BOOK REVIEW: News Weekly
WAR IN THE PACIFIC, 1941-1945, by Richard Overy
, July 10, 2010
A major theatre of conflict
WAR IN THE PACIFIC, 1941-1945
by Richard Overy
(Oxford: Osprey Publishing / Sydney: Allen & Unwin)
Hardback: 64 pages
Rec. price: AUD$49.95
Reviewed by Michael E. Daniel
Although it has been 65 years since World War II ended, the range of books published every year suggests that interest in it has not waned. However, the focus of most publications is on the war in Europe. The war against the Japanese in the Pacific is often overlooked, even among Australians whose country was directly threatened by Japanese expansionism.
However, the recent 10-part television series, The Pacific, directed by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg (following the success of their acclaimed series, Band of Brothers), and publications such as Richard Overy's War in the Pacific, 1941-45, seem to be addressing this neglect. Overy is professor of history at the University of Exeter, UK, an expert on the history of World War II and a prize-winning author.
The book commences by exploring why Japan went to war. It chronicles the seizure by Japan's military of their country's government, Japan's invasion of China and the economic sanctions subsequently imposed on Japan by the United States.
Japan was now cut off from its customary supplies of oil and other natural resources, and thereby prevented from becoming the dominant Pacific power.
To break out of its enforced isolation, it launched a further war, commencing with its surprise attack on the United States Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, and its further military actions to seize control of the resources of Southeast Asia.
Overy details the rapid Japanese expansion into Malaya and the capture of Singapore, the Dutch East Indies and the Philippines. He then recounts the success of the US and other Allied forces in gradually recapturing this lost territory.
Of crucial significance, only six months after Pearl Harbor, was the US Navy's decisive defeat of the Imperial Japanese Navy at the Battle of Midway (June 4-7, 1942), which is generally regarded as the most important naval battle in the Pacific during the war.
Overy concludes by discussing the American dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which precipitated the Japanese surrender.
War in the Pacific, 1941-45, although written by an Englishman, gives especial emphasis to America's role in this conflict. Nevertheless, he does mention battles in which Australian troops were involved, particularly those in Papua New Guinea.
This book is not lengthy, and seems to have been written as an introductory work for those who have little knowledge of the Pacific theatre during World War II.
What makes this work particularly interesting are the detailed maps and numerous pictures throughout the work. In addition, there are selected facsimile memorabilia, including replicas of key historical documents, such as the draft of President F.D. Roosevelt's speech to Congress on December 8, 1941, in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Other replicas include an edition of Yank, the magazine prepared for and distributed to US forces, and a pocket guide to Australia issued to US troops stationed in, or in transit through, Australia. This cultural artefact is replete with American observations of Australian life, customs and slang, which is an interesting and amusing portrait of how Australia was viewed in the 1940s.
War in the Pacific is a well-produced introduction to an often-neglected but major theatre of conflict in World War II, and would make an excellent teaching resource.
A similar volume by Australian military historian Peter Pedersen, entitled Anzacs at War: from Gallipoli to the Present Day, has also recently been published by Allen & Unwin.