Midway: Dauntless Victory
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 28 Jun 2008
Full Title: Midway: Dauntless Victory: Fresh perspectives on America's seminal naval victory of World War II
The last time I picked up a book on the Battle of Midway, it was Jon Parshall and Tony Tully's Shattered Sword. Considering Shattered Sword being very high regarded and enjoying nearly a "definitive" status, it sets quite a standard to those that follow.
With that said, I think, Peter C. Smith's Midway: Dauntless Victory may have just reached that high standard.
The Battle of Midway was among the major turning points of the Pacific War. This fact was universally accepted from the start: the Japanese Navy lost four fleet carriers, along with their experienced air groups and crews, all of which impossible to replace. The details on how that happened remained in discussion to this date. The notion of American pilots catching Japanese carriers in full rearming and refueling activity on the flight decks was only recently debunked, for example, when Parshall and Tully painstakingly analyzed minute-by-minute deck operation logs and realized that continuous take-off and landing activities made such claims impossible. Looking back at the major pieces of documents and research, Smith's Midway: Dauntless Victory presents a holistic view across the 60-some years that had elapsed since the battle.
Smith took a departure from the standard approach. Using the rearming/refueling operation as an example, he very well know that Parshall and Tully's findings seriously challenged the recollections of some of the veterans who fought the battle. I must be honest and say that this, at first, raised some skepticism in me as well. As the book progressed, however, I realized what Smith meant in the introduction of the book when he noted that everyone should have their point of view heard; if the veterans insist that a full deck of Japanese aircraft were being rearmed and refueled, then in the minds of these veterans, that was how the battle took place. "Who are we to deny them that memory, misguided or not?", Smith noted. Although his mention of these debunked theories irked me, I soon came to understand his intentions. While he introduced these "incorrect" theories, he also gave equal weight to new research, presenting modern findings and analyze how they changed our understanding of the battle today. When I later reached out to Smith regarding his presentation of things that are generally regarded as incorrect today, perhaps the subject of his correspondence best illustrated what he attempted to achieve: "Democracy at work". He quoted Ray Wagner, noting that he was merely trying to write "impartially, without fear nor favor, as an historian should".
With that said, I can well see that some readers might consider him too opinionated and some of his statements products of his own interpretation of past events. Nevertheless, his meticulous research cannot be denied. As one who is constantly reading WW2-related material, I recognize that I am too spoiled to immediately realize the value of the detailed battle play-by-play found in Midway: Dauntless Victory. However, I was rather quickly impressed by the rich footnotes, which sometimes took up around 80% of a page, many of them containing valuable information not necessarily related to Midway but still shed insight to the understanding of the battle. In the exchange of correspondences with Smith, he made note to me the source of some of his research, which included many flights to Japan and the United States to speak to veterans on both sides who shaped the very battle. All the different research methods Smith employed brought together a great account of the battle.
Needless to say, this is a book that I will recommend.
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