It’s Hardcore History.
There’s an interesting sort of phenomenon,
I guess you could call it, that happens after we get
a Hardcore History series finished.
You begin to hear from people that are connected
with the subject matter, and you get opportunities,
for example, to talk to them or to interview them.
And the upside is, um…
they’re usually people that you would really like to talk to.
The downside is, you’ve just finished up, usually,
a lot of work and a lot of conversation,
and a lot of the audience’s time on the subject matter.
So, everybody’s usually ready for something new,
but then you get all these opportunities
that are too good to turn down,
that are on the bit of subject matter
you’ve just covered extensively.
And that’s the case today.
Now, actually, we’ve held on to this show
for several months.
The author has a, um… that we’re gonna talk to
has a new… three-set book compilation coming out,
and it’s been delayed.
I imagine November 2021 is probably a safe bet
for it at some point, though.
And so, we were holding on to this
so that we could release this
and have it coincide with the, um, the new offering.
But what that means is, I’ve actually got another show
ready to come out real soon, right after this.
It’s gonna be another interview with another author,
and this one won’t be about the subject
we’ve recently talked about.
So, um, one way or another, we should have a couple of things
for you in quick succession, which is good because…
because we held on to this,
we didn’t have anything coming out, uh,
a couple of months ago, as we planned.
So, you’re due a couple of shows in quick succession.
This one’s with an author whose work I enjoyed so much.
And some of my favorite little things that we included,
these little hits by a… a little quote by an author.
Some of my favorite ones were by Ian W. Toll.
And, uh, he has multiple books besides these three,
but these three, from start to finish,
cover the Pacific War and the Second World War,
from about Pearl Harbor to the end.
Pacific Crucible, followed by The Conquering Tide,
followed by Twilight of the Gods.
Any one of these, of course, can be bought separately,
but with a three-book compilation coming out,
uh, we assume in November, uh, Ian W. Toll’s, um…
you know, his combined work on… on this specific theater
in the Second World War will be complete and available,
and he’s wonderful.
And so, when his people called, uh, right after we finished
the six-part series on the war in the Asia-Pacific Theater
and said, would you like to talk to Ian W. Toll,
I said, what you would expect me to say,
even though we’ve talked about this subject a lot recently.
I said, yes, please.
So, without further ado, our conversation
with author Ian W. Toll.
Obviously, you know that I’ve done 27 hours recently
on this subject, and I’m sure the audience is gonna groan
when they see I have more of it.
Uh, but what I’d like to do maybe, as, you know,
and I consider the conversation maybe to be going now,
we’re recording anyway, but, um…
with a guy who has lived this like you’ve lived it,
uh, you know, not just the writing of the books
and the research, but the speeches that you have to give
and everything else, um, I imagine that you have
all kinds of ideas in your head of things that have happened
that make this conflict wild and crazy.
Is there something that you wish the general public,
and I feel like my audience now has 27 hours of this,
so what can we tell them about this war
that is unusual or interesting?
Or if you could say that you wish the general public
knew something about this war that you know,
what would it be?
Well, I mean, there’s a couple, I mean, there’s…
there’s just so many things I could say
in answer to that question, but, uh…
Why don’t we say this?
Um, that as a continental nation, we Americans,
we tend to think of war as war on land
before anything else.
And naval operations are a supporting feature of war,
a sort of supporting operation.
And, um, in the Second World War,
I mean, that certainly was true of the war in Europe.
Uh, I think you could say naval operations were,
uh, a supporting aspect of the campaign.
And then you need to invert your understanding
when you come to the Pacific.
You really need to just look at the map of the Pacific
and you see this as a sea war and an air war first.
And, uh, land operations, these island, um, island fights,
were playing a sort of supporting role
in the larger scheme.
And so, you know, just from the very beginning,
I think you need to invert your understanding in that way.
And once you do that, uh, this vast conflict
with the Pacific war becomes much easier to understand.
You know, as an American, uh, one of the things
that we really didn’t get much of,
I mean, I have a, uh, life goes to war,
life goes to war book that probably came out in 1950.
And if you leave through the pages,
the vast, vast majority of this work
is about the Pacific theater,
the battles that Americans, uh, who followed the exploits
of the Marines or MacArthur are very familiar with,
the Tarawa’s, the Peleliu’s, the Iwo Jima’s.
But the whole Asia side of this conflict is enormous
once you delve into it, once you start to realize
how many people are involved.
Um, why is, and you know, also, I didn’t even think about this,
but I mean, five years later, we’re in a war in Korea.
We have Chinese troops entering the war after a certain point.
I mean, that’s all directly connected to the fallout,
uh, from this Asia Pacific war.
Um, why don’t Americans know more,
and this includes yours truly,
why don’t we know more about the giant,
you know, you mentioned the naval war,
which it is to the United States,
but there was a giant land war in Asia also.
Right. Well, you know, I mean,
the simplest way to answer that is just that,
you know, we weren’t involved in that war in a big way.
And Americans, like most people,
we tend to be most interested in the aspects of a conflict
in which our boys were directly involved.
So I think that goes part of the way to explaining that.
Um, I think it’s also true that, uh, because, uh, Mao’s China,
uh, uh, communists won the Civil War
after, uh, the end of the Second World War,
um, China became for many years, and in many ways still is,
somewhat of a black box from the outside.
Uh, and so the, the telling of the, of the story,
the history of that war, uh, was something
that was controlled directly by Mao’s regime.
And, um, and there was just a limited, um, access,
uh, to that country in order to, to try to tell that story.
I, I think that there are good efforts now
to try to rectify this, to place the Sino-Japanese War
back in the center of the story of Asia and the Pacific.
Uh, and my, my colleague, uh, Richard Frank
is, is writing another trilogy about the Asia-Pacific War,
as he calls it, in which he’s, he’s trying to rectify that bias.
And, and so I commend, uh, that work.
The first of his three volumes is out.
You know, when you look at the amount of,
uh, the amount of resources, uh, we would say GDP today,
all the things that Japan, a small island nation,
had to, uh, set aside and devote for naval construction,
you know, over the 20s and the 30s and into the 40s,
um, modern aircraft development,
and, and millions of men on the ground
who need to be supported in Asia.
You look at this and you just think to yourself,
and I think we said in the podcast,
I mean, the Japanese were already trying to eat an elephant
in terms of, of the task that they had set for themselves
before they even attacked Pearl Harbor.
Then to attack the strongest Western nations on top of that.
I read an account of one historian who had said
that a Japanese, I’m trying to quote from memory here,
a Japanese poet had described the war as like a slow motion,
natural disaster, suggesting that the Japanese felt like
they were almost like pulled into it, like a riptide.
Um, when you look at something like this,
does it look like the Japanese had,
I mean, I feel like they had no chance from the get-go.
Um, how does this look to you when you,
I mean, you’ve examined, uh, all of the records,
you’ve looked at this, um, how do you…
I guess they were optimists, certainly,
but I mean, you guys have guys like the whole naval staff,
everybody was so pessimistic about that.
How do you think this, um, I guess what I’m saying is,
do you see it as a one-sided affair from the get-go,
or did the Japanese have a chance to do something
really unexpected here?
You know, when I consider the counterfactuals, Dan,
I find it very hard to imagine any scenario
where the Japanese could have escaped this conflict, uh,
with, um, in a better situation than they were on December 6,
1941, the day before they attacked Pearl Harbor.
It’s almost impossible to imagine a scenario
where, uh, the war ends up working out for them.
And, uh, really what, what the Pacific War was
from the Japanese perspective was,
it was an enormous bet that, uh,
that Hitler was going to dominate Europe.
And, um, and that by dominating Europe,
he was essentially going to keep the United States
forever on the defensive, worried about the security
of our own hemisphere of South America.
And that, uh, in that situation,
we just would not, uh, be able to fight
a prolonged bloody war, uh, in the Pacific.
Of course, that was a very bad bet.
And it was a bet that was made, you know,
right at the moment when the German army
was being stopped outside the gates of Moscow.
You know a lot about this.
I know you did, like, a six-parter
on the, uh, on the war in the Eastern Front.
And, um, and one of the leaders of the Japanese regime,
I forget who, in a, in a, uh, being interrogated
after the war said, you know, if, um,
if we had made this decision just two weeks later,
we might have looked at what was happening in, uh, in Russia
and, and, uh, perceived that this was not going to be
a walkover for the Germans the way it appeared
that it was going to be in the, in the early months.
And that might have caused us to think twice
about attacking the Americans, uh, in Pearl Harbor.
And so, uh, with that in mind,
when I, when I go through the counterfactuals,
I think the one thing that could have really tipped
the balance, uh, throughout the world, really,
but also in the Pacific, would be, uh, a Russian collapse.
Um, and, and some form of a truce on the Russian front.
Uh, Stalin had essentially repeated
what the Bolsheviks had done in 1917
and cut a deal, uh, to end that war,
allowing Hitler to redeploy, uh, his forces, uh,
against, uh, England.
You know, that, I think, um, could have,
have really changed the entire complexion
of the global conflict in a way that, uh, led us to,
to think, let’s try to cut our losses in the Pacific
and, and not, uh, devote the kind of enormous effort
that it will require to conquer Japan at a time
when we really do have to worry about our Atlantic flank.
You know, I’m going to piggyback off what you said,
because I think it’s fascinating.
Uh, I spoke to a, a German once who had said that,
essentially, I’m, I’m paraphrasing here,
but that we blew it in the East,
that we were welcomed by some of the population there,
uh, as liberators, and our actions turned
those very people against us
and made our job that much tougher.
I think about the Pacific and the East Asia,
the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere,
and, and this, this idea that it’s Asia for the Asians
and the tying in of the Pan-Asianism
and the Japanese, uh, portraying themselves
as the tip of the Asian spear to sort of free,
uh, the Asian people from the colonial Western powers.
Um, you know, and when I was growing up,
we were taught that that was just a, a fig leaf covering,
uh, you know, rampant imperialism,
and certainly some of the Japanese leadership
thought that way, but the more you read,
especially the more modern works,
the more this seems like something a lot of people
really bought into and believed.
Um, could you say that the Japanese
are in a similar position to what that German guy was,
uh, in when, I mean, did they blow it here
by the way they treated the populations
that they liberated?
Could this have gone a different way?
Had they lived up to the hype a little bit
on the marketing message?
Well, I mean, you know, certainly the Japanese
would have done, done themselves a huge favor
if they had just treated the Asian peoples,
uh, that they had conquered, um, more in line
with, uh, with their ideology of this sort of
Pan-Asian liberation movement.
Um, and, and I think that there’s, you know,
there’s a lot to be said for that traditional view
that you were taught growing up, which is that the,
the Japanese were, were fundamentally out,
uh, as an imperialist power to try to aggrandize
themselves, their empire, uh, to raise their standard
of living to plunder Asia.
Um, that said, there was this, this kind of messianic
and idealistic strain of, of Japanese imperialism
and certainly among many of those in the regime
who were shaping this, this message.
Uh, there was this idea that, um, uh,
the Europeans have had their way in Asia for long enough
and we’re going to, we’re the only Asian country
that’s strong enough, uh, to put an end to this.
And we’re going to do that and we’re going to,
we’re going to, uh, uh, take great sacrifices
in order to do that.
Uh, and I think that there were many Japanese
who genuinely believed that whether or not, uh,
their military forces were able to live up to.
And in fact, that view really persists among,
particularly on the right in Japan today.
Uh, you often hear it said, uh, by right-wing politicians
and, and, uh, writers and historians, uh,
that, uh, Japan’s, um, uh, defeat, uh,
in the Pacific war was in a sense,
a kind of long-term sacrifice for the rest of Asia
because it did lead, uh, indirectly and directly
in some cases to the decolonization
of so many of those nations.
Uh, and, um, and, uh, you know, the, the situation
in Asia today where you, you really don’t have
any European colonies left, uh, in, in Asia.
And that amplification, it probably sped up the process,
certainly throwing out places like France from Indochina
for several years and then having them try
to reestablish themselves definitely changes
Um, and, and, you know, and Great Britain was,
was simply exhausted by the war, more of the war in Europe
than the war in the Pacific, but, but because of the war
sort of brought, um, England and, and the UK down
in the world, it became clear within a matter
of about two decades that they no longer had
the economic wherewithal to maintain this empire.
So that indirectly, you could say, uh, led to the,
the independence of places like Malaya.
And those places, of course, were some of the places
that had oil.
And one of the things I think about with this war now
more than I did as a kid, and I think, you know,
having, uh, my life straddles the, the early oil crises era
in the United States in the early 1970s.
And I think Americans, uh, had, had a much better
understanding of things like resources and whatnot
around the world after the oil crisis.
And so when I look back now and I read the stuff
about how the war happened, especially with the embargoes
and everything else, the idea of oil comes into it
so much more than it used to.
Like, I look at the war now and I go,
could this have been classified as the first major global war
for something like oil?
Um, how do you see sort of our, our, our modern,
um, what would we say?
We protect our interests overseas.
We have global supply chains.
We, I mean, in a sense, could we say that you see
the early stages of this in the second world war?
Yeah, I think so. I mean, it was, it was clearly
from Japan’s point of view, the immediate crisis
that they, that they had to address
that led them to their decision to attack
the United States and Great Britain in December 1941
was this oil problem.
Uh, they had and have, uh, today,
negligible domestic oil production.
So they really had to import, uh, oil both
for their domestic economy and just to run their military,
run their Navy. And so, um, uh, this was sort of
the scenic one on of the entire Japanese imperialist project
is how do you, uh, assure that you have a steady oil supply?
So when we, um, embargoed, uh, oil exports to Japan,
uh, essentially we, we, we started a clock ticking.
They had stockpiled a certain amount of oil,
um, and, uh, and perhaps enough for about a year, uh,
to run both their domestic economy
and their military operations.
And they had to solve that problem either by coming
to some sort of a diplomatic settlement with us,
uh, or if not, by going and getting their own oil,
uh, which is what they did by, uh, taking
the East Indies, Borneo and Sumatra.
And so, um, the, the immediate cause
of the decision to attack Pearl Harbor, uh,
was this, this need to solve this oil problem.
And so, yeah, oil was, was definitely at the very heart
of this conflict from the beginning.
You know, it’s funny, because if I look at the two circumstances,
Europe versus the Asia Pacific area,
in Europe, the criticism of the Western powers
was that there was an appeasement of Hitler,
and he wasn’t confronted strongly enough,
and hence, you get a war. What did Churchill say?
He called it the unnecessary war, right?
It didn’t have to happen. The funny thing is, though,
is maybe you could make a case that in the Asia Pacific theater,
Roosevelt did exactly what the people
who want to confront these dictators did.
I mean, he didn’t appease them, he basically told them,
you’re gonna change your foreign policy,
or we’re gonna take your oil away,
and yet, you got war anyway.
What do you think about the United States’, um,
you know, because there’s always been a lot of controversy
about the way the Secretary of State played these things,
and every… Was this something that the United States
was kind of hoping would happen?
Or, I mean, because certainly, I think the U.S.
must have had enough politicians who realized
that the Japanese can’t easily back down
from their entire foreign policy goals of the last 15 years.
Um, did we stumble into this, or was this sort of manipulated
in a way that turned out the way the U.S. wanted?
You know, I mean, you know, it’s a controversial question.
It’s one that’s gotten a lot of attention.
I tend to think that we stumbled into it
more than we intended for this to happen.
That said, it was clear, uh, in the weeks before,
leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor,
it was clear to our leaders that the Japanese were preparing
to make some sort of a move, uh, in the Pacific.
Um, we did not anticipate the… raid on Pearl Harbor,
despite all of the many conspiracy theories
that have been spun in that respect.
And yet, we did expect war to begin,
perhaps on that same day, December 7th.
War warnings had gone out.
Um, and I think what’s clear is that we had, by that time,
uh, we’d been reading the diplomatic mail.
This is a really important achievement
of our, um, cryptanalyst program,
is that we were able to essentially break the codes
that the Japanese, uh, foreign ministry used
to communicate with its embassies overseas.
We continued to read that mail right through the end
of the Second World War.
And so, we, uh, we knew that, um,
that they were essentially preparing, uh,
some sort of a military, uh, move
to try to solve their oil problem.
And, um, uh, you know, I-I think it’s clear
that-that, uh, Roosevelt was okay with that.
Roosevelt and-and his, um, his-his cabinet,
uh, understood that the Japanese were likely
to, uh, break off negotiations and-and attack
probably the British and the Dutch,
but not us directly, and that, uh, that might,
uh, lead us to, you know, to-to-to solve
the political problem which-which FDR had at home,
which was that he simply didn’t have
the American people united behind this prospect
of joining the Second World War.
Something that he saw by that time
was going to be necessary.
And so, uh, I-I think it’s-it’s, you know,
it was a-it was a story of-of-of stumbling a bit
in terms of the way that the embargo,
the-the various measures were taken throughout 1941.
There are several instances in-in which it-it was not clear
that, uh, that the specific steps that were taken,
uh, to ratchet up these-these economic measures,
uh, were completely in line with the way FDR wanted them
to occur, and yet, um, overall, it, you know,
we had, um, we had-had, uh, regarded Japanese aggression
in Asia as a fundamental, uh, threat to the global peace,
and, uh, and it’s essentially wrong in itself,
and FDR’s rhetoric had been crystal clear about that,
uh, that this kind of aggression against other nations
was-was dangerous, uh, and it was a contagion,
uh, which had to be-had to be stopped.
And so, um, certainly, we were not going to continue
to export oil from West Texas, uh, to Japan
to allow them to carry on this-this war of aggression
against their neighbors, and if, uh, if that was going
to lead to an outbreak of war in the Pacific,
then so be it. I think our leaders were ready for that.
So then that makes me wonder about the other side’s ability,
then, to respond or be flexible.
Um, I-I think this is maybe why everyone spends so much time
diagramming the way the Japanese government is set up,
to show you the dysfunction in it, or the, you know,
the-the-the period right before the Second World War
in the 20s and 30s was sometimes referred to
as a government by assassination,
where you have these-these lower-level officer types
having an outsized influence on overall policy.
And it seems like, in a sense, I mean, I-I was always moved
by the fact that a bunch of the Japanese leaders
at the end of the Second World War who are running the country
have bullets still in their body, you know,
from assassination attempts.
So-so you get this sense of how much leeway
did any of these particular leaders or-or-or influential
people in the Japanese, uh, um, uh, governmental system,
because, you know, they have those higher-up,
sort of the elder statesmen types, too.
Um, how much did that government have the ability?
I-I just feel like they were almost paralyzed sometimes,
uh, in terms of their ability to break this logjam
that whether it was the army or radical politicians
or whatever, I mean, it’s almost like they got pulled
to the extremes and no one had the ability
to do anything about that.
Yeah, no, absolutely. I-I wouldn’t say it was almost,
they were almost paralyzed.
I would say that it was a paralytic form of government.
The Meiji Constitution, which was the-the form of government
that, uh, Hirohito’s grandfather had essentially given
to the Japanese people as a gift,
that’s the way it was presented, um, was a-a document
which reserved quite a bit of power for the emperor,
particularly to command the armed forces directly.
And yet it was, uh, it was ambiguous in many ways.
And, uh, what had happened really was that after Meiji died,
his successors, including Hirohito,
were not strong enough personalities to continue
to assert, uh, the considerable power that-that-that they had,
uh, over the state and over the military in particular
under that-that document.
And through a series of legal precedents,
um, it had, uh, the system that had evolved by the 1930s
essentially put the-the, um, emperor in a very constrained role
where in particular, if his advisors,
his military advisors and his cabinet
presented him with, uh, um, a consensus recommendation,
he essentially was required, uh, to approve of that.
And so, uh, the military, which had really taken control
of the government, every aspect of the government,
not just foreign policy, but domestic policy as well,
um, the army and the navy who were constantly
at each other’s throats in a struggle for power,
for control of resources, for control of-of directing
the foreign policy of the country,
um, they realized that as long as they could come
to some kind of rough and ready consensus,
that Hirohito would simply have to rubber stamp
whatever they wanted to do.
And, um, and-and this became a-a more and more costly feature
of the Japanese regime as the crisis approached in 1941
until finally, uh, it became…
It became necessary for, uh, the military leadership
to-to go ahead with this war that many of them
really didn’t believe in, particularly in the navy,
because the alternative was going to be
a complete breakdown of this sort of fragile,
uh, consensus balance that had kept Japan
from descending into a civil war.
And so, yes, violence, political violence, assassinations,
uh, that was always, uh, right beneath the surface.
It-it, you know, it was at its height in the 1930s,
a period where you just had, you know,
one assassination after another,
one act of violence and intimidation
coming up from the middle ranks of the army in particular,
uh, aimed at the leadership.
Uh, and then that settled down in…
during the war itself, and-and General Tojo
was given much of the credit for having essentially,
sort of, imposed this-this fragile peace
in-in this nascent civil war in Japan.
And then, as the-as the end of the war approached
and the decision, the Japanese confronted the necessity
to essentially face up to their own defeat,
the threat of assassinations, of-of, uh,
civil disorder, of violence,
once again, that became a primary concern.
And so, uh, really, in the-the complex series of events
that finally led to the Japanese decision to surrender
after we had dropped two atomic bombs,
um, was… occurred against this backdrop of, as you say,
this kind of constant, uh, threat of violence
from… and-and… of military insurgency,
which could lead to a coup d’etat,
which in turn would lead to the destruction of Japan,
because it would make it impossible
for Japan to surrender.
And so, yes, it was a real mess.
Uh, this-this entire regime, uh, was essentially
Uh, the dysfunction of the regime
explains both the decision, uh, to go to war,
to-to launch themselves into a war
that many of their leaders, even before the attack
on Pearl Harbor, recognized that they could not win,
and it also explained the long delay
in acknowledging, uh, Ja-Japan’s defeat,
which their military leaders understood perfectly well.
Even a year before the surrender,
they understood that they were defeated
and that, essentially, surrender
or some sort of negotiated settlement,
if they could get it, which would have been
to surrender, that that was inevitable
and the only… the only possible future for Japan.
You know, when you get to 1945, and you see,
you’d mentioned how crazy it is by then,
it always strikes me that as we…
because we still have these debates today
about, uh, dropping of atomic bombs
or-or fire bombings or-or… or strategic bombing at all.
Um, and-and how difficult it is from our position,
I mean, it’s-it’s a stereotype, almost a trope,
but how difficult it is from our position now
in cold blood to try to assess the madness that’s going on
and-and the destructive, um, uh, you know,
there’s a building of it, right?
When you look at the bombing in 1939
versus the 1945 version of it, I mean,
you almost have to build up to something like that.
And then when you try to assess it 70 or 80 years later,
it looks relatively insane, right?
It looks like the-the analog version of the nuclear war
where there’s so… that we’re so scared about now.
How do you explain to people, and, you know,
you’re an expert at this, you do this,
how do you explain to people in cold blood today,
um, the hot blood decisions to do things
like firebombing Tokyo in a way that makes sense to them?
How do you take them into a crazy world?
Yeah, I mean, I-I think that, you know,
I agree with you about that.
I-I think that the only way you really can do it
is by telling the entire story of the conflict
from beginning to end.
Uh, that’s the only way it makes sense.
The only way the firebombing of Tokyo
or the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
makes sense to me is if I go back to, um, uh,
the Chinese, uh, the Japanese invasion of China in 1937,
the extraordinarily, uh, awful, uh, massacres that went on,
um, the-the barbarism of-of the Japanese army,
the way it, uh, behaved toward, uh, civilians
in the areas that it occupied, uh,
its behavior toward prisoners of war,
including our prisoners of war.
Uh, and you really have to tell the whole story.
Uh, you have to tell the story of how there was this
no-surrender ethic, uh, which had been inculcated
into the Japanese military.
And the way that they really observed that,
uh, on one island after another,
essentially, uh, dying to the last man,
uh, refusing to surrender.
Uh, the way, uh, places like Saipan, uh, the, um,
you had mass suicides of-of Japanese civilians,
uh, rather than falling into the hands of Americans
who were, I think, in good faith,
trying to save their lives.
Um, and-and when you saw this cult of death occurring,
uh, then it became much easier to think in terms of,
well, you know, the Japanese are essentially behaving,
their-both their rhetoric and their behavior indicates
that what they’re saying is we’re gonna have to kill
all of them in order to end this war.
Uh, literally, every last man, woman, and child of Japan.
We don’t want to do that, um, but inevitably,
we’re gonna have to kill a lot of Japanese
until, uh, they come to their senses.
And, um, uh, so, you know, you really, uh,
had this kind of inversion of-of what I would say
were, uh, traditional understanding
of-of military ethics, to the point where the-the most
important thing was to try to end the war quickly,
uh, by any means necessary, including, um,
the trespassing upon those traditional ideas
of, uh, separating the-the, um, uh, civilian
from the military target.
And, uh, and that occurred in-in, uh, in Germany as well,
uh, by the way.
And so, uh, again, I-I don’t think it’s-it’s hard
to sort of sit down with someone who doesn’t know
the history and to lay it out, uh, without going back
and really telling the entire story.
And so, um, that’s-that’s what I set out to do
in this, uh, three-volume history,
and I don’t think that the story can be told
in any less than, uh, you know, 1,800 pages
that I took to tell it.
Do you think a land invasion of the Home Islands
would have happened?
I do not think, uh, that we would have invaded Japan.
Um, I-I think that it was, uh, perhaps we-we knew
that we needed to have the option,
which is why we placed such enormous preparations,
uh, for Operation Downfall, the invasion first of Kyushu
and then of Honshu.
Um, but the target date for the first stage of that invasion,
the invasion of Kyushu, Operation Olympic,
uh, was November 1st, 1945.
We dropped the bomb on, uh, Hiroshima
in the first week of August.
That’s almost three months.
And so, the question really becomes a counterfactual,
what would have happened in those three months?
And, um, and I think for all we know
about, uh, what was happening in Tokyo,
uh, I think it’s very difficult to-to imagine
that the government would have, uh, continued to-to want to fight
that this-this struggle that they were-that they were undertaking
to try to surrender, um, that-that would not have succeeded
in those three months.
Uh, particularly when you consider that the-the conventional bombing campaign
was really growing by leaps and bounds,
uh, really week by week.
And so, even in the absence of the atomic bombs,
um, uh, I-I think it’s very unlikely
that we would have launched an invasion of Japan.
You know, we dance around these issues,
I think, when we talk about it,
about how really different the Japanese are,
and how unique in so many ways.
I mean, it makes me wonder about the challenges
of historians who aren’t Japanese trying to, you know,
like, I-I would read, uh, there are some wonderful books
we used for the show, uh, written about Japan,
but many of them by Western experts.
And I-I think to myself, um, not only that-that maybe
you might have to be Japanese to understand some of this stuff,
but that maybe even the modern-day Japanese
aren’t in a position to assess this,
because it was so different, even in that country,
70 or 80 years ago, from, I mean, it’s a transformed society.
Um, is it becoming, you know, I used to think when I was younger
that-that, because you would meet people who were veterans in the war,
and people who had been there, they seemed like flesh and blood.
As I get older, they-they almost seem like trying to assess
Alexander the Great, or the Mongols, or, I mean,
it’s getting to be a society that’s in the past.
Does that make sense when we write about this?
We’re trying to get into the minds of people
who aren’t around anymore, and a sort of a societal ethic.
I mean, there are no more Hiroo Onoda’s,
or-or-or Kamikaze pilots in Japan.
I mean, is this a…
This goes back maybe to why people deal with the opening
in the 19th century so much, or when I was growing up,
they used to talk about the Japanese being a-a medieval society
that had been brought into the modern world.
But they almost seem culturally like an extreme manifestation
of humanity by the Second World War.
Um, how does the fact that the Japanese are so different
play into all this? I mean, I know my stepfather
was overwhelmed by the Kamikaze phil-uh-uh-uh phenomenon
when he was in the war.
Um, how much does that play a role in this?
They just seem like the most unusual… people.
I mean, that’s an open-ended question,
but I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.
There’s a fascination about the Japanese in this war
because they’re singular, aren’t they?
Yeah, no, they… It’s-it’s really true,
and it’s, um, putting yourself into the mindset
of-of the Japanese in… during-during this war
has been a tremendous challenge for everyone
who’s written about it. Um, and I think there’s something
to what you say. I mean, the, you know, Japanese of 2021
trying to understand the Japanese of 1941,
it’s-it’s not easy.
There also have been very powerful taboos
which still exist in Japan that kind of govern
the way people think about, talk about,
write about the war.
Um, that said, there has been, uh, quite a-quite a burst
of-of scholarship both by Western scholars of Japan
and by Japanese scholars, which has appeared
in English translation in the past 25 years.
And I think there’s a lot more to be done, actually.
If you look across all of World War II,
across, uh, the whole-the whole global landscape,
um, I think a lot of the most interesting scholarship
of the next, uh, several decades is gonna be
in-in trying to get a better understanding
of what precisely happened in Japan, uh, in those years.
And, um, uh, just to get even more futuristic on you,
I think, you know, machine learning, AI, um,
which is eventually going to eliminate
language barriers in archives.
I think there’s gonna be a tremendous, um, improvement
in our understanding collectively
of what happened there, uh, as those new-new tools
start to-start to-start to bear on the issue
over the next few decades.
Um, but, uh, you know, again, it-it really comes down
to kind of understanding this conflict
in the way that our ancestors who fought it understood-
And that’s-that’s where there’s a strong case
to be made for narrative history.
Something that I do, something that you do as well
as a podcaster, trying to go back and-and help, um,
people understand what were-what was in the minds
of those who were there at the time,
making the decisions, fighting these battles.
Um, the, you know, from the-the guys in the-in the trenches,
on the decks of the ships, in the cockpits,
to those who are-are in the, uh, headquarters,
uh, making decisions, uh, from a military standpoint,
to the halls of power in Washington and-and Tokyo.
Understanding this entire conflict,
the way it unfolded week by week, uh, I think is-is the-
really the best way to try to get closer
to the way, uh, that it was understood by-by those
who were there.
There are parts, too, that fade into the background
until you start reading about them, and you go,
oh, really? This is hard to relate to.
For example, uh, and you touched upon it
with the Japanese, but I’m fascinated
with the American version of it, too,
the inter-service rivalries.
And-and because I think these days,
at least the general consensus among civilians
is that, oh, the services work well together
in the United States and whatnot.
To-to truly understand, I mean, I was reading, um,
I was reading one book, and they were talking about,
uh, it was a scene, uh, on Guadalcanal, I think it was,
and there was a-it was an army officer
who was berating a Marine,
and there was another Marine in the distance
who cocked his rifle or something.
It was-it was portrayed as a scene
where this Marine was gonna frag this army officer
for yelling at another Marine.
Um, the Japanese inter-service rivalry
literally decided, you know, the direction
the war would take often, but-but people don’t realize,
and-and this includes yours, truly.
You know, I remembered it, but I really didn’t remember it
until you started diving into Douglas MacArthur’s, uh,
paranoid fantasies about the Navy and all this stuff.
Can you talk a little about the inter-service rivalry
and how it determined kind of the way things went?
Yeah. Well, you know, our military, um, before,
and a-a lot of people don’t know this,
including a lot of people who’ve read a lot
about World War II, um, we did not have
a Joint Chiefs of Staff organization
prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Uh, there was a, uh, board,
which was sort of a liaison organization,
uh, of generals and admirals
who kind of loosely coordinated their planning.
Uh, but there was really no, um, sustained attempt
to blend the operations of the Army, the Navy,
uh, and what was emerging as these two other services
under the umbrella of the Army and Navy,
the Army Air Forces, uh,
and in the case of the Navy, the Marines,
um, both sort of emerging
as increasingly independent organizations
within the Army and, uh, the, uh, War and Navy departments.
And so really, we-we had, um, we had a very sort of
decentralized, um, poorly coordinated military
prior to the war.
And it was really only under the pressure
of the emergency of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
And then the first, uh, British, uh, summit,
uh, which occurred literally just weeks after Pearl Harbor
when the, uh, Churchill and his, um, military, uh, uh,
Chiefs came to Washington to sort of begin
to plan how we were going to deal with this crisis.
And it was only under that pressure that our, uh, Chiefs,
our Chief of Naval Operations
and our Army Chief of Staff, George Marshall,
uh, got together and said,
listen, we-we’ve got to have some sort of way
of organizing ourselves,
so why don’t we just start meeting?
And they called themselves the Joint Chiefs.
All of that was ad hoc.
Uh, there was no legislative charter.
And, um, and essentially, they just, uh, ran the war
as this sort of informal committee.
And the Joint Chiefs of Staff organization
was not formally codified in our laws until, uh, 1947
with the National Security Act.
It created the-the structure that exists today
at the Pentagon.
And so all of that is just a long-winded way of saying,
uh, that our military really was not prepared to fight,
uh, a global war which would require
these different services to work together
in sustained and intricate cooperation.
They had to figure that out, uh,
on essentially week by week
as they were dealing with this military emergency.
In the Pacific, uh, the problem was even greater
than it was in-in Europe.
Certainly was an issue in Europe as well.
But in the Pacific, you had, uh, as I said earlier,
looking at a map of the Pacific, you-you quickly grasped
that the fundamental strategic problem
is how do you deal with a rampaging Japanese fleet?
You have to destroy Japanese naval power
before you can project your military forces
across the Pacific in a way that will force Japan to surrender.
And so that’s a job for your navy
and also your air forces.
Your air forces, of course, you have naval and army air forces.
They have to work together.
And then you have to take, uh, islands, uh, to…
as naval bases, as air bases, uh,
and to support the logistics drive across the Pacific.
And to take islands, you essentially have to develop
this-this, uh, particularly specialized, um,
branch of warfare called amphibious warfare,
uh, which the Marines had really focused on.
And-and they were the organization
that was best prepared, had done the most training,
had developed the equipment, uh, for-for, um,
storming even heavily defended beaches
that were in some cases thousands of miles away
from any, uh, allied base.
And so, uh, the very nature of the Pacific War
was that you had to, uh, force these services,
which were not prepared to work together,
to work together.
And in-in doing so, of course, uh, that would expose
all of the frictions, the prejudices, the biases,
the parochialism, uh, that, um, was natural
among military leaders who had grown up
in these very siloed kinds of organizations.
And then overlaid on top of that,
just to make the whole thing even more complex,
uh, you had in Douglas MacArthur,
a sort of a singular figure,
really no one else like him in the American military,
in any branch of the American military,
someone who became very, very famous very quickly,
uh, literally just in the week,
the two weeks after Pearl Harbor had skyrocketed
to this kind of position of, um, being regarded
almost as a kind of demigod by the American people
because of the-the lavish press coverage
that his campaign in the Pacific had received.
And he was a, I think fair to say,
a kind of narcissistic figure, uh,
who really wanted to place himself
at the center of this conflict
against Japan, uh, was jealous of others
who would receive attention and who, uh, you know,
very aggressively was willing to use his fame
as political influence, uh, in order to try
to force the war, uh, to be fought
according to the ideas that-that he had,
uh, on how it should be fought,
which really meant returning to the Philippines first.
Uh, and, uh, and-and es-essentially,
in order to accommodate, uh, MacArthur’s, uh,
immense personality, uh, the way the war was set up
was we divided the Pacific into two separate theaters.
And you had MacArthur in Australia,
the command in the South Pacific.
Then you had the Navy with Nimitz
as commander-in-chief in Hawaii, uh,
and his realm included essentially everything
north of the equator.
Uh, and these two guys, uh, both reported
to the Joint Chiefs in Washington.
And, um, and-and they could talk to each other informally,
uh, but any conflict between them
would have to be resolved in Washington.
And so you had that element laid atop, uh,
what was already a pretty messy situation
in the way that the services had to-to work together.
And so w-when you-when you look at all of those issues,
all of those problems, uh, all of-all of those-those frictions,
those inherent frictions, um, it’s remarkable, I think,
that our military was able to-to kind of get itself together,
uh, and win this war in less than four years.
Well, and you think about, I mean, you-you talked
about MacArthur almost being a demigod,
but I feel like it’s a pa- You know, when you look
at all of the-the august military figures
from that day, it’s like a giant cast of stars
with MacArthur maybe as the-as the superstar.
But I think about how overwhelming these people were
in terms of force of personality and-and the depth
of their experience, that when some guy like FDR,
who has been the ringmaster, sort of,
who-who for so many years is able to juggle
all these enormous personalities and work them against each other
and charm them all, when he leaves the scene
because he dies in office, and leaves it to a guy
who’s been vice president for about two seconds,
and who doesn’t necessarily, uh, remind one
of some august, super strong personality,
and you throw him into a room where he’s gotta make decisions
between these people who may be of different opinions
on things, right? Um, it makes me wonder
how different the war would’ve gone
had FDR managed to-to ride it out health-wise until the end.
Uh, how much does a green Harry Truman change things,
or does it just sort of run on autopilot, do you think?
Um, because of the, you know, you got-you’re not going
to over-overwhelm a MacArthur, who FDR once called,
as you know, uh, one of the two most dangerous men
in the world, along with Huey Long.
You’re not gonna o-you’re not gonna overwhelm him.
As a matter of fact, we-as we know,
that-that will come to a head in the next war in Korea,
where Harry Truman and Douglas MacArthur will bump heads.
But, I mean, it d-does it run on autopilot,
or do you think Truman put his-his stamp
on the way the war finished up at all?
Well, I think the-the war in Europe was-was virtually done.
Um, FDR died, I think, almost exactly a year before,
um, victory in Europe Day, V-E Day.
Um, and so, uh, I would say that, um,
the situation in Europe, at least the war in Europe,
uh, was on autopilot.
The negotiations with Stalin in particular
were not, uh, and so, um, Truman definitely had to step
into some very large shoes there quickly.
The war in-in, um, the Pacific,
there is a lot of counterfactual speculation
that you can do in the scenario where FDR lived.
Um, y-you know, so much of-of our government’s,
um, uh, thinking about how to end the war in the Pacific
turned on this idea of, you know,
you know, what is, um, this unconditional surrender
formulation require of us?
FDR had set this thing out.
He had, it was a very personal decision that he made
to make unconditional surrender, uh, the, um,
the, essentially, the asking price, uh, for peace.
And, uh, you know, he had gone back to-to an inaccurate anecdote
about how the American Civil War had ended.
Um, but clearly, what he had in mind
was avoiding a reprise of the end of the First World War in Europe,
in which the seeds of-of the Second World War had been planted
and the rise of Nazism after, uh, the Treaty of Versailles.
And so, he-he wanted to-to be sure that Germany and Japan
were defeated utterly and-and critically
that the people of those countries understand,
understood that they had been defeated utterly.
And so, he had insisted upon this unconditional surrender formulation.
And then he dies, and-and our-our leaders are kind of left
with this question of, well, we have to-we have to do justice
to-to what our-our dead chief, uh, wanted.
Uh, and for our own credibility,
we have to insist upon unconditional surrender.
But what does that mean, exactly? Unconditional surrender.
It seems simple, but when you start to spin out
all the possible permutations of how a surrender might occur,
uh, it raises, uh, more questions than it answers.
And so, uh, Truman steps into this situation in which we,
you know, we do not have a very clear idea of-of what we expect
from the Japanese in terms of how this surrender will occur.
We do not want to invade those islands.
Uh, we have this new weapon, the atomic bomb.
Uh, Truman, by the way, had not been briefed
on the existence of the atomic bomb,
which seems like an extraordinary oversight.
Um, considering that FDR was in failing health,
his doctors knew he was in failing health.
Uh, and-and yet, uh, Truman was simply not prepared.
He had not been properly briefed.
Uh, and it-it seems like really an extraordinary failure
of, um, just the principles of constitutional government.
And that’s something that I think FDR has to…
His-his legacy has to-has to be charged, uh, with that failure.
Um, but, uh, you know, so-so the counterfactual questions are,
you know, would we have used the atomic bombs
in the way that we use them?
Uh, you know, so-so often the-the question of the atomic bombs
is kind of reduced to a binary.
Should we or shouldn’t we have used them?
I think the harder question is,
should we have used them in the way that we use them?
In particular, should we have dropped them
without any sort of explicit prior warning?
And should we have dropped them on cities
rather than on a military base, at least the first one?
And, um, and-and it’s, you know, you-one can only speculate,
really, because there is so little that FDR said.
There’s so little in the-in the historical record
indicating what his thinking was,
particularly about the use of these weapons.
Um, and yet, uh, I think it’s clear that he would have seen them
as a weapon that should be used
if there was a way to avoid invading Japan.
Um, and yet, uh, would he have consented to drop them on cities
rather than on military targets?
I think that’s a hard question to ask.
I think certainly you could argue that FDR, uh, would have said,
we dropped the first one on a military target.
I’m the commander-in-chief.
I’ve-I’ve said, uh, what we’re doing,
and I’m not taking any backtalk from any of you guys
with-with, uh, Gold, Braid, and Stars.
Certainly, he-he would not have felt any compunction
about ruling directly on the question in that respect,
uh, in a way that Truman, I don’t think, was ready to do that.
That’s the real counterfactual, I think,
is would we have used the bombs in the way that we used them
if F-FDR had lived?
And, uh, you know, as I said, I-I think it’s speculative,
but I think there are some good reasons to believe
that we would not have used them in the way that we used them.
Uh, had, uh, FDR lived through the end of the war.
You know, when you look at the Second World War,
um, you know, you read book- books like Neil Ferguson’s works,
for example, and-and you realize what a-what a large role
race played in the whole thing.
So, in-in Europe, you have the whole master race question
involved in-in Nazi ideology.
In Asia, both sides can be called racist
because the Japanese have-have a sort of a master race philosophy.
The Americans and the, uh, and the British and the French
and the Western powers look upon the Japanese
the way they look upon a lot of different non-white peoples.
Um, how much, and-and there’ve been a lot of good works
lately about the racial aspect, but-but if we were fighting,
and I don’t wanna say fighting Scandinavians,
because basically, everything we did to the Japanese,
we did to the Germans too, in terms of bombing
and everything else, and the atomic bomb was developed
to be dropped on Germany, so, and that’s a…
But-but how much does, do you think now,
if we had more of the, I-I was gonna say racial,
uh, racial tolerance thinking of the sort we have today,
but some would argue about that, but I think it would be
a different war compared to the 1940s, um, views on race
that weren’t just something in the West,
but that most countries had a different view
on, uh, skin color, culture, background, uh, stereotypes,
and all that kinds of stuff. Talk to me a little bit
about the-the race idea in the Pacific Asia theater
in the Second World War.
Yeah, well, I mean, you know, clearly, race-race hatred
was-was at the center of the propaganda
of both the, uh, allies and the Japanese.
Um, and, uh, uh, you know, it was partly the way
that the Japanese had-had conducted themselves
during the war, I think, aroused this peculiar race hatred.
Uh, many of those who would engage
in the most awful sorts of rhetoric.
Uh, I mean, I’m thinking of a-a parade that occurred
in Fifth Avenue in Manhattan in June 1942,
is the same month as the Battle of Midway.
Uh, and it was essentially a parade to celebrate
the city’s, uh, participation, mobilizing for war.
And they had these huge parade floats, uh, which were rats,
uh, and wearing Japanese army uniforms.
Um, and, uh, and you almost have to sort of rub your eyes
when you see these things.
You realize it’s not that long ago,
it’s within living memory, in New York City,
uh, in-in which, really, the most virulent sorts
of, um, metaphors were used.
Um, you know, it was a-it was a different time,
it was a different war.
Uh, many of those who engaged in-in that-that sort of,
uh, you know, racist, uh, rhetoric, uh,
were also genuinely sympathetic to the Chinese,
and saw the Chinese as our allies, and, um,
and-and were moved by the suffering of the Chinese
at the hands of the Japanese.
Um, so, you know, I-I just think I-we’re-we’re all
I-I just think I-one of the under-told stories
just occurring to me now in-in the Pacific
was the role of the Nisei, the Japanese-Americans.
We-we know well that one of the most decorated regiments
in the army was a Japanese-American Hawaiian regiment
that fought in Italy.
Um, but, uh, you had Japanese-Americans
from Hawaii and-and, uh, California
and the West Coast, uh, who were, um, uh,
serving as translators, uh, during these-these battles
in, um, Okinawa and Saipan and the Philippines.
And, uh, there were cases of extraordinary heroism,
uh, on the part of these Americans,
many of whom had their families interned in camps,
uh, back home, who were-would, um, you know,
there’s a-there’s a story of a, uh, you know,
one of these guys who’s really just-his job
is just to be a translator, but, you know,
he grabs a grenade, he goes, he knocks on the, uh,
hatch of a Japanese tank, he addresses them in Japanese,
telling them that he has a message from the colonel,
they open the hatch, he drops a grenade,
and, um, you had, uh, Japanese-American translators
descending into caves in Okinawa,
negotiating for their surrender face-to-face
with people who could easily kill them,
um, volunteering to do this,
not because they were ordered to do it.
Uh, and-and when you-when you, um,
realized that they were making these kinds of sacrifices,
you realize, um, you know, just how perverse it was,
really, for us to have allowed, uh, our own propaganda,
in many cases, to use the kinds of, um, uh, you know,
really repulsive racial stereotypes
and hateful rhetoric that-that we engaged in.
And, you know, I don’t see myself as a prosecutor,
uh, you know, I-I think you have to recognize
that this was a very different time
and very extreme circumstances,
and yet, when you look at that, uh, certainly as an American,
you-you-you sort of wish that we could have done
some of those things differently.
You know, it’s funny, though, those sorts of backdrops
do allow for, uh, some of the more wonderful
human moments to come out.
I’m-I’m reminded there was a,
I think it was in John Tolan’s book,
there was a-a scene during the-the Bataan Death March,
I think it was, where some Japanese officer,
I’m gonna get it wrong here, but-but sees, like,
a class ring on one of the Americans
from, like, Notre Dame or USC or something,
and walks up and embraces them,
because they were there and said, you know,
-“What class were you?” I mean, those moments
where, because you’re in such a hell,
those little human connections
seem to stand out so much more.
Um, and-and, you know, I think about,
and you’d mentioned the-the prisoners of war and all that.
One of the things that, when you talked,
and there are very few of them left, I guess,
but when you talked to-to veterans
from the Second World War,
did you ever notice the difference
in the-in the Pacific veterans, um,
remembrances or attitudes after the war,
and-and the ones in the European theater
or in North Africa or in Italy?
Uh, it just seemed like there was a lot more lingering,
uh, bitterness on the Pacific veterans’ parts,
uh, at least in my experience.
Did you notice that as well?
Oh, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah.
I mean, you know, there were many, many, um,
uh, American and-and I-I think also allied British,
Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, uh, troops,
um, who just never were able to-to, uh,
overcome this kind of deeply felt hatred
for all Japanese and for the entire nation,
uh, of the Japanese.
Interestingly, um, there is a-a real difference
in the way that those troops who served
in the occupation in Japan after the war felt.
And-and I don’t have any survey data.
I mean, you know, if-if there had been some survey data,
I think it would have borne this out
because it’s-it’s-it was a-a fascinating pattern
that I’ve seen in my interviews with hundreds and hundreds
of World War II veterans.
Those who were in Japan after the war
serving with the occupation,
they tended to have a much more nuanced view
of the Japanese and even very warm feelings,
uh, toward the Japanese.
They grasp very quickly, uh, that the way that, um,
the Japanese army had conducted itself on the battlefield,
uh, and the way that many of our prisoners have been treated
was not a reflection of the Japanese people overall,
but were-those were specific crimes
committed by specific people.
And that, uh, ordinary Japanese people had been,
in a sense, victims of the war as well.
That was a-a realization that came much more, uh,
naturally in my experience,
speaking, again, just to many hundreds of veterans,
uh, for those who-who had been served in Japan
after the war, uh, as opposed to those
who had never really set foot in Japan
and had just come straight home from the war.
Yes, well, so just close contact always has the opportunity
for people to get to know one another
on a human level.
Um, so-so, and I-I won’t keep you very much longer,
but I’m curious about, like, how you filter through,
um, the-the Cold War, um, um, um, opaqueness.
So-so, for example, when I was younger,
trying to figure out the role of the emperor in Japan
was always colored by, uh, the needs of the Cold War
and having Japanese cooperation early on.
Um, you know, you had talked also about records
becoming available, and it makes me think
of Chinese records now and-and former Soviet records
that the Russians are releasing.
Um, in-in-in the sense of trying to rewrite the history
of-of the Second World War based on, um, the-the…
What’s the word I’m looking for?
The-the fact that there were, I mean,
let’s-let’s start with Hirohito’s role.
Um, Herbert P. Bix wrote a whole book on Hirohito,
and I remember being amazed how much it conflicted
with, uh, the-the Hirohito as a puppet figure
that I had been taught.
Um, what-what is your view on that?
And how do you-how do you work your way as a-as a researcher
through the deliberate, um, uh, story of the Cold War
that maybe tries to hide some of Hirohito’s, uh, uh,
ability to influence some of these decisions?
Yeah, well, I… You know, I was a boy in Japan.
Um, Dan, I-I was in Japan from, uh, 1978 to 1981.
I was age 11.
Oh, I had no idea.
I was age 11 through 14.
Um, my father was, uh, working for an international bank
And, uh, Hirohito was the emperor then.
We would actually go to the, uh…
We’d go to the Imperial Palace on his birthday.
We’d see him out there, you know, waving to the crowds.
He was a beloved figure.
We had a-a live-in, uh, housekeeper who, you know,
had a photo of him and who spoke of him as, you know,
almost like a personal father figure.
And so, um, you know, all of that is-is very, sort of,
very, sort of, personal and-and, um, you know,
sort of a visceral understanding of…
They really had this-this, um…
He-he was more than a-a king, really.
He was no-no longer a god, uh, and I’m talking about
the period when I was there as a boy.
Um, and yet, there were still these deep feelings
of affection that ordinary Japanese had felt toward him.
And so, you know, clearly, um, the Japanese needed, uh…
I mean, it-it was understood that the-the continuation
of the Imperial House after the war was in our interests
in order to ease the occupation.
Um, when, uh, there were calls for Hirohito to be arrested
as a war criminal, potentially prosecuted along with the-the
other Japanese war criminals at the Tokyo war crimes trials,
uh, um, MacArthur, who opposed this, uh, said to Washington,
uh, listen, if you wanna do this, I need at least
800,000 more troops.
And that quickly put an end to this talk of arresting Hirohito.
And so, uh, there were immediate contingent reasons
why it was clearly the right thing to do
in order to ease this occupation,
or at the same time, to kind of get Japan back on its feet
as a bulwark against communism, because very quickly,
as you say, our concern in Asia and throughout the world
shifted toward-toward holding the Soviet Union back,
and then, of course, China after the Civil War there.
Um, and so, for all of those reasons,
it just made sense to keep Hirohito on his throne
and to make him into a partner.
Um, and again, for those same reasons,
it was not in our interest to expose precisely the degree
to which, uh, he really had played an active role,
uh, in, um, uh, commanding his military forces,
uh, at least after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
His-his role is-is sort of muddled, it’s ambiguous.
He-he resisted the drift toward war,
and then he supported it after it seemed
to go well.
Uh, and so, uh, it was really after his death in 1989
that some of the, uh, documents that exposed this-this greater
role that he had played that Herbert Bix, uh, outlined
in his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, he mentioned,
uh, in particular, the document known as the Soliloquy,
which was, um, uh, essentially a series of notes
taken by Hirohito’s private secretary,
in which he had, uh, reminisced about different aspects
of the war, uh, which showed, really, that he had played
this much more active role, um, and, uh, and so, you know,
I-I think it’s-it’s been a process since 1989
for the Japanese to gradually, um, come to understand,
uh, that their emperor, you know, had not been
the person who was presented to them in the mythology,
um, and that’s continuing, and their role
with their imperial house is today very ambiguous.
You’ve had an emperor who’s actually advocated something
that had not happened before, and so, um,
uh, you know, I-I think that often in the West,
we, you know, we-we tend to say the Japanese
simply haven’t faced up to their history.
I think that that-that’s still true to a degree,
but-but, um, it-it often misses the fact
that there has been quite a bit of progress in Japan,
uh, in, um, beginning to-to face up to a greater extent,
uh, to the importance of this history, and-and, um,
you know, now that the eyes of the world are on Tokyo
as the Olympics start, um, you know,
I-I just don’t see any possibility
that in their opening ceremony, they would go back
and try to explain their history, uh,
at least that part of their history.
Uh, but there may-a day may come when-when the Japanese,
a future generation of Japanese, may be more willing,
uh, to sort of examine in a more public way,
uh, what happened in their period of their dark valley,
the 1930s to the-their defeat in 1945.
I think that’s a human thing.
I think-I think most countries in the world
have parts of their population that have a hard time
going back and analyzing painful periods
when maybe the best decisions or the best actions weren’t made.
Uh, before I let you go, is there anything
I didn’t ask you about that you’d like to convey?
The-the-the three-book series is a triumph.
If you haven’t read it, folks, um, we used it extensively.
You have a wonderful way of finding
the best historical anecdotes to-to pepper the story with
that just really, really gives a great sense of the context.
Is there anything, uh, that I didn’t ask you about
that’s worth talking about before I let you go?
You know, something I was just thinking of, Mike,
as I was out walking this morning,
um, you often, in-in your podcast,
you often come up with these-these kinds of metaphors
that no historian would have thought of to make up a point.
Well, for their career’s sake, probably.
Well, but often they kind of get to the heart of something.
And-and, um, you know, I-I was just thinking
in the Pacific War, we had, um, what I lay out in the book
as being the cumulative versus the sequential strategies.
Cumulative strategy is essentially the campaign
across the Pacific, island by island, battle by battle.
You can diagram it on the map with arrows.
It’s the march across the Pacific toward Japan.
Then you had the, um, what they called the cumulative strategies,
which were like the submarine war against Japanese shipping
or strategic bombing of Japanese industries and cities.
And these are, rather than discrete battles, uh,
these are-are military actions which have this kind
of cumulative effect of undermining the Japanese, uh,
economy, their ability to wage war.
And one of the fascinating questions, sort of higher order
strategic questions in the Pacific was, uh,
how do you allocate your resources to these two different
ways of fighting this war?
Often your field commanders, uh, really are thinking
only of the next battle.
Um, and-and, uh, one of the things that I think
our-our military eventually did right,
although it took us a while to kind of get-get the hang of it,
uh, was to devote much more effort to this cumulative
sort of attack on the-on the, um, the-the cornerstones
of the Japanese economy and war effort.
And-and so that-that question, you know, how do you allocate
resources between those two very different wars
that are happening at the same time?
Uh, a metaphor, uh, I’m a baseball fan,
and a metaphor occurred to me, which is, you know,
how do you evaluate a baseball player, uh, who may be
a great hitter and a lousy fielder?
Or another, uh, another, um, player who is a great fielder
and only an average hitter?
So what is the-the value of fielding versus, uh, hitting
Now, this is something that for many, many years
in the game of baseball, uh, the managers were not getting right
because they didn’t have the data analytics, uh,
to go in and analyze that-that, um, problem in a systematic way
using the data that baseball provides.
And all of that has changed.
Michael Lewis’s Moneyball is probably the best account
of-of this revolution in baseball.
We had a bunch of data analysts who really knew nothing
about baseball, but were very, very good at analyzing data.
Uh, there’s a metaphor there in the way that our military forces
at a high level had to confront this question of how should we
use our forces, should we dedicate them to the cumulative
versus the operational, uh, the, um, sequential strategies?
And, um, and-and eventually, the answer was, uh,
we should be doing a lot more on the cumulative side.
Uh, and that became one of the important factors
that led to a much earlier defeat of-of Japan
than, uh, we had anticipated at the beginning of the war.
That’s fascinating. I would…
The-the connection with Moneyball and the Second World War,
long-term overall strategy.
Ian W. Toll, your work is fantastic.
Thank you so much for coming on the program.
And, uh, I look forward to what’s next.
Well, I’m trying-I’m trying my hand at fiction,
I’m sorry to say. Um, I wanted a new challenge.
But I did promise my editor that I eventually would write
a sequel to Six Frigates, so that’s on deck.
All right, fantastic. Thank you so much for taking the time.
We really appreciate it.
Thank you, Dan.
That was a ton of fun.
My thanks to Ian Toll for coming on the program.
I don’t know when you’re gonna get this,
but, uh, his three-book boxed set will either be out
by the time you hear me, or, um, soon afterwards.
It includes Pacific Crucible, The Conquering Tide,
and Twilight of the Gods.
And he has a lot of other books as well, so check him out.
If you like what we do, I bet you’ll enjoy
what he does as well.
Just a reminder, keep your eyes peeled.
We should have a-an interview with him
at the end of the week.
Keep your eyes peeled.
We should have a-an interview with an author
on a very different subject
in the not-too-distant future come out.
Two hits in quick succession to make up
for the long delay between offerings.
Thanks for your patience, and as always,
um, thank you for everything, folks.
Support us with Patreon by going to patreon.com
forward slash Dan Carlin,
or go to our donate page at dancarlin.com
forward slash dc-donate.
Have you ever been on a battlefield tour?
You know what I’m talking about, right?
You-you go to a famous battlefield
and you take the tour.
And there’s a very knowledgeable tour guide,
and they-they walk you around
with the rest of the tour group,
and they show you the battlefield from,
you know, a-a soldier’s eye perspective.
Show you the salient, uh, historical points of interest,
gives you a sense of what was going on
on the ground back during the battle.
I mean, they’re really wonderful,
and if you get a chance to do that, you should.
Those of you who’ve been lucky enough to go on
one of those things, or maybe if you’re really lucky,
two of those things, we’ll vouch for how helpful they are
into really giving you a sense of what was going on
that no book can really match, for example.
Well, during the COVID pandemic,
I was contacted by a group of people who do this.
They’re battlefield tour guides and military historians,
and they take people, uh, around places like
the First World War battlefields in France, right?
Well, when the pandemic hit, though,
like so many other businesses,
they were up a creek without a paddle, weren’t they?
What are you gonna do if you’re a battlefield tour guide,
and there’s no tourists, because of the pandemic?
So, like many other businesses around the world,
they took a look at their business and retooled it,
and restructured it, and reimagined it.
And the way they reimagined it,
I’m tempted to say it’s better than the original,
although, you know, few things beat a good battlefield tour.
And they still do that on the ground live,
but now they do it virtually as well.
And it’s so exciting, because you may know,
I get involved in things like immersive experiences
and virtual reality, and all these ways,
uh, that I think are key sparks for people
to get interested in history, beyond the names,
beyond the dates, appetizers, right?
That’s what I always say in the podcast,
is to an appetizer to history.
Well, the folks over at Battle Guide Virtual Tours
are doing this, too. They’ve turned their tours,
which they, as I said, still do live, into virtual events.
Combine on-the-ground footage with the expert,
you know, the historian, or the battlefield tour guide,
add drone footage, period footage,
the voices of veterans mixed in there.
Archival film footage. I mean, a truly interactive
and, um, fascinating sort of an affair.
And if you catch it live, by the way,
you get to ask questions as though you were actually there.
Now, if you’re doing this in real life,
these are prohibitively expensive things,
unless you live near the battlefield.
But because it’s been turned into a virtual tour,
this becomes affordable for almost everybody.
And these guys are offering the tours in one-off choices.
I mean, you can go look at their catalog
and pick any one you want, just buy that.
Or you could subscribe, and for a lower price per episode,
get access to everything they have
and everything they’re continually adding.
I think it’s really cool.
I love this as a way to sort of democratize
for people all over the world,
this battlefield tour experience.
And think about it this way, there are places
that a lot of people get to. I mean, you know,
getting a trip to France is not all that unusual,
but there are battlefields in these guys’ archives,
or soon to be, that are in places
that are very difficult for most people to get to.
So, a virtual tour may be the best choice for everyone.
Check it out, though. They’re offering a free one,
if you want to see what we’re talking about here.
They’re confident that you’ll see it and want more, right?
So, just go to battleguide.co.uk forward slash carlin,
battleguide.co.uk forward slash carlin,
and, you know, add one of those battlefield tours
to your shopping cart, and then you’ll get the discount,
you’ll get to see it for free, and then you can decide
if you like it enough to buy more.
But I’ll tell you something, this is one of those things
where I’m comfortable telling you about it,
because I’m… This is the kind of thing I’m all over, right?
Virtual tours of battlefields by experts,
utilizing all this technology,
and any cool thing that comes down the pike
probably going to be added to these offerings, too.
Check it out, Battle Guide Virtual Tours.
Everything from the Napoleonic Wars
to the modern-day stuff, specialized in First
and Second World War history.
Well, I think it’s the future, to be honest,
of battlefield tours, and I hope you like what you see.