- Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway
Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully add yet another volume to the long list of books on the historic encounter at Midway. While most of their predecessors have fallen into the same mold—looking at the battle from the American vantage only—Parshall and Tully break new ground in bringing the Japanese perspective into the picture.
The authors make no bones about it up front. They correctly claim that most American accounts use the same sources to look at the battle from the Japanese vantage point, mainly Fuchida Mitsuo and Okumiya Masatake's 1955 Midway: The Battle that Doomed Japan. The authors contend that this is an immense error, for Fuchida's book has long been dismissed by Japanese scholars and military accounts. Only in the United States has Fuchida been universally accepted.
The authors state that their book attempts to do three things—present the battle from the Japanese side, study it almost exclusively from an aircraft carrier viewpoint, and point out the errors and exaggerations in a group of myths that have surrounded the battle. The authors succeed in all three goals.
Certainly, this book is the first to so heavily rely on Japanese documentation for the Battle of Midway, including Imperial Navy studies that have never been used before. Other historians have dabbled in this area, but Parshall and Tully appropriately and bravely plunge head first into Japanese documentation.
They also view the battle as if standing on the bridge of one of the Japanese aircraft carriers, which both helps and hurts. It better illuminates the Japanese experience, both in terms of officer judgments and survivor experiences, but it tends to excessively downplay the American role. For instance, Adm. Raymond A. Spruance, the American commander at Midway, played a crucial part in the battle's outcome, yet the authors fail to include Thomas Buell's landmark biography of Spruance in their bibliography. A small point, perhaps, as the authors' main objective is to present the Japanese side, but Spruance's decisions played a prominent role in what happened to the Japanese.
On the final goal—debunking myths that have arisen—the authors persuasively argue their cases. As an example, they point out that the Aleutian operation was not part of the Midway assault, but an offensive thrust of its [End Page 537] own. Had the Aleutian attack been meant to support Midway by trying to draw American forces out of Pearl Harbor, the operation would have begun sooner than one day before Midway, to give the American fleet time to react. Rather than an adjunct to Midway, the Aleutian operation was yet another example of how the Japanese became overstretched in the heady days following Pearl Harbor and attempted to seize more than they could handle.
The authors have produced a superb volume. While based on solid research and extensive documentation, it is written so clearly that it will appeal to a general audience. Its chief value lies in the impetus it will hopefully give historians to be more vigorous in examining Japanese sources, whether about Midway or any other Pacific operation. If so, their book may lead to extensive reinterpretations of key incidents.