Nemesis by Max Hastings

JANUARY 3, 2008

7/10 (genre: 8/10). Nemesis covers a similar period (the last year or so of the Second World War) to Hastings previous Armageddon but focuses on the Pacific theatre rather than the European one. Though not quite as good as the outstanding Armageddon – in particular Hastings clearly did not have as good access to primary Chinese and Japanese sources – this was still very good: full of the excellent narrative exposition and sharp strategic judgments expressed in pithy phrases and lapidary sentences that are Hastings’ trademark.

For me the two most significant ‘facts’ I took away from the book were:

  1. The incredible PR job McArthur managed to perform which resulted in a vastly inflated reputation (both at the time and for many years afterwards). Rather than being some great military hero/genius he was in fact a paranoid strategic incompetent, wasteful of the lives of his men, foolishing dismissive of accurate intelligence (because it conflicted with what he wanted to be the case) and endlessly obsessed, in a way unbecoming a military officer, with his own news coverage.

  2. That the insanity of the military-dominated Japanese leaders – as well as their indifference to the suffering of both their own and other peoples – was such that the dropping of the first Atomic bomb (if not necessarily the second) was an entirely justifiable decision given the situation in front of the US leaders at the time. Furthermore this decision is also vindicated by posterity in as much that it does seem to have been central to precipitating a Japanese surrender and avoiding the vast suffering, both for the Japanese and others, that would have been involved in further continuance of the war (both from continued conventional aerial bombing, the blockade and a land invasion of the ‘home islands’).