Twilight of the Gods (Norton, July), which concludes Ian W. Toll’s Pacific War Trilogy, is “written with flair and chock-full of stories both familiar and fresh focusing on the final year of WWII,” PW’s starred review said. Toll relates “harrowing, first-person accounts of Pacific Theater battles” and also offers “an intriguing examination” of the critical decisions about sea and air strategy made behind closed doors.
What in this installment will surprise readers?
If you want to identify one thing in this book as very new, it’s that the big decisions about how we should fight the last phase of the Pacific war—and we’re talking about the last year of the war—were made during the Pacific Strategy Conference that occurred between FDR, MacArthur, and [U.S. Navy fleet admiral] Chester Nimitz in July 1944. That conference has been largely neglected by historians and biographers.
Did you draw on new information or previously untapped sources?
I was able to obtain the diary of Robert C. Richardson, who was the commanding general of Army forces in Hawaii and who hosted MacArthur during the conference. MacArthur debriefed him extensively after the meetings. Those contemporary diary entries have only just become available in the last few years, because Richardson had willed his descendants not to share the diaries until 2015. They provide a very different portrait of that conference.
What does this book contribute to the way we think of the end of the war?
From the beginning, I wanted to write a new history of the Pacific war that would place the naval campaign right at the backbone of the narrative. I wanted to try to convey in a very visceral way that this was a naval war and an air war primarily, in which all fighting on land should be understood as a specialized supporting operation to achieve the main strategic goal: to destroy the Japanese navy and to sever Japan’s command of the sea, and to win the air war as well.
In what way did WWII change the power structure of the United States military?
It changed it fundamentally. But to pick one important part, there was no Joint Chiefs of Staff organization before the Second World War—there was no fused command structure, no formal way of coordinating at all between the Army and Navy. What happened was the military leaders of the Army, the Navy, the Army Air Corps, and the Marines agreed to establish an informal way of working together, and that became the nucleus of the Joint Chiefs of Staff organization. The fact that our military leaders were able to overcome these significant organizational handicaps is a tribute to the quality of the leadership that we had.