Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Review of 1942

This week's review is 1942 by Bob Wurth.

I have always been fascinated by this period of our history. This probably developed from my childhood in North Queensland, and my dad's occasional stories about his time in the RAAF in New Guinea. Listening to him, it was abundantly clear to me that many Australians genuinely feared a Japanese invasion, and living in the area which at that time was considered to be under great threat also focused my interest.

There has been historical disagreement about whether an invasion of this country was intended at the time. I won't spoil any reading of 1942 for you, except to say that different elements of the Japanese military hierarchy held different ideas about invasion.

The other contending views about this dangerous time relate to the role of the Americans.

Wurth's view of this is interesting in that he describes a strong personal relationship between Macarthur and Curtin which he concludes influenced American tactics at the time. He takes a different and refreshing look at American motives, exposes some disagreement between the military and political arms of the US administration, and sees Macarthur as an ally for Curtin in his disagreements with Churchill.

This is rivetting stuff, and some of it is bound to send some of the more extreme right-wing interpreters into meltdown. Wurth's conclusion about war in general, and Japanese suffering, in particular, will raise hackles –

Japan's war cost the lives of 17501 Australians and millions of others. How many more, though, had the brash captains and the bellicose admirals of the Inland Sea had their irrational way?

Of all the foibles, war is the worst, equaled only by ignorance and disinclination to discover the truth of it.

"I'm fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in."

George McGovern.

After the rage generated by my review of Paul Ham's article, it appears my lack of condescension to the reigning historical orthodoxy has already caused deep offence.

Wurth's research gives the story life and authenticity. It also reveals that very strong opinions and old grudges are still held in Japan over the course of events. He spent a lot of time in and around the Hashirajima anchorage, where the great ships of the Japanese fleet found refuge, and thoroughly analyzed Senshi Sosho, the Japanese official war history series on the Pacific campaign.

The book is available in soft cover at good newsagents. It's a great way to spend $34.

I'll be travelling with work this week (Roma, Morven, Charleville, Quilpie, Cunnamulla and Eulo), so will be at the mercy of Nomadnet to respond to comment, but I'll do my best.

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