Continuing in my World War II theme recently, I decided to turn in the direction of the Pacific Theater. In that vein, I read William B. Hopkins’ The Pacific War: The Strategy, Politics, and Players that Won the War
Obviously based on the title, Hopkins looks more at the strategy than the nuts and bolts of each campaign in the Pacific. He also describes the politics and key leaders that shaped the strategy. He avoids the chronological approach and focuses on a regional look – this is wise because events were occurring simultaneously across the theater. A chronological approach would be hard to understand in the scope of the war effort because of various events occurring in different places.
The book contends, rightly so, that the U.S. Navy was the prime reason why we won the war in the Pacific. Without control of the sea (and the air from the aircraft carriers), the U.S. would never have been able to wrest control of the Pacific islands from Japan. The Marines did a lot of the ground fighting – they were helped at significant times by the Army, but for some reason the Army never received the attention that it deserved. Hopkins does give credit to the Army, but I think hesitantly. I say hesitantly because he rightly criticizes MacArthur’s insistence on conquering the Southwest Pacific because that took away resources from the main effort in the Central Pacific. However, MacArthur’s stubbornness should not take away from the hard fighting the Army (and Australian Army) did in conquering New Guinea and the Philippines.
Hopkins does not hold back on his criticism of MacArthur. He acknowledges MacArthur’s intelligence, but he rightly criticizes MacArthur’s penchant to keep the spotlight on himself. MacArthur rarely gave credit to anyone other than his inner circle of advisors. He also refused to give up on his return to the Phillipines at all costs – even when it became evident that the war could have been shortened if the Phillipines were bypassed. He may have been a good leader as a motivator, but he seemed to be a self-absorbed jerk. Hopkins does not refrain from criticizing pompous jerks in the Navy either – Admiral Ernest King was a master of strategy, but he was very prickly. But, I guess, you can’t have a bunch of nice guys and win wars.
The book is 348 pages with 27 black and white photographs. As a particular strength for readers who are not familiar with Pacific geography, Hopkins scatters maps throughout the text – these include regional and island maps.
The Pacific War by William Hopkins is well worth a look.