Whirlwind: The Air War Against Japan 1942-1945
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 9 May 2010
In WW1, the world first saw devastation from air, but the scale of such attacks would be dwarfed by the air campaigns launched by both Axis and Allies forces during WW2. Japan, whose military-dominated government had challenged the industrial power that was the United States at the end of 1941, faced devastating attacks from the air by both Army and Navy aircraft, attacks which she had little capability to counter. Barrett Tillman's Whrilwind: The Air War Against Japan 1942-1945 set forth to describe the air campaign that contributed to bringing Japan to her knees.
It was apparent to me that Tillman had conducted thorough research when writing this book, able to provide history of strategic bombing that dated back to the early days of military aviation and to analyze the moral implications of bombing Japanese civilian cities. His work covered both the US Army's strategic bombing campaign as well as the US Navy's carrier raids; he had even mentioned the small, yet not insignificant, role the British carrier pilots played in the campaign. Nevertheless, after completing the book, I gained the impression that much of the book was devoted to the Army's operations. Analysis of the top leadership's personality as well as the inclusion of personal experiences of the airmen added much insight to the devastating events that chipped away Japan's strength and will to fight. The final few pages were certainly the highlights of the book, providing a very strong argument for the necessity of strategic bombing on Japan, including the use of the two atomic bombs; Tillman cited that because the Japanese government had no intention to surrender prior to the use of the two atomic bombs, civilian losses due to the continuation of the bombing campaign, the planned Allied invasion, and Japan's total lack of food would be much greater than what was experienced in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. As fellow author Andrew Nagorski commented, "Whirlwind is the most authoritative account ever of the terrifying American air war against Japan, which... saved countless lives in the long run. This powerful book should put an end to the misguided moralizing to the contrary."
To that extent, a question posed by Tillman would remain in my mind for a long time. During Operation Meeting House in Mar 1945, American incendiary bombs killed over 80,000, and the stench of burning flesh haunted Tokyo. Tillman asked: Why did Emperor Showa, who must had smelled this awful scent, not attempt to overrule his government in Mar to seek an end to the war? Why did he wait until Aug, during which time countless thousands of his subjects would die needlessly as waves and waves of more American bombers arrived over Japanese cities?
Tillman also correctly pointed out that that lack of an unified command for aerial bombing operations against Japan led to many mistakes and unnecessary losses, something glossed over by the casual history enthusiasts largely due to the eventual Allied success over Japan. The establishment of the United States Air Force after the war, he explained, was an effort to address this problem in leadership. This was only one of the many topics that Tillman successfully addressed in his book that provided hints to how events in WW2 affected military and political decisions after the war.
The copy of Whirlwind I had reviewed was the audio edition. Mel Foster's narration was excellent; his voice was very clear and the speed with which he read the text was absolutely perfect. His Japanese pronunciation, however, was less than amateurish. The city of Kobe (KOH-beh) was read as if he was referring to the basketball player Kobe Bryant. The Japanese Navy cruiser Tone (TOH-neh) was read with only a single syllable as if he was referring to the pitch of music, "tone". I thought these to be mistakes that I did not expect an award-winning narrator to make. While I do not expect him to become a Japanese speaker just for this single project, I would certainly imagine him to have consulted with a Japanese speaker to make sure his pronunciation would be acceptable, especially given that the topic of this book evolves on American operations over Japan. If I must describe Foster's reading of this book, I must say that he was nearly perfect. The frequent mispronunciations, however, was a black mark in my mind.
Overall, I had enjoyed Whrilwind: The Air War Against Japan 1942-1945 immensely and I was very glad that I had a chance to listen to this book. I would recommend both editions, either print and audio, on the topic of the aerial campaign against Japan in the final months of the Pacific War.
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Thomas Dodd, late 1945