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Forgotten Voices of Burma (a review by Thomas W. Johnson),
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This review is from: Forgotten Voices of Burma: A New History of the Second World War's Forgotten Conflict in the Words of Those Who Were There (Hardcover)
One of the great accomplishments of the Imperial War Museum was the oral history program for returning veterans after World War II. Julian Thompson, following in the foot steps of Stephen Ambrose, takes the same material and uses it in multiple publications. A reading of Thompson's The Imperial War Museum Book of the War In Burma 1942 - 1945 will see use of the same material. Nothing wrong with that; Ambrose used the same material in at least four books that I'm aware of. This book is not a detailed history of the war in Burma. Thompson tries to put the material in chronological order but given the simultaneous events it does get confusing. For example, how can you write about the Chindits, Kohima and Imphal in the first two weeks of April, 1944 without competing events on the same day.
There are no references to NCAC operations that I can see. I didn't see any quotes from members of the British 36th division.
Charpoy Chindit, my favorite reviewer is unnecessarily harsh in his assessment of this book. I enjoyed reading the first hand quotes from the soldiers who were there at the time. If memories have faded with the years since the actions, it only makes the sources more human. Who really cares if it was a Typhoon or a Thurderbolt at Meiktila? I'm interested in the first hand account of a tank crew member at Nungshigum; I don't really care if he can't remember if it was a Lee or a Stuart. This book should be read after the reader has acquainted his or herself with the war in the Burma theatre, other wise it won't make much sense. The fact that 161 Brigade fought in the Arakan, then flew to Kohima / Imphal to fight there isn't brought out in any detail in this book. Thompson's narative is okay. I'm less interested in the narative then in the stories taken from the soldier's who fought there.
Things you won't find in this book include any reference to the NCAC area, members of the African Brigades or Divisions and any of the Chinese soldiers who fought in the Ledo, Lashio or Bhamo areas.
Yes, there are numerous errors; probably due to fading memories; not an attempt to rewrite history. If Thompson uncovers an error in an oral history, is he really obligated to mention the correct fact. ("No, no, no. It was a Thunderbolt, not a Typhon.") Who cares, beside Charpoy Chindit.
I recommend this book for readers interested in the history of the area and the history of world war 2. Its an easy read, lots of pictures. I hope that Thompson goes back into the archives of the IWM and generates More Forgotten Voices of Burma. These men (and women) accomplished something incredible. The least we armchair historians can do, is appreciate all they did at the time with the resources available.
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Initial post: 6 Mar 2012 11:07:28 GMT
Peter K. Booker says:
I am with Charpoy Chindit on this one. If an editor who presumably has the support of the IWM does not point out for the general reader mistakes that he must be aware of, are we then to believe that he knows that they are mistakes, imperfect memories? We might then believe that he does not know, and consequently his contribution becomes devalued. A true historian always seeks the truth and points out where mistakes and imperfections occur. My own favourite book on the war in Burma is Ronald Lewin´s biography of Uncle Bill SlimSlim: The Standardbearer (Wordsworth Military Library)
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