Greg's Reviews > Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45

Retribution by Max Hastings
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's review
Dec 10, 2011

really liked it
Read in June, 2011

Hastings’ history of the Pacific War is a highly readable, albeit a long read, survey, and a fantastic introduction for those that do not know much and are looking to fill in gaps of knowledge. Hastings, a former journalist, liberally makes use of first hand accounts and tries to paint a 360-degree view in his development of the narrative history. Because of this approach, the long stretches of facts and analysis are made a bit more interesting. His analysis of many of the mistakes are unflinching – especially his iconoclastic take on MacArthur, whom history has judged much too kindly.

Of particular interest to me were various analyses of battles and their mistakes and heroes. Those that stand out are MacArthur’s emotional and strategically erroneous battle plan for the Philippines, the battle of Leyte Gulf, the impact of psychology on various Japanese actions when they could have pressed the advantage, and the side campaigns I knew very little about in Burma and the Chinese mainland. One quote presented early in the book, that “No matter how a war starts, it ends in mud,” by Gen. Joseph “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell, and the corresponding question of whether this had to be true for Japan was an ingenious way to engage the reader in what was to follow as the unfolding answer.

More negatively, Hastings’ opinions certainly are less than objective. His most serious omission is that of the Soviet entry into the war and the impact that had, in concert with the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in forcing a Japanese surrender. That omission aside, and the rather opinionated account of the military leadership from all parties – in general these opinions do add to the book, as Hastings is willing to take a position based in the facts that he presents.

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