LAST TO DIE by Stephen Harding


A Defeated Empire, a Forgotten Mission, and the Last American Killed in World War II
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The surrender that almost wasn’t: an illuminating study of the last moments of World War II.

According to conventional histories, Japan lost no time in surrendering to the Allies after the atomic bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In fact, writes Military History editor in chief Harding (The Last Battle: When U.S. and German Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe, 2013), who seems to be making a specialty of the forgotten closing episodes of WWII, there was more than sporadic resistance. Despite Emperor Hirohito’s order for a cease-fire, numerous military units committed mutiny by continuing to fight—and it was one such unit that killed American Airman Anthony Marchione, just 20 years old. In a neat blend of military and technological history, Harding links Marchione’s story to the development of the aircraft he staffed, a lumbering target called the Consolidated Dominator, a “trouble-plagued super bomber” that barely took off before being scrapped—and whose very existence has been reduced, these days, to a few parts in private collections around the world. Harding also examines the episode surrounding Marchione’s death in its global-implications context: had Gen. Douglas MacArthur chosen to retaliate, he suggests, the war in Japan might have raged on, since the anti-surrender elements in the Japanese military could have argued that the Allies, too, had violated the cease-fire agreement. There are some dense technical passages that will please aircraft enthusiasts but that civilians might find daunting (“The design featured a shoulder-mounted high-lift/low-drag Davis wing with a span of 135 feet, twin end-plate fin and rudder assemblies, and eighty-three-foot-long cylindrical fuselage, tricycle landing gear, and dual ‘roll-up’ bomb bays”) and a few moments of semidigested, tangential information (“Italy in the early twentieth century was a land of widespread economic inequality”), but in the main, the narrative is well-executed.

A worthy sortie that explores a curtain-closing moment in history that might have gone very badly indeed.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-306-82338-1
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Da Capo
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2015


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