Every so often, I like to cleanse the palette with a bit of non-fiction mixed in among the sci-fi and horror fiction. Several years ago I read the stunning ‘Lincoln’ by David Herbert Donald. More recently I’ve enjoyed the work of Ken Auletta including ‘Googled’ and ‘Backstory’.
The war in the Pacific is something about which I am both utterly fascinated and completely ignorant. I love the sea and I was drawn to the stories of the big boats doing battle against one another for the last time. This sort of military engagement will absolutely never happen again, that much I knew going in. As I surveyed the history and the available resources, I decided I would wait on Guadalcanal, and start with Midway, as the next logical step (with the exception of Coral Sea) after Pearl Harbor. I had no idea what I was in for.
What went on to the north and west of this tiny atoll on June 4-7, 1942, literally defied anything I could have imagined. Shattered Sword, by Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully is a magnificent study of the conflict at Midway, told with minute-by-minute detail, from the Japanese perspective. The authors’ intention was to debunk some common myths, but as I was ignorant even of these widely held notions, it was all the more fascinating for me. I was shown both the prevailing narrative, and then confronted with the painstakingly documented sources which disproved a large part of the myth of Midway. It is a technical, yet exhilarating ride.
But even more that the intricacies of carrier warfare in the Pacific in 1942, I was struck by the stories of the men who fought and died on those three days. Somehow this book, with all of its technical sophistication, never lost sight of the human element. You simply cannot help but be moved by the fate of Japanese navy men on the carriers Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu and Soryu. And all through the ranks, on both sides of the conflict, there was heroism and failure, and always the brutal horror of war.
From the American pilots getting cut down by Japanese Zeros to the high commanders such as Nimitz and Yamamoto, this book captured the epic and slammed it squarely into my chest.