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Eagle Against the Sun: The American War With Japan

1 rating: 5.0
A book by Ronald Spector

A historian at the Army Center for Military History, Spector concentrates on the problem of command in the Southern Pacific theaters, the rivalries between the various U.S. armed services and the problem of allocating resources. PW praised his ability … see full wiki

Tags: Books
Author: Ronald Spector
Publisher: Vintage
1 review about Eagle Against the Sun: The American War...

Powerful Summation Of A Sprawling War

  • May 11, 2010
Such an admirably boiled-down history of the U.S. campaign in the Pacific during World War II requires a single-word review: Wow!

Of course, you can't just leave it there. For me, an amateur World War II student who like many focuses more on the European side of the conflict, reading Ronald H. Spector's 1985 book felt like making up for years of neglect. It's also straightforward and exciting, full of human drama and color tempered by logistical and strategic discussion that is sharp and clear. There's also some commentary on the various leaders of both sides, often cutting.

"My own view of MacArthur is that, despite his undoubted qualities of leadership, he was unsuited by temperament, character, and judgment for the position of high command which he occupied throughout the war," Spector writes in his introduction. "He demonstrated these failings in success as well as in adversity..."

MacArthur's relative lack of adaptability might have been his greatest failing as presented here. Spector notes at the outset that flexibility to the requirements of winning was necessary to achieve victory. Both Japanese and American leaders began the war using as their model the World War I Battle of Jutland, where battleships formed lines and had at each other with cannon fire. Mastery of the Pacific Ocean required a different approach, and so did such innovations as radar, cryptanalysis, and especially the aircraft carrier, which the U.S. was forced to rely upon after their battleships got chewed up at Pearl Harbor.

Spector lucidly captures the many moving parts of the subsequent conflict, largely chronological with detours to the less central but still critical theaters of Burma and China as well as a surprisingly powerful analysis of the sociological implications of the war on U.S. character. Before Pearl Harbor, the U.S. was adamantly against unrestricted submarine warfare; by the end of the war, they were so proficient at it that as Spector writes, 55% of Japanese sea losses were inflicted by just two percent of American naval personnel, those in submarines.

Like other reviewers, I was disappointed by the lack of maps. You get only one in the original hardcover, showing the entire theater with key islands reduced to little more than pinpricks and only New Guinea and the Philippines singled out for slightly larger blowups. Given how much ground Spector covers, this is a significant shortcoming.

Hardly anything else is, though. There's so much to chew on in this book. A blithe decision to ignore a coastwatcher's warning of "neap tides" led to the nastiest Marine landing of the war, at Tarawa. At Leyte Gulf, an apparent bid for glory by Admiral Halsey nearly allows a costly Japanese victory but for a doughty and desperate fleet of outgunned escort carriers. Not far away, an annoyed beachmaster's response to a command to land MacArthur on shore during his return to the Philippines - "Let 'em walk" - led to one of American history's singular images.

Spector doesn't write to impress, but his marshalling of facts and his overall clarity and concision make for a kind of art. If you are interested in World War II, you want to read this. If you are not, this is the kind of book that may well change that.

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