cover image Hirohito's War: The Pacific War, 1941-1945

Hirohito's War: The Pacific War, 1941-1945

Francis Pike. Bloomsbury, $45 (1152p) ISBN 978-1-4725-9670-3

Pike (Empires at War), a journalist and historian who focuses on Asian military history, offers a spectrum of fresh perspectives on a war generally presented in Western terms that minimize Japan's agency. He addresses the Pacific conflicts in WWII in the context of a comprehensive century-long struggle for dominance over the Pacific. Within that framework, Pike establishes Hirohito's central position in "the mythology of Japanese exceptionalism." He interprets the attack on Pearl Harbor strategically as the outcome of mutually incompatible geopolitical objectives and operationally as "at best a superficial success and at worst a colossal mistake." The narrative takes off from there. Pike's integrated analysis of Japan's simultaneous victories in Malaya, Burma, Philippines, and Dutch East Indies presents them as a virtuoso performance unsurpassed in modern warfare. Yet these victories resulted in a strategic overreach, due to Japan's belief that quick victories would be followed by rapid settlement. Instead, the U.S., Britain, and China dug in for a war of attrition on levels Japan could not hope to match, and Japan suffered "the most stunning military defeat in its history." The U.S. decisively "brought home to the Japanese the catastrophe of their rulers' military adventures," and Pike tells the epic story on a fitting scale. (Aug.)