Book Review: Killing The Rising Sun

Killing The Rising Sun: How America Vanquished World War II Japan, by Bill O’Reilly & Martin Dugard

If you are familiar with this series already [1], you know how this one works. We have a popular history and not a scholarly one. The author finds a way of bringing his own personal interests (and in this case, his own family background) into the story, which gives the reader an understanding of why the subject is of such interest. And here, more than is sometimes the case, the killing of Japan is by no means an exaggeration. If it was an exaggeration to say that the United States did a lot of killing England during the American Revolution, it is without a doubt that the United States did kill a lot of Japanese during World War II, especially its later stages. And the author is unsparing about how it is that this took place, while also pointing out, as politically incorrect as it is to say so, that the Japanese largely brought it on themselves, even if they have not always been quick to recognize the fanaticism that led to their own hubris and their own destruction at the hand of Americans. And this destruction came in varied forms, from the starvation that resulted from unrestricted submarine warfare against Japan’s vulnerable logistics to the firebombing, to the deaths inflicted on Japan’s military forces, to the atomic bomb, which ultimately serves as the real point of this book.

This book is about 300 pages long and it is divided into various chapters that feel cinematic in scope, as if the author is shrinking the history down to memorable episodes that capture life on both the American as well as the Japanese side (though, it should be noted, not very much about the perspective of others, like Chinese or Russians or Australians or Brits, to give a few examples). By and large the author has positive things to say about Truman, and more guarded and mixed things to say about MacArthur and FDR, and there is also a great deal of attention paid to incidents like the sinking of the Indianapolis just after it had delivered the bomb safely, and the way that people in Hiroshima are still to this day treated like second-class citizens because it is thought that their radiation sickness is contagious when it is not. There are a lot of poignant reflections that can be made from a book like this even when the material itself is not as challenging as one might appreciate. Such is the life, though.

As a reader, and certainly a biased one, it is clear to me at least that the United States was justified in vanquishing World War II Japan, even with the atomic bomb. The fanatical Japanese government–including the emperor–was unwilling to surrender until they faced the horror of nuclear warfare being dished out against their home cities. And it is definitely for the best that Japan surrendered, despite the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, rather than being invaded with even more death and destruction leading to conquest. Unlike Germany in World War I, the defeat of the Japanese has led to so far permanent changes in culture that have, at last publicly, led to a greater respect of other nations rather than the horrors that were inflicted on various subordinate people during the workings of Japan’s evil empire. I wonder how popular a book like this is going to be in Japan–it is clear that the book is pretty ordinary by the standards of conservative American historiography and that the author makes a solid case for his position and one that is deeply personal, as he reflects on his own existence and its dependence on the survival of his World War II veteran father, who was scheduled to be among the troops involved in the invasion of the Japanese homeland that mercifully never had to take place.

[1] Please see, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History, Military History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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