/ Published October 22, 2019
War in the American Pacific and East Asia: 1941–1972 edited by Hal M. Friedman. University Press of Kentucky, 2018, 264 pp.
Upon first glance, a reader looking at the title of this book might think it a detailed, geopolitical/military analysis of US actions during its major conflicts in the Pacific/East Asia region (World War II, Korea, and Vietnam) as well as discussions of significant events during the first half of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union. Yet, upon reading the various essays/articles within the pages, said reader will come away with a far different impression. This compilation of articles covers diverse and esoteric topics from the establishment of the US Army communications network during World War II to an analysis of US military oversight of American media coverage of Okinawa in the 30 years following V-J Day. In some cases, readers may know something of the topics, and in other cases, it is possible that the reader will have no prior knowledge of the material discussed in the articles.
In addition to the introduction and conclusion, which attempt to cage the diverse articles in this compilation volume, there are seven separate articles that cover the following topics: the US Army’s Command and Administrative Communications Network during the 1940s, popular culture depictions of land-based airpower in the Pacific during World War II, conflicting views about the elite status of US Marine Corps Raiders, the US Navy’s use of food and its impact on the island nation of Pohnpei, interservice rivalries during the Bikini Atoll A-bomb tests in mid/late 1940s, the US Military Advisory Mission to China during the Chinese Civil War, and military-media relations on Okinawa from 1945–72. Each individual article is well-written for a stand-alone work. In some cases, the articles can get into very technical details for their writing analysis, as seen in the article about the US Army Command and Administrative Network. Some of the subject areas will be known to most readers, like the overarching details about the nuclear tests and the details associated with the evolution of the Chinese Civil War from 1945–49. Concurrently, readers will learn about US food policy in Pohnpei, a story most probably never heard about in previous studies. However, the details and facts discussed in each essay will inform readers and increase their knowledge of people, places and things that they had never considered before picking up this book.
Yet, what can be difficult for readers to pick up in reading this work is an overarching theme that link these seven articles together into this one volume. For one, the title of the work is misleading. While it is accurate that the entirety of the book covers the time frame from 1941–72, the vast majority of the analysis/subject matter occurs between 1941–47, making the primary focus on World War II and the immediate aftermath. Of the articles in the book, only two cover the years after 1950 (the US Navy food policy on Pohnpei and military/media relations on Okinawa). Readers would have to revert to the introduction and skip ahead to the conclusion to continue to make the linkages between the multiple articles.
Additionally, although the arguments in the introduction and conclusion that attempt to link the seven articles to the present day are presented in a concise manner in their respective sections, it can still be hard for readers to apply those perspectives as they go through each individual article. The diversity of the articles in the work are seen as a way to offer insight into some aspect of current US policy in the Pacific region that could apply and/or offer lessons learned for current US policy makers and military planners. However, the individual articles do not make much of an effort to make that linkage to the modern day. As aforementioned, they are great stand-alone articles, but even with the introduction and conclusion, it is hard to see a solid path linking all of the articles.
Overall, this compilation is a case where the sum is not greater than its parts. A reader will enjoy and gain a great deal of knowledge and insight into the respective individual subjects. Even for the reader well-versed in World War II and immediate post-World War II actions, that reader is going to learn more than expected. However, in following the premise that these diverse essays can link back to an argument of offering lessons/insights into modern issues in the Pacific theater for military and political officials, that does not work as well in this work.
Lt Col Scott C. Martin, USAF
600 Chennault Circle
Maxwell AFB, AL 36112-6010