A skillful history of the final days of World War II, during which “America mastered the vast geopolitics of the Pacific.”
During this time, the industrial production of the United States helped to crush Imperial Japan, but the tide had already turned at Midway and Guadalcanal before American forces began this process. Nine months passed between the conquest of Guadalcanal (February 1943) and the launch of the great Central Pacific island-hopping campaign that began at Tarawa in November. After this background, naval historian Hornfischer (Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal, 2011, etc.) proceeds with his usual aplomb to recount what followed. In June 1944, the rejuvenated Navy supported Marines in their brutal conquest of Saipan, Tinian, and Guam while smashing Japan’s fleet in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Ignoring Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s campaigns elsewhere, Hornfischer concentrates on the islands’ conversion to B-29 air bases, paying special attention to the development of the atom bomb and the Air Force unit that carried it to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan’s suicidal tactics convinced the Allies that conquering the mainland would require a massive effort, which the author describes in detail. Called Operation Downfall, the first invasion was scheduled for November 1945. It wasn’t required, and Hornfischer delivers the obligatory was-dropping-the-atom-bomb-necessary? debate, which concludes, unhelpfully, that there are pros and cons. The author is not the first to describe the political maneuvering behind Japan’s surrender, but he goes on to recount the remarkably peaceful arrival of occupation forces as MacArthur, a minor figure until this point, guided America’s treatment of the devastated nation with a generosity unparalleled in history.
Though oddly selective—the battles of Leyte Gulf and the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa are barely mentioned—this is a thoroughly satisfying account of the final years of World War II.