Hot on the heels of his massive Armageddon comes another blockbuster from Max Hastings, this time on the death throes of the predatory Japanese Empire, whose final agonies outlived those of Hitler’s Reich not because the Japanese fought better but because they were always second priority in Allied eyes. Japan was to be ‘finished off’ only after German surrender.
Hastings is probably right to suggest that historians and publics in the West have always given the war with Japan what he calls ‘second-class status’. He has rescued it from obscurity with all his usual panache. This is an absorbing story woven from the grand designs of the policy-makers and strategists together with the letters, diaries and memories of those who fought at the sharp end, friend and foe alike. The balance is sustained with admirable skill even if the style is now very familiar. The subject matter is anything but well known; for much of the audience he is aiming at, this is news, not history.
The first surprise is the sheer scale of the war in Asia. The British Empire put 2.5 million men into the field, the United States 1.25 million. The Japanese were forced to fight not just against the Western Allies but also against a poorly organised but still sizeable Chinese force.