Sunday 10 February 2002

Never a good idea, Caleb…

to ignore the fundamental rule that a writer should never attempt to publicly defend a book against a hostile critic. Caleb Carr complains to Salon about Laura Miller’s review:

Her review of my “The Lessons of Terror” is riddled not only with references to statements made in the book that she can’t PROVE wrong, but simply FEELS MUST be wrong, as if she is reviewing something as subjective as Lady Bushnell’s latest tripe, but also with arrogant misstatements of actual facts: Japan, for example, was not reduced to surrender by either the bombing of its civilians or, finally, the atomic bombs; it had been reduced to fatal weakness by something that I’m sure Ms. Miller is utterly unaware of, one of the most underappreciated military campaigns in history: that of American submarines against Japanese naval and merchant shipping. But let’s not let facts or a shaky grounding in history keep us from being a bitchy wise-ass—THAT would get you thrown out of the club that meets at Michiko’s to watch “Sex in the City” and spout a lot of nonsense about things they don’t know.

Anyone who has read even a miniscule amount about the Pacific War understands that Japan was forced to surrender for a number of reasons, only one of which was the American submarine campaign against Japanese shipping. Suggesting this was the most important factor lays Mr Carr open to the very accusation he levels against Ms Miller: that he’s a bitchy wise-ass with a shaky grounding in history.

Among the other reasons for Japan’s final surrender were:

  • the firebombing raids cited by Ms Miller, in which—according to the United States Strategic Bombing Survey—B-29s killed 330,000 people, injured 476,000, destroyed 2.5 million buildings, and left 8.5 million people homeless.
  • the mine-laying campaign in the Inland Sea, undertaken by B-29s and carrier based aircraft that caused massive losses of shipping in the last five months of the war (1,052,177 tons compared to 235,627 tons lost to submarines)
  • the destruction of the Japanese navy in a series of ongoing battles that eventually left the most powerful ships in the fleet confined to their homeland ports
  • the gradual attrition by superior American aircraft and pilots that reduced the Japanese air force to kamikaze tactics
  • the successful, albeit costly, American strategy of attacking and capturing crucial islands in the Central Pacific while bypassing huge numbers of Japanese troops—leaving them to languish in irrelevant and inhospitable South Pacific bases
  • the deteriorating civilian morale caused by unrelenting bombing and lack of food (by the end of the war the average Japanese citizen’s daily food ration comprised 1680 calories, less than subsistence levels, resulting in a massive increase in diseases caused by nutrional deficiencies)
  • the disillusionment of Emperor Hirohito about the competence of his generals and the progress of the war together with his concern for the suffering inflicted on his subjects, both military and civilian
  • the existence of a peace faction within the Japanese government which, although initially weak and powerless, gathered strength and confidence as the war continued to Japan’s disadvantage
  • the fear amongst the civilian powerbrokers that the Imperial system was under threat from internal upheaval 
  • the dropping of the two atomic bombs which, although failing to convince the diehard militarists of American superiority, provided the peace faction with sufficient evidence to persuade the Emperor that the war could not be won.

Even if the US not developed the atomic bombs, the United States Army Air Force would have next turned its attention to destroying the Japanese rail system, a strategy that had significantly contributed to the defeat of Nazi Germany. Such an assault would (according to Richard B. Frank) “have required massive repair and replacement of rail infrastructure to remedy, far beyond the capacity of Japan’s resources, even after hostilities ceased.” This, together with the ongoing blockade and bombing strategy, would inevitably have compelled the Emperor to end the war, thus avoiding the land invasion that was causing deep concern to US Army and Marine planning staff.

At the risk of sounding like a bitchy wise-ass, I’ll suggest that Mr Carr might be better off leaving the Pacific War alone and trying instead to wangle an invitation to Michiko’s to watch “Sex in the City.”

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Comments

[Removed (off-topic)]

Posted by Sarah Watson on 22 October 2003 (Comment Permalink)

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Posted by Belinda Delacour on 22 October 2003 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour