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4.3 out of 5 stars
Nemesis: The Battle for Japan, 1944--45
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187 of 201 people found the following review helpful
on 4 October 2007
Most accounts of the fall of Japan follow, understandably, the progress of the US across the Pacific, culminating in the invasions of the Philippines, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and finally the cataclysmic events of August 1945. Hastings paints a much broader picture, following events in Burma, where the British Empire forces were engaged in a stunningly successful but ultimately pointless, in terms of the final destruction of Japan, campaign, to Borneo where the Australians where relegated to fighting in a backwater, losing much of their stature gained in the Western Desert 3 years before, and being hampered by in-fighting. Macarthur's arrogance - megalomania even - in the Philippines is described with the savage battle for Manila. The necessity for the battle for Iwo is seriously questioned with the normal answer "it saved allied aircrews" being doubted. Some of what he describes is well-known - the fire bombing of Japan's cities, the battle for Okinawa are covered well but less-known aspects are handled well: the China war (which had been going on for far longer that WW2), the Soviet invasion of Manchuria (Stalin's race to grab land before the war ended - the battles there continued for some days after the "official" surrender) and the choking of Japan's logistical supplies by the relatively small (compared with the U-Boats a couple of years earlier) US submarine force. Hastings makes the point that the sinking of Japan's merchant navy dwindled back in late '44 and early 45 for the very simple reason: there was pretty well nothing more to sink. He criticises the USAAF (a la Bomber Command) for not diverting more resources into the mining of the Inland Sea. When this did happen, the results almost crippled Japan's inter-island traffic. The actual nuclear attacks are briefly covered - I suspect that Hastings realised that they are just too well known - but the political build up, in Washington, Tokyo and Moscow, is covered is some detail.

For those used to Hastings's earlier work dealing with the end of WW2 in Europe - Armageddon and Overlord - will be familiar with his technique of mixing personal memories and reflections with the broader picture - both military and political. In Nemesis he succeeds again admirably and this book thoroughly deserves five stars.
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47 of 51 people found the following review helpful
on 26 November 2007
Max Hastings describes how and why Japan was finally brought low in 1945 - the politics and the military grand strategy - and what it was like for the ordinary people swept up by these events. And in his descriptions of action on the ground in China, Burma, the Philippines and across the Pacific, he succeeds in conveying the horror of total warfare by allowing participants to speak for themselves. The book does not, however, provide a detailed operational analysis of the campaigns involved, and the absence of a bibliography which is dismissed as an author's `peacock display', is therefore a disappointment. A good bibliography is a resource and the literature of this subject is little better known than its detail, so the absence of one, or at least of a bibliographic essay, is a pity - hence only 4 stars. This is all the more apparent given Hastings's clear exposition of Japanese as well as American strategic imperatives; he shows why this war degenerated into a slugfest.

There are excellent pen pictures of leading characters, and the failings of senior commanders are rigorously examined: General Douglas MacArthur, for example, was a paranoid megalomaniac obsessed with his personal mission to liberate the Philippines, and ignored any intelligence that didn't suit him. In describing systematic Japanese brutality towards both Allied prisoners and fellow Asians, Hastings is also careful to shade the coin, showing that not all Japanese were sadists. But if today some Japanese suggest such inhumanity was no worse than Allied bombing, he notes that having started the war, they `waged it with such savagery towards the innocent and impotent that it is easy to understand the rage which filled Allied hearts in 1945'.

The horror of the atomic bombs is put in context by the description of the fire bomb raid on Tokyo of 9 March 1945, in which as many as 100,000 people died, and the strategic significance of aerial bombardment is itself put in context with the submarine campaign that effectively crippled Japan's economy. Subsequently Hastings doesn't dwell on the horrible effects of the bombs themselves, but describes the Tolstoyan inevitability of their use in balanced terms. He concludes that if today Japan is guilty of a collective rejection of historical fact in denying its army's brutal and nihilistic actions, some US historians interpret the pursuit of decisive victory - unconditional surrender - as the American way of war, an outlook that `renders the country liable to chronic disappointment'. In Nemesis Hastings has covered a vast canvas with superbly realised detail, and has provided an excellent companion to Armageddon, his earlier study of the defeat of Germany.
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38 of 42 people found the following review helpful
There can be few, even knowledgeable, students of the Second World War who will not learn much from this really impressive book. Max Hastings has already contributed some masterly WW2 histories but this must be his finest. It is one of the best histories of the War that I have ever read.

What impresses most is the scope and breadth of this book. All the major campaigns are covered and their relative importance made clear. The British campaign in Burma was never much more than a side-show, no matter how that fact must pain the dogged combatants under Bill Slim who drove the Japanese out. The relatively little known but hugely successful American submarine war against Japan's shipping is given its proper due.

None of the combatants fought a very clean war (if there can be such a thing). The Americans slaughtered many Japanese civilians and prisoners and their campaign seems to have been fuelled by a hatred of Japanese that they did not feel towards the Germans. However, upon reading of the many and hideous atrocities perpetrated by the Japanese - many denied or overlooked by Japan even today - the hatred of them by their opponents seems all too understandable. The last-minute declaration of war against Japan by Stalin, that cynical opportunist, unleashed the Red Army upon Manchuria, in the full plunder and rape mode that made them dreaded for decades to come.

Even today the dropping of atomic bombs by the United States upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki remains perhaps the most controversial act of the War and some think the greatest atrocity. Hastings gives much of the detail of the attacks themselves and the thinking behind them. He also reveals that the planned November 1945 invasion of Kyushu, Japan's southern island, by the Americans was not that likely to be undertaken. The Americans were coming round more to a strategy of bombing and starving the Japanese into submission, rather than suffer the appalling casualties that an invasion of Kyushu would produce. It also seems to have been conventional wisdom up to now that the two atomic weapons dropped on Japan on the 6th and 9th of August 1945 were the only ones in the American armoury and that no more would be available for several months at least. However, it seems that a third weapon would have been available by 19th August and that the target could have been Tokyo.

Fortunately, the third atomic bomb was not necessary. The Japanese Emperor, Hirohito, who had allowed, on the most charitable view, the military to take over the running of the country and plunge it into a war dominated by Japanese atrocities, at last partially redeemed himself and ordered them to surrender unconditionally. The atomic bombs had definitely changed Japanese thinking and brought the War to a premature end - there seems little doubt that the countless lives saved more than outweighed the casualties at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In many ways this is a sickening book to read. The ruinous potential for Man's inhumanity to Man comes over with great force. It should be compulsory reading for all the World's leaders. The desperate problems posed to Civilisation by the Axis were solved by going to war but the cost was prohibitive and atomic weapons raised that cost to insupportable levels. There can only ever be one more War like it - the last.

Max Hastings has done a considerable service by writing this book and reminding present generations of the truly appalling costs in blood and treasure of the last World War. It does help to give a better perspective on the different, and I suggest less difficult, problems that we face today.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 14 December 2007
My knowledge of the Pacific War is fairly limited and confined to the Pearl harbour to Midway period so what I wanted was a broad brush view of the later stages of the conflict and this tome fulfilled my need very well.

Hastings gives a good chronological account of each part of the campaign with plenty of flavour and puts the battles and decisions of all participants into context: if the evidence supports a conclusion he makes the argument and if it does not he outlines the case for each conclusion, ventures his opinion but leaves the other possibilities open for you to make your own mind up. I like this sort of approach in preference to shying away from opinion or asserting your own to the exclusion of any other possibility. The fact that the entire region is covered and not just the US campign is also very welcome and the well worn arguments regarding the dropping of the Bombs and the political situation in Japan etc. are very concisely covered.

I was left with a fair framework for the period to hang further reading onto, a great deal of respect for those who fought on both sides and a small slice of anger towards their collected political and military masters.

Had I had to spend time at the pointy end on either side I would have felt ill used I think; a very Good read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 12 August 2013
By concentrating on the pacific war's final 12 months, Max Hastings succeeds in bringing some interesting perspectives on the wider conflict and the participants histories. I found the sections on China and Australia illuminating
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on 9 June 2014
Max Hastings clearly knows his stuff. Anyone who has read any of his books can tell this from the wealth of detail that he reels off and the confidence of his writing. However he has absolutely no idea how to organise and structure a book. Nemesis reads like a rambling conversation with some old professor, he wanders from subject to subject with no sense of purpose or direction.

The chapters of Nemesis seem to vary between general information about the war in the Pacific - such as a chapter on carriers or one on submarines. Then every now and then you get a chapter on the conduct of the war - such as a detailed description of The Battle of Leyte Gulf. One chapter does not necessarily lead to another but just seems to be tagged on as and when Max Hastings thought of a new subject. Even within the individual chapters the author wanders from topic to topic, throwing random quotations in about tactics, the environment or the living conditions. It's almost a stream of conciousness style of writing that is hard to follow and little use as a reference.

If you are prepared to put up with this little trip through Max Hastings brain Nemesis does have a lot of information about the last years of the Pacific War. If he actually understood anything about editing he could have covered the whole Pacific War here but it is a weighty tome as it stands. This is not an easy read but if you are familiar with the subject matter you might find some value in Max Hastings discussion of the war against Japan.
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on 28 January 2010
Like most people I would imagine, my knowledge of the Second World War is mostly confined to the Eurasian and North African theatres and is shamefully threadbare when it comes to other areas. This is a book to correct such deficiencies; I have read Keegan who is excellent on the set-piece naval battles but this gives an overview of what, for many of the servicemen involved, was the forgotten conflict.
All-encompassing, from India, the Philippines, Russia and China, it also follows the course of what is traditionally seen as primarily an American conflict as they seemed determined to keep as much of the struggle under their control as possible. Given their industrial capacity (they started the war in the Pacific with four carriers and finished with a hundred), they did most of the fighting, but this book is a timely reminder of the suffering endured across the entire region by millions.
It is also good at illuminating the feet of clay possessed by some of the leading personalities, from Mountbatten and Mao to MacArthur amongst others whose scheming and posing cost more lives than were necessary. For the British there were the creaking signs of overstretch that the war had created, the Chinese never fulfilled their potential, the Americans suffered from compartmentalised tactical thinking and interservice struggles, the Japanese reaped the grinding defeat and humiliation that their tenacity and brutality created the determination for in the Allied mindset and the Russians waited cynically in the wings determined not to endure as much loss of manpower as they had suffered in the West. The poor, poor civilians, complicit or not were the ones who suffered the most.
Very good on individual campaigns, the forgotten ones like Burma or the more well-publicised ones like Iwo Jima and highlighting the highs and lows with a wealth of reference and the personal anecdotes from all sides that bring home the completely different world that fought this struggle.
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on 5 May 2015
Max Hastings here focus on the last years of WW2 in the east and unravels many, many facets of which I was unaware or at least little informed. Not least the extensive account of the war in China (usually neglected or mistold) and the almost never told story of the August 1945 Russian offensive are necessary reading for anyone that wish to have a grasp of the war against Japan. I similarly got much wiser concerning the role of McArthur and the conflict between the land war and the naval campaign. As expected form a true historian, all facts are given with sources, so the book is also an endless treasure of other works to pursue and read. Unlike Anthony Beevor that can be a bit "long-winded" at times, Hastings finds a superb balance between details and the flow of events. Recommended without reservations.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 29 December 2008
A few years ago I read Armageddon and thought it was excellent. So a couple of months ago I bought Nemesis and set it side for my 'Christmas read'. I was looking forward to this (in my own sad way!) - but was at the same time wondering if my fond memories of Armageddon would raise my expectations too much and that I might be left disappointed.

The first two or three chapters did have me a bit concerned - so if you you do buy this book note that these chapters are 'big picture', setting-the-scene build ups. Politics and warmongering are considered on a vast scale and although this was no doubt necessary I couldn't get 'involved' and felt a bit cold towards it all. But then the author swoops down from painting this expansive panorama and focuses in on the action. And it is absorbing, exciting, real and enlightening - in turn and at the same time.

In fact I would say that perhaps the genius of this author is his ability to take the reader on a tour where you seem to zoom in on small (but relevant) detail one moment and then soar up through the levels and focus on the big players, personalities, decisions and scenarios. We are presented with 'fox hole' stories and with company, platoon, battalion, corps and army group manoeuvres and strategies. We see the view from all sides, including the much-suffering local, regional and national populations. We are presented with factions inside pretty much all of the involved governments and with the differing national psyches and how these affected behaviours and decision-making. We are treated to excellent descriptions of land, sea and air operations and battles, including valuable insights into kamikaze operations and motivations.

There is no poor chapter - everything is tightly and expertly written. I often found myself wondering at the sheer effort that must have gone into collating such an enormous body of evidence and transforming it into such a readable, well-knitted work.

The sense of physical, geographical achievement as the US forces moved to retake the Philippines and then grind their way towards the Japanese Homeland is highly tangible - at times almost breathtaking - and even if you know the story it still grips.

For those of you worried about prior knowledge, fear not. Mr Hastings assumes nothing and at the same time manages to present the story in an intelligent and highly non-patronising manner.

I read a lot of books and often judge them (crudely) by the extent to which I start wondering how many pages are left compared to worrying how many pages have gone. This book fell well into the latter category. It ranks as one of the best books I have read in a while (and I get through a lot)and surely cements Max Hastings well into position as one of the leading historical authors of our time.
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on 30 August 2014
Another of Max Hasting's works. There are many who would say that the use of nuclear weapons was uncalled for in 1945 as Japan was almost on its knees. The taking of the Japanese main islands would have caused appalling loss of life as the Japanese of then were not the Japanese of today. Their belief in their Emperor/God would not have allowed them to submit with just a whimper and the fanatical fighting to the last man shown in places like Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima would have been repeated to a much greater extent. A worthy read for anyone with an interest in military history
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