The Pacific: An Opinionated History
The Pacific presents the Pacific War, from America’s first battle with the Japanese to the final shot. It blends eyewitness accounts into a larger perspective on the course of the war. However, this larger perspective is not solely provided by the historian, but also by the veterans. Put another way, instead of layering some oral histories onto a historical framework, I follow the lives of five veterans who, between them, experienced most of the key moments of the war. By walking with these men through their respective wars, the reader comes to see The Pacificas a whole.
The result of this approach is, I think, unusually powerful. The war comes at the reader with speed and power and meaning. The veterans, moreover, were not historians calmly researching and reporting all the facts. Their very definite opinions about people and events, as expressed in the book, must be understood in that light. Although historians may contest some of their judgments, I think they are valuable. It’s not just that veterans have a right to their own opinions—they certainly earned it—it’s that their passion is infectious. Reading this book, you will always care about what happens and why.
A careful reader will of course discern a great many of my conclusions about the war. I choose these particular men out of hundreds of possibilities for a reason. You will notice, for instance, that the US Army receives scant notice. I recognize that there were more army divisions serving in the Pacific than Marine Corps divisions. I admit that in fighting their way through the South Pacific, the soldiers won battles every bit as harrowing as those fought by the Leathernecks. As a historian, though, I believe that the drive through the South Pacific was secondary. Had the US only been able to sustain one drive, it would have been the one through the Central Pacific. In order to keep my book to manageable length, I focused on the US Navy and its Marine Corps.
Although the book focuses on Marines, specifically the story of the First Marine Division, it also includes the life of one aircraft carrier pilot. The Pacific War was a carrier war as no war has ever been. Few men saw as much of the carrier war as Vernon “Mike” Micheel. To see Mike fly a dive bomber at the Battle of Midway and later at the Philippine Sea is to simultaneously appreciate these critical turning points; to understand them within the context of the war; and to witness the profound change in circumstances which occurred between them.
Mike Micheel served with two of the carrier war’s most important figures: Captain Miles Browning and Admiral J.J. “Jocko” Clark. Through Mike, we do not come to understand them in their totality, as their biographies provide. We see them in action and as viewed by someone who served under them. Mike did not care for Browning, who is revered by some historians, because Browning “short decked” his squadrons—as captain of the carrier USS Yorktown, he failed to ensure his pilots had enough open deck and enough headwind with which to take off. Conversely, Admiral Clark, who once accused Mike of skipping work to go drinking in the bars, comes off better than Browning. Clark’s personality could be as abrasive as Browning’s, but his motivations were sound. Mike understood that Clark wanted his ship to be the best. Every sailor on board Yorktown believed that their Admiral worked hard to achieve that goal.
Watching Mike’s experiences with these men, we understand why he judged them so. Part of his information about them came from hearsay or, as its known in the navy, scuttlebutt. Scuttlebutt is notoriously inaccurate. Mike knew that and tried not to be influenced by it, but he still was. The importance of gossip in the life of a man in combat is often stated by historians, but The Pacific endeavors to allow the reader to experience a man’s struggle to understand, to survive.
Each of the millions of men under arms in WWII experienced his own unique war. Each man within a company or a squadron comprehended his reality differently than his comrades. Can five men, with their own set of idiosyncratic experiences, represent this vast and complex war sufficiently to warrant the book’s all-encompassing title? I think so. By choosing these particular five men, I have written a history that simultaneously describes the individual experience and illuminates the general truths of that vast ocean of enmity we call The Pacific. --Hugh Ambrose
In this follow-up to his late father's Band of Brothers, which tracked a single army unit from Georgia to the battlefields of Europe, historian Ambrose turns his attention to the Pacific theater, following four individual marines and one Naval Aviator through their time in combat. The book opens with the Japanese invasion of the Philippines and the capture of U.S. Forces on the Bataan peninsula and Corregidor Island. First-hand accounts from U.S. combatants describe vividly the horrific conditions of the island-hopping campaign and the ferocity of the fighting, but also the lengths to which young men would go to join up: subject Eugene B. Sledge purposely flunked out of college to enlist in the Marine Corps. Captain Austin Shofner recounts the brutality of his internment in a Japanese prison war camp, his daring escape, fighting alongside Philippine guerillas, and his eventual repatriation with the U.S. Marine Corps. Ambrose also reveals how, at the time, many marines expressed contempt for Gen. MacArthur, receiving accolades back home while they made halting, bloody progress across such islands as Guadalcanal, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. Doing for the war against Japan what Band of Brothers did for the war against Germany, Ambrose's history effectively immerses readers in the Good War's second front.
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