Refighting the Pacific War: An Alternative History of World War II Hardcover – Sep 15 2011
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“The most intriguing two words in the study of history are ‘what if?’ Nowhere is this truer than in military and naval history. Bresnahan has assembled a large group of experts on the war in the Pacific to field just that question for key points in that conflict. The resulting ‘informed speculation’ offers not only a great read, but is very valuable for a better understanding of the actual events themselves.” ―John B. Lundstrom, author of Black Shoe Carrier Admiral: Frank Jack Fletcher at Coral Sea, Midway and Guadalcanal
“Initially skeptical, I found that the more I read the more I began to enjoy the contributors’ varying opinions, especially when they disagreed in their interpretations and answers. Many of the contributions are genuinely interesting and thought-provoking, and may inspire or challenge readers’ own opinions on key issues…The book has much in its favor, and is inexpensive enough to recommend to anyone wishing to extend their library of books on the war in the Pacific.” ― Naval Books of the Year column in Warship, 2013
“An altogether enlightening fun read that supposes different beginnings and finales to many aspects of the prolonged near four-year battle to correct Japan’s often distorted vision of an Asian utopia…A great, very unusual read difficult to put down once started.” ― Sea Classics, June 2012
“Thought-provoking collection…” ― Air and Space Magazine, April/May 2012
"This volume ― like all else produced by the Naval Institute Press―is excellently well-proofed, edited and printed....A worthy addition to the warrior’s bookshelf.” ― Roanoke Times
“This book will fascinate and stimulate anyone interested in the Pacific War of 1941–1945. A wide range of authors―from well-known professional historians to participants in the fight―give close consideration to how crucial battles, and the war as a whole, might have turned out differently. Though some old-fashioned historians may cringe at ‘what-ifs,’ it is salutary for sailors and citizens to be reminded that choices made by human beings count for a lot in wartime.”
―BRADFORD A. LEE, Philip A. Crowl Chair of Comparative Strategy, U.S. Naval War College
“This would make a stimulating reader for courses on World War II.”
― The Journal of Military History
“In Refighting the Pacific War, editor Jim Bresnahan presents summaries of key events in the naval war, then poses ‘what if’ questions about each. These are followed by short, informative, and thought-provoking yet often contradictory answers by some of the three dozen naval historians assisting in this project. Scholars and students of the Pacific theater of World War II will find much in this book of interest and no doubt will want to own it for future reference.”
―SPENCER C. TUCKER, editor of Naval Warfare: An International Encyclopedia and The Encyclopedia of World War II
“An extraordinary round table of essays by learned authors.”
― The Midwest Book Review, Library Bookwatch
“The introduction by retired Vice Adm. Yoji Koda of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force is well worth the price of the book. Seldom before, if ever, has the pre-World War II Japanese thinking, planning and equipping been so clearly and so well detailed.”
― The Washington Times
“Jim Bresnahan’s book is a bold and refreshing alternative discussion by prominent Pacific War historians by the use of the spellbinding ‘what if?’ This volume is a terrific read and will have the ‘armchair historians’ and the casual reader furnished with a deeper understanding of the magnitude of the war in the Pacific with the extraordinary use of multiple perspectives and opinions.”
―DANIEL A. MARTINEZ, host of Discovery Channel's Unsolved History, co-author of Kimmel, Short & Pearl Harbor: The Final Report Revealed
“An outstanding approach that confounds expectations. Respected historians and veterans discuss how the Pacific War was fought through the lens of what might have happened. The result is a treasure chest of insights that shine new light on what really happened. This is an important and valuable work and a delight to read.”
― VINCENT P. O’HARA, author of Struggle for the Middle Sea: The Great Navies at War in the Mediterranean Theater, 1940–1945
About the Author
Jim Bresnahan, a broadcast journalist, is also the author of Revisioning the Civil War: Historians on Counter-Factual Scenarios, a book that looks at how Civil War history might have been different and Play It Again: Baseball Experts on What Might Have Been, a book that focuses on how the history of baseball could have been changed.
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The questions posed range from matters concerning the Washington Naval Arms treaty in 1922 to the administration of postwar Japan in the late 1940s, and everything in between. The panel explores "what-ifs" at almost every major clash in the Pacific as well as several political issues directly related to the war. Participants on the panel include authors John Lundstrom, Jon Parshall, Anthony Tully, Barrett Tillman, Robert Mrazek, Stephan Regan, Donald Goldstein, Peter Smith, and H. P. Wilmott, among others. The panel also includes several veterans of the Pacific battles under discussion.
While the give-and-take among the panel is very illuminating, readers need to get past some confusion factors upon starting the book. First, the subtitle: this book is by no means an "alternative history of World War II." That was the publisher's choice, not the author's, and its quite wrong. Alternative history is fictitious history, and this book is not fiction. Those who might dismiss it upon first glance due to its title should give it a second look.
Next, there's the matter of the panel: who and where are they? The panel is the core of the entire book, but the publisher has elected to hide their names and biographical data at the end, sandwiched almost like an afterthought between the bibliography and the index. Upon starting Chapter One, you'll encounter writings by panelists you know nothing about unless you look them up one at a time in the back of the book. Knowing the panelists is essential to the reader; they should have been introduced at the outset.
Finally there's the foreword, by Japanese MSDF Vice Admiral Yoji Koda. The problem is that the publisher has inexplicably labeled the foreword as the "Introduction," which is ordinarily written by the author. You have to flip to the last page, with Admiral Koda's signature, to reveal that you're not reading an introduction to the book by its author, as one would expect in just about any book.
But none of those glitches are the author's fault, and they are peripheral to the heart of the book--the insightful exchange among the panelists. Once you get past the publisher's minor gaffs, "Refighting the Pacific War" is a thoroughly interesting read.
Great idea for a book. And there are some interesting comments and scenarios covered. However, the format leaves precious little space for most comments, and they are therefore short on details and somewhat superficial for the reader who already has an extensive reading history on this topic. I was always wanting more from each writer.
There were also a few historical inaccuracies from what I presume were professional historians, which I hoped would be addressed by the editor or rebutted by other experts. Also, a few of the conclusions were simply wrong
and some of the alternate history scenarios were pretty speculative.
Jon Parshall and his partner Tully are probably the definitive experts on Midway today, but I found their input to be less in that section than expected. Amusingly some of the other commenters repeated errors from past research that their book "Shattered Sword" debunked a few years back. Parshall also had the habit of not answering the editor's actual question due to disagreements with its premise. He's probably correct, but I'd still like to have heard his answer to that question.
A decent book, but it could have been triple the size as there is much to say and unfortunately the answers are mostly a few paragraphs to a couple of pages.
Barrett Tillman and others made some interesting points about Waldron and Torpedo 8's "unauthorized" change of course and the resulting political decicions that would have occured had they tried to court martial him. Had Waldron survived, Stanhope Ring may never have made Admiral, much less one with 3 stars. Mitscher may have been overrated and had his career cut short.
But not all conclusions were good ones in this book:
One writer made a very good point about how not nuking Japan would have lead to more deaths, (7 million I believe from starvation related causes), but then comes up with the wrong conclusion! (that it was a mistake to drop it). Well, if 7M die instead of 150,000 and the war ends faster and the USSR doesn't occupy half of Japan, where's the mistake?
A solid book that illustrates that even the experts can't learn everything themselves and you're best served by reading more than one book on each topic and double checking conclusions. I'd also liked to have had each writer's quick bio presented under his name so I could quickly see where his biases and expertise lay when evaluating the worth of his conclusions.
Not so. Historians and veterans of that era know that a fortunate combination of actions, command decisions and pure luck gave us victory after a four-year slog through Europe and the vast Pacific.
Author/editor Jim Bresnahan has pulled some of those veterans and historians together in this book to talk about what might have happened - and what might have gone wrong - in the war against Japan. The results are scary, to say the least.
If the Imperial Japanese Navy had thrown a third wave of planes against Pearl Harbor, if one defiant American pilot had not disobeyed his superior, if one admiral had been in command rather than another - the stories of the Day of Infamy, the decisive battle of Midway and several other actions would have ended differently.
This book is just as long as it needs to be, with enough information and careful speculation to satisfy the inquisitive reader, but not so much it becomes boring. All the contributors, whether they agree or disageee, get a chance to make their cases in answer to the editor's fascinating "what if?" questions.
My only complaint is that the book is so short. But it was a big ocean and a big war and I know of dozens of related topics that could not be covered in just one book.
I feel that having short segments from 30 different historians (1-6 per question) gives a good balance. I did not agree with all of them (they did not agree with themselves), but the arguments were interesting.
I hope Bresnahan edits more books like this in the future (I am aware of his two prior books)
'In putting together Refighting the Pacific War journalist and historian Bresnahan does something different, polling more than 35 scholars (e.g., John Lundstrom, Donald Goldstein, H.P. Wilmott, Jon Parshall, etc.) on a series of questions, some dealing with critical operational or tactical matters (e.g., readiness at Pearl Harbor, the relief of Wake Island, Halsey's pursuit of Ozawa in October 1944, etc.), but others with significant political or strategic importance (e.g., could war have been averted, the "Two Ocean Navy" act, the Bomb, etc.). The historians have responded with analytical "counter factual" over views - discussions rather than narratives -- of how things might have been changed, for the better or the worse, depending upon one's perspective.
'In some cases, it becomes clear that no "alternative" existed. For example, the Japanese did not have the resources to carry out all the operations they did execute early in the war and also capture Hawaii, as their resources in men, ships, and logistics was already stretched to the breaking point. In others, the wartime alternatives somewhat alter the course of events, yet the long-term outcome, an Allied victory, would still have been the most likely result. The most intriguing possibilities lay in the past, long before the war, such as a more equitable status for Japan in the naval arms limitation agreements of the `20s and early `30s. Avoiding a common failing of "alternative histories," none of the participants attempted to project the consequences of these changes decades into the future.'
For the balance of the review, see StrategyPage.Com.