War in the Far East, vol. 3: Asian Armageddon, 1944–1945

  • Published

War in the Far East, vol. 3: Asian Armageddon, 1944–1945 by Peter Harmsen. Casemate Publishers, 2020, 229 pp. 

With the increased emphasis on US geopolitical and military activity in the Pacific over the past few years, it is helpful to review and understand some of the history of that region. One key point in history that continues to play a significant role in the shaping of activity in that region is World War II. The vastness and devastation of that conflict came to shape all parts of the globe, and the Asia-Pacific theater is no exception.

In Asian Armageddon, Peter Harmsen concludes his three-volume set describing the East Asian theater of World War II. This volume starts at the beginning of 1944, when the United States is starting to assert its strategic advantage over the Japanese forces. The series of Japanese defeats documented in volume 2 set the stage for the eventual collapse of the Japanese forces in the Western Pacific. From the crushing defeat at the Mariana Islands, the fall of the Philippines to the conquest of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, the United States—however bloodily, however ruthlessly¾manage to crush the Japanese and move inexorably toward the Japanese home islands.

Yet, while most Americans may know that part of the war saga, Harmsen takes the time to document other actions in this theater. While suffering major defensive defeats in the Pacific, in 1944, the Japanese went on the offensive in China, engaging in sweeping campaigns with the objective of taking more of the country’s territory and securing their holdings from any rear-guard actions. Additionally, the fighting to defeat the Japanese in the Malaysian Peninsula and Southeast Asia also garners sufficient attention, which is an asset to most American readers, who likely have little knowledge or understanding of the fighting in that part of the war.  

Asian Armageddon follows a similar pattern from the first two books, where Harmsen conveys a lot of detail in a relatively concise number of words. The same amount of detail is provided from his descriptions of the main leaders, political and military on both sides of the conflict, from the inner workings of the Japanese government to the staff interactions with Admiral Chester Nimitz. Concurrently, Harmsen uses just enough personal accounts of the individual soldiers and civilians engaged in the fighting to offer the reader a sense of just how desperate and brutal the fighting was in the Pacific Theater. 

Perhaps one of the bigger differences between this book and the other two is that with the end of World War II, Harmsen can open his analysis to focus on the impacts of the war, particularly on the East Asian nations that fought in the conflict. That he titles the last chapter of the book “Peace” is apropos, as the end of World War II only opened the door to future conflicts. Not so much with Japan, as it suffered a total defeat and only recently began any efforts to rebuild and strengthen its military.

However, for many of the other players, such as the United States, China, Britain, India, and others, 1945 was only the starting point for various disputes and conflicts. From various East Asian nations looking to end colonial status to US actions to counter the spread of communism to the rise of the great power competition between the United States and China, the end of the most destructive war in history did not bring any lasting peace to the region.

All three works in the War in the Far East trilogy offer concise, readable volumes with incredible insight into the complex theater of World War II. For the American reader, the accounts of fighting and the actions throughout Southeast Asia and China fill in many of the gaps left in grade school textbooks. While much American attention was rightly focused on the fighting in the Pacific, the reach of the Japanese offensives and Allied counteroffensives went well beyond the waters of the Pacific Ocean.

Additionally, the actions of World War II alone do not describe the full rationale or justification for the various current disputes in the region, the war did play a significant part in shaping the environment faced in the twenty-first century. Harmsen does not spend much time linking the combat actions of World War II to the current geopolitical situation, but the reader can come to grasp reading between the lines how that conflict dictated what came after 1945.

With so many volumes out there focusing on World War II, a trilogy like this one can slip through the cracks. Yet, good military history need not require a tome ranging in the hundreds or thousands of pages, covering every minute detail of a battle or an individual. Works like this trilogy can convey an incredible amount of information over a relatively small number of pages. Granted, Harmsen’s works do not capture everything about World War II in the Pacific, but it does cover the key details necessary to understand what happened in that important theater.

This work can satisfy academic, professional, or recreational reading requirements. While one can pick up this book alone or volume two and just start reading, it would be best to read the trilogy in chronological order. The books are not large, but they pack a lot of information and insight into their pages. Additionally, a reader need not have extensive knowledge about World War II to follow the narratives. If anything, previous historical or military experience would only enhance reading the work.  

Lieutenant Colonel Scott C. Martin, USAF

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."