The Conquering Tide: War In The Pacific Islands, 1942-1944, by Ian W. Toll
This book is part of a trilogy on the Pacific War, which I have come to understand is a popular subject to write about. Historians of World War II have a large degree of concerns to deal with when it comes to writing about the war, a task which is especially challenging when one writes about something as sprawling as the Pacific War, which spans from the battles between Russia and Japan in Manchuria, the fight over the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, where Japan invaded and was defeated, the fighting at Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal and the naval battles spanning from Santa Cruze to Singapore, and going to the border between India and Burma at Imphal. This is a huge deal of terrain to deal with, and when one adds to this the question of whether one focuses on the army or navy and its efforts, discusses campaigns one at a time, deals with areas like logsitics and civil-military relations and the influence of war on politics and vice versa, there are a lot of approaches one can take, and one can write thousands of pages on the subject without even beginning to scratch the surface of what happened in the Pacific War between 1937 and 1945, and beyond, to say nothing of the context that led up to the war.
It should be noted that this book, which is pretty sizable at more than 500 pages, has numbered rather than named chapters. That said, the book does rather consistently detail in chronological order various campaigns that took place between 1942 and 1944, so we get a sense of the dramatic shift of the war that took place in this time, whether we are looking at the naval battles where America gained an attritional advantage over the Japanese, especially once the Japanese highly trained pilots had been killed and America’s planes were made to be superior to the Zero. Other than that there is a strong focus on campaigns, so we get a solid discussion of Guadalcanal and then a look at Makin, Tarawa, the campaign to take Saipan and Guam. There is also a strong discussion on the diplomatic front, where the author discusses the great suffering that Japanese faced and about the lack of terms that would have been able to bring about an earlier peace because until they were bombed into oblivion the Japanese expected to preserve a large part of their empire, which was not a term that the Allies were willing to respect, leading to the sort of destructive warfare talked about here.
How does this book do, then? It is certainly an interesting book and it has a lot to say about the island hopping campaigns of the Pacific War and about how it was that lessons were learned and how these lessons made future campaigns easier to work. The book shows the way that the Japanese suffered some bad luck and were generally pretty terrible when it came to preserving their military and dealing with logistics, all of which made it possible for the United States to advance in a manner of their own choosing, which is what this book details and which likely continues on in the third book of the series which goes on to the end of the war and includes a lot more island hopping. It should be noted that this book has a noted pro-Marine and pro-Navy perspective and as a result tends to undersell the importance of the army when it comes to operations in the Pacific front, which is not too surprising but is worth noting as there are some readers who take issue with the emphasis that the navy gets in the Pacific War, which can certainly slant which campaigns are covered, as is the case here.