While Allied Forces understandably pursued a "Europe-first" policy in the Second World War, the Japanese threat in the Far East grew with every month. Popular history credits the Americans with breaking Japanese codes and saving perhaps two years of conflict. This is not Michael Smith's view. Building on the success of Station X
, which heralded British success in cracking the German Enigma cipher, The Emperor's Codes
uses recently released British archive records to fill in the details of British and Australian involvement in the Far East. In fact, Smith goes further, and controversially concludes that internal bickering in the US military, compounded by a less than open exchange of information with the British, "must have cost many lives, the majority of them American". In addition, he observes that the Allies knew a Japanese "unconditional surrender", dependent on Emperor Hirohito remaining on the throne, was on the cards before the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, throwing into considerable doubt the need for such demonstratively horrific tactics.
As well as major players such as John Tiltman, Eric Nave and Joe Rochefort, Smith plays out the controversy, as well as the intricacies of cryptography, through recourse to witness statements from the "ordinary" men and women slavishly dedicated to "stripping"--that is, removing the cipher additive. The urgencies and peculiarities of war saw numerous marriages, Oxbridge linguists learning Japanese in six months (experts had predicted five years), a radio broadcast of a concert from Britain's most secret location and an over-optimistic colour-coded ticket scheme at Bletchley Park for meals; bread and butter, so to speak, for the hungry workers. Charting efforts in Ceylon, Singapore, India, Kenya, Australia and, of course, Bletchley Park, Smith's revisionist reading gives proper due to the grass roots co-operation between Allied intelligence which, though unable to prevent the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, helped accelerate Hirohito's surrender. As he makes plain, that it succeeded more in spite of than due to senior US Navy command scathingly undermines the conventional heroic narrative the American military was so quick to proclaim. It's a damning conclusion, but an enthralling read. --David Vincent
Smith provides plenty of technical information, including three appendices, to satisfy even the most ardent lover of cryptography. But less numerate readers are far from short-changed. Some of the book's most fascinating reading lies in the personal testimonies of the many veterans that Smith has interviewed, 'Anything', confesses one, 'was better than learning to march and salute.' --David Stafford, The Literary Review