Monday, August 10, 2009

Shattered Sword, by Jonathan Parshal & Anthony Tully

Shattered Sword
The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway
by Jonathan Parshall & Anthony Tully
2005, Potomac Books
640 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1574889239



Recommended!

I first want to thank Moonrat for allowing me to post my reviews here. Hopefully you will enjoy them as much as I have been enjoying all of yours.

When most people hear the term ‘history book,’ they typically think of those watered-down texts we all read in high school where large swaths of time are melted down into paragraph-sized blubs to be memorized for a test and quickly forgotten. Even so, many of us – myself included – have become infatuated with history and long after leaving the public education system behind seek out books that provide a detailed look into a our past. These focused books can bring us a much greater understanding of an event and as a result, a greater understanding of present day events. But as time goes on, a consensus is usually reached by historians. Subsequent writings become nothing more than reaffirmations of earlier works. However, every so often new information is brought to light about an event that allows for a reassessment of the conventional wisdom. Shattered Sword provides just such a platform.

The Battle of Midway has been chronicled in books and films countless times in the sixty-six years since the battle between the Japanese and American navies during the Second World War. The summer of 1942 has forever been stamped as the turning point in the war in the Pacific and Parshall & Tully do nothing to discount its importance. What the do is provide accessibility to information – most notably large amounts of Japanese writings and documentation – and make them available to English readers in many cases for the very first time. One thing this book is not is revisionist history. If anything, it is a clarification of the facts of what actually happened and – more importantly – the chain of events that took place to bring about one of the most decisive battles in history. The most important result of all of the research is to throw into doubt the idea that the Japanese naval force was vastly superior to the Americans in every way and it was only due to luck and circumstance that the American navy was able to win the day. This is a view that was championed most notably by Mitsuo Fuchida – a Japanese naval officer who participated in the battle - in his book Midway: The Battle That Doomed Japan. This view has been echoed throughout the years, notably in the movie Midway, not just because of Fuchida’s first-hand knowledge and a lack of substantial documentation to the contrary, but because of our American love of being a victorious underdog. But by pouring through stacks of Japanese documentation, Parshall & Tulley are able to piece together a somewhat different account demonstrating that the two navies were far more evenly matched than anyone thought going into the battle. A combination of Japan’s poor military communication, the limited training of the Japanese ship crews, the flawed construction of their ships and their low opinion of the capabilities of the American sailor contributed as much to the outcome of the battle as the tenacity, daring and exquisite training of the American navy. Ultimately, overconfidence and poor planning all but doomed the Japanese navy before the battle even began. Sun Tzu would be proud.

The book provides a thorough view from the Japanese side to compliment the detailed American accounting of books such as Miracle at Midway. Throughout the book, Parshall & Tulley provide the reader an in-depth, well researched treatise. Better yet, they write it in such a way that the reader becomes a part of the events from the very first page all the way to the conclusion, taking you from the conferences of the Japanese leadership to the bridge of Admiral Nagumo’s flagship to the view from the water as a young sailor watches his proud ship go under. The result of this is a book that balances all the facts and provides a clear accounting of everything that led up to the most important single battle of the Pacific War while simultaneously keeping the reader engaged in the drama of the events. Not only is this the best, most thorough book on the Battle of Midway, it is one of the best written and researched books on the Second World War ever produced. If you are going to write history, Parshall and Tully have provided the roadmap on how to do it right with Shattered Sword. This book sets the bar extremely high for any future works on the topic. Shattered Sword is as good as history writing gets.

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