Kirkus Star


Email this review


A full-scale interpretive military history of the Pacific War--and excellent. Spector is historian at the US Army Center for Military History, but if he is something of an official authority, he is also outspoken and undoctrinaire: for him, the war with Japan was ""a war of attrition""--""deadly attrition,"" he adds, by means we had previously condemned, submarines and heavy bombing. As for MacArthur, ""he was unsuited by temperament, character and judgment for the posts of high command which he occupied throughout the war."" Spector begins with the Pearl Harbor disaster. He reviews the sorry interwar state of the four American services--mutually competitive, careerist--and the condition of the Japanese army and navy (powerful domestically and better prepared, but also competitive). The US brass, he shows, wanted to believe, with MacArthur, that he could hold the Philippines (though, secretly, they had always assumed otherwise), while the Japanese navy didn't want to admit any concern over the US fleet (lest they lose allocations). In that sense, both sides blundered into war--the US ""alert to the possibility,"" but not expecting a Pearl Harbor attack. (Dismissing the Toland et al. theory of FDR complicity, Spector stresses that, historically, advance warnings have often been ignored or misread.) His account of the conduct and course of the war then points up: MacArthur's strategic blunders and leadership-failings in the Philippines; the unrecognized operational implications of Midway, won by a handful of Navy dive bombers; quarrels over command between King/Nimitz and MacArthur--and ""how the American strategy of two different drives across the Pacific under independent command might easily have led to disaster""; increasing Allied control of the air (numerical superiority, faster and more-efficient base-building); the Tarawa landing ""slaughter"" (Spector's detailing focuses selectively on key episodes). There are also exceptionally clear-cut accounts of US involvement in the India-Burma and China theaters. A thematic chapter, ""Strangers in Strange Lands,"" encompasses the experiences of blacks, of women, of the Bataan captives. ""Behind the Lines"" is not only about codebreaking and signal intelligence (putting recent disclosures into context), but also a country-by-country recap of attempts to organize guerrilla warfare. The submarine and bombing campaigns are closely scrutinized. The slow, costly Okinawa victory--""paradoxically,"" discouraging to the US, inspiring to the Japanese--is weighed in against the atomic bomb decision. Spector is a fluent chronicler, with command of his material and views of his own. The book suits a general audience and also constitutes a responsible summary of the scholarship.

Pub Date: Nov. 23rd, 1984
Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan