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Rising Sun, John Toland

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Rising Sun, John Toland

Rising Sun, John Toland

This is a very impressive history of the Pacific War, written largely from the Japanese point of view. As a result we get an unusually detailed account of the build-up to the war as seen from Japan, the development of Japanese strategy and the impact of the American victories. The text is supported by some very detailed research, including a large number of interviews with surviving Japanese officers (a much larger group during the 1970s, when the book was written.

The book has dated in only one area. When it was written the US was engaged in Vietnam, and some parallels are drawn between the American struggle against Communism in Asia and the view held by some Japanese political and military leaders that their invasions of Manchuria and China were also motivated by a desire to fight Communism. This would be more convincing if it wasn't clear that the officers who triggered both invasions were far more interested in expanding Japanese power.

A second flaw is that the author tends to ignore the atrocities committed by the Japanese, both against Allied POWs and civilians, in China and in the conquered territories. The main exceptions are the fall of Nanking and the Bataan death march, which are both examined. As a result the Japanese justification for going to war is left untested.

These are only minor flaws. In general this book is a triumph, telling a familiar story from an unfamiliar, but still vitally important angle. Most histories of the war in Europe present the German point of view, but in contrast very few histories of the Pacific war give the Japanese view in such detail. Here we see the arguments within the Japanese government and military, the assumptions they acted upon and the often very faulty military intelligence that inspired many of their later decisions.

Parts
1 - The Roots of War
2 - The Lowering Clouds
3 - Banzai!
4 - Isle of Death
5 - The Gathering Forces
6 - The Decisive Battle
7 - Beyond the Bitter End
8 - 'One Hundred Million Die Together'

Author: John Toland
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 954
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2011 edition of 1971 original



The Rising Sun : The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945

This Pulitzer Prize–winning history of World War II chronicles the dramatic rise and fall of the Japanese empire, from the invasion of Manchuria and China to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Told from the Japanese perspective, The Rising Sun is, in the author's words, “a factual saga of people caught up in the flood of the most overwhelming war of mankind, told as it happened—muddled, ennobling, disgraceful, frustrating, full of paradox.”

In weaving together the historical facts and human drama leading up to and culminating in the war in the Pacific, Toland crafts a riveting and unbiased narrative history. In his Foreword, Toland says that if we are to draw any conclusion from The Rising Sun, it is “that there are no simple lessons in history, that it is human nature that repeats itself, not history.”

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LibraryThing Review

Impressivebook with a good view of the problems per-war Japan had. because of its political structure Japan had little choice but to fight or be a second tier government. Well worth the effort of wading thru its length. Читать весь отзыв

LibraryThing Review

A blow-by-blow account of the war, with very little analysis or big picture summary. Parts of it were, to me, very much old news, but other parts were fascinating. Lots of interesting anecdotes from . Читать весь отзыв

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Об авторе (2003)

The sky over Tokyo on the afternoon of February 25, 1936, was dark and foreboding. A thick blanket of snow already covered the city and there was threat of more to come. Three nights earlier more than a foot had fallen, breaking a record of fifty-four years, and causing such a traffic snarl that some theaters had to be turned into temporary hotels for audiences unable to get home.

Even under its white cloak of snow, Tokyo looked almost as Western as Oriental. Japan had left much of its feudal past behind to become by far the most progressive, westernized nation of Asia. A few hundred yards from the Imperial Palace with its traditional tile roof was a modern four-story concrete building, the Imperial Household Ministry, where all court business was conducted and the Emperor''s offices were located. Just outside the ancient stone walls and moat surrounding the spacious Palace grounds was the same mélange of East and West: a long line of modern structures, including the Imperial Theater and the Dai Ichi Building, as Occidental as the skyline of Chicago, while a few blocks away, in narrow cobblestone streets, were row upon row of geisha houses, sushi stands and kimono stores, and assorted little ramshackle shops, gay even on that cloudy day with their flapping doorway curtains and colorful lanterns.

Next to the Palace on a small hill was the not quite completed Diet Building, constructed mainly of stone from Okinawa and looking quasi-Egyptian. Behind this commanding edifice was a cluster of spacious houses, the official residence of government leaders. The largest was that of the Prime Minister. It was two buildings in one, the business part Western in the early Frank Lloyd Wright style, the living quarters Japanese with paper-thin walls, tatami floors and sliding doors.

But beneath the peaceful exterior of Tokyo seethed an unrest which would soon spill violently into the snow-covered streets. At one end of the Palace grounds were the barracks of the 1st (Gem) Division. Here authorities were already prepared for trouble after a tip about a military insurrection from a major in the War Ministry: he had learned from a young officer that a group of radicals planned to assassinate several advisers to the Emperor that day. Suspects had been put under surveillance, and important public figures were given emergency bodyguards. The doors of the Prime Minister''s official residence were reinforced with steel, iron bars installed in the windows, and a warning system connected directly to police headquarters. But the kempeitai (military police organization)* and the regular police felt they could easily handle the situation. After all, what real damage could a handful of rebels do, however strongly motivated? And by now they were wondering how reliable the information was that the uprising was at hand. The day was almost over.

It seems strange that they were so complacent, since the spirit of rebellion was high among elite troops charged with defense of the Palace grounds. Their defiance was so apparent that they were on orders to be shipped out to Manchuria in a few days, and their contempt for authority so open that one unit, ostensibly on maneuvers, had urinated in cadence at metropolitan police headquarters. Fourteen hundred of these unruly officers and men were preparing to revolt. Just before dawn the next morning, attack groups would strike simultaneously at six Tokyo targets: the homes of several government leaders, as well as metropolitan police headquarters.

While intricate preparations for these attacks were proceeding, pleasure seekers roamed the darkening streets in search of entertainment. Already the Ginza, Tokyo''s Broadway-Fifth Avenue, was teeming. To young Japanese it had long been a romantic symbol of the outside world, a fairyland of neon lights, boutiques, coffee shops, American and European movies, Western-style dance halls and restaurants. A few blocks away, in the Akasaka section, where the kimono was common for both men and women, the old Japan also anticipated a night of pleasure. Geishas looking like something out of antiquity in their theatrical make-up and resplendent costumes were pulled in rickshaws through the winding, willow-lined streets. Here the lights were more muted, and the traditional red lanterns carried by the police gave off a soft, nostalgic glow. It was a charming woodcut come alive.

These insurrectionists were not motivated by personal ambition. Like half a dozen groups before them--all of which had failed--they were about to try once again to redress the social injustices in Japan through force and assassination. Tradition had legitimized such criminal action, and the Japanese had given it a special name, gekokujo (insubordination), a term first used in the fifteenth century when rebellion was rampant on every level, with provincial lords refusing to obey the shogun,+ who in turn ignored the orders of the emperor.

The crumbling of autocracy in Europe after World War I, followed by the tide of democracy, socialism and Communism, had had dramatic impact on the young people of Japan, and they too set up a cry for change. Political parties emerged and a universal manhood suffrage bill was enacted in 1924. But it all happened too fast. Too many Japanese looked upon politics as a game or a source of easy money and there was a series of exposés--the Matsushima Red-Light District Scandal, the Railway Scandal, the Korean Scandal. Charges of bribery and corruption resulted in mob brawls on the floor of the Diet.

The population explosion which accompanied Japan''s westernization added to the confusion. Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku (her four main islands, comprising an area scarcely the size of California) already burst with eighty million people. The national economy could not absorb a population increase of almost one million a year farmers who were close to starvation following the plunge of produce prices began to organize in protest for the first time in Japanese history hundreds of thousands of city workers were thrown out of work. Out of all this came a wave of left-wing parties and unions.

These movements were counteracted by nationalist organizations, whose most popular leader was Ikki Kita,++ a nationalist as well as a fiery revolutionary who managed to combine a program of socialism with imperialism. His tract on reform, "A General Outline of Measures for the Reconstruction of Japan," was devoured by radicals and worshipers of the Emperor alike. His words appealed to all who yearned for reform. "The Japanese are following the destructive examples of the Western nations," he wrote. "The possessors of financial, political and military power are striving to maintain their unjust interests under cover of the imperial power.

"Seven hundred million brethren in India and China cannot gain their independence without our protection and leadership.

"The history of East and West is a record of the unification of feudal states after an era of civil wars. The only possible international peace, which will come after the present age of international wars, must be a feudal peace. This will be achieved through the emergence of the strongest country, which will dominate all other nations of the world."

He called for the "removal of the barriers between nation and Emperor" --that is, the Diet and the Cabinet. Voting should be restricted to heads of families and no one would be allowed to accumulate more than 1,000,000 yen (about $500,000 at the time). Important industries should be nationalized, a dictatorship established, and women restricted to activities in the home "cultivating the ancient Japanese arts of flower arrangement and the tea ceremony."

It was no wonder that millions of impressionable, idealistic young men, already disgusted by corruption in government and business and poverty at home, were enthralled.§ They could battle all these wicked forces as well as Communism, free the Orient of Occidental domination and make Japan the leading country in the world.

In the West these young men could have found an outlet for action as unionists or political agitators, but in Japan many, particularly those from small landowning and shopkeeping families, found they could serve best as Army and Navy officers. Once in the service, they gained an even more profound understanding of poverty from their men, who would be weeping over letters from home--with their sons away, the families were on the verge of starvation. The young officers blamed their own superiors, politicians, court officials. They joined secret organizations of which some, like Tenkento, called for direct action and assassination, while others, like Sakurakai (the Cherry Society), demanded territorial expansion as well as internal reforms.

By 1928 this ferment came to a head, but it took two extraordinary men operating within the military framework to put it into action. One was a lieutenant colonel, Kanji Ishihara, and the other a colonel, Seishiro Itagaki. The first was brilliant, inspired, flamboyant, a fountain of ideas the second was cool, thoughtful, a master organizer. They made a perfect team. What Ishihara envisioned, Itagaki could bring to pass. Both were staff officers in the Kwantung Army, which had originally, in 1905, been sent to Manchuria to guard Japanese interests in a wild territory larger than California, Oregon and Washington combined.


Review: The Rising Sun

It is a bit of an odd coincidence that I would get around to writing about John Toland’s history of World War II as perceived by Japan on December 7th. I even considered putting it off another day, but I think there is a certain fitness to it as well. Titled in full The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945, Toland’s work focuses in some detail on Japanese politics leading up to war with the United States and on the internal negotiations required before the Japanese surrender. The military campaigns between are sketched, with a curious amount of detailed attention paid to Guadalcanal (perhaps as a sort of icon of Japanese difficulties throughout the war) but otherwise as much said about the infighting, misperceptions, and socially driven problems of the Japanese campaign.

It is an interesting book as much as for what is left out as for what is put in. Japan’s campaigns in Asia proper are mentioned briefly, but despite contending that the drain on resources was significant – an entirely plausible claim – little detail is given to them. Similarly, Japanese atrocities in the Philippines are examined fairly closely, but those in China or Korea barely mentioned. This is – unfortunately – hardly unique in writing on World War II, but curious given Toland’s clear intention to at least outline the entire scope of Japanese planning and action. Intention outrunning performance is of course also less than uncommon.

The most interesting aspect, especially in comparison with more standard histories (especially from the period relatively soon after the war The Rising Sun was published in 1970), is Toland’s examination of Japanese ideals and actions – contrasted with Allied ideals and actions. For a brief summary: what do we make of Japan’s conception of itself as a Pan-Asian leader, contrasted with its colonialist brutality in its campaigns but then set against American proclamations of democratic idealism, as against actual connivance with continued French or (save for a popular revolt) Dutch colonialism?

Toland I would guess began with a thesis, which in the course of his research faded to something more like the desire to convey an impression. The most distinct impression created is the tragedy of the war: the Japanese pre-war judgment (which led, Japanese military theories being what they were, directly to the Pearl Harbor attack) that as they stood the Japanese ambitions were incompatible with American interests seems incontrovertible, but Japanese and American misunderstandings of each other’s politics and culture contributed to the way the war came, and the way it ended, both far more dramatic and destructive than it seems they might have been. That the narrative ends more or less with the Japanese surrender was perhaps the only plausible option however, a continuation or another work considering both the continuation and transformation of Japanese politics and culture would be necessary, I think, for any kind of real conclusion to the story Toland begins. Though 1936 is rather a middle of things place to begin the tale, as well.


The Rising Sun

The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936–1945. By John Toland. Illustrated. 954 pp. New York: Random House. $12.95.

The First Days and the Last. By Thomas M. Coffey. 552 pp. New York and Cleveland: The World Publishing Company. $12.95.

It is almost 30 years since that “day that will live in infamy” when the carriers of the Japanese Combined Fleet, after a long and silent voyage across the North Pacific, launched their bombers in a ,sudden and unexpected attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor and the nearby Army airfields, crippling the battle force of the Pacific Fleet, destroying or damaging over 200 planes, and leaving in their wake more than 2,400 American servicemen dead and 1,170 wounded.

Why and how the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in this way, and how they were able to surprise an alerted American garrison, and how they were fin ally overcome by the joint forces of MacArthur and Nimitz in a costly series of air‐sea‐ground cam paigns that culminated in the mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki are questions that continue to exert a particular fascination for Americans.

They have been examined by various official bodies in Washington and Tokyo, studied in depth by scholars, official and unofficial, on both sides, and been the subject of innumerable popular ac counts. Virtually every major participant has been interviewed at length or has published his own version of the events in which he was involved.

The documentation on the war with Japan is vast, almost beyond the grasp of a single person, but there is no sign that interest in the subject is abating. Most recent evidence of this interest is the publication of these two lengthy studies, both major publishing ventures, on this 29th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The two volumes have much in common. Both are written from the Japanese point of view and are sympathetic to the Japanese. Neither adds to our knowledge of the war or offers new interpre tations, but both authors are skilled journalists and excellent story‐tellers, and both employ similar techniques, fitting individual accounts into a com plicated jigsaw. They emphasize human interest rather than analysis and build up suspense to carry the reader along to the exciting climax, whether it be a battle or a Cabinet meeting. They rely on con temporary material and interviews with participants and survivors, but John Toland has interviewed much more widely and has done considerably more research in the records and the secondary litera ture.

Also, he knows this war better than Thomas M. Coffey. “Imperial Tragedy” is Coffey's first writing venture into the war Toland has already written three books on World War II, one of which dealt with the period from Pearl Harbor to Midway, which is also covered in “The Rising Sun.” More over, with a Javanese wife to translate and inter pret for him and with a deeper knowledge of Japanese history and culture, Mr. Toland has a better undersanding of Japanese behavior than Mr. Coffey.

Of the two works considered here, John Toland's is also the more ambitious in scope. Starting with the attempted assassinations of the Premier and other high Japanese officials by a small group of militant junior army officers in February, 1936, Mr. Toland traces step by step the path that Japan followed to Pearl Harbor and the plans she made for war. Almost one‐fourth of the volume, over 200 pages, is devoted to the prewar period and here as elsewhere the focus is almost entirely on the Japanese, with brief diversions to sketch in im portant events elsewhere.

Actually, the year 1931 when the Kwantung Army took over control of Manchuria, might have been a better starting point for a study of the decline and fall of the Japanese empire. That army was the stronghold of the militant officers who at tempted to seize control of the Government in 1936, and who launched the war in North China the following year.

After a brief but dramatic account of the attack on Pearl Harbor and Clark Field in the Philippines, Toland describes the string of phenomenal Japanese victories during the opening months of the war when they staked out an empire ex tending in a vast arc from the Aleutians in the north almost to the border of India. Included within this realm were the Man dated Islands, the Solomons, most of New Guinea, the rich Netherlands Indies, Malaya, Thailand, French Indochina and Burma. Had the Japanese been able to end the war at this point, they would have won the resources they needed to carry on the war in China and the Greater East Asia Co‐Prosperity Sphere would have become a reality.

But Japan had made a fatal error. She had begun a war that she could not win, if victory meant the defeat of the United States, and that she could not settle by negotiation: Pearl Harbor had ruled out that pos sibility. She intended to fight a limited war for limited objec tives—the resources of South east Asia—but found herself engaged with a powerful enemy who intended to fight a total war to the finish.

After mid‐1942 the Japanese tide of victory began to ebb. The turning point, as Toland points out, was the naval bat tle of Midway where Yama moto lost four carriers with their planes and pilots—the main striking force of the Com bined Fleet. Thereafter Japanese fortunes declined steadily. While the United States Pacific Fleet was recovering from the blow at Pearl Harbor and Nimitz was ‘building up his forces for the offense, MacArthur and Halsey to the south fought their way northward up the Solomons and New Guinea ladder from Gua dalcanal and Port Moresby to the Japanese fortress at Rabaul, key to the Bismarck Archi pelago.

MacArthur's objective was the Philippines, and in a series of wide outflanking moves that left large bodies of Japanese troops to “wither on the vine,” he advanced steadily up the New Guinea coast and in Oc tober, 1944, landed on Leyte. There, in one of the most con troversial naval battles of the war, the Combined Fleet was dealt a shattering blow from which it never recovered. In January. MacArthur went on to Luzon, landing at Lingayen Gulf, where the Japanese had landed three years earlier, and then moving on to take Manila in one of the hardest fought battles of the war.

Meanwhile Nimitz launched his drive westward across the central Pacific, advancing in giant island‐hopping strides un der the cover of carrier‐based aircraft through the Mandated Islands to the Marianas, des tined as the base for the B‐29's. Early in 1945, the largest force assembled during the Pacific war converged on Okinawa, at the threshold of the Japanese home islands, for the penulti mate battle against Japan. The Japanese put up a desperate and heroic resistance there, as at Iwo Jima, which the Air Force needed as a way station for B‐29's en route to Japan, but to no avail.

Toland records faithfully and vividly the futile effort of the Japanese to halt the American advance every step of the way, drawing on diaries, contempor ary accounts and interviews to dramatize and personalize the narrative. His canvas is broad, ranging from the highest civil ian and military levels in Tokyo where the major decisions were made, to fleet and army head quarters, and then to the bat tlefield.

Occasionally he shifts the scene to the American side, to the Allied conferences at Casa blanc‐a, Teheran, Quebec, Yalta and Potsdam, and to Mac Arthur and Nimitz's headquar ters, skillfully weaving the pieces together in an intricate pattern of decision and action. Only one area, China, he ne glects. The complex political military story of that theater, which was to play so large a role in the postwar period, never emerges clearly.

By the summer of 1945, Ja pan was militarily defeated. Her lines of supply to the re sources of the south were cut her cities were being bombed and burned out by B‐29's her once mighty fleet lay in ruins, her air force destroyed. There were many in high places, in cluding the closest advisers to the Emperor, who wished to bring the war to an end, but the military leaders were de termined to fight on. Even the bombing of Hiroshima and the Russian declaration of war did not move them.

The struggle between the “peace party” and the military leaders was in a real sense the final and most important bat tle of the war. It was won by the peace party but only after the direct and unprecedented intervention of the Emperor. And even then a small band of militarists staged an abortive palace coup in a desperate ef fort to prevent the surrender.

Toland describes this last battle, fought out in the coun cil chambers of the Imperial Palace, in minute detail, pictur ing each vivid scene as the leaders of Japan slowly and painfully came to their decis ion. Nowhere is his narrative skill and sense of drama more evident than in this final por tion of the volume and especial ly in his account of the bomb ing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The terrible damage and hor rible pain and suffering even the comparatively small 20 kiloton bomb could inflict should serve as a frightening reminder to those who have become accustomed to think of nuclear bombs in impersonal and quantitative terms.

Thomas Coffey devotes even more space to the final days of the war. Like Toland, he has an eye for vivid detail and the striking phrase. But his can vas is much smaller than To land's, and his research less thorough. His work is limited, as the title implies, to the at tack on Pearl Harbor and to the Japanese surrender, with about equal weight allotted to each. He is therefore able to devote more space to each of these events, but since he of fers nothing to link the two parts or to provide background and explanatory material, his treatment of them is less satis factory than Toland's. Also, his method of reconstructing these events on a day‐to‐day basis is restrictive and not really adapted to so complex a story.

He begins his volume with Ambassador Grew's visit to the Japanese Foreign Minister ear ly in the morning hours of Dec. 8, 1941 (Tokyo time), shortly before the attack on Pearl Har bor, and then proceeds to un fold the story of the next 10 days in a rigidly chronological, almost hour by hour, manner. The central point is Tokyo, and each section (there are no chapters) is headed with Tokyo date and time. When the scene is shifted, the local date and time are added to the heading. The second portion of the vol ume adheres to the same pat tern, opening with the Hiro shima attack on Aug. 6,’ 1945, and closing with the Emperor's broadcast to the Japanese peo ple on Aug. 15, announcing the surrender. Much of the material and even the same stories can be found in both books.

There is little or no analysis in Coffey's account. He is more interested in telling the story of the first and last days of the war than in examining the rea sons why these events occurred and in assessing their effects on Japan and the United States. As a matter of fact, while as suring the reader of the histor ical accuracy of the book Cof fey asks him to read it as “a work of imagination rather than fact because he [the read er] can then follow the sweep of the story and the people in it without being distracted by the question of whether all this actually happened”—an odd request to make about two of the most important events of modern times. And since there is no documentation, only list of interviews and sources consulted, one must take on faith Mr. Coffey's claim to the historical accuracy of his fac tual material and the conversa tional exchanges he records.

Mr. Toland, too, records con versations and relies heavily on interviews, listing almost 500 persons, most of them Japanese, from whom he gained information for his vol ume. When and where these in terviews were conducted he does not tell us nor does he indicate in his notes whether any specific piece of informa tion, quotation or conversation came from an interview, a doc ument or a published work. In the absence of footnotes it is impossible, even for one famil iar with much of the material, to identify the source of any particular item, though Toland, like Coffey, assures the reader it is all historically accurate.

There is no reason to doubt these assurances, but that is hardly the point. For the scholar it is important to know the source so that he may con sult it himself and perhaps find more (or less) in it than the author. Even the general reader is entitled to know as a matter of interest if nothing else, the authority for a conversational exchange that took place al most 30 years ago. How many of us could report accurately a conversation under stress even a year ago? Memory plays strange tricks, and interviews, as all historians who have em ployed this method of research know very well, are at best an unreliable source and need to be checked carefully against other evidence.

Mr. Toland seems to have done this. His list of document ary and published sources, both Japanese and American, is impressive. But it is unfor tunate that he chose not to include specific citations his work would have been much more useful had he done so. And it would be a pity if he did not make available to other historians by deposit in some library the interviews he col lected in preparing this volume, for they include many high ranking Japanese and American officials whose version of the events they participated in may be of real historical in terest.

Despite these reservations, the general reader will find both these books rewarding. Each in its way is popular his tory in the best sense of the term — accurate, interesting, lively. Toland's work is the more comprehensive and solid, but both deserve to be widely read. ■


Historian John Toland Dies

John Toland, 91, the author and historian who wrote a best-selling biography of Adolf Hitler and won a Pulitzer Prize for his description of the Japanese Empire in the 1930s and '40s and the events that led it into war against the United States, died of pneumonia Jan. 4 at Danbury Hospital in Connecticut.

Mr. Toland also wrote a book about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, arguing that President Franklin D. Roosevelt and top government leaders knew about it in advance but did nothing to stop it because they wanted war with Japan. This theory -- the subject of widespread speculation since shortly after the attack -- was roundly denounced by several historians and journalists.

"It simply doesn't wash," Washington Post chief diplomatic correspondent Chalmers M. Roberts wrote in a 1982 review of Mr. Toland's book "Infamy: Pearl Harbor and Its Aftermath."

As a historical storyteller, Mr. Toland based his narratives on hundreds of interviews with participants in the events about which he wrote and then attempted to describe the unfolding of history from as many sides as possible, as well as its impact on the famous and the ordinary.

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book "The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945," published in 1970, he talked with high-ranking Japanese military officers, low-ranking enlisted men, government officials, diplomats and housewives who survived the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Mr. Toland described his book as "a factual saga of people caught up in the flood of the most overwhelming war of mankind, told as it happened -- muddled, ennobling, disgraceful, frustrating, full of paradox," the Associated Press reported. William Craig of The Washington Post's Book World wrote that "nowhere in American literature has the Japanese side of the war in the jungles been so well told. . . . Toland has fashioned a compelling portrait of Japan at the brink of national suicide."

Mr. Toland said he spent six years in Japan researching material for "The Rising Sun." He went there, he said, with a dislike for the Japanese because of their conduct during the war but then ended up writing the book to explain why they behaved as they did. "You don't have to take sides. All you have to do is get people's motivations," he told the Associated Press.

In Tokyo, Mr. Toland met Toshiko Matsumura, an English-speaking Japanese woman who was a correspondent for McGraw-Hill World News. He hired her to be his interpreter. In 1960, they were married.

For his biography of Hitler, published in 1976, Mr. Toland interviewed 200 people who worked with or knew the Nazi leader. "Toland tells us more about Hitler than anyone knew before," Peter S. Prescott wrote in Newsweek.

Journalist Ted Morgan wrote in The Washington Post that a subtitle for Mr. Toland's Hitler biography could well have been "Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Hitler and Were Afraid to Ask":

"No, Hitler did not have an undescended testicle. Yes, Hitler's hatred of the Jews may have been based in part on his mother's death from cancer after having been treated with a useless drug called iodoform by a Jewish doctor. Yes, it is possible that he had a Jewish grandfather. No, Hitler was not a homosexual. . . . "

Had Hitler died in 1937, two years before World War II started, Mr. Toland wrote, "he would undoubtedly have gone down as one of the greatest figures in German history." He unified Germany, brought about a Nazi New Deal, persuaded Ferdinand Porsche to design a people's car that became the Volkswagen, and ordered factories in the Rhur to install antipollution devices.

John Toland was born in La Crosse, Wis. He graduated from Williams College, attended Yale Drama School and served six years in the Army Air Forces.

But his early years as a writer were a disaster. "I was about as big a failure as a man can be," Mr. Toland told The Washington Post in 1961. He had written, he said, about 25 plays, six novels and 100 short stories, none of which sold. He ran a gift shop that failed and a dance studio that bored him. Finally in 1954, at the age of 42, he sold a short story to American Magazine. He was paid $165.

His first book, "Ships in the Sky," published in 1957, was about dirigibles.

Of all Mr. Toland's writings, none triggered the controversy provoked by "Infamy," the book about the Pearl Harbor attack. In that book, Mr. Toland wrote that Roosevelt, Gen. George C. Marshall, Adm. Harold R. Stark and others constituted "a small group of men, revered and held to be most honorable by millions, who had convinced themselves it was necessary to act dishonorably for the good of their nation -- and incited the war that Japan had tried to avoid."

Disputing this theory, Roberts wrote in The Post that Mr. Toland's "thesis depends on a collection of unverifiable conversations, lapses in memory, uncertain memoranda and fragmentary messages. . . . "

Mr. Toland's other books included a novel about World War II, a history of the last year of World War I, an account of the Battle of the Bulge and a book about the 1930s gangster John Dillinger. In 1997, he published an autobiography, "Captured by History: One Man's Vision of Our Tumultuous Century."

Mr. Toland's marriage to Dorothy Toland ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife, Toshiko, of Danbury their daughter, Tomiko two daughters from his first marriage, Diana and Marcia and three grandchildren.


The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945 (Modern Library War) Reprint Edition, Kindle Edition

John Toland’s Pulitzer Prize winning ‘Rising Sun’ was first published in 1971, so it can take no advantage of more recent scholarship. Even so, I’d strongly recommend it for the sheer quality of both the research and the writing. It is an excellent account of the latter years of the Japanese Empire, the years in which the rising sun, symbol of imperial Japan, reached its zenith and quickly set.

He tells the story at three distinct levels.

He gives us just enough detail on the politics, both inside and outside Japan, to make the context comprehensible without ever becoming tiresome. He describes the military events with precisely the same level of detail, neither boring nor insufficient, from the very start of the fighting by Japan’s armies, in Manchuria in 1932, long before any Western powers became involved. Finally, he uses material left behind by survivors to give us a personal view of the events, whether of Japanese soldiers and civilians. The tale of Shizuko Miura, a nurse who witnessed the landings and fighting on Saipan, was particularly telling, and those of atomic bomb survivors chill the blood.

He starts with the background of Japan itself, including several attempts made by groups of army officers to impose their will on the country, if necessary (according to their own lights) by violence. They justified insubordination spilling over into mutiny as true loyalty, to a higher set of values, the essence of Japan or ‘kokutai’.

The apparent impossibility of snuffing out such movements, probably because the ideas of ‘kokutai’ were so broadly shared even by those who would not break with discipline to uphold them, led to the growing pressure on the nation to flex its muscles. An expansionist programme saw Japanese forces occupying increasingly extensive areas of China and eventually led to the clash with the United States.

There was nothing inevitable about that clash. Toland tracks the long and painful negotiations between the two nations that might have avoided conflict. I was particularly fascinated, and not a little horrified, by the misunderstandings caused by the US ability to read all Japanese communications – they had broken their codes – but failure to translate the contents correctly. Toland gives a series of examples. For instance, Japanese Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo wrote:

“This is our proposal setting forth what are virtually our final concessions”

After the code was broken, the message was translated, or rather mistranslated, as:

“This proposal is our final ultimatum”

leaving Secretary of State Cordell Hull with a view of the Japanese position as far more unbending than it was. It seems that being able to read an adversary’s messages may be no advantage, and may even be a handicap, if one misunderstands them so thoroughly.

In the end war broke out simultaneously against the US, Britain and Holland, with Japanese forces invading the Far Eastern possessions of the latter two powers, as well as attacking Pearl Harbor. For a little over a year, Japan knew nothing but success, her advance apparently unstoppable. But then the US began to prove the wisdom of Japanese Admiral Yamamoto’s words, that the Pearl Harbor raid had merely awakened a sleeping giant.

At the battle of Midway in 1942 the US established air and naval superiority in the Pacific. And in successfully taking back Guadalcanal, an island in the Solomons, it finally blocked and indeed reversed Japanese progress. Then its hugely superior economic and industrial strength came into play and the machine of American power began to grind forward towards Tokyo.

Toland charts its advance compellingly, with much survivor material to bring to light just what the cruelty of the conflict meant to individuals. In amongst the horrors and brutality, he describes some reactions that bring a little relief: for instance, the Japanese soldier who decided not to follow most of his colleagues into suicide, when he was told by another survivor that the whole garrison had already been posted as dead back in Japan. What was the point of dying again?

The book describes the politics of both sides, within Japan, between Japan and the Allies and within the Allied powers – the Soviet Union, for example, refusing to act as a go-between between Japan and the United States over peace overtures, until it too declared war in the last days of the conflict, so that it could stake its claim to territory it coveted. He also describes the tensions in the high commands, or between Japanese military and political leaders: there was a final attempt at a coup in Japan to prevent the slide towards peace.

At the personal, political and military level the book gives an immensely readable and highly engaging account of a fascinating and crucial period of our history. Never dull, always engrossing, Toland’s book is well worth reading if you’re interested in those turbulent times. Or, indeed, if you enjoy history for its capacity to astonish even more than fiction.


Rising Sun, John Toland - History

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Reviews for The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-45:

[Shigenori] Togo had just arrived at the Palace grounds. Stars shone brilliantly. It was going to be a fine day. The Foreign Minister was immediately ushered into the Emperors presence. It was almost at the exact moment that [Ambassador Kichisaburo] Nomura[was] supposed to see [Secretary of State Cordell] Hull. Togo read [President] Roosevelts message and the proposed draft of the Emperors reply. The Emperor approved the reply, and his countenance, Togo thought, reflected a noble feeling of “[Shigenori] Togo had just arrived at the Palace grounds. Stars shone brilliantly. It was going to be a fine day. The Foreign Minister was immediately ushered into the Emperor’s presence. It was almost at the exact moment that [Ambassador Kichisaburo] Nomura…[was] supposed to see [Secretary of State Cordell] Hull. Togo read [President] Roosevelt’s message and the proposed draft of the Emperor’s reply. The Emperor approved the reply, and his countenance, Togo thought, reflected a ‘noble feeling of brotherhood with all peoples…’ The spacious plaza outside the Sakashita Gate was deserted, and as Togo drove away, the sole noise in the city was the crunching of gravel under the car tires. His mind was far away: in a few minute one of the most momentous days in the history of the world would begin…”
- John Toland, The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945

By my last count, there were one gazillion books on World War II, with more coming out every week. And it will never stop. World War II will continue to be refought between the covers – and on Kindles – long after human memory of the event is gone. It will be told for as long as there are people to tell stories.

The question, then, is which of those books to read? You can spend your entire life reading World War II books and not even scratch the surface. Besides, there are other things to do in life. Like drinking or reading about the American Civil War or doing both at the same time.

Thankfully, there are a few landmark books, the ones that everyone can name, the ones that are certified as classic, that stand out from the pack, like a guy wearing an Armani suit at a clown college (or a clown at an Armani store, if you prefer).

In the European Theater of Operations, one of those classics is William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Shirer was a journalist who spent time in prewar Nazi Germany, and even followed the Nazis into France. Concerned that the Gestapo was going to arrest him, Shirer fled Germany in 1940 and later wrote his seminal account, a history of the Second World War as seen through the eyes of Hitler and his henchmen. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich has its shortcomings (among them an archaic and heavily belabored distaste for homosexuality), but there is no denying its place in the firmament. All books coming after had to deal with its shadow.

John Toland’s The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire is a Pacific Theater counterpoint to Shirer’s masterwork. It tells the tale of the other side of World War II, and does so (mainly) from the point of view of the Japanese. Upon publication, it won the Pulitzer Prize, and can be found in the endnotes and bibliography of just about every subsequent book written about the Pacific War.

More than anything, though, it is a book that finds that perfect balance between macro and micro, between general and private (and civilian). It always strives to hold the big picture clear, but never fails to remind you of the individuals who collectively made that big picture. As such, this is a rare history, one that is scholarly and massively researched, yet also shot-through with empathy, compassion, and humanism.

It is one of the best books I’ve read on World War II.

Toland begins in 1936, with young Japanese radicals bent on assassinating several of the Emperor’s advisers. These men were practicing gekokujo, or insubordination, a semi-legitimate form of rebellion. In this opening chapter, Toland briskly (sometimes too briskly) outlines the background that fomented gekokujo: the fall of monarchies after World War I the competition between democracy, socialism, and Communism that came in its wake the rapid westernization of Japan (and the resulting scandals and corruption) Japan’s population explosion and the inevitable blowback by conservatives and nationalists.

During Japan’s rise as a Pacific power, it invaded Manchuria – which it saw as a buffer against the Soviet Union (with whom they’d warred at the beginning of the century) and as a source of raw materials – and, in 1932, established the puppet state of Manchukuo. The creation of Manchukuo obviously heightened tensions between China and Japan. Those tensions came to a head in 1937 at the Marco Polo Bridge, in an “incident” that better marks the actual beginning of World War II (as opposed to the September 1, 1939 invasion of Poland by Hitler).

The clash at the Marco Polo Bridge led to full scale war, including the infamous Nanking Massacre.

The only real criticism I have with The Rising Sun is in Toland’s handling of the Second Sino-Japanese War. Part of the reason I bought this book was to learn more about this forgotten theater. Unfortunately, however, Toland deals with China in a cursory fashion. He does not take the time to develop the strategy of the war, or explain in great detail how it unfolded. The fall of Nanking merits barely a page. This stands in stark contrast to the space devoted to the American-Japanese conflict beginning in 1942. For instance, Toland devotes an entire (and yes, brilliant) chapter to the battle of Guadalcanal.

In other words, despite the broad claims of its cover, The Rising Sun is mainly focused on the war between American and Japan. This means less attention (though it’s not entirely ignored) paid to China’s dual struggle (against Japan, and themselves), Britain’s collapse in Singapore, the Burma Campaign, and the massive battles of Kohima and Imphal in India.

Even though Toland decides to place his heaviest emphasis on familiar territory, it nevertheless manages to be revelatory. After the earlier chapters, which felt compressed, The Rising Sun hits its stride in the run-up to Pearl Harbor. You get to see the rationale behind Japan’s decisions, its attempts to negotiate with America (especially through Prince Konoye), and the different factions within the Japanese ministry.

When we think of Japan in World War II, we think of Nanking and Pearl Harbor, of the Bataan Death March and kamikazes. Prime Minister Tojo has become a caricature of evil, divorced from any of the human traits that even Hitler has posthumously been granted.

These conceptions do little to broaden our understanding of what actually happened. By taking us into the backrooms of Japanese policymaking, we get to see the world – and its perils – as they did. They faced many difficulties as a small, overcrowded island-nation, a net importer of just about everything. When President Roosevelt decided to turn of the oil spigot, it was as grave a threat to Japan as Khrushchev’s October missiles were to the United States in 1962.

To be sure, Japan’s colonial impulses were brutal, but they had learned from the best (that is, from Europe). It is also interesting, as Toland notes, how Japan’s pan-Asian ambitions did not fall entirely on deaf ears. There were many people for whom an Asian power in the Pacific was preferable to the white powers that had dominated for a hundred years or more, using their human capital and removing their resources for exploitation elsewhere. (After the war, of course, that pan-Asian spark was enough to incite anti-colonial movements all over Asia, including Indochina and India).

The difficulty in writing this type of history is that you are taking the side of the conquered. And history, of course, is written by the winners. That means that Allied atrocities are subordinated to the carnage perpetrated by the “bad guys.”

In other words, the casual reader, familiar with the winner’s take, might feel that Toland is soft peddling Japan’s crimes. I don’t think he does. Anything that smacks of such is a function of the point-of-view he has chosen for his narrative. Nobody does evil thinking it is evil there is always a rationalization, followed by a rationalization, until you’re in too deep.

A good example of this is the Bataan Death March. Toland does not skimp on the horrors suffered by MacArthur’s captured troops, but does place it in a milieu divorced from contemporary propaganda. He shows how the overarching cause of the Death March was Japan’s poor planning and its utter surprise at America’s collapse in the Philippines. They were simply not prepared for the influx of tens of thousands of starving, disease-ridden soldiers. (General Homma’s execution at the end of the war can only be seen as MacArthur’s crass punishment of the man who kicked his ass off Corregidor).

Though General Homma did not set out to massacre his prisoners, there were certainly men under his command who intended just that. This filtered down to the rank-and-file Japanese soldier, who was created within a framework of unending violence: beaten by his superiors taught to fight to the death imbued with the belief that capture was dishonor, and that the way of the warrior was death.

Toland was an author especially suited – as far as a white American could be – to tell this story, as he was married to a Japanese woman named Toshiko, who assisted as his interpreter. By giving an account of the Pacific War from the Japanese perspective, he gave them a humanity denied by wartime hyperbole of unthinking, unfeeling, murderous fanatics. Toland gives them a voice, quotes their letters and diaries, stands with them in their pillboxes or on the street the day a bomb exploded with “the light of a thousand suns.”

My greatest surprise in reading The Rising Sun was its emotional impact. It begins as a straightforward, chronological history, marked by tremendous research but structurally run-of-the mill. As the book progresses, though, you recognize the elegance of Toland’s construction, how he weaves the stories of heretofore unknown participants into the grander narrative. Part of the reason The Rising Sun is so effective, so powerful, is the way Toland threads the mini-arcs of participants into the larger story. During the Battle of Saipan, for instance, Toland follows the travails of a young Japanese nurse and shows you the war through her eyes, in all its terrible, limited scope:

In Garapan a young volunteer nurse by the name of Shizuko Miura – a tomboy with a round merry face – flinched as the first shells landed. She peered out the window of the first-air station into the dim light. The Americans were bombarding the town again. As the explosions moved closer she helped transfer those wounded in the earlier shelling to a dugout. With daylight came enemy planes and an even more violent barrage from the ships. It is June 14, Shizuko thought calmly. I have lived for eighteen years and my time to die has come. A shell shook the dugout like an earthquake and knocked her to the ground. She staggered outside. The first-aid station was obliterated. She saw a piece of red metal – it was shrapnel – and, curious, touched it with her finger. It burned her. Planes droned overhead but no one was firing at them. Garapan was aflame. The heat was so intense that she could hardly breathe. She started to make her way through the rubbled streets strewn with bodies…

Toland was able to tell stories like this because of his diligent primary research. In the source section, you will find ten pages filled with names, noting all the people with whom he’d conducted interviews. The names include prime ministers, admirals, and also Shizuko Miura.

For this reason alone, The Rising Sun is a touchstone of World War II writing. The firsthand information gathered from these participants, many of whom might have been forgotten, has proven invaluable to historians and writers who have followed in Toland’s footprints.

But this is not the only reason to read The Rising Sun, or even the best. Rather, it is a testament to humanity in the midst of the most inhuman period of human existence. In Toland’s own words, it is a story that is “muddled, ennobling, disgraceful, frustrating, full of paradox.” . more

Looking for a relatively light read I picked this off the shelves where it had been sitting for years. Having read a couple of his other books, I was pretty sure that Toland would be interesting.

Indeed, he was--even more interesting than I had expected, neither expecting that this book would be so sympathetic to the Japanese perspective nor that Toland's wife was Japanese. No expert, but certainly not unread about the war in the Pacific, I was rather blown away by the presentation, the other Looking for a relatively light read I picked this off the shelves where it had been sitting for years. Having read a couple of his other books, I was pretty sure that Toland would be interesting.

Indeed, he was--even more interesting than I had expected, neither expecting that this book would be so sympathetic to the Japanese perspective nor that Toland's wife was Japanese. No expert, but certainly not unread about the war in the Pacific, I was rather blown away by the presentation, the other books I'd read being very much pro-Allies, anti-Axis.

Among the propositions put to the reader by Toland's text are how Japanese policy was substantially independent of that of the other Axis powers and how the Pacific war might well have been avoided had the U.S. State Department another secretary at the time. Other contentious positions taken by the author include a rather critical portrayal of MacArthur and a rather positive one of Emperor Hirohito. Roosevelt and Ambassador Grew come across well. Rumors that Roosevelt knew beforehand of the Japanese intention to attack Pearl Harbor are discounted.

Most particularly, however, I liked how Toland used, and defined, a number of Japanese terms and expressions, employing this as one means to get at the Japanese mindset, something few in the U.S. government or military understood.

Like the original Tora, Tora motion picture, coproduced by citizens of both countries, or like Clint Eastwood's recent diptych on one battle of the war, this book is unusually balanced and is to be highly recommended.

Now I just have to find the second volume as this one ends with Guadalcanal, arguably the turning point of the Pacific War.

--I have since found this edition, a combination of both volumes, and have given the first volume of the other edition away to a Japanese friend for her reactions. . more

This book explores Japans involvement in World War II. It focuses upon the Pacific theater and upon battles, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and finally it explains in detail why it took so long for the Japanese to surrender. All related to the Japanese involvement is covered in detail. It is not hard to follow because it written in a narrative voice projecting the views thoughts and words of those who fought, both Americans and Japanese. What is difficult is the slaughter. Slaughter on This book explores Japan’s involvement in World War II. It focuses upon the Pacific theater and upon battles, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and finally it explains in detail why it took so long for the Japanese to surrender. All related to the Japanese involvement is covered in detail. It is not hard to follow because it written in a narrative voice projecting the views thoughts and words of those who fought, both Americans and Japanese. What is difficult is the slaughter. Slaughter on both sides, mind you. I felt it was balanced, neither pro-Western nor pro-Eastern.

Keep in mind - that I should be able to read a book from start to finish that so closely follows battle after battle is pretty darn amazing. This is proof that it somehow was able to keep my attention. It was clear even to me, someone who shies away from books focused upon military battles and thus scarcely knows military terms. You follow - in detail - Pearl Harbor, the Bataan Death March, the fall of Singapore, Midway, Guadalcanal, Saipan, the Battles of Leyte Gulf, Okinawa, and Iwo Jima. Other battles too, but those named are covered in great detail. You learn the Pacific Islands.

If you listen to the audiobook you must dig up your own maps, but that is really no problem. It would have been nice if a word or two were added about the location of the particular islands. When it gets to the Battles of Leyte Gulf there are so many islands and so many fleets that I went to Wiki to get the movements on paper!

The reason why you can follow these battles is that the soldiers speak, and joke and talk to the reader. Some change their mind you follow their thoughts. I did wonder sometimes how in the world the author got this information. This is supposedly non-fiction. Letters? Survivors' stories afterwards? This is not explained in an afterword or introduction. Maybe the printed book has notes? Harakiri, now this is exemplified many, many times in the text. This is a concept difficult to understand for Westerners. You need umpteen examples of particular individuals and situations to begin to understand the shame coupled with defeat in Eastern mentality. I understand better, but not completely.

I am very glad I chose this book. Well worth the time and effort invested. I personally think it is a book better read on paper than listened to. There are so many names and details to absorb. Maybe you are fluent in Japanese names, but I am not. My audiobook was narrated by Tom Weiner. Even if he does a good job, I would have preferred a snail's pace.

What did I like best? Maybe learning why it took so long for Japan to surrender. What do I think on closing the book? There should be strong controls on the military. Mistakes were made on both sides. On every side and by all parts.

One more thing. The author’s wife is Japanese and the book received the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction in 1971.
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With a Nobel prize winning book, John Toland accomplishes telling the Japanese side of WWII.

The 1930s were an interesting time in Asia. Japan had an exploding population and no natural resources. They also had a very dangerous enemy in Communist Soviet Union threatening her. Japans solution laid in Northern Chinas Manchuria. They occupied Manchuria easily because China was too weak to defend it. Japanese business moved in and Japanese populated it. Manchuria provided a number of benefits to With a Nobel prize winning book, John Toland accomplishes telling the Japanese side of WWII.

The 1930’s were an interesting time in Asia. Japan had an exploding population and no natural resources. They also had a very dangerous enemy in Communist Soviet Union threatening her. Japan’s solution laid in Northern China’s Manchuria. They occupied Manchuria easily because China was too weak to defend it. Japanese business moved in and Japanese populated it. Manchuria provided a number of benefits to Japan. They included not only a territory to expand into but also had some natural resources. More importantly, however, it was a buffer between the Soviet Union and Japan itself. China’s fear of further Japanese aggression led their weak governmental military forces to combine with (the government’s inner-enemy) the Chinese Communist forces in a joint effort against Japan.

Soon menacing Chinese forces fired on the Japanese at the Marco Polo Bridge. Japan retaliated thrashing the Chinese forces and occupying vast Chinese territory including Nanking. However, some poorly disciplined Japanese soldiers, unbeknown to their Commander General Jwane Mastui, raped, murdered and massacred as many as 300,000 Chinese civilians.

With this background the book gives us a good detail of the history of American/Japanese relations. They began in 1853 when Mathew Perry’s ships pulled into Tokyo Bay with a letter from President Milliard Fillmore asking Japan to open its doors to American goods. Good relations continued with America’s support for Japan in the Russo Japanese War. American Investment Bank Kuhn, Loeb and Co. financed much of the war for Japan. And in 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace prize for brokering the end of the Russo Japanese War. Also, in doing so saved Japan from economic collapse. However, the Japanese people were never told by their government of their pending economic collapse (due to the cost of the war) so they correspondingly held the U.S. accountable because the war was stopped while Japan was clearly winning.

Now back to the story. Japan had taken control of Northern China (Manchuria) and Vietnam where she had a place to populate her growing citizenry. As a result, America instituted restricting exports to Japan. Oil was the main restricted export. In fact, Japan received 100% of its oil from the U.S.A. Without oil Japan could not maintain its expanding territory. Japan had also partnered with Germany and Italy because she feared an Anglo Saxon takeover of the World by America and England. She also correctly held the view that the West held her to a double standard specifically because of her race. What Japan meant was that England had colonies in the Caribbean, Central America and elsewhere. America had taken Texas and California from Mexico as well as annexing Hawaii and the Philippines. Yet, Japan had no right to expand.

Japan had intensively prepared for the Pearl Harbor attack. They also tried to avoid attacking America through diplomacy. However, combinations of forces worked against a diplomatic solution. First, FDR’s Secretary of State Cordell Hull did not trust the Japanese. Second, America’s friendship with England and Japan’s alliance with Germany did not bode well for the Japanese. England had already been at war with Germany at the time of Japan’s attempted diplomacy. Third, Japanese atrocities committed against the Chinese provided a less sympathetic American government. Fourth, bad translations of messages turned sincere attempts at reconciliation into belligerently viewed intelligence.

In addition, Japan had been running out of oil, so the longer they waited for a diplomatic solution the more dire their situation got.

With those conditions, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 was very successful from their point of view. They had killed 2403 Americans, sunk 18 ships and destroyed 188 planes.

When Winston Churchill found out, he immediately called President Roosevelt. When the President confirmed Winston hung up went to bed and had a good night sleep. America was now in the war, England was now saved.

The war in the Pacific did not start out well for the Allies (America and England). First, the Japanese stunned the English with a victory at the Battle of Singapore. In 7 days Japan inflicted upon England their largest surrender in their very active military history. That followed with a Japanese Sea victory at Java, an island south of Borneo.

The Allies luck changed with the Battle of Midland. The Allies learned of the coming Japanese attack and planned a brilliant counter by surprising Japan with a bombing raid on Japan’s homeland. This was planned and implemented by James Doolittle. This attack shook Japan’s air of invincibility. The Allies triumphant victory followed.

As the war went on America saw more victories. Long lasting military heroes such as Douglass MacArthur, Bull Halsey and Chester Nimitz emerged as a result. Mr. Toland vividly describes the atrocities of all of the major battles with spine chilling accuracy. The fact that the Japanese belief that surrender was worse than death was something that only made their state worse. Mr. Toland describes the compassion American soldiers had on Japanese prisoners of war. Feeding, nursing and treating their captives with respect were the typical American prison camp norms.

When America developed the Atomic bomb, it was calculated that using it would end the war and save thousands of lives. However, leaflets dropped on Japan about the dire consequences that America’s new weapon would bring were ignored. And still, after the A-bomb was dropped on Hiroshima they refused to surrender. The second bomb dropped on Nagasaki would finally and reluctantly convince Japan to capitulate.
At the surrender ceremony MacArthur gave an absolutely brilliant speech which left the Japanese newspaper Nippon Times to say “a new Japan which will vindicate our pride by winning the respect of the world.”
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Winner of the 1971 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, this book covers the War in the Pacific from a Japanese perspective. Extensive, well researched and readable, covering the timeframe from the invasion of Manchuria and China to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

After the Japanese invasion in Manchuria, the book starts of with the efforts of the American ambassador and the Foreign Minister of Japan to try to prevent war due to the boycot that the Western powers have Winner of the 1971 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, this book covers the War in the Pacific from a Japanese perspective. Extensive, well researched and readable, covering the timeframe from the invasion of Manchuria and China to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

After the Japanese invasion in Manchuria, the book starts of with the efforts of the American ambassador and the Foreign Minister of Japan to try to prevent war due to the boycot that the Western powers have established. It is painful to see read how the good intentions are hampered by ignorance, impatience and indignation on the American side and militairy extremism on the Japanese side. Inevetibly, this flows into the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbour and the consequent campaign.

What struck me was the underestimation of the Japanese of the Western powers, the wishful thinking of the generals and admirals. Seeking the decisive battle it happened time and time again that the Japanese thought they had destroyed the enemy fleets and their carriers, only to find them still active after each battle. After Midway, Japan was doomed but it seemed not to be realised by the Japanese Army and Navy.

The book quotes several eye witness accounts of Japanese soldiers, mainly focussing on the battle of Guadalcanal, Okinawa and the Philippines. Other than the title might suggest, this is not a study of the fall and decline of the Japanese empire, but a war account. For example the American successes against the Japanese merchant fleet is only sparsely mentioned, while in my eyes this was one of the deciding factors.

For someone who needs a good introduction for the War in the Pacific, this is a good introduction and highly reccomended. For someone already well known with the aspects of the Pacific War, this book may have requirend some more depth.

Let me finish with a quote by Japanese general Kawabe, after he witnessed the respect the Americans showed him after the Japanese defeat:
"If human beings were to sincerely exercise justice and humanity in their relations with one another, the horrors of war in all likelihood could be avoided, and even if a war unfortunately broke out, the victor would not become arrogant and the suffering of the losers would be alleviated immediately. A truly great cultural nation in the first requisite."

This is the third big book on the Pacific War I have read recently. Ian Toll's first two books (of a planned trilogy), Pacific Crucible and The Conquering Tide, were a magnificent historical account of the war from both sides. So given that this book covers much the same ground, though it was written much earlier, I will do a lot of comparing with Toll's books, though I think Toland's book is equally good and you will not find it at all repetitive to read both authors.

As thick as this book is, This is the third big book on the Pacific War I have read recently. Ian Toll's first two books (of a planned trilogy), Pacific Crucible and The Conquering Tide, were a magnificent historical account of the war from both sides. So given that this book covers much the same ground, though it was written much earlier, I will do a lot of comparing with Toll's books, though I think Toland's book is equally good and you will not find it at all repetitive to read both authors.

As thick as this book is, it's only one volume, whereas Ian Toll is writing three whole volumes on the entire war in the Pacific. Thus, while Toll devotes a great deal of attention to the politics and individual political and military leaders on both sides of the conflict, The Rising Sun, as its title indicates, focuses mostly on Japan. Naturally the planning and personalities on the American and British (and later Chinese and Soviet) sides are mentioned, but mostly only inasmuch as they were pitted against their Japanese counterparts.

One of the things most striking about Toland's narrative is that he lays out all the blunders that were made by both Japan before, during, and after the war. These margins where the errors occurred and where history could have been changed are one of the things I find most interesting in non-fiction histories, when competently examined. Let's start with whether or not war was inevitable.

Did we have to go to war with Japan?

The basic historical facts are well understood: the Japanese wanted a colonial empire, and Europe and the US didn't want them to have one. When the Japanese invaded China, the US put an oil embargo on them. This would inevitably strangle the Japanese economy, as for all its rising technical prowess, Japan remained a tiny resource-impoverished island. So the Japanese pretty much had no choice but to give up their ambitions or go to war. We know which one they chose.

The question for historians is whether or not this could have been averted.

Ian Toll seems to think that war was inevitable - the Japanese and the West simply had irreconcilable designs. But John Toland seems to, not exactly argue, but present a great deal of evidence, that miscommunication and misfortune had as much to do with Japan and the US being put on a collision course as intransigence. Of course Japan was never going to give up their desire to be a world-class power, which means there was no way they would have accepted the restrictions imposed on them forbidding them fleets or territory on a par with the West. Whether the West could have been persuaded to let Japan take what it saw as its rightful place at the grown-ups table is debatable. But in the first few chapters of The Rising Sun, John Toland describes all the negotiating that went on between Japanese and American diplomats. The Japanese were split into factions, just as the Americans were. Some wanted peace no matter what some were hankering to go to war and really believed their jingoistic propaganda that the spiritual essence of the Japanese people would overcome any enemy. But most Japanese leaders, from the Imperial Palace to the Army and Navy, were more realistic and knew that a war with the US would be, at best, a very difficult one. So there were many frantic talks, including backchannel negotiations among peacemakers on both sides when it became apparent that Secretary of State Henry Stimson and Prime Minister Hideki Tojo were not going to deescalate.

There were a number of tragedies in this situation. Sometimes the precise wording of some of the phrases used in Japanese or American proposals and counter-proposals were mistranslated, resulting in their being interpreted as more inflexible, or disingenuous, than they were intended, causing both sides to mistrust the other. Sometimes communications arrived late. There was also a lot of particularly labyrinthine political maneuvering on the Japanese side, where political assassinations were commonplace at that time and the position of the Emperor was always ambiguous. Toland apparently interviewed a very large number of people and read first-hand accounts and so is able to reconstruct many individual talks, even with the Emperor himself, putting the reader in the Imperial throneroom as Hirohito consults with his ministers, and then in telegraph offices where communiques are sent from embassies back to Washington.

Toland doesn't definitively state that war could have been avoided, because it's still not clear what mutually agreeable concessions might have been made by either side, but what is clear is that both Japan and the US could see that war was looming and neither side really wanted it. At least initially, everyone except a few warmongers in the Japanese military did everything they could to avoid it.

Unfortunately, diplomatic efforts were for naught, and the Emperor was eventually persuaded to give his blessing to declare war.

Admiral Yamamoto knew very well that Japan had no hope of winning a prolonged war, which was why when war happened and he was put in charge of the Japanese fleet, he planned what he hoped would be quick, devastating knock-out punches - Pearl Harbor and Midway - that would sink the US back on its heels and persuade the Americans to negotiate an honorable peace before things went too far.

This was unlikely after Pearl Harbor. Nobody on the Japanese side seemed to realize just how pissed off America would be by this surprise attack (though the unintentionally late formal declaration of war - delivered hours after the attack when it was supposed to have been delivered just prior - certainly didn't help). But it was a forlorn hope after the debacle at Midway in which, aided by superior intelligence from broken Japanese codes, the US fleet sank four Japanese carriers. Many military historians grade Yamamoto poorly for this badly-executed offensive, which rather than delivering a knockout punch to the US fleet, proved true his prophecy that "The Americans can lose many battles - we have to win every single one."

The bulk of the book covers the war itself, including all the familiar names like Guam, Guadalcanal, Wake Island, Corregidor, Saipan, Okinawa, Iwo Jima. Toland does not neglect the British defense of India, the tragic fate of Force Z, which blundered on ahead to its doom despite lack of air cover and thus heralded in the new reality that air power ruled above all, and the multi-sided war in China in which communists and nationalists were alternately fighting each other and the Japanese, with both sides being courted by the Allies. Any military history will cover the battles, but Toland describes them vividly, especially the first-hand accounts from the men in them - the misery and terror, and also the atrocities, like the Bataan Death March, and the miserable conditions of POWs taken back to Japan

One of the things evident in many of these battles was just how much is a roll of the dice. Human error, weather, malfunctioning equipment, pure luck, over and over snatched defeat from the jaws of victory or vice versa. Inevitably, the US had to win - they simply had more men, more equipment, more resources. The Japanese began going hungry almost as soon as the war began, while the Allies, initially kicked all over the Pacific because they were caught off-guard, began pouring men and ships and, often most importantly (!), food - well-fed troops - into the theater. Still, individual battles often turned on whether or not a particular ship was spotted or whether torpedoes hit. Luck seemed to favor the Americans more often than not, but I found Toland's descriptions particularly informative in recounting how little details about equipment, and the human factor - decisions made by individual commanders, and how the willingness to take risks or an unwillingness to change one's mind - often determined the outcome of a fight.

Who were the war criminals?

Two of the other big questions I find most interesting about World War II are the ones that will probably never be answered satisfactorily.

First: was Emperor Hirohito a war criminal?

I was in college in 1989 when Emperor Hirohito (more properly known as the Showa Emperor) died. I had a friend who was a Japanese exchange student. She was grief-stricken. All of Japan mourned.

There is a particular narrative I heard growing up. It is one that was pushed heavily by the Japanese from approximately the moment the decision was made to surrender until about the time Hirohito died. According to this version of history, Hirohito was a figurehead, a puppet of Japanese military leaders. He had no real decision-making power, and any active resistance on his part would have led to his being killed. Thus, he was not responsible for the war or any of Japan's war crimes he was an innocent, born to assume a hereditary throne and assume a position of purely symbolic importance.

I was a little shocked when I read an article in some British tabloid denouncing Hirohito upon his death and cheering that the "war criminal" was now in hell.

Yet while neither view is strictly accurate, it is certainly more complicated than the sanitized version that was accepted for so long. This sanitized version was in fact produced in part by the US, particularly Douglas MacArthur, from the moment the war ended, as a deliberate strategy to secure faster Japanese cooperation and reconciliation. It was predicted that trying Hirohito as a war criminal - as about one-third of the American public wanted to do at the time - would have resulted in widespread guerrilla warfare and the need for a much longer and more active occupation of the Japanese homeland. When the Japanese finally began negotiating terms of surrender, one of the sticking points, the one thing they tried to carve out of the demand for an "unconditional" surrender, was that the Emperor would retain his status (and, by implication, not be charged with war crimes).

So, how active was Hirohito in the war planning? According to Toland, he was very much involved from the beginning, and had far more than symbolic influence over his cabinet, ministers, and military. Could he have simply forestalled a war by telling them not to go to war? Maybe. While political assassination was common, it seems unlikely that anyone would have dared laying a hand on His Majesty himself. And according to the cabinet meetings and private conferences Toland describes, even the most zealous Japanese leaders felt unable to proceed without getting a final say-so from the Emperor. So if Hirohito had been resolutely against a war, it seems likely that the militarists would have had a much harder time getting one.

At the same time, Hirohito was in many ways bound by his position. Traditionally, the Emperor did not make policy, he simply approved it. He wasn't supposed to veto anything or offer his opinion, he was just supposed to bless the decisions that had already been made. Hirohito, especially later in the war, departed from this tradition more than once, shocking his advisors by taking an active role or asking questions during ceremonies that were supposed to be mere formalities.

Personally, he seemed to be a rather quiet, studious man who would have been much happier as a scholarly sovereign and not the Emperor of an expansionist empire. He possessed a genuine, if abstract, concern for the Japanese people, and this motivated him later to accept surrender and even put himself in the hands of the Allies, whatever they might decide to do with him.

Almost certainly, he also had no direct knowledge of Japanese atrocities. So, Hirohito was no Hitler. Still, neither was he the uninvolved innocent that it became politically expedient to portray him as after the war.

Hideki Tojo, on the other hand, the Minister of War and Prime Minister, who was tried and executed as a war criminal, probably deserved it. Initially lukewarm about going to war with the US, he became a zealous prosecutor of the war, as well as an increasingly megalomaniacal one who seized more and more authority for himself, quashed all dissent, and most damningly, towards the end, when most Japanese leaders were seeing reality and talking about terms of surrender, was one of the hold-outs who insisted Japan should fight to the end. Along with a few other generals who were willing to see Japanese civilians take up bamboo spears and die by the millions fighting off an Allied invasion, Tojo deliberately prolonged the fighting well after it was obvious to all that Japan was finished. I think it is not unfair to say that he caused hundreds of thousands of needless deaths on both sides.

Did we have to drop the bomb?

Toland spends only a little time, in the last few chapters, talking about Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the decision leading up to the use of the atomic bomb on Japan. This is another very loaded historical question in which there are people with strong opinions on both sides. Some have argued that the US didn't need to use the bomb - Japan was already negotiating surrender - and that we did for reasons ranging from racism to a desire to demonstrate them as a deterrent to the Soviet Union. Others claim that Japan was fully willing to fight to the last spear-carrying civilian, and that the atomic bombs saved millions of lives on both sides by preventing the need for an invasion.

Entire books have been written about this subject, and Toland, as I said, does not try to dig into it too deeply, but he does represent much of what the Americans and Japanese were thinking and saying at the time. The case he presents would suggest that the truth, unsurprisingly, is somewhere in between.

Yes, the Japanese knew they were going to have to surrender and were already trying to negotiate an "honorable peace." But it's not at all clear that it was the dropping of atomic bombs (I was surprised to learn the Japanese actually knew what they were, and indeed, Japan had already started its own nuclear program, though it hadn't gotten very far) that convinced the holdouts to agree to an unconditional surrender. At the time, the atomic bombs did not seem all that impressive to them - they were already willing to endure horrific casualties, and the firebombing of Tokyo had killed many more people than died at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was more likely the declaration of war by the Soviet Union, when Japan had been hoping the Russians would help them negotiate peace, that was the deciding factor. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki just drove home their inevitable defeat.

Could we have gotten an unconditional surrender when we did without the atomic bombs? We will probably never know. But only a few people at the time really appreciated what new era had been ushered in. Harry Truman, interestingly, said afterwards, and continued to say, that he gave very little thought to the decision to use the bombs, and felt no moral angst about it. Indeed, two more bombs were being prepared for use when the Japanese finally did surrender.

If you want one volume that covers the entire span of the war against Japan, I think this monumental work by John Toland leaves very little out, and I highly recommend it to WWII historians. However, I also encourage interested readers to then seek out the more recent works by Ian Toll, who devotes more pages to the American commanders as well, and talks about some of the political issues among the Allies that Toland treats more briefly, as well as going into even more detail about individual battles. . more

An epic account of the Japanese war. Toland tells the story from many different perspectives from the Emperor and his aides to the lowly soldier trapped in Guadalcanal. It is all here the prelude to Pearl Harbour to the finale of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Many aspects are of interest the Japanese were continually obsessed with striking the fatal knock-out blow. At Pearl Harbour they believed they had accomplished that. They tried again at Midway, Tarawa (to be held for one An epic account of the Japanese war. Toland tells the story from many different perspectives – from the Emperor and his aides to the lowly soldier trapped in Guadalcanal. It is all here – the prelude to Pearl Harbour to the finale of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Many aspects are of interest – the Japanese were continually obsessed with striking the fatal knock-out blow. At Pearl Harbour they believed they had accomplished that. They tried again at Midway, Tarawa (to be held for one thousand years), Saipan and on and on. They even believed they could destroy the enemy on the Japanese mainland. Another aspect is the ferociousness of the combatants who refused to surrender – and viewed suicide as the honourable way to leave life. There were always substantially more Japanese deaths than American ones in most of the conflicts.

John Toland’s varying montages of the agony of battles, of prisoners of war, of the victims of fire-bombing are all very poignant. The build-up to the attack on Pearl Harbour, and the frustration and miscues on both sides is very well told. The end, with the Potsdam Proclamation that was completely rejected by the Japanese government, followed by the dropping of the atomic bombs well documents the legacy of the wars’ ending. I feel at times that Mr. Toland is too lenient with Hirohito’s performance he could have prevented Pearl Harbour and the subsequent Japanese onslaught in Asia. The Japanese had signed the Tri-partite Pact with Hitler and Mussolini – and this was ill-received by the Anglo-American democracies. This was somewhat overlooked by Mr. Toland. Nevertheless this book is a great accomplishment and presents the war, with all its’ detailed planning, from the Japanese viewpoint.
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I generally avoid histories of WWII. I enjoy history immensely but between Hollywood, the History Channel, and the vast array of fictions and histories this war has been done to death. I would guess the reason for this is that it is still in our living memories, it was the last war with a clear line between good and evil, and because it was readily captured by contemporary visual media and preserved for us to see everyday. Having said that I still occasionally pick-up a WWII history if it has I generally avoid histories of WWII. I enjoy history immensely but between Hollywood, the History Channel, and the vast array of fictions and histories this war has been done to death. I would guess the reason for this is that it is still in our living memories, it was the last war with a clear line between good and evil, and because it was readily captured by contemporary visual media and preserved for us to see everyday. Having said that I still occasionally pick-up a WWII history if it has something that piques my interest. The last WWII book to really do that for me was James Bradley's "Flyboys" which I thought was the fairest treatment of the war in the Pacific I had read up until now. I found this book, a Pulitzer Prize winner of some time ago, thanks to reading a review by another GR friend (thanks Matt). The POV of the book is what caught my interest. It is written primarily from the Japanese side of the war. After reading Bradley's book I became aware for the first time that there was another side to WWII that I had never heard or read about and it was a legitimate point of view. This book promised to increase my knowledge of that aspect of the war so I ordered a copy (thanks Amazon). Unfortunately, I was not aware of the size of this tome and I do mean tome. It is just short of 1,000 pages, 877 pages of text and then about another 100 pages of notes, bibliography, sources, and index. To put it mildly this is not a book that is easy to get physically comfortable with. I wish the author and publisher had considered publishing it in more than one volume just for the sake of old bones. It also obviously will take a commitment to finish a book of this length but I can't imagine anybody seriously interested in the history of WWII not reading this book. It expands my understanding of the Japanese culture of that time and the psychology of their people and their military. The book also explains the Japanese motivations for beginning the war. This was something that had been hinted at in Bradley's book but was really explored in detail in this book. What really struck me was the aspect of WWII as it affected the native populations in the countries where the war was fought. I was never aware of the undercurrent of hostility of the native populations for the white colonial governments and military. That the Japanese entered this war carrying the banner of unity and freedom for Asians and the overthrow of the European overlords was very surprising. As a boy growing up in the 50's I remember the dismantling of the British Empire and how our world maps seemed to change every year when another country had gained independence. I also recall reading about the European double cross of the people of the Middle East after WWI and now was reading that the Asians weren't going to let this happen to them. The Asians were really caught in the middle with a choice between the Europeans that treated them with disdain or going with the Japanese who probably weren't going to be much better and maybe worse. Fortunately, they, for the most part, opted to back the Allies but they expected to be paid back after the war and that is the subject of another book that I may have to look for. It would appear, however, that what took place in the world during the 50's and early 60's was the result of an antiquated colonial system and outright racism in which the U.S. was a fully participating actor. That President Truman rejected the idea of independence for Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Viet Nam in favor of restoring French colonial rule came back to bite both France and the U.S. in the figurative ass. Another thing that strikes me about what I have read is how avoidable this war was. Of course that isn't really a fair judgment since I am using hindsight. But like almost all wars, including those we are fighting today, they are usually the result of cultural ignorance and an inability to view things from the other side. The Japanese under estimated the people of the U.S. and the U.S. under estimated the Japanese and probably all Asian peoples. This book is a must read for any student of history or any reader that enjoys reading about WWII. What I would love to now discover is that this author has written a book following the aftermath of this war in the Pacific and what transpired in Asia. Some us old enough know what happened as we lived through it but knowing why things happened as they did would be enlightening. I guess I'll have to explore GR and Amazon to see if this book or one like it exists. . more

Mammoth history of Japan's involvement in the Second World War. Toland seeks to emulate the sweep, if not the editorial tone of Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, mixing high-level cabinet deliberations and diplomacy with military strategy and the on-the-ground experience of Japanese soldiers and sailors. Toland's portrait shows a Japanese leadership eager to exploit China but agonizing over their decision to attack America and Britain, the division among Japan's military and political Mammoth history of Japan's involvement in the Second World War. Toland seeks to emulate the sweep, if not the editorial tone of Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, mixing high-level cabinet deliberations and diplomacy with military strategy and the on-the-ground experience of Japanese soldiers and sailors. Toland's portrait shows a Japanese leadership eager to exploit China but agonizing over their decision to attack America and Britain, the division among Japan's military and political leadership, and their wholehearted commitment once war's actually declared. Toland relishes details, from the importance of mistranslation in deteriorating diplomatic relations, to the slang and attitudes of Japanese troops. Because of its scope, the book's somewhat spotty on certain subjects: the Sino-Japanese War's barely touched on, while the Anglo-Chinese campaign in Burma's reduced to a brief chapter. There's a long section on the founding of the East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, and its popularity among pan-Asians, but no follow up on the movement's dissolving as Japan's brutality became evident. For that matter, Japanese atrocities are heavily downplayed, reduced to a sentence or two amidst detailed, multipage battle accounts. If Toland seems overly sympathetic to Japanese aspirations, he deserves credit at least for his comprehensive, multilayered approach. . more

This is one of the best books on Pacific War especially from a Japanese point of view that I have read. A detailed description of the Japanese aggression (in short form) and collapse (in long form) in World War Ii, told from the perspective of "inside the Japanese governmental and military command structures. I will not forget the build up to the Pearl Harbor attack and the strategy that was employed. The Japanese high command, both the Army as well as the Navy knew that they were waking up a This is one of the best books on Pacific War especially from a Japanese point of view that I have read. A detailed description of the Japanese aggression (in short form) and collapse (in long form) in World War Ii, told from the perspective of "inside the Japanese governmental and military command structures. I will not forget the build up to the Pearl Harbor attack and the strategy that was employed. The Japanese high command, both the Army as well as the Navy knew that they were waking up a sleeping giant.

The book tries to give a balanced account of events, giving perspectives of the major players (Japanese, American, Russian, Chinese and British), as well as fascinating insight into the political/diplomatic maneuvering that lead to key strategic, political, and military decisions in the war and their outcomes.

This is a must read for anyone interested in the second world war. . more

I took far too many notes on this book trying to remember the events and people that dot these pages. But what resounds more than these pages of notes, is my belief that Tolland's greatest success is in what he didn't do: Tolland avoided the Cold War lens and the Great Man theory. In avoiding these pit falls, he has not only written a fascinating, highly readable book (especially considering it's length), but he has set a standard by which I think all history books should be held.

The Cold War I took far too many notes on this book trying to remember the events and people that dot these pages. But what resounds more than these pages of notes, is my belief that Tolland's greatest success is in what he didn't do: Tolland avoided the Cold War lens and the Great Man theory. In avoiding these pit falls, he has not only written a fascinating, highly readable book (especially considering it's length), but he has set a standard by which I think all history books should be held.

The Cold War lens is when writers apply the Cold War--the ideologies, cultures and people that were at war for decades--to explain most 20th century events. I was born just before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and as a result the Cold War doesn't loom as big. But I think many history books written before the Wall's fall apply the Cold War lens too freely and too often. The Cold War is used to explain and understand events that are more diverse than this lens. Tolland does not ignore the Cold War altogether--and towards the end of the book, he explains how World War 2 shaped and affected the bipolar world that followed. But he does not let this lens overwhelm the true subject matter--Japan--and the key relationship to this book: the US and Japan. Having written this book in the 1960s, this is an impressive feat.

The Great Man theory is the idea that a single man or woman changed the course of history. By this logic, if another man or woman was in power at a certain moment in history, events would've played out differently. This is a pretty appealing theory if Hitler had never existed, Germany would not have tried to take over Europe. If not for Truman, the US would not have dropped the atomic bomb. But it can be used too liberally. It's a lot more fun to read about big personalities, and it's much easier to explain events through the Great Men than through multiple, smaller causes. As a result I think history writers sometimes hyperbolize their characters and simplify their narratives. I personally think that most events in history are a result of greater, bigger forces (I'm not trying to make this too dense, but see Graham Allison for more info). Put anyone in the president's shoes and in the same political context, and they'd make the same decision that the "Great Man" made. And if they are the kind of person that would make a different decision, then the context they lived in would not have allowed them to become president in the first place. This means that there would've been World War without Hitler, and the bomb would've dropped without Truman. In short, context determines history more than a single person and context itself is determined by a web of people and forces greater than just one man. Tolland does an admirable job of capturing these greater forces, and in so doing he not only creates a fascinating, readable tome on modern Japanese history, but he also sets a standard for the care and seriousness to which all history writing should aim.

I originally picked up this book because I wanted to read about the Japanese in Indonesia. I've been living in Indonesia for the past year and people here sometimes say that the 3 years the Japanese were in power in Indonesia were worse than the 300 years of Dutch colonialism. This book doesn't give much information about the Japanese in Indonesia, or for that matter the Japanese in East Asia as a whole. This book was mostly about American-Japanese relations and was heavy on battle details and political details. But it was nonetheless fascinating. If you had told me I’d read a combined 300 pages about battles for tiny, forgotten Pacific Islands I’d probably be skeptical. But somehow even the maneuvers the charges and retreats and naval squirmishes all kept my interest and were imbued with both thoughtful analysis and emotion.

900 page book this is very readable. Still, man is it long." This is a pretty worthy assessment. You don't need me to tell you this. This is a long book. But it's about as readable as any history book can be. It's a smart and emotional tome. A long cast of characters (most of whom Tolland personally interviewed) string Tolland's writing together, and the result is a wide reaching history book that still manages to carry an intimacy to it. Letters and personal journals pick up the narrative of history and then are lightly put down. They make this dense book personal while still being full of information.

Also, here are some additional notes on 3 things that I learned from this book that I'd like to hold on to. They are unique mini-theses that Tolland presents. Feel free to skip this.

1) One of the reasons that Japan and America collided was Japan was a growing nation that needed land and resources. In Japan, an aggressive military clique rose to power and these vital national needs (land, energy) became an attempt to establish hegemony in Asia. Many thought, if the US is allowed to establish hegemony in America and mine other nations for needed resources, why can't we? Many people besides Tolland have argued this, but it's still an interesting point. Especially the details that Tolland gives about Japan's too-powerful military.

2) Japan for all its imperialistic aggression was also a liberator. This is an incredibly interesting point. Many outside the military saw the war in the pacific as a war where Japan would liberate Asia from Western colonialism. And although this point was pumped up with propaganda, there was a lot of truth to it. Japan gave independence to many nations that it conquered and it recognized the rebel governments fighting for independence in Western-colonized nations (like India). They were doing some remarkably forward thinking, democratic stuff. While the US and Britain were writing the Atlantic Charter but not following through with it (still holding colonies, still selling Polish sovereignty to Russia), Japan was gathering Asian leaders, declaring their sovereignty and pledging a mission to Asian freedom from the Western colonial yoke. During the war Japan held the Greater East Asia Conference” in Tokyo for all foreign Asian, anti-colonial leaders. There was a lot of propaganda to this--especially since Indonesia was considered an exception, and Japan deemed not-ready for independence while it mined it for resources--but it's still powerful, inspiring stuff.

3) Truman did not need to drop the bomb, and Japan's military elite were sort of nuts. Truman did not need to drop the bomb. There were plenty in Japan that were ready for peace and actively wanted it. The Emperor was close to publicly espousing peace, and Japanese diplomats were already contacting Russian and European nations to help mediate a peace. The US could've detonated a bomb on a deserted island or in the air, to push these leaders to faster action. At the same time, Japan's military elite was pretty nuts. Many of the top most leaders believed that this had to be a fight to the death, a fight to the last man. They wanted to arm men, women, and children on the mainland to at least make the US suffer. They believed 100 million were prepared to die, and should die to defend Japan. Surrendering was out of the question. . more

I love John Toland. He may be one of the most prolific historians during my lifetime. Possibly a precursor to the popular historians such as McCullough or Ambrose. I read his well received, but not academically praised biography of Hitler, and the controversial Day of Infamy and I thought that those books were both well done and convincing however, I have shied away from The Rising Sun, more from its intimidating length than its content. It is immense - running nearly a thousand pages with I love John Toland. He may be one of the most prolific historians during my lifetime. Possibly a precursor to the popular historians such as McCullough or Ambrose. I read his well received, but not academically praised biography of Hitler, and the controversial Day of Infamy and I thought that those books were both well done and convincing however, I have shied away from The Rising Sun, more from its intimidating length than its content. It is immense - running nearly a thousand pages with ample footnotes. The book is well worth the time and effort.

Toland begins with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and he does not sugar coat the barbarity of that conflict. He describes in detail the atrocity in Nanjing and the mindset of the troops that led up to the war crimes. He follows chronologically the border conflicts with the Soviets, joining the Axis powers, the desperation and fear of isolation after the US declared an oil embargo. Tojo's decision to attack Pear Harbor and the victorious march down the Malaysian Peninsular. I found it fascinating the Japanese warlords thought that it might even be possible to conquer India and meet up with the Nazis in the Caucuses. The defeat of Shanghai and the conquest of the Philippines is described in detail and the Death March of Bataan and Corrigidor is absolutely heartbreaking.

At this point, Japan lost the war. True, there would be further victories as vastly distant as the Aleutians and New Guinea but from this point, the might of US production was going to crush the territory of the Empire. It is hard not to feel for the ordinary Japanese soldiers and the civilians who were driven by a Bushido code to suffer unimaginable hardships. It was that determination and fanaticism that would ultimately sway the decision to drop the atomic bombs. The military, moral and political decision to drop the bombs is outlined and well done. The suffering of the civilians are balanced by the what exactly President Truman was trying to accomplish and the information he had in front of him predicting an unbelievably bloody invasion of the home islands.

It is also telling that a palace coup nearly imprisoned the Emperor and forced a continuation of the war. This is a sad and violent history that is a difficult read. The book on the whole is an amazing accomplishment and well deserving of the Pulitzer it won. If there is a problem with the book, and it is a small one, the book seemed heavily weighted to tell the story of the fighting between the Americans and the Japanese. I would have loved to learned more about the campaigns in Burma and India that seemed a bit short-shifted.

Still this is an excellent read. . more

The definitive source regarding the view of WWII from the Japanese perspective. An amazing amount of insight and information. Cannot recommend highly enough for those interested in WWII.

One of the most impressive books that I have read based upon the 2nd World War within the Asian zone. contains lots of details and information that I had not read about before, the author as put in allot of time and effort towards producing this book. The author must have spent hours upon hours conducting research before putting pen to paper. The book covers hov the Japanese moved towards war, the reasons behind this, and their path, route throughout the war years. Very well written, very well One of the most impressive books that I have read based upon the 2nd World War within the Asian zone. contains lots of details and information that I had not read about before, the author as put in allot of time and effort towards producing this book. The author must have spent hours upon hours conducting research before putting pen to paper. The book covers hov the Japanese moved towards war, the reasons behind this, and their path, route throughout the war years. Very well written, very well presented, maybe the book cover could have been better, but this is just finding a nagative within the book just for the sake of it For any person interested in the 2nd world war, reading this book would be very worthwhile. . more

Interesting book on the Pacific segment of WWII. Its told from the perspective of both the Allies and Japan. The book moves along though occasionally the chapters on major engagements becomes far too detailed and bogs down. That said, the writing is readable and once in a while, compelling. The main virtue of the work is the narrative and the balance. Both sides made mistakes, both diplomatically and militarily and the author shows this in a balanced neutral fashion. To be honest, this book Interesting book on the Pacific segment of WWII. It’s told from the perspective of both the Allies and Japan. The book moves along though occasionally the chapters on major engagements becomes far too detailed and bogs down. That said, the writing is readable and once in a while, compelling. The main virtue of the work is the narrative and the balance. Both sides made mistakes, both diplomatically and militarily and the author shows this in a balanced neutral fashion. To be honest, this book shows why I prefer to read older histories rather than the mostly crap peddled today…First, it’s a sweeping narrative, a panoramic overview, not some overdone and overwrought and self-important book focusing on an event which is blown out proportion historically. Second, the narrative is detached and calm…the author doesn’t breathe outrage or try to insert himself or his opinions into the narrative. Much better than these authors writing history today…who are usually journalists writing for extra money and not historians anyway…

So, I give this one a 4. It’s interesting and comprehensive and balance…a good book if you want to learn about the Pacific side of WWII.
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This book is a lost epoch, the historical details are now out of date and inaccurate owing to the scholarship of recent years.

Coming to the narrative this book is about Gekkukujo
Samurai Insubordination that is.
Kwantung Army to the many coups during the war So many Prime Ministers cut down by junior officers.
Imperial Japanese homefront politics was bloody too.

Its a ride, it's an indulgence.

Hana wa Sakuragi Hito wa Bushi

I found this to be two books in one. The first half covers the diplomatic, military, and economic reasons that led to World War II. It does so by weaving accounts of Japanese officers and government officials with the historical record all while appearing to avoid the narrative fallacy. The second half of this book covers the war in the Pacific. Unfortunately, it does so at a more tactical level filled with anecdotes and human interest stories as opposed to the macro level approach that made the I found this to be two books in one. The first half covers the diplomatic, military, and economic reasons that led to World War II. It does so by weaving accounts of Japanese officers and government officials with the historical record all while appearing to avoid the narrative fallacy. The second half of this book covers the war in the Pacific. Unfortunately, it does so at a more tactical level filled with anecdotes and human interest stories as opposed to the macro level approach that made the first half of the book so enjoyable. Overall, an interesting book for someone who slept through multiple history classes.

“America’s greatest mistake in World War II, I believe, was in failing to recognize that she was fighting two different kinds of war simultaneously: one in Europe against another Western people and philosophy, Nazism, and one in Asia which was not only a struggle against an aggressive nation fighting for survival as a modern power but an ideological contest against an entire continent.” 138

“And a moral policeman’s lot is not a happy one, particularly when his own morality is in question.” 145

“The Americans were inspired by three motives: a desire to trade, spread the Gospel to the yellow pagans and export the ideals of 1776.” 1306

“With the seizure of Manchuria and the invasion of North China, the gulf widened as America denounced Japanese aggression with increasingly forceful words. This moral denunciation only hardened the resolve of the average Japanese. Why should there be a Monroe Doctrine in the Americas and an Open Door principle in Asia?” 1335

“The Japanese takeover in bandit-infested Manchuria was no different from American armed intervention in the Caribbean. Moreover, how could a vast country like the United States even begin to understand the problems that had beset Japan since World War I? Why was it perfectly acceptable for England and Holland to occupy India, Hong Kong, Singapore and the East Indies, but a crime for Japan to follow their example? Why should America, which had grabbed its lands from Indians by trickery, liquor and massacre, be so outraged when Japan did the same in China?” 1338

“All this emotional turmoil was worsened by marked differences between East and West in morality, religion and even patterns of thinking. Western logic was precise, with axioms, definitions, and proofs leading to a logical conclusion. Born dialecticians, the Japanese held that any existence was a contradiction. In everyday life they instinctively practiced the concept of the contradiction of opposites, and the means of harmonizing them. Right and wrong, spirit and matter, God and man—all these opposing elements were harmoniously united. That was why a thing could be good and bad at the same time.” 1345

“Unlike Westerners, who tended to think in terms of black and white, the Japanese had vaguer distinctions, which in international relations often resulted in “policies” and not “principles,” and seemed to Westerners to be conscienceless. Western logic was like a suitcase, defined and limited. Eastern logic was like the furoshiki, the cloth Japanese carry for wrapping objects. It could be large or small according to circumstances and could be folded and put in the pocket when not needed.” 1350

“To the Japanese, a man without contradictions could not be respected he was just a simple person. The more numerous the contradictions in a man, the deeper he was. His existence was richer the more acutely he struggled with himself.” 1356

“This was all expressed in the word sayonara (sayo—so, nara—if), that is, “So be it.” The Japanese said sayonara every moment to everything, for he felt each moment was a dream. Life was sayonara. Empires could rise or fall, the greatest heroes and philosophers crumble to dust, planets come and go, but Change never changed, including Change itself.” 1369

"Understanding little or nothing of either the Wheel of Causality or the power wielded by the dedicated young rebels, informed Americans mistakenly assumed that the takeover in Manchuria and the foray into China were steps plotted by military leaders who, like Hitler, wished to seize the world for themselves.” 1376

“Thus philosophy was brutalized and brutality was philosophized.” 1379

“There were also numerous petty differences between East and West that needlessly aggravated matters. If a Westerner asked, “This isn’t the road to Tokyo, is it?” the Japanese would reply yes, meaning, “What you say is correct it is not the road to Tokyo.” Confusion also resulted when the Japanese agreed with the Westerner just to be agreeable or to avoid embarrassment, or gave wrong information rather than admit his ignorance.” 1385

“This embarrassing rehearsal for war not only caused a revolution in Japanese weaponry and military tactics but drove Japan closer to an alliance with Germany and Italy, since she felt that the Soviet Union, England, China and America might combine against her at any moment.” 1403

“In the last war the United States made use of Japan through the Ishii-Lansing agreement, and when the war was over, the United States broke it. This is an old trick of theirs.” 1698

“On the night of July 26 he ordered all Japanese assets in America frozen, and Britain and the Netherlands soon followed suit. In consequence, not only did all trade with the United States cease, but the fact that America had been Japan’s major source of oil imports now left Japan in an untenable situation.” 1941

“They had secured the bases in Indochina by negotiation with Vichy France, a country recognized if not approved by America, and international law was on their side the freezing was the last step in the encirclement of the empire by the ABCD (American, British, Chinese, Dutch) powers, a denial to Japan of her rightful place as leader of Asia and a challenge to her very existence.” 1944

“Then he warned that Japan’s oil stock would only last for two years, and once war came, eighteen months, and concluded, “Under such circumstances, we had better take the initiative. We will win.””1950

“We should not lose sight of the fact, deplorable but true, that no practical and effective code of international morality upon which the world can rely has yet been discovered, and that the standards of morality of one nation in given circumstances have little or no relation to the standards of the individuals of the nations in question. To shape our foreign policy on the unsound theory that other nations are guided and bound by our present standards of international ethics would be to court sure disaster.” 1964

“For three decades Americans had held a highly idealized picture of the Chinese, looking upon them as childlike innocents who needed protection against the imperialism of Britain and Japan. China was a helpless, deserving nation whose virtues America alone understood.” 1986

“There was no way to “checkmate the enemy’s king”—industrial potential—and a decisive initial victory was essential.” 2199

“While I was in France, Pétain and Clemenceau told me, ‘Germany was an eyesore to the United States in Europe and it did away with her in the Great War. In the next war it will try to get rid of another eyesore, this one in the Orient, Japan. America knows how inept Japan is diplomatically, so she’ll make moves to abuse you inch by inch until you start a fight. But if you lose your temper and start a war you will surely be defeated, because America has great strength. So you must bear anything and not play into her hands.’ The present situation is exactly as Petain and Clemenceau predicted. At this time we must persevere so that we won’t get into war with America. You’re a member of the Konoye Cabinet. In the Army, an order must be obeyed. Now the Emperor and the Prime Minister want to bring about the negotiations. As war minister, you should either follow their line of policy or resign.” 2357

“Of course, we may lose,” he said, “but if we don’t fight, we’d just have to bow to the United States. If we fight, there’s a chance we can win. If we don’t fight, wouldn’t that be the same as losing the war?” 2954

“How could you trust a nation that played the two-faced game of talking peace while preparing for war?” 3062

“What particularly infuriated every man in the room was the categoric demand to quit all of China. Manchuria had been won at the cost of considerable sweat and blood. Its loss would mean economic disaster. What right did the wealthy Americans have to make such a demand? What nation with any honor would submit? 3331

“Who was to blame—the United States or Japan? The latter was almost solely responsible for bringing herself to the road of war with America through the seizure of Manchuria, the invasion of China, the atrocities committed against the Chinese people, and the drive to the south. But this course of aggression had been the inevitable result of the West’s efforts to eliminate Japan as an economic rival after World War I, the Great Depression, her population explosion, and the necessity to find new resources and markets to continue as a first-rate power. Added to all this were the unique and undefined position of the Emperor, the explosive role of gekokujo, and the threat of Communism from both Russia and Mao Tse-tung which had developed into paranoiac fear.” 3343

“How could a nation rich in resources and land, and free from fear of attack, understand the position of a tiny, crowded island empire with almost no natural resources, which was constantly in danger of attack from a ruthless neighbor, the Soviet Union?” 3353

“America herself had, moreover, contributed to the atmosphere of hate and distrust by excluding the Japanese from immigration and, in effect, flaunting a racial and color prejudice that justifiably infuriated the proud Nipponese. America should also have perceived and admitted the hypocrisy of taking such a moral stand on the four principles.b Her ally, Britain, certainly did not observe them in India or Burma, nor did she herself in Central America where “gunboat diplomacy” was still upholding the Monroe Doctrine.” 3354

“Her self-righteousness was also self-serving what was morality at the top became self-interest at the bottom.” 3358

“Finally, America made a grave diplomatic blunder by allowing an issue not vital to her basic interests—the welfare of China—to become, at the last moment, the keystone of her foreign policy.” 3359
“Until that summer America had had two limited aims in the Far East: to drive a wedge between Japan and Hitler, and to thwart Japan’s southward thrust. She could easily have attained both these objectives but instead made an issue out of no issue at all, the Tripartite Pact, and insisted on the liberation of China. For this last unattainable goal America’s diplomats were forcing an early war that her own militarists were hoping to avoid—a war, paradoxically, she was in no position to wage. America could not throw the weight of her strength against Japan to liberate China, nor had she ever intended to do so. Her major enemy was Hitler. Instead of frankly informing Chiang Kai-shek of this, she had yielded to his urgings and pressed the policy that led to war in the Far East—and the virtual abandonment of China. More important, by equating Japan with Nazi Germany, her diplomats had maneuvered their nation into two completely different wars, one in Europe against Fascism, and one in the Orient that was linked with the aspirations of all Asians for freedom from the white man’s bondage.” 3361

“There were no heroes or villains on either side. Roosevelt, for all his shortcomings, was a man of broad vision and humanity the Emperor was a man of honor and peace. Both were limited—one by the bulky machinery of a great democracy and the other by training, custom and the restrictions of his rule. Caught up in a medieval system, the Japanese militarists were driven primarily by dedication to their country. They wanted power for it, not war profits for themselves Tojo himself lived on a modest scale. Prince Konoye’s weaknesses came largely from the vulnerable position of a premier in Japan, but by the end of his second cabinet he had transformed his natural tendency for indecisiveness into a show of purpose and courage which continued until his downfall. Even Matsuoka was no villain. Despite his vanity and eccentricities this man of ability sincerely thought he was working for the peace of the world when he saddled Japan with the Tripartite Pact and he wrecked the negotiations in Washington out of egotism, not malice.” 3369

“Nor were Stimson and Hull villains, though the latter, with his all-or-nothing attitude, had committed one of the most fatal mistakes a diplomat could make—driven his opponents into a corner with no chance to save face and given them no option to capitulation but war.” 3376

“The villain was the times. Japan and America would never have come to the brink of war except for the social and economic eruption of Europe after World War I and the rise of two great revolutionary ideologies—Communism and Fascism. These two sweeping forces, working sometimes in tandem and sometimes at odds, ultimately brought about the tragedy of November 26. America certainly would never have risked going to war solely for the sake of China. It was the fear that Japan in partnership with Hitler and Mussolini would conquer the world that drove America to risk all. And the ultimate tragedy was that Japan had joined up with Hitler mainly because she feared the Anglo-Saxon nations were isolating her hers was a marriage in name only.” 3379

“A war that need not have been fought was about to be fought because of mutual misunderstanding, language difficulties, and mistranslations as well as Japanese opportunism, gekokujo, irrationality, honor, pride and fear—and American racial prejudice, distrust, ignorance of the Orient, rigidity, self-righteousness, honor, national pride and fear.” 3384

“Perhaps these were essentially the answers to Händel’s question: “Why do the nations so furiously rage together?” In any case, America had made a grave mistake that would cost her dearly for decades to come. If Hull had sent a conciliatory answer to Proposal B, the Japanese (according to surviving Cabinet members) would have either come to some agreement with America or, at the least, been forced to spend several weeks in debate. And this hiatus would in turn have compelled postponement of their deadline for attack until the spring of 1942 because of weather conditions. By this time it would have been obvious that Moscow would stand, and the Japanese would have been eager to make almost any concessions to avoid going into a desperate war with an ally which now faced inevitable defeat. If no agreement had been reached, America would have gained precious time to strengthen the Philippines with more bombers and reinforcements. Nor would there have been such a debacle at Pearl Harbor. There is little likelihood that the implausible series of chances and coincidences that brought about the December 7 disaster could have been repeated.” 3386

“Morality is an unstable commodity in international relations. The same America that took a no-compromise stand on behalf of the sanctity of agreements, maintenance of the status quo in the Orient, and the territorial integrity of China, reversed herself a few years later at Yalta by promising Russia territory in the Far East as an inducement to join the war in the Pacific.” 3431

“The idea for a surprise attack was based on the tactics of his hero, Admiral Togo, who had, without any declaration of war, assaulted the Second Russian Pacific Squadron at Port Arthur in 1904 with torpedo boats while its commander, an Admiral Stark, was at a party. The Russians never recovered from this loss—two battleships and a number of cruisers—and the following year almost their entire fleet was destroyed in the Battle of Tsushima during which, incidentally, young Ensign Yamamoto lost two fingers on his left hand.” 3460

“(The concept of achieving decisive victory by one surprise blow lay deep in the Japanese character. Their favorite literary form was the haiku, a poem combining sensual imagery and intuitive evocation in a brief seventeen syllables a rapier thrust that expressed, with discipline, the illumination sought in the Japanese form of Buddhism. Similarly, the outcome in judo, sumo [wrestling] and kendo [fencing with bamboo staves], after long preliminaries, was settled by a sudden stroke.)” 3464

“This message, which would have meant a warning of attack on Pearl Harbor to anybody reading it, was intercepted in Hawaii and passed on to the cryptographers in Washington for decoding, but since it concerned Hawaii and had nothing to do with diplomacy, its low priority sent it to the bottom of somebody’s basket.” 4218

*Quotes are a selection of the 32 pages taken from my exported Kindle highlights and bookmarks. The numbers refer to the location in the Kindle version and not to page numbers. . more


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John Toland’s Pulitzer Prize winning ‘Rising Sun’ was first published in 1971, so it can take no advantage of more recent scholarship. Even so, I’d strongly recommend it for the sheer quality of both the research and the writing. It is an excellent account of the latter years of the Japanese Empire, the years in which the rising sun, symbol of imperial Japan, reached its zenith and quickly set.

He tells the story at three distinct levels.

He gives us just enough detail on the politics, both inside and outside Japan, to make the context comprehensible without ever becoming tiresome. He describes the military events with precisely the same level of detail, neither boring nor insufficient, from the very start of the fighting by Japan’s armies, in Manchuria in 1932, long before any Western powers became involved. Finally, he uses material left behind by survivors to give us a personal view of the events, whether of Japanese soldiers and civilians. The tale of Shizuko Miura, a nurse who witnessed the landings and fighting on Saipan, was particularly telling, and those of atomic bomb survivors chill the blood.

He starts with the background of Japan itself, including several attempts made by groups of army officers to impose their will on the country, if necessary (according to their own lights) by violence. They justified insubordination spilling over into mutiny as true loyalty, to a higher set of values, the essence of Japan or ‘kokutai’.

The apparent impossibility of snuffing out such movements, probably because the ideas of ‘kokutai’ were so broadly shared even by those who would not break with discipline to uphold them, led to the growing pressure on the nation to flex its muscles. An expansionist programme saw Japanese forces occupying increasingly extensive areas of China and eventually led to the clash with the United States.

There was nothing inevitable about that clash. Toland tracks the long and painful negotiations between the two nations that might have avoided conflict. I was particularly fascinated, and not a little horrified, by the misunderstandings caused by the US ability to read all Japanese communications – they had broken their codes – but failure to translate the contents correctly. Toland gives a series of examples. For instance, Japanese Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo wrote:

“This is our proposal setting forth what are virtually our final concessions”

After the code was broken, the message was translated, or rather mistranslated, as:

“This proposal is our final ultimatum”

leaving Secretary of State Cordell Hull with a view of the Japanese position as far more unbending than it was. It seems that being able to read an adversary’s messages may be no advantage, and may even be a handicap, if one misunderstands them so thoroughly.

In the end war broke out simultaneously against the US, Britain and Holland, with Japanese forces invading the Far Eastern possessions of the latter two powers, as well as attacking Pearl Harbor. For a little over a year, Japan knew nothing but success, her advance apparently unstoppable. But then the US began to prove the wisdom of Japanese Admiral Yamamoto’s words, that the Pearl Harbor raid had merely awakened a sleeping giant.

At the battle of Midway in 1942 the US established air and naval superiority in the Pacific. And in successfully taking back Guadalcanal, an island in the Solomons, it finally blocked and indeed reversed Japanese progress. Then its hugely superior economic and industrial strength came into play and the machine of American power began to grind forward towards Tokyo.

Toland charts its advance compellingly, with much survivor material to bring to light just what the cruelty of the conflict meant to individuals. In amongst the horrors and brutality, he describes some reactions that bring a little relief: for instance, the Japanese soldier who decided not to follow most of his colleagues into suicide, when he was told by another survivor that the whole garrison had already been posted as dead back in Japan. What was the point of dying again?

The book describes the politics of both sides, within Japan, between Japan and the Allies and within the Allied powers – the Soviet Union, for example, refusing to act as a go-between between Japan and the United States over peace overtures, until it too declared war in the last days of the conflict, so that it could stake its claim to territory it coveted. He also describes the tensions in the high commands, or between Japanese military and political leaders: there was a final attempt at a coup in Japan to prevent the slide towards peace.

At the personal, political and military level the book gives an immensely readable and highly engaging account of a fascinating and crucial period of our history. Never dull, always engrossing, Toland’s book is well worth reading if you’re interested in those turbulent times. Or, indeed, if you enjoy history for its capacity to astonish even more than fiction.


Rising Sun by John Toland



Author:John Toland
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9781848849525
Publisher: Pen and Sword

The new American thrusts had forced Imperial Headquarters to readjust their defenses. The desperate scramble of the Army and Navy for appropriations, strategic materials and factories centered on plane production, since both services agreed that the way to victory lay in the air. They agreed to share equally the 45,000 planes to be produced the following year. But a month later, in early January 1944, the Navy requested more than their allotment–26,000 planes.

The Navy’s case was persuasive and Tojo acquiesced. “This is too great a problem to settle so quickly,” protested his friend and adviser, Kenryo Sato. Until this time the Supreme Command had depended on the Navy to win the Decisive Battle against America on the seas, but now that dream was over. Henceforth the Army would have to play the major role, and the small islands that lay between the advancing Americans and Japan would have to be the “unsinkable carriers,” bases for future land battles. The majority of planes, therefore, would have to go to the service that fought these battles, the Army.

Tojo realized that his first decision had been prompted by a desire to keep peace with the Navy. Sato was obviously right and Tojo told him to inform the Navy of the change in priorities. The Navy, in turn, refused to accept the reversed decision. On February 10 the battle was openly joined at a meeting of the Chiefs of Staffs and their advisers at the Palace. Admiral Nagano maintained that the crucial battles with the enemy would still take place at sea. He was challenged by Army Chief of Staff Sugiyama, who had been promoted to field marshal. “If we gave you all the planes you want, would this battle turn the tide of war?”

Nagano bristled. “Of course I can’t guarantee anything of the kind! Can you guarantee that if we gave you all the planes, you would turn the tide?”

Distracted by a suggestion from Admiral Oka that they all take a break for tea, the antagonists calmed down, but the problem remained unsolved until Sato came up with an ingenious if questionable solution: concentrate production on fighters to the exclusion of bombers. Then an additional 5,000 planes, a total of 50,000 for equal distribution, could be manufactured, only 1,000 shy of the Navy’s demand for 26,000 planes. To make up for this deficit, Sato offered 3,500 tons of aluminum. The Navy accepted.

The tempest was over but not the military problems which had aggravated it. The American advance through the central Pacific continued unchecked. On February 17 Nimitz’ amphibious force leapfrogged from Kwajalein to the Eniwetok islands at the western limit of the Marshalls, by-passing four atolls where the Japanese had air bases. That same day and the next, American carrier planes also attacked Truk in the Carolines, the home of Combined Fleet, destroying seventy planes on the ground and sinking two auxiliary cruisers, a destroyer, an aircraft ferry, two submarine tenders and twenty-three merchant ships–200,000 tons of shipping in all.


Watch the video: 외국인들은 욱일기를 알까? Do foreigners know the Rising Sun flag? Loving korea (May 2022).