Sunday, August 9, 2015

WWII Companion: How Peace Was Achieved 70 Years Ago

Review by Bill Doughty

Starting in the aftermath of the First World War, when the world lived in "interesting times" – economically, politically and socially – David M. Kennedy shows how the fumes of discontent and aggression exploded into war. 

How and why the Allies won in Europe and the Pacific in 1945 is explained in Kennedy's encyclopedic "The Library of Congress World War II Companion" (Simon & Schuster, 2007).

Kennedy provides fascinating context alongside hard facts and historical photos in this 982-page book that shifts chronologically from East to West and back with timelines, lists, and profiles of people, places, battles and concepts.

Interesting "Times" July 26, 1940 reporting FDR's embargo on oil to Japan.
Timeline entries show how the war began, with tensions growing in 1940 after President Franklin D. Roosevelt embargoed oil and other materials to Japan in January  "in retaliation for Japan's continuing aggression in China." Volatility increased into the summer:
"July 26: Attempting to restrain Japanese expansionist policies, the United States embargoes shipments of high-octane aviation fuel and premium scrap iron and steel."
Kennedy shows the perspective from all sides, including Japan's. In a separate textbook "The American Pageant" written with Thomas A. Bailey, Kennedy and Bailey refer to the attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into the war as "Japan's hara-kiri gamble in Hawaii."

Among the topics in "Companion": mobilization, operations, tactics, instruments of war, and how war affected the homefront. Kennedy compares Allied teamwork, cooperation and coordination with the Axis powers' backstabbing, subterfuge and war crimes.

Japanese officers turn in their swords to the Allies in 1945.
This week marks the 70th anniversary of the end of war in the Pacific, when "Tenno Heika" Emperor Hirohito announced Japan would surrender, signifying the end of theocratic divine rule, male dominance over society, and military control of the government.

As to how the United States led efforts in the the Pacific to bring freedom, equality and democracy to Japan, Kennedy lists the "Keys to Victory: Why the Allies Won." He has lists for both the European War and Asian-Pacific War. In the case of Asia-Pacific:

  • Allied Industrial Production. The United States quickly overcame the damage done to the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, while Japan had neither the population nor the resources to match Allied industrial output. The intense rivalry between Japan's army and naval branches greatly limited the country's production capabilities
  • Intelligence. Allied intelligence gathering, code breaking, and analysis was far superior; after the war, Japan's chief of army intelligence, Lieutenant General Seizo Arisue admitted, "We couldn't break your codes at all." The Japanese in fact broke some, but to little effect.
"VJ celebration at sea" – photo from Louis Forrisi collection, NHHC.
  • Battle of Midway. After the war, all Japanese naval officers questioned by U.S. interrogators cited the defeat at Midway as "the beginning of total failure." Japan could not make up for the tremendous loss of aircraft, warships, or experienced pilots. In 1943-1944, Japan produced seven aircraft carriers; in that same period, the United States produced ninety.
  • Island Hopping Strategy. By skipping over many fortified Japanese-held islands, the Allies isolated and kept large Japanese forces out of the fight (as at Truk and Rabaul); the strategy also kept the Japanese guessing as to where the Allies would strike next.
  • Combined Operations and Amphibious Landings. The Allies mastered these techniques to successfully capture the islands necessary for an eventual attack on Japan.
  • Destruction of the Imperial Navy. At the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944, U.S. forces destroyed nearly all that remained of the Japanese navy, which was "tantamount to the [subsequent] loss of the Philippines," the Japanese naval minister said after the war. "When you took the Philippines, that was the end of our resources."
Surrender aboard USS Missouri Sept 2, 1945 aboard USS Missouri (BB 63)
  • Conventional and Atomic Bombing of Japan. Bombing from spring 1945 to August destroyed more than 2 million buildings and demolished about 40 percent of the country's urban areas. The destruction and Allied blockades put Japan on the verge of starvation.

One could argue that other key reasons deserve special recognition: the impact of submarines and inspirational naval leadership, such as that provided by Fleet Adm. Nimitz, for example. 

Balanced with the joy of victory and end of suffering, Kennedy also shows the tragic aftermath of war. He writes of a U.S. Marine, Eugene Sledge, who was on Okinawa August 14, 1945 and who remembers poignantly the Marines' reaction:
"We received the news with quiet disbelief coupled with an indescribable sense of relief. We thought the Japanese would never surrender. Many refused to believe it. Sitting in stunned silence, we remembered our dead. So many dead. So many maimed. So many bright futures consigned to the ashes of the past. So many dreams lost in the madness that had engulfed us. Except for a few widely scattered shouts of joy, the survivors of the abyss sat hollow-eyed and silent, trying to comprehend a world without war."
Today, Japan and the United States share the same values of an open and free society based on democratic principles. A commemoration in Pearl Harbor this week presented by sister cities Nagaoka and Honolulu and hosted by the U.S. Navy celebrates "70 Years of Peace."

Last week, Japan Self-Defense Force soldiers and sailors paid their respects aboard USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor.

50804-N-IU636-024 PEARL HARBOR (August 04, 2015) Japanese soldiers assigned to the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force and sailors assigned to Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter destroyer JS Hyuga (DDH 181), destroyer JS Ashigara (DDG 178) and amphibious tank landing ship JS Kunisaki (LST 4003) render honors during a wreath-laying ceremony at the USS Arizona Memorial during a scheduled port visit at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. The ceremony was meant to pay respect to those who lost their lives during the attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941. The JDMSF ships are scheduled to participate in the multilateral exercise Dawn Blitz 2015 in San Diego. Dawn Blitz is a scenario-driven exercise led by U.S. Third Fleet and I Marine Expeditionary Force that will test participants in the planning and execution of amphibious operations through a series of live training event. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Johans Chavarro/Released)

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