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3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent overview of turbulent times, May 12, 2010
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This review is from: Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 (Oxford History of the United States) (Paperback)
David Kennedy does a superb job of detailing the sociological and economical issues of 1930's America. There isn't much to be said than what hasn't been said already. One can see why it was awarded the Pulitzer.

But I do have criticism of the book. His take on the US "provoking" Japan is unbalanced. yes, the US did certain things that can be said to have drawn Japan's ire. But they were in done in response to aggressive acts by Japan. Japan all throughout the 1930's had displayed a disregard for international law that was on par with Hitler. The Kwantung Army's unauthorized invasion of Manchuria, the departure from the League of Nations, Peking Incident in 1937(the real start of the Pacific War), and the border conflict with the USSR in 38-39' were all acts of aggression that had to be addressed.

Japan like Germany, used valid disputes that could and should have been resolved peacefully, to justify policies of expansion at the expense of other nations. Japan's anti-colonialist rhetoric was a mere cover for the installament of colonialism directed by Japanese--similiar to what Al Queda has done.Tyrannical regimes throughout history have highjacked legitimate grievances for their own designs. We saw that with North Vietnam, China under Mao, Russia under Lenin..we should always be leery of those who profess altrutistic purposes for it is exceedingly rare that any nation or group of persons goes to war without some personal benefit at stake.

Furthermore The Japanese were no less dismissive and disdainful of the peoples of Asia than Britain was.See how the Japanese treated the Chinese. From the raping and pillaging of Nanking to the grotesque practices of Unit 731 to the sadistic impulse to get the peoples of Saipan and Okinawa to kill themselves because of a lie.

Yet, Mr. Kennedy would have us believe that it was the US's fault for war. What a gross misrepresentation of the facts.

Mr. Kennedy then goes on to castigate the US for the terror bombings of Tokyo and the Atomic bomb dropping, saying that Japan was "already defeated". Really? Those that mattered in Japan didn't think so(i.e.the military) In fact, if it were not for the intervention of the Emperor AFTER the droppings of the bombs, Japan would still have been fighting.As even he noted, Japan still had significant capability to inflict a great deal of pain.2 million men under arms, 5,000 kamikizes, and the potential use of hundreds of thousands of civilians as human bombs in a bloodbath that would make Iraq look like an sideshow

He infers that it was the US's demand for unconditional surrender that put Japan in this corner(once again blaming the US for Japan's actions in the face of facts that suggest otherwise) But again, as he even he noted, Japan's military--those who were really in power--wanted to a fight to finish. This was reflected in their absurd terms of peace. The basically wanted a events to stop where they were. No changes at all.

Needless to say, no President could have survived politically acquiencing to such terms.

The fact is that Mr. Kennedy and others who criticize these decisions operate in the security of homes decades after the events happened in positions where they are reponsible for no lives but their own. As for most critics of these wartime strategies, he has no military credibility whatsover for anyone to take his critique seriously. What it amounts to is the same self righteous moralizing one gets from academics who were not there and thus had nothing on the line. They were were not the Marines, Midshipmen, and GI's who would have to gone into Japan.They were not the political leaders who staked not only their political survival, but infinitely more important, the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans upon the defeat of Japan. Truman was placed in an extraordinarily difficult situation from a moral and ethical standpoint. He had to measure the lives of Americans versus that of Japanese. As an American, he had only one choice.Such is the universal cruelty of war.

In order to be forthright, I will note that I am a grandson of a Marine wo served in the Pacific so I am emotionally invested in the subject the decision to drop the a-bomb. I will never apologize for it saved my grandfather from having to undergo the horrors of combat as well as saved his life. He had a wife and a son to come home to. He would begat three more children--including my father. Who knows what would have happened if he had to go into Japan.

"Freedom from Fear" is a great book. I know its hard to tell from the above criticism, but overall it is excellent. I strenously disagree about he conclusions over some military aspects, but that is a matter of opinion, not a judgment of the quality of the book.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 10, 2013 1:41:18 PM PST
bukhtan says:
Many of us are descended from people who had a strong stake, of one kind or another, in the Pacific War. All of us have a stake in how America is viewed by Japan and the rest of the world.

The reviewer talks in hypothetical terms of what would have happended if the USA had done something differently in 1945. This is fine, but other people, including the author of the book in hand, can speculate just as well. Truman's decision to use the atomic bomb was also based on speculative reasoning, including, NB how American voters would judge his decisions. There is a lot that can be said about all this and no one not involved at the time is less invested in the subject than others who were also not involved. And, I cannot refrain from saying, the "cruelty of war" is not universal. There are very different standards of engagement: the Americans and the British generally show more consideration for civilians and common soldiers than the Comanches of yore or the National Socialists of more recent times have. And some Americans are better than others, e. g. Hugh Thompson was a better man and a better soldier than William Calley.

But thanks to the reviewer for not denigrating the book because of some divergence in opinion.
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