Sunday, January 30, 2011

I read me some "Retribution"

I read me some Retribution: The Battle for Japan by Max Hastings. Retribution, similar to its counterpart Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, traces the last year of WWII in the Pacific. With the United States ascendent the conclusion of the war in the Pacific was a foregone conclusion to all save the Japanese and their leaders. Unfortunately, the last year brought untold pain and agony to millions throughout Asia and the Pacific. Millions perished as the Japanese clung to their empire and decided that what they couldn't hold they would kill.

The military battles in the Pacific have been well rehearsed by Spector and others, but few have attempted to encompass in one volume the full sweep of the Asian Theater, from the islands of the Pacific to SE Asia to the British slog through Burma to the Japanese victories in China to the last frenzied two week of the Russian invasion of Manchuria. Hastings does this and more, giving full weight to the horrors of the war.

And horror is what one comes away with after reading about the disasters in the Pacific. The Nazis are rightfully remembered for their inhumanity, but we forget the disdain for life that the Japanese demonstrated year after year, country after country. They raped, starved, and pillaged their way across Asia. They showed disdain for POWs (one statistic of note, 2.7% of POWs perished in German hands, while 37% of POWs died in Japanese hands) and for the life of their fellow countryman.

Hastings does an excellent job of helping the reader understand why the atomic was dropped. It is easy 66 years later to assume that there was another way, but as Hastings notes the Japanese leadership was in complete denial and would only agree to peace on their terms. Even after the a-bombs were dropped, significant number of Japanese officers wanted to fight until the bitter end.

This is a horrific book, but one all should read.