By Waldo Heinrichs and Marc Gallicchio, Oxford University Press, New York, NY (2017)
Reviewed by Capt. Howard R. Portnoy, USN (Ret.)
With the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II approaching, it seems an appropriate time to reexamine our perceptions of the war to determine if revisions are necessary. It appears reasonable to assume that that reexamination is at least partially responsible for the recent spate of books detailing the battles, campaigns, and strategies of the Pacific war. The question at hand is whether Implacable Foes provides enough new information or a fresh enough perspective to warrant a recommendation for purchase.
Both authors are university history professors. Professor Heinrichs is emeritus at San Diego State and Professor Gallicchio is the department head at Villanova. Both are published authors of military-related volumes.
Two sections divide Implacable Foes. The first, authored by Professor Heinrichs, contains nine chapters and provides detailed descriptions of combat operations. The second four-chapter section written by Professor Gallicchio covers the period at the very end of the war.
Chapter one summarizes the Pacific war through 1943. It follows eight more chapters proceeding chronologically from February 1944 through June 1945. The official Army campaign histories are the principal references for chapters covering Army operations, while Samuel Eliot Morison’s volumes do the same for naval actions.
Division histories and books on specific battles or campaigns supplement the text when appropriate. Condensing text from the principal references and integrating information from other sources is both challenging and laborious, especially since the one or two maps in each chapter are not sufficiently detailed to adequately support the text.
A word about organization and format. There are no subtitles or paragraph and heading entries throughout the entire narrative. If each chapter had only one theme, this would not be a problem. However, that is not the case for Implacable Foes. Further, assigning a timeline to the chapter titles inhibits meaningful treatment of subjects that evolve over more than one time period and makes it difficult to locate subjects not identified in the chapter title or the index. There was one disturbing statement in the sixth chapter on Iwo Jima. “Despite the devastating casualties-percentage-wise, the costliest of the Pacific theater in World War II—Iwo Jima was a necessary objective.” Professor Heinrichs then cited two favorable comments and added a note stating that differing views could be found in five listed books or articles. Professor Heinrichs should have addressed the points raised by the critics upon further inspection that one such listing raised several issues that merited discussion.
The heavy emphasis on tactical combat operations appears inappropriate in a book that supposedly addresses the big picture. The text is unsatisfying, often confusing and hard to follow. Details of combat actions are available elsewhere, and it appears unlikely that significant new information could be gleaned from veteran diaries or surveys. For more information, well-written brochures (about the same length as the chapters) are available in The Campaigns of World War II (CMH Pub 72-41).
This section covers the March-August 1945 time frame and discusses U.S. strategy for ending the war, the planning for OLYMPIC and CORONET, the projected landings on the Japanese homeland, and the desired character of a postwar Japan.
Realistically, the possibility of mounting an invasion of Kyushu ended on 16 July 1945, when Little Boy was tested and worked, but planning for the invasion continued nonetheless. This is to be expected, yet Professor Gallicchio makes too much of American difficulties even before that date, chiding other historians for not acknowledging them, while not recognizing that Japan was on the brink of defeat, holding out solely to retain the emperor. “Blockade and bombardment” was not the slow, drawn out policy he dismissed as not being fast enough for the American public. It was succeeding. Japan’s economy was collapsing, Japanese military mobility was fast disappearing, and it was becoming impossible for Japan to import vital raw materials so necessary to continue the war.
I concur that the proximate reason the Japanese emperor finally “accepted the unacceptable” on 14 August 1945 was the Nagasaki bomb dropped on 9 August. However, I think that, had the bomb not been dropped at that point, the war would have ended shortly thereafter, well before the 1 November planned date for the invasion of Kyushu. What is somewhat unusual is that Professor Gallicchio does not specify what he thinks ended the war, but merely states in the last sentence of the book’s narrative that “it is not surprising that Truman and Marshall understood that the atomic bomb had been indispensable and that it alone had brought about the kind off victory they sought.” Also strange is the quoted statement of an Army staff officer that opens the book to the effect that “the capitulation of Hirohito saved our necks” because “it would have been absolutely impossible to send well-trained teams to participate in the scheduled invasion of Japan.” That statement was obviously made after 14 August. Is that the fresh perspective we were looking for? Not for me.
Based on the comments I have made on both sections, I believe that the authors have not provided significant new information or a fresh perspective, and therefore, I will not recommend the purchase of Implacable Foes.
However, I do have some recommendations on books that I think will fit the bill. First, I heartedly recommend Retribution (2007) by Max Hastings, described by Andrew Roberts of The Sunday Telegraph as “Spectacular . . . Searingly powerful.” I consider this book one of the best military histories I have ever read. With insight and concise and balanced analysis, it fills the void left by Implacable Foes. Also extremely good are James D. Hornfischer’s The Fleet at Flood Tide (2016), Ian Toll’s The Conquering Tide (2015) which covers only 1944, and Phillips Payson O’Brien’s How the War Was Won (2015), which argues convincingly that air and sea power were far more central than land power in the defeat of Japan. Further, I anticipate Toll”s forthcoming volume covering 1945 and the third book of Nigel Hamilton’s trilogy on Franklin Delano Roosevelt in World War II, which I think will demonstrate that FDR played a much bigger role in directing Pacific strategy than as indicated in Implacable Foes. Finally, I would like to mention the horribly mistitled If the Allies Had Fallen (1997) which contains a twelve page essay by retired Navy CAPT Paul R. Schratz, a published author who participated in a number of Pacific submarine war patrols as well as commanding a sub during the Korean War. His insightful essay discusses the likely outcomes of five roads not taken by the U.S. at the end of the war.
CAPT PORTNOY, a retired submarine officer, commanded a diesel submarine and served 30 years in various billets at sea and ashore. This included tours in intelligence and politico-military affairs. After retirement, he worked for several defense contractors in the Washington D.C. area.