I have read a lot of books on the individual battles fought in the Pacific Theater during World War II, but I have not read much on the strategy used by American political and military leaders – other than Plan Orange. So, in order to learn more about the strategy, I decided to read The Pacific War: The Strategy, Politics, and Players That Won the War by William B. Hopkins.
At a little less than 400 pages, this book is an excellent overview of the strategy and major personalities that shaped the American war effort in the Pacific. Hopkins succinctly explains the various strategies in competition with each other on how to defeat the Japanese – some of these strategies were advocated by one armed service over another one. For example, General Douglas MacArthur advocated that the main thrust of the American counterattack should start from Australia and move north with the U.S. Army taking the lead and the U.S. Navy taking a support role. However, Admiral Ernest King (Chief of Naval Operations), with the full support of Admiral Chester Nimitz (Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet), advocated an island hopping strategy across the Central Pacific with the U.S. Navy taking the lead (Hopkins is very partial to this plan).
Hopkins also brings much-needed attention to the unsung heroes of the Pacific Theater – the cryptologists and the submariners. The cracking of the Japanese military code and the information obtained – codenamed Japanese ULTRA – was a major intelligence coup that gave the United States a decided advantage over the Japanese. The Americans used ULTRA to its advantage in many battles. For example, Hopkins adroitly points out that the Americans knew where to send their precious carriers for maximum effect in the Battle of Midway.
Hopkins rightly acknowledges the contribution of American submarines – dubbed the Silent Service – in the defeat of Japan. Hopkins writes that most Americans during and immediately after the war did realize how significant of an impact the submarines were in crippling the Japanese merchant fleet. More than half of the tonnage of sunken Japanese ships is credited to the U.S. Navy’s submarine fleet. Hopkins contends that the submarines shortened the war in the Pacific because they destroyed Japan’s shipping links to its conquered territories that provided the raw materials (particularly oil) for Japan’s war machine.
The book is not completely objective in certain areas of the subject. Hopkins clearly believes that this theater of operations was the Navy’s show and that its strategy was the strongest to defeat the Japanese in the fastest time with the fewest casualties. He supports this conclusion with solid numbers on comparing casualties between the Central Pacific and Southwest Pacific battle zones – there were some rough spots though, particularly Pelilieu. Even though I am partial to the Army, I must agree that the Navy was the best service for tackling the Japanese.
If you are a big fan of MacArthur, I would toughen your skin before you read this book. Hopkins is not very kind in his treatment of MacArthur – I have to admit that I agree with most of his comments. Hopkins believes that MacArthur put his personal reputation and desires before the goals of the nation. For example, since he left the Phillipines, he put all of his efforts in returning there even though it made more sense to pursue a different strategy. He was a glory hound who rarely gave credit to his subordinates.
In addition to the excellent content, the book is well written. Hopkins’s style is easy to follow and understand. The abundance of maps allows you to easily understand the strategy of the war and specific locations of the battles.
I would highly recommend this book for any person who wants a better understanding of the Pacific Theater in World War II.