Book Review- The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945
Rating – Five Stars
Toland presents in this superb tome a view of the Pacific War (1941-1945) that most of us have never thought about or seen. He writes in a smooth, engaging style. We are engrossed in the narrative of this page-turner. We view the details of this horrendous campaign from the Japanese perspective—it’s an eye opener incarnate. I was a young teenager on 7 December 1941, and followed the war closely in the papers, radio, and in newsreels. Finally, after all those years, I have a new perspective of the wherewithal—and it’s engaging.
In essence, the Japanese government and military convinced themselves and their public that the United States of America caused this war. Their rationale is complicated, self-deluding, and ignores their long-term ambitions of conquest.
As early as the late nineteenth century, the Japanese military had devised a scheme, dubbed the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, designed to forcefully take the rich natural resources of Southeast Asia that the home islands were deficient in—needed to make Japan a great nation. Such resources include: oil, rubber, tin, manganese, iron, silver, and a host of other items.
Following, Japan waged aggressive wars with its neighbors to implement this conquest plan: Sino-Japanese War, 1894 to 1895; Russo-Japanese War, 1904 to 1905; World War I, 1914 to 1945, Changkufeng incident with the USSR in 1938, Khalkhin Gol conflict with the USSR in 1939.
Tensions grew between Japan and the USA during the 1930s after the Kwantung Army invaded and conquered the Chinese Province Manchuria. In 1936, Japan invaded China proper. Within a few days, the Kwantung Army captured Peking, Shanghai, and other coastal cities.
In 1941 Prime Minister General Hideki Tojo told the Japanese Diet, “The Greater East Asia war is founded on the exalted ideals of the founding of our empire and it will enable all the nations and peoples of Greater East Asia to enjoy life and to establish a new order of coexistence and co-prosperity on the basis of justice with Japan as the nucleus.”
In July 1941, the Japanese Army invaded French Indochina for its many resources including rubber—the essential commodity for war. A few days later, President Roosevelt ordered all Japanese assets frozen and a complete embargo of oil and other resources. Great Britain and the Netherlands followed. These actions denied Japan her rightful place as the leader of Asia and challenged her very existence. Every day the Japanese navy consumed twelve thousand tons of irreplaceable bunker oil. With only a small reserve, Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoye said, “…the armed forces would be a helpless as a whale thrown up on the beach.”
At the military’s urging, Tojo convinced the Diet and Emperor Michinomiya Hirohito, to authorize the military to implement Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s plan to attack secretly the American fleet at anchor in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; and for the Army to launch the invasion of Hong Kong, Malaya, Singapore, Burma, Siam, the Philippines, Netherland East Indies, Guam, Wake Island, New Guinea, and Portuguese Timor.
From time to time, Toland personalizes the war, and we see the conflict from the perspective of the ordinary Japanese soldier. For example, we follow privates engaged in the Guadalcanal campaign, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, Leyte, Saipan, and Okinawa. Surprisingly, we begin to empathize with them—our pernicious enemy. Occasionally, he fails to follow through and we know not what happened to the soldier—killed, suicide, wounded, captured, survived?
I do have a few “picks to nit.” The most serious is Tolan’s diminution of the Japanese barbarous atrocities: the Bataan death march, Rape of Nanking, Death Railway in Siam, Rape of Manila, and many thousand other mistreatments of military prisoners of war and civilian captives. His Spartan coverage of these Japanese transgressions is curious—it’s almost a passing reference.
For the aficionados of the Pacific War this book is an essential reference.