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RETRIBUTION by Max Hastings

RETRIBUTION

The Battle For Japan, 1944-45

By Max Hastings

Pub Date: March 20th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-307-26351-3
Publisher: Knopf

A fine-grained study of the last year of World War II in the Pacific.

Bracketing Armageddon, his 2004 study of the closing moments of the war in Europe, British journalist and editor Hastings (Warriors: Portraits from the Battlefield, 2006, etc.) recounts the desperate struggle to wrest the last of its overseas holdings from Japan’s rule and force the home islands to surrender. He draws on the living memories of participants on all sides, but cautions that this is a problematic strategy for a couple reasons: Anyone now alive who fought in the war is very old and likely possesses faulty memory, and any such person was likely in a junior position, far from the decision-making centers of power. Written testimonies from those higher up, he warns, is therefore essential, especially since contemporary historians have their own ideas of what was what. In Japan today, he observes, scarcely anyone knows who Douglas MacArthur was. Germany was the greater threat to world peace, Hastings writes, but Japan “was the focus of greater American animus,” for reasons both racist and military. Japan, of course, behaved poorly—and with designs that, Hastings notes, had lasting implications, assuring, for instance, that Indochina could never again be ruled by a colonial power. After ranging across the theater, calling at various small islands and at much larger operations such as the Battle of Leyte—which launched the Philippines campaign, and where American forces battled whole Japanese armies rather than the comparatively smaller units they were used to—Hastings paints a comprehensive portrait of bloodletting and chaos. He turns up many hitherto unsung heroes, such as the rough-and-ready British general William Slim, and he reports on lesser-known episodes, such as Joseph Stilwell’s bitter feud with Chiang Kai-shek over the conduct of the war in China. He also looks at the calculus of battle—one American naval planner, for instance, argued “that since the war cost his country $200 million a day, building ships saved money by hastening victory.”

A solid complement to existing histories of the Pacific theater.