A Letter from Author Jeff Shaara
Though Hollywood has given us countless ways to dramatize the Second World War in the Pacific, the challenge for me was to bring to the reader a story that isn’t simply a rehash of everything you’ve heard before. And, where Hollywood is often less concerned with keeping the history accurate, I have always felt that if I’m going to tell any story like this, “getting it right” is key. When dealing with World War II, my research often included conversations with living veterans, and ignoring their truth just to “beef up” the tale, does an incredible injustice to what those veterans accomplished.
In the Second World War, the Japanese were unlike any enemy we had ever faced, a very different enemy than the Germans. We had very little understanding of their culture, of how seriously they took their loyalty and obedience to their emperor, and we were completely unprepared for their willingness to die rather than accept the dishonor of surrender. For young soldiers and Marines who faced this determination, the fights often became a slaughter on a scale no one could have imagined. To put a nineteen year old boy into that position, and hope that he responds appropriately is not a typical method of training our young troops.
In researching The Final Storm
, I was surprised to find a significant amount of humanity among the Japanese commanders whose voices became a vital part of this story. Okinawa was the last great stronghold that held the American wave away from Japan itself, and the Japanese troops assigned to defend the island country knew that there could be no retreat. The Americans who confronted them had to fight not only this extreme dedication, but the weather and the geography as well. A fight that was scheduled to last a month, took three. How and why are far more interesting to me than a simple history lesson.
If this story is not a history lesson, it is also not an exercise in blood and guts. That kind of story would get old very quickly. What has always drawn me to these stories are the characters. I am not concerned with giving you every detail of the numbers of casualties or the positions of troops. There are historians far more qualified to do that. My job as the storyteller is to find the voices that will carry you (along with me) into the story itself. My search is to find a story beneath the history lesson, to feel it, hear it, smell it, to explore not only the horror, but the laughter (and yes, there is laughter. There has to be.) What kind of thinking and agonizing goes into command decisions? What makes a nineteen year old Marine rise up from a muddy hole to drive forward into the enemy he cannot even see?
While much of The Final Storm
focuses on the great struggle for Okinawa, this story does not end there. One more extraordinary drama must be played out, the story of how the Second World War actually ends: the dropping of the first atomic bombs. Through characters such as Paul Tibbets and General Curtis LeMay, I try to show just how much tension and how much mystery surrounded the bombs themselves. Consider that, to the young crews of the aircrafts that were to carry the bombs over Japan, none had any idea what would happen when the bombs were actually exploded, whether their own planes would disintegrate, along with the targets they were seeking. On the ground, the Japanese civilians had already experienced massive bombing strikes from American planes, and so, on that morning of August 6, 1945, the sight of a single B-29 bomber high in the clouds above causes no real concern. That point of view is here as well, a Japanese doctor who is weary of the war, of what he knows to be the propaganda being fed to the people by their military. And yet, he has his own duty to fulfill.
There are debates ongoing today about whether the United States did the “right thing” by ending the war the way we did. The decisions made by President Harry Truman are controversial even now. My job is not to anguish over morality, or debate what is politically correct. Ultimately I have one goal: to bring you the best and most accurate story I can, as told by those who were there. With so few veterans of World War Two remaining with us, I believe we must be reminded just why we owe them our thanks, and why their legacies must be remembered. I hope you enjoy the story.
--Jeff Shaara, May 2011
--This text refers to the
PRAISE FOR JEFF SHAARA’S ACCLAIMED WORLD WAR II NOVELS
The Rising Tide
“Wonderful . . . Shaara evokes the agony of desert warfare and the utter chaos of an airborne assault. . . . [A] sprawling, masterful opening act.”—Publishers Weekly
“Shaara’s research is finely woven into his narrative. . . . Shaara is apparently giving the people what they want—and what they need.”—The Wall Street Journal The Steel Wave
“Magnificent . . . Intense, compelling, and thoroughly researched, this is much more than just an excellent historical novel.”—Library Journal
“Pounding with fierce action and human drama, and packed with accurately rendered history, The Steel Wave
is an eye-opening reminder of the bitterly high price that combat soldiers have always been called upon to pay.”—St. Petersburg Times No Less Than Victory
“[An] incisive portrait of war . . . Shaara [is] one of the grand masters of military fiction.—BookPage
“Powerful . . . impossible to put down until the very end.”—Huntington News NetworkFrom the Hardcover edition.