Hailed in Britain as "Spectacular . . . Searingly powerful" (Andrew Roberts, The Sunday Telegraph), a riveting, impeccably informed chronicle of the final year of the Pacific war. In his critically acclaimed Armageddon, Hastings detailed the last twelve months of the struggle for Germany. Here, in what can be considered a companion volume, he covers the horrific story of the war against Japan.
By the summer of 1944 it was clear that Japan's defeat was inevitable, but how the drive to victory would be achieved remained to be seen. The ensuing drama--that ended in Japan's utter devastation--was acted out across the vast stage of Asia, with massive clashes of naval and air forces, fighting through jungles, and barbarities by an apparently incomprehensible foe. In recounting the saga of this time and place, Max Hastings gives us incisive portraits of the theater's key figures--MacArthur, Nimitz, Mountbatten, Chiang Kai-shek, Mao, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin. But he is equally adept in his portrayals of the ordinary soldiers and sailors--American, British, Russian, Chinese, and Japanese--caught in some of the war's bloodiest campaigns.
With unprecedented insight, Hastings discusses Japan's war against China, now all but forgotten in the West, MacArthur's follies in the Philippines, the Marines at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and the Soviet blitzkrieg in Manchuria. He analyzes the decision-making process that led to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki--which, he convincingly argues, ultimately saved lives. Finally, he delves into the Japanese wartime mind-set, which caused an otherwise civilized society to carry out atrocities that haunt the nation to this day.
Retribution is a brilliant telling of an epic conflict from a master military historian at the height of his powers.
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March 16, 2008
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Excerpt from Retribution by Max Hastings
. War in the East
Our 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.