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Tue Oct 27, 2020, 12:26 PM

Review of "Twilight of the Gods" by Ian Toll, Vol. 3 of his Pacific War trilogy (NYT)

New York Times
Review by (historian) Mark Perry

Excerpt: (I tried to select the 4 most important paragraphs, which are the last)

Toll’s expertly navigated narrative includes a number of new insights (the kamikaze strategy, for example, was more controversial inside the Japanese military than is generally acknowledged), as well as a new approach that hypothesizes the struggle between “sequentialists” and “cumulativists” inside the American military that, as Toll argues, “colored every phase of Pacific strategy.” The sequentialists, Spruance and Halsey among them, emphasized step-by-step tactical triumphs that would bring American forces to Japan’s shores for an ultimate invasion, while King and the Army Air Corps commander Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold emphasized cumulative sea and air operations — the destruction of Japan’s merchant fleet, the strategic bombing of Japanese cities — that, they believed, would make an invasion unnecessary. Toll’s familiarity with this hitherto hidden tussle, while still incomplete, is elaborate enough to be provocative, which new historical ideas often are.

This makes Toll the fitting inheritor of a tradition of writing that began with the naval historian Samuel Eliot Morison, who in 1942 suggested to Franklin Roosevelt that he be assigned to document the Navy’s World War II battles as a “seagoing historiographer.” Unlike the Army, which sponsored the 78 invaluable volumes of “U.S. Army in World War II,” the Navy has never been keenly interested in its own history, which is why it hesitantly acquiesced to Morison’s request, and only because Roosevelt thought it a good idea. The Navy put Morison in uniform, made him a lieutenant commander, then dispatched him to the North Atlantic and Pacific as their official historian. While Morison’s resulting 15-volume “History of United States Naval Operations in World War II” is celebrated as classic and definitive, it is neither. Rather, it is overly triumphalist — and long. Toll’s trilogy is a departure: It is exhaustive and authoritative and it shows the Navy in World War II as it really was, warts and all.

But no history of the Pacific War can be complete without presenting an intimate knowledge of Japanese naval and political decision-making. Toll does this too, showing a tactile command of the subject that puts Japan’s war in its proper perspective — as an unnecessary fight that, in retrospect, looks like a suicide mission. For the first five decades after the end of World War II, American historians debated whether the turning point in the Pacific War resulted from the Japanese Imperial Navy’s defeat at the Battle of Midway (the preferred choice) or the Marine Corps victory at Guadalcanal — which has recently gained an increasing number of adherents.

Still, time, reflection and a growing appreciation for the sheer weight of American resources (and now Toll’s three-volume work) have once again shifted that debate. Japan lost the Pacific War, as Toll suggests, from the moment the first bombs dropped on Pearl Harbor. In the war’s aftermath, the Japanese people, Toll writes, realized this when it was revealed that many of those who took them to war not only foresaw, but actually predicted, its outcome — and went to war anyway. The decision, Toll writes, was based on the assumption that the American people were too “soft” to wage war and, once attacked, would look for a way out. It was the most egregiously false assumption in the history of warfare — as Toll’s trilogy eloquently shows.

Link: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/28/books/review/twilight-of-the-gods-ian-w-toll.html?searchResultPosition=3

Book information:

Mark Perry is the author of 10 books, including “The Most Dangerous Man in America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur.”

War in the Western Pacific, 1944-1945
By Ian W. Toll
Illustrated. 944 pp. W.W. Norton & Company. $40.

From Aug 28

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Reply Review of "Twilight of the Gods" by Ian Toll, Vol. 3 of his Pacific War trilogy (NYT) (Original post)
Mike 03 Oct 2020 OP
Docreed2003 Oct 2020 #1
Auggie Oct 2020 #2

Response to Mike 03 (Original post)

Tue Oct 27, 2020, 12:33 PM

1. I've been really looking forward to this book

Ty so much for posting this review.

I cannot recommend Toll's two other books highly enough. They are both well researched and provide an intimate portrait of the Pacific War.

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Response to Mike 03 (Original post)

Tue Oct 27, 2020, 12:56 PM

2. Highly recommended series ... read volumes 1 and 2 and looking forward to 3

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