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This review is from: Nemesis: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45 (Hardcover)
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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Initial post: 1 Jun 2014 19:22:14 BDT
I agree with the reviewer's comments on how useful the book is. I must emphasise what an enjoyable read it is (Hastings best for me) and was always sorry to put it down. Max Hastings gives due credit to the U.S submariners and it is a real shame they were not supplied with reliable torpedoes for the first 18 months of their war. I was fascinated by the chapter on the use of atomic bombs.
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