Tony's Reviews > Nemesis: The Battle For Japan, 1944 45

Nemesis by Max Hastings
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Apr 12, 12

bookshelves: currently-reading
Read from November 06, 2011 to January 04, 2012

Add Bill Slim to my very short list of officers I admire.


The blurb on the jacket of my edition of Nemesis says that the Pacific theatre had the most extraordinary cast of characters and having just finished the book I would have to say I agree. Hastings uses the by-now familiar device of interweaving the stories of ordinary people into the broader context of strategic and political decisions by generals and statesmen. And it works a treat, shining the light on the human consequences of warfare.

The book greatly improved my limited knowledge of many of the key figures of the war in the Far East , particularly Macarthur, Chiang Kai Shek and one of the great forgotten British heroes, Bill Slim.

It also convincingly showed how the psyche of an entire nation can be shaped and perverted by a small, influential, determined and ruthless group. The Japanese military, which effectively ruled Japan and directed its expansionist policies, were truly the ayatollahs of 20th century Asia and the grotesque brutality inflicted on captured enemy combatants and occupied civilians defies any attempt at rational explanation. Hastings is unflinching in his condemnation of Japanese atrocities while still managing to find enough individual acts of decency and kindness to prevent his criticism becoming a demonisation.

Hastings also put paid to, in my mind at least, any lingering doubts about the decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The fire-bombing of Tokyo had shown that conventional ‘terror tactics’ by the USAAF would do little to persuade the Japanese to abandon their policy of forcing the Americans to the negotiating table and the experience of Okinawa had shown what price they were willing to pay to stave off unconditional surrender.

As with most histories of war containing personal accounts I finished the book both shocked and awed by what human beings are capable of doing to one another.
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