Friday, June 20, 2014

Pacific Crucible - Ian W. Toll

Well that didn't take long. Took a two-month break from military history, and it took less than two weeks to get completely burned out on it again. The next two books - whenever I get to them - are going to be something different.

Pacific Crucible examines the War in the Pacific from around Pearl Harbor up through Midway. So basically up to the point the U.S. got its act together. He uses the fairly limited timeframe as an opportunity to delve a little deeper into certain specific areas, which are the parts I found most engaging. I'd just read an entire book about Nimitz, Halsey, and King, so the parts on them weren't much use to me. Though I do find it interesting Toll describes King as being more fully on board with the Allies' "Germany First" plan than Borneman, who described him as grudgingly accepting of it.

However, the sections of the book on the American cryptoanalysts, who are trying to break Japan's military communications codes were more new to me. Most histories of the Pacific War make mention of them, but treat the code-breaking as something that was simply accomplished, no big deal, and the hardest part is using what they learned without tipping Japan off that their codes were broken. Toll not only introduces us to some of the key figures, he details the strain they were under, how secret there work was even from other officers on the base, and the factionalism that made it harder for their work to be successful.

The other section of the book I found enlightening was the chapter on Japan in the years leading up to World War II. A lot of it is concerned with Admiral Yamamoto, but there's also a lot about the culture of Japan, the feelings of superiority that mingled with (reasonable) concerns that they were being treated as second-rate by the U.S. and Britain on the world stage. There's a conflict between the old guard senior officers, most of whom agree that the last thing they want to go is get in a naval arms race with the U.S., and the young, aggressive officers who think the old guard and the politicians have sold out their country and failed their emperor. Which leads to a few military riots, and more than a few politicians being killed, with essentially no punishment levied against those responsible.

So a few sections were new to me, the rest was old hat by now.

'Every other concern was to be ruthlessly subordinated to what King called those "two vital Pacific tasks." Though it had not yet been acknowledged in Washington, the Philippines would fall. Though it had not yet been acknowledged in London, Malaya and Singapore would fall. Burman would fall; the Dutch East Indies would fall; the remaining British, Dutch, and American forces in the southeast Pacific would disintegrate. The U.S. Asiatic Fleet - a ramshackle array of old cruisers and destroyers - would probably be annihilated by the enemy's ships and planes. Its main contribution to the war effort would be to slow the rate of the Japanese advance and buy a few precious weeks to secure the seaways linking San Francisco, San Diego, and Panama to Brisbane, Auckland, and Sydney.'

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