- Paperback: 400 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (Sept. 7 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0060746386
- ISBN-13: 978-0060746384
- Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 1.6 x 20.3 cm
- Shipping Weight: 318 g
- Average Customer Review: 15 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #325,912 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Burma Road: The Epic Story of the China-Burma-India Theater in World War II Paperback – Sep 7 2004
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About the Author
Bil Donovan is a fashion illustrator whose work has appeared in various publications and advertising campaigns worldwide. His many clients include Neiman Marcus, Estée Lauder, Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, and Mercedes-Benz. He is the author of Advanced Fashion Drawing: Lifestyle Illustration. He resides in New York City.
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to a subject that has had a great deal written about it already.
Some will dislike the treatment of Wingate in the book, but
it is very fair and, in fact, dead on. Wingate is a complicated
person and in history, as in life, he tends to either attract
followers who are blind to his faults or those who go too far
in attacking him. He was a brave man and a natural leader,
but he was also a religious fanatic with very exccentric
personal habits who tended sometimes not to think what he was
doing through. This is a man who insulted everyone around
him, ran his command unclothed and attempted to commit
suicide by cutting his own throat shortly before being offered
a new chance in India. And as a military commander, he allowed
and encouraged flogging of his men contrary to army rules
during the first chindit expedition (see Trevor Royle).
The Wingate missions into Burma, in both cases, were special
operations not done in the context of a achiving a military
objective worth their cost in terms of lives or resources.
And while brave men can do great things in such a situation,
war is not a boys adventure. Real people pay the price for
reckless and ill-considered operations.
Wingate has also attracted a following among the far-right in
certain parts of the world. Particularly among political leaders
who favor military adventures and who long for fanatics to take
the place of cautious military officers who actually care about
the lives of soldiers.
In conclusion, the book is a workable if not terribly original
rehash of well-known events in the Burma campaign. For those
not familiar with the history of the period, its a reasonable
intruction to the subject.
Donovan Webster has written a definitive account of this war from an American and British perspective. The Burma Road covers the war from the American entrance into the war until its Japan's final collapse. A large part of the book is focused on General Joseph Stillwell, or "Vinegar Joe" as his men called him, but Webster does cover almost every aspect of it. While the war in China is neglected for a long period of time, The Burma Road effectively shows us the blood, sweat and disease that dominated this campaign. It's a fascinating book.
There is a bit of a framing story around the book, with Webster trying to walk the full length of the Burma Road, a road from Burma to China that was supposed to supply the Chinese and keep them in the war. A large portion of northeast India is still restricted, especially from journalists, and Webster is unsuccessful in the beginning of his journey. He then segues into the beginning of Stillwell's story, giving a brief summary of his career up until he gets assigned to the Southeast Asian sector of the war. Notoriously under-supplied and undermanned, Stillwell is forced to make do with what he can to keep the Japanese out of India at all costs. While Japan successfully invades Thailand and Burma and Stillwell is forced to slog through the jungles to escape, he manages to keep them from their ultimate goal. He is less successful with the Chinese, however, forever clashing with China's leader, Chiang Kai-shek. After three years of fighting both the Japanese and his own allies, Stillwell is finally relieved of command, despite his many successes.
While a large portion of the book is told through Stillwell's point of view, other areas are not neglected. We hear a lot about the British army, especially the Chindit special forces (one whole chapter on their beginning plus numerous chapters when they are fighting alongside Stillwell's men) as well as the beginning of the world-famous "Flying Tigers," a group of American pilots who had resigned their commissions so they could fight for China before the United States entered the war. Their leader, Claire Chennault, later became a real thorn in Stillwell's side, siding with Kai-Shek in all of the battles between the two leaders.
The book follows a semi-chronological format, taking us from the beginning of Stillwell's involvement in the Asian theater of operations to the end of the war, but it does jump around a bit when it moves on to another subject. It gets to a certain point in Stillwell's career and then backtracks to tell the beginning of Chindit operations, for example. It also pauses to give brief biographies of major characters, such as the British General Orde Wingate. This back and forth style does make it confusing at times, and there was one time reference that I swore didn't add up until I realized that Webster was talking about something else. However, it does make the book feel even more comprehensive, as it seems to cover every conceivable angle of the war.
The one aspect of this where The Burma Road fails, however, regards China. The constant lend-lease supply of goods to the Chinese is covered, the Chinese contribution to Stillwell's campaign is documented beautifully, and Chennault's Flying Tigers are represented. On the other hand, other than a brief chapter near the end of the book and a few mentions in between, none of the fighting in China is actually discussed. Webster spends a brief time discussing the decision to finally bring the Chinese Communists into the war, and makes a few small references to their savagery in fighting the Japanese. Given the depth of the rest of the book, however, it feels very small.
That being said, though, The Burma Road is a very valuable resource for anybody wanting a general history of the Asian campaign in World War II. It corrects some myths that have been fostered about the war. One chapter takes special aim at the book and movie The Bridge Over the River Kwai. It calls the book fictional with the movie being even worse. Webster gives the real details behind the building of that bridge, and the railway in general. He tells us how the Japanese mistreated not only the prisoners, but also their own men.
That's where The Burma Road excels: the details. Webster doesn't pull any punches, telling us of the disease, leeches, poisoned water, the condition of the corpses, and other hardships that the valiant men who fought in this theater went through. He even interviewed some of the Japanese soldiers who managed to survive the conflict, showcasing the ordeals they had to go through. They were chronically under-supplied and often subsisted on nothing but small quantities of rice and bad water. Webster gives us so much detail that you may not want to read this book over lunch.
I haven't read a better book on this subject, and I'm very glad I picked this up. I couldn't put it down. If you're a military history fan, I don't think you'll be able to either. It's a book that the men who fought and died in the jungles deserve to have written about them. It especially does old Vinegar Joe justice.
Being a WWII buff, I've spent most of my reading focus on the European theatre. Several months ago I entered the Pacific side of things by reading "Ghost Soldiers." I learned of the Japanese Bushido code, the inhumane and cruel tactics of Japanese soliders (even to their own troops), and their never say die approach to war. Not to mention the incredible will of the US soldier.
"The Burma Road" furthered my knowledge of the Japanese war machine, but more importantly introduced me to many new characters, battles, and "fun" little tales about the war (i.e. air dropping fried chicken on top of starving allied troops trapped defending a hill).
WWII buffs will find the book fascinating and general history buffs will walk away feeling enlightened as well. This book more than any other that I've read on war really touches upon the politics of war. It really is a perfect mix of politics, strategy, battlefied stories, characters and various foreign cultures.
After reading this book, I can't believe I didn't know more about this campaign. It truly is fascinating and there are many side stories to keep you entertained.
The writing is excellent. It begins with the author trying to visit the actual road and being stopped by a sentry. I was a little worried that the author would include himself in the story, but quickly after the intro, he focuses on the CBI campaign using very friendly historical narrative and not his bumbling adventures through the bush.
Add it to your must read list.
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