dear life, and these characters were chewing gum while they fought! I felt more sad than angry. The chewing gum tinfoil told me just how miserably we had been beaten." (pg 241) That is a common theme throughout this detailed and thorough look at the war with Japan during 1944 and 45 - that Japan's chances to beat such an industrial giant were slim from the beginning. In spite of some early successes, Japanese leadership relied too heavily upon "fighting spirit" and fanaticism to achieve victories rather than supporting their armies and providing them with improving technologies. The warped Bushido code of honor achieved much but at a huge moral, psychological, and human cost. Japanese soldiers fought like tigers to maintain ground and honor but they also died in much greater numbers than did their enemies in nearly every battle. And in those last years of the war it was very much a lost cause and their leaders showed a callous disregard for their people. Hastings also discusses the moral aspects of many incidents, and details the Japanese inhumanities toward enemy soldiers, prisoners, and civilians. War crimes were committed by all sides in the conflict, but Japanese murders, rapes, and other atrocities were institutionalized and systematic rather than occurring as more isolated and individual events, as was the case with other belligerents (excepting perhaps the Soviets). Hastings also discusses the morality of LeMay's fire bombing tactics, and includes horrific accounts by some Tokyo survivors. He covers in detail the morality of using atomic weapons (including numerous arguments against), and he makes a very strong argument that, particularly because of the duplicitous manner in which Japan started the conflict and the inhumane way they conducted it, Japan essentially forfeited any claims for humane treatment after defeat (it's a lot more convincing the way he explains it!). Basically, they got a just "retribution." This is an amazing and compelling history, covering not only the Americans but also the British, Australians, Chinese, Soviets, etc. Hastings discusses how the European nations were seen unsympatheticly as trying to maintain their Asian empires, and the Australians were viewed as less committed (and why) and usually given the task of "mopping up." To me these parts of the book weren't as interesting even though I'd always wondered what role they played. I also felt that the account of the invasion of Okinawa was somewhat inadequate given the impact it had on public perception and tolerance for the war. Nonetheless, a wonderful and highly recommended book for those interested in the subject.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Extensive researh but too many unimportant stories make the reading boring at times. Find the comparison between Chiang Kai-shek and the "benelovent" but murderer of dozens of millions of his country men Mao Zedong unfair, unjust and naive. Also, do not appreciate so many (too many to detail here) negative remarks about Mac Arthur, possibly one of the best and most loved USA generals ever. E. Cosio
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is an incredibly excellent piece of Second World War history. For a reader who prefers to focus in depth on a specific part of the war, I really enjoyed too the broad depth of research, the refreshingly concise narrative, and the diversity of the chapters. The Pacific War is covered in multiple ways: there are chapters about China, Chinese communists, the Burma Road, the Burma Campaign, the...already you can tell that the narrative is not Anglo-American-centric. But the chapters on America's essential role in the Pacific Theater are well written too. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and any novice historian who wants a good introduction to the Second World War, and any bookworm who thinks they know enough about the war that reshaped humanity, should read this book.
Edward Bailey More than 1 year ago
Max Hastings has put together a bewilderring number of mind numbing stories of beastality during the Asian war 1931-1945. I found it interesting though a little overwhelming! This is the first book I've read of his and I plan to read another, but not right away!
ThomasHill More than 1 year ago
Retribution is the first book I have read by Max Hastings, and I highly recommend it. It is an impressive work that provides a balanced account of the events and people involved in all the theaters of the Pacific War in 1944 and 1945, including many areas often neglected, e.g., China and Burma. Hastings writes well and clearly -- though, as another reviewer has noted, he chooses some odd words at times -- and he never seems shy about voicing his opinion either of the those who fought the war or of later historians who judge the way the war was fought. As broad as the scope of his narrative is, it is also quite deep. He not only discusses and evaluates the famous leaders -- MacArthur, Stalin, Mao, Nimitz, and dozens of others -- but also spends time with many of the individual soldiers, sailors, airmen, and prisoners of war on both sides. He quotes often and extensively from their firsthand accounts and memories, which gives their stories an immediacy and emotional impact it could not have otherwise. What they went through, what they did, what they felt, are by turns breathtaking, horrifying, inspiring. In the end it is this breadth and depth that make this book so good and worth reading. Others have written and will write again that, for example, it was wrong or right to drop the atomic bombs; others have criticized MacArthur or praised him. Those arguments are nothing new and will never be settled. Hastings has his opinions on the bomb and MacArthur, too. They will not be what I remember from this book. I will remember what I learned about the size of the war in China and Burma, and what I learned about the people who fought the war and how they felt about what they did and saw. This is a good book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'retribution' is a very remarkable bestseller. the arthur documents how and why japan got defeated in the second world war. this book is very hard to put down cause of all the intresting background on the allied commanders and what their roles were in shaping the defeat of the empire of japan but even more intresting is max hastings look at the every day soldier sailer and marine and what there courage was in bringing defeat to this tyranny.
santhony on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an outstanding account of the final year in the Pacific campaign of World War II. While aware of many aspects thereof, there were numerous stories and accounts with which I was not familiar. For example, the British fight to liberate Burma, with English General Bill Slim leading a largely colonial force; Japanese activities on mainland China; the details of McArthur¿s campaign on the Philippine Island of Leyte; the Australian war experience; the extremely contentious relationship between the United States Army and Navy, led by MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz respectively.As Hastings points out, by 1944 the issue had largely been decided. This did not, however, preclude both sides in the conflict from taking actions and implementing strategies which resulted in mounting casualties and continued, increasingly bloody conflicts, as the Allied forces slowly advanced upon the Japanese home islands. The Japanese becoming increasingly desperate and invoking increasingly brutal and hopeless policies in an effort to attain a more favorable peace from what they hoped would become a war weary and casualty averse enemy.Having been raised to place our WWII military leaders on a fairly lofty pedestal, it is sometimes jarring to see them painted in a less than complimentary light. This is not the first account I¿ve seen of MacArthur¿s personality defects, however it¿s the first I¿ve seen in which Navy Admiral ¿Bull¿ Halsey is painted as a virtually incompetent, intellectually challenged, criminally reckless commander. While this may be the case, much of the author¿s evidence rests on Halsey¿s actions at Leyte Gulf, which in hindsight may or may not be justified. The strength of this work is in the detail, the individual accounts and the filthy, muddy, insect infested, oppressively hot, monsoon battered landscapes featured in most of the conflict. It is hard not to be drawn into many of the stories and personal histories presented by the author, both Japanese and American. The stories documenting Allied POW treatment are particularly moving and used effectively by the author to justify many of the Allied forces responses very late in the war (including the atomic bomb debate).Of course, as you would expect, the author writes extensively on the debate surrounding development and use of atomic weapons. While he clearly comes down in support of President Truman¿s decision to employ atomic bombs in an effort to conclude the war, he covers the issue completely, marshalling arguments from every angle and source. Most impressively, he analyzes the various issues from the viewpoints of the participants, not with the benefit of historical hindsight. In this respect, it is instructive to learn that there was virtually ZERO debate over deployment of the weapon. In fact, the military was not even required to await Presidential approval for deployment of the second bomb, it being treated as simply another weapon in the military¿s arsenal. The very idea that such a weapon would be developed and not employed was so foreign a concept as to unworthy of discussion. The author dismissively states that the debate has been conducted and resolved resoundingly in favor of Truman¿s decision.All in all, a very extensively researched and well presented piece of work. I recommend it highly for anyone with an interest in history in general or World War II in particular.
chrisbaker on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
slow read but excellent
nbmars on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an exceptionally well-written book about the final year of the war against Japan. Hastings smoothly intermixes grand strategic analysis with poignant anecdotes from ¿little people¿ whose stories are part of the vast tale of WWII.Hastings argues that our understanding of the events of 1939-45 would be improved by referring to World Wars II, since the only thing in common between the Europe conflict and the Pacific war was the identity of adversaries.He points out that a Japanese attack on the Soviet rear in 1941 would have had much more consequence than Pearl Harbor, where they did not smash the American fleet, but sank only six old battleships, two of which were repaired and fought later in the war. Hitler did not even try to enlist Japanese assistance until the loss of Stalingrad in 1943, by which time the Japanese could offer very little.It also helps our understanding of the war to realize that the Japanese did not attack independent countries in Asia. Rather, they invaded colonial outposts that Europeans had dominated for generations. Japanese treatment of the Asian people they conquered was even worse than their treatment of whites they captured.Hastings blames the Japanese warrior ethic of bushido for the barbarous way their armed forces treated conquered people and prisoners. Their cult of honor precluded individual surrender, even requiring suicide to avoid loss of face. That attitude caused them to treat prisoners with contempt and made it exceedingly difficult for them to admit defeat. At a time when 50,000 Germans were surrendering each month, the Allies held fewer than 2,000 Japanese prisoners. Many Japanese who appeared ready to surrender were actually setting traps to kill their putative captors. Japanese sailors rescued from drowning by Americans after their own ships were sunk often tried to sabotage the rescuing vessels. After many such incidents early in the war, Americans became justifiably reluctant to take prisoners.Hastings tells the tale of the British fighting in Burma under their very able general William Slim. Fighting was brutal and logistics were dreadful. Although the effort was heroic and competent, that theater did little or nothing to end the war.Hastings paints incisive portraits of some of the principal characters of the drama. Stalin is calculating and ruthless, no surprise here. Truman is limited in talent, but his wisdom, honesty, and general goodness enables him to make great decisions. MacArthur is egomaniacal and not even a good general, but his behavior after the surrender was magnanimous and admirable. Nimitz and the navy did much more than MacArthur¿s army to defeat the Japanese. Chiang Kai-shek was petty, ineffectual, and corrupt, much more interested in fighting Mao that the Japanese. Mao stayed out of the way of the Japanese and avoided conflict until the Japanese had been defeated and left China.The story of the B-29 is particularly interesting. The development of the bomber was more expensive than the development of the atomic bomb. Moreover, the first B-29s delivered were not very reliable, and were as much a danger to their own crew as to the Japanese. The first B-29s were deployed in India and China, but the Japanese soon conquered enough Chinese territory to drive the B-29s out of range of the home islands. The later models of the plane became very formidable, and rugged enough to hold off Japanese fighter aircraft by themselves.By August 1945, the Soviets were no longer allies of the Americans. The U.S. would have preferred for the Russians to stay out of the war, but Stalin ordered 1.5 million soldiers to invade Manchuria. The Russians took nearly the entire manufacturing infrastructure of Manchuria back with them.The Japanese government was incapable of reacting quickly. By early summer 1945, after the loss of the Marianas, the Japanese situation was clearly hopeless with the home islands within the range of the improved B-29s. The atomic b
wildbill on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is a companion to Armageddon written about the last year World War II in Europe. The author throughout the book makes it clear that the Pacific war which included China, Malaya, Burma and the Dutch East Indies was a massive conflict that involved the deaths of tens of millions of people. It is primarily for cultural reasons that it does not receive the attention given to the European war.The author does a thorough job of narrating the events of the war. He gives more attention to the policy makers and politicians than the foot soldier. His book is more of an analysis of why things happened the way they did than of the events themselves. One item, new to me, was the refusal for political reasons of the Australian army to do any substantial fighting during the period covered by the book.The behavior of the Japanese leadership is a prime topic of the book. Their refusal to acknowledge the reality of Japan's defeat needlessly prolonged the war and caused the loss of the lives of their troops and the Americans. Also the arrogance and brutality of the Japanese troops is set forth in numerous incidents. This arrogance has continued in the refusal of the Japanese as a nation to acknowledge their acts of brutality to this day. The Japanese have never paid any reparations to slave laborers or "comfort women" to name two groups of their victims, while Germany to date has paid 6 billion dollars to 1.5 million victims of Hitler's government.There is a lengthy discussion of the United States decision to use the atomic bomb. It is more accurate to characterize the process by saying that no decision was made not to use that weapon. Many more Japanese were killed in the firebombings than the two atomic bombs. There are many arguments made today that it was not necessary to use these horrible weapons to end the war. While much research has gone into proving the veracity of those arguments they were not as obvious at the time. Until the surrender the Japanese gave every impression that they were prepared to die to the last man in resistance. American leaders were concerned with ending the war with the least loss of American lives. They were also concerned with preventing the Soviet Union from gaining a bigger role in the defeat of Japan. They were imperfect men faced with choices for which there was no perfect answer. The author's conclusion is that they did the best they could with what they had and he does not find fault with their decisions.I found the book to be well written and a good coverage of the events of the last year of World War II in the Pacific. The coverage of the military engagements is good though somewhat cursory. The analysis of the leadership decisions is very thorough without providing any new insight. This is a good book that does not set forth any new source material or break any new ground. It was valuable to me because of my lack of knowledge of the material covered.
ksmyth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Hastings narrative of the last year of the war in the Pacific covers topics frequently lacking in many general histories of this campaign. First he gives considerable attention to Slim's campaign in India and Burma-the defense at Imphal and Kohima and the thrust back into Burma and efforts to capture Rangoon. Hastings also makes an effort to give a snapshot of the war in China, emphasizing the hopelessness of the Nationalist and Communist efforts against the Japanese, despite the hopes Americans pinned on their successOf course, Hastings also covers the big ticket topics-the invasion of the Philippines, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan. Stylistically, Hastings makes an effort to include anecdotes from the troops on the ground, from young officers fighting in the Burmese jungles, to Japanese citizens caught in the fire-bombing of Tokyo. He does editorialize a bit more than I'm comfortable with. I believe the historian's job is to provide fairly balanced evidence and let the reader decide that MacArthur was a an arrogant, overrated dunderhead. So I dock him half a star. In addition to all of the military play-by-play one would expect, Hastings does immerse the reader in balancing the morality of the chiefly American strategies that impacted Japanese civilians-unrestricted submarine warfare, firebombing of Japanese cities, dropping the atomic bombs-and weigh those against Japanese actions-treatment of Chinese and Korean civilians, treatment of Filipino civilians, treatment of all POW's-and makes his judgment that in the balance the United States acted correctly. Finally, the book closes with a general account of the Soviet invasion of Manchuria, supplying useful information to those, like me, who know little.
jamespurcell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An excellent summary of the last year of the war in the Pacific. Wide ranging, with excellent chapters on areas not usually found in many analyses such as; China and the Burma battles as well as the strange disengagement of the Autralian Army.
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anti american
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