restricted access The End of World War II in Asia: An Interview with Sir Max Hastings
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July/August 2008 · Historically Speaking 19 The End of World War Il in Asia: An Interview with Sir Max Hastings Conducted by Donald A. Yerxa 7HE WAY THE SECOND IFORLD WAR ENDED HADAN ENORmous impact on the remainderof the 20th century andcontinues toprovide the contextforagooddealof internationalrelationstoday. Itisatopicthatstillattractsmuch attentionfrom historians. One of the keeneststudents of modern military history, Sir MaxHastings, has written a new book on the endof the warinAsia: Retribution: The Batde for Japan, 1944-1945 (Knopf, 2008). It is a companion to his Armageddon : The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945 (Knopf, 2004). Likewise, the followinginterview, conductedinApril2008 by Historically Speaking editorDonaldA . Yerxa, isacompaniontohisinterviewwithHastingsaboutArmageddon that ran in ourMarch/April2005 issue. Donald A. Yerxa: How was the ending of World War II in Asia different from the endgame in Europe? Max Hastings: We sometimes make a mistake when we speak of World War II in the singular; in fact, we really should talk about the World Wars II. The war in Asia was fantastically different from the war in Europe. The only people who really regarded both the Asian and the European theaters as an integrated whole were Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill and their respective chiefs of staff. For everyone else, if you were fighting in Europe, Asia seemed a very long way away; and if you were fighting in Asia, then Europe seemed incredibly remote . None of the Allies doubted that the only way to win the war was to defeat and occupy Germany. But in Asia, it all looked rather different . There were a lot of Allied leaders who had serious doubts about whether it would be necessary to invade Japan. Churchill suggested at the Cairo conference and later again at Yalta that diere might be a case for modifying the terms with Japan to shorten the war. But British influence on what happened in Asia was always pretty marginal, and first Roosevelt and then Truman slapped him down. The United States decided to fight to the finish against Japan and accept only unconditional surrender. In my view, they were absolutely right to do so. Some historians have argued that die Allies should have considered die self-esteem of the Japanese and offered them terms. If the Allies had done this, diese historians claim, then it wouldn't have been necessary to drop die atomic bomb. I don't buy any of this. The Japanese had launched a war of aggression in Asia, and it failed with hideous cost in life and treasure, not only to the United States but above all to die people of Asia. In the summer in 1945 it was time to pay, and I can't see why die government of the United States should have been expected to humor Japanese sensibilities. Because the war in Asia is much less known in the United States and in Europe than the war in Europe, some people have said, "Hider represented an absolute evil. Surely the Donald Yerxa interviewing Max Hastings in April 2008. Japanese weren't as bad." Well, if you consulted the people of Asia, they would remind you that at least 15 million Chinese died in World War II (against 300,000 Americans and 350,000 Brits). Five million people died in Southeast Asia, many of them in the most horrible circumstances, all to serve the cause of Japanese imperialism. The Japanese to this day are incredibly uninformed about their wartime history. To an extraordinary degree, Japanese thinking today, even among educated Japanese, is dominated by a belief that they were victims because of what happened at Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and die fire bombings. It is important to note that if at any time the Japanese had wanted to end the war, stop the fire bombings , and avoid Hiroshima and Nagasaki, all they had to do was surrender. Furthermore, Pearl Harbor , Japanese entry into the war, and die attacks on die Philippines and Burma were vasdy more popular with the Japanese people than Hider's declaration of war and invasion of Poland in September 1939 were in Germany. I've chosen my tide, Retribution, advisedly. I think the Japanese people brought their terrible fate upon themselves. Yerxa: Most accounts of the Pacific War by...