Not long after Russia invaded Ukraine, I started to read The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire by John Toland. This Pulitzer prize-winning history had been on my list for a long time. I’ve read quite a few books on the history of the Second World War in Europe, and I’ve read books like Richard Rhodes’ outstanding The Making of the Atomic Bomb, but I had never read a history of the Second World War in the Pacific theater, let alone one that delves so deeply into the reasons for Japan’s aggression.
As I write this post, I am at the exact halfway point in the thousand page history and I am really enjoying it. So much, in fact, that I have started to line up some books to follow it–the butterfly effect of reading, flapping its wings. The books I have started to line up include:
- The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shrier, which seems the natural compliment to The Rising Sun
- Adolf Hitler by John Toland, because I’ve enjoyed Toland’s writing so far in The Rising Sun and while I read Mein Kampf for a political science course in college, I’ve never read a biography of Hitler himself.
- Hiroshima by John Hersey
- Fallout: The Hiroshima Cover-Up and the Reporter Who Revealed It to the World by Lesley M. M. Blume
- Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener, mainly as a fictional epilogue to all of this war reading.
In reading the news of the day, I read somewhere that Russian fighter pilots don’t have the same level or amount of training as American fighter pilots and that is part of the reason that their attacks on Ukraine have been less than what they might have expected. When I read that, I immediately thought about the battle of Guatalcanal that I’ve been reading about in Toland’s book. There, Japan had limited skilled pilots and that played a significant role in their inability to take the island. Yet another case of the past providing lessons for the present.
I noted another historical parallel early in the book, when certain members of the Japanese government attempted an insurection (gekokoju) in 1936. Their idea was to assassinate several high government officials. They didn’t completely succeed. Reading that reminded me of the Lincoln assassination, in which not only was Lincoln killed, but an attempt was made on Secretery of State William Seward. There was also a plan to assassinate Vice President Andrew Johnson.
That I am read about war during an ongoing war in Europe is probably a coincidence. As I said, I’d had The Rising Sun on my list for a long time, and decided to finally turn to it as I was making my way through The Man from the Future . Still, I can’t be 100% certain it was coincidence. I suspect that some part of me, reading about everything happening in Ukraine, is looking for parallels in history, as I often do. It just so happened that I already had a book queued up.
Written on March 11, 2022.
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