Empires on the Pacific

Overview

By moving China to center stage, Robert Smith Thompson expands the traditional boundaries of the Pacific Theater of World War II and casts the conflict in an entirely new light. What is commonly viewed as a discrete military conflict between an aggressive Japan with imperial ambitions and a reluctant, passive America now becomes the stuff of Greek tragedy. The overreaching British Empire is waning, yet is unwilling to relinquish its foothold in China, while an increasingly ambitious Japan is determined to ...

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Overview

By moving China to center stage, Robert Smith Thompson expands the traditional boundaries of the Pacific Theater of World War II and casts the conflict in an entirely new light. What is commonly viewed as a discrete military conflict between an aggressive Japan with imperial ambitions and a reluctant, passive America now becomes the stuff of Greek tragedy. The overreaching British Empire is waning, yet is unwilling to relinquish its foothold in China, while an increasingly ambitious Japan is determined to dominate the region and conquer China as part of that plan. Enter the young upstart, America, with imperial ambitions of its own in Asia. The United States meant to replace Britain as the dominant power in Asia and saw Japan as a direct threat to that dominance. For Franklin Delano Roosevelt and for the United States, the war with Japan had little to do with revenge for Pearl Harbor. Japan would have to be vanquished so that it would never again be an imperial rival.This recasting of the Asian conflict profoundly alters our understanding not just of World War II in the Pacific but also of what followed in the Korean War and the war in Vietnam. Revisionist history at its best, Empires on the Pacific will provoke discussion and debate and it will alter our view of what many still consider the last "good war."Interest in WWII has never been higher: The summertime release of Touchstone Pictures' blockbuster Pearl Harbor-accompanied by Basic Books' own Pearl Harbor (April 19 release)-will create tremendous interest in the Pacific theater of WWII. Timely publication: The book anticipates the 60th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 2001. Striking, revisionist, controversial: America's wartime actions in the Pacific were not revenge for Pearl Harbor but were part of America's larger imperial ambitions to replace the British Empire as the dominant force in Asia, and, especially, in China. America won the war with Japan but lost the peace, which led, inevitably, to the Korean War and to the war in Vietnam. A long overdue explanation of what America's war against Japan was all about-in a word: China.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Thompson's title is somewhat misleading since his book is primarily about the United States, China, and Japan, while other countries are only supporting players. There is no argument from this reviewer that the Great Pacific War was among empires and that Japan's war against China was the primary cause of U.S.-Japanese friction, but the author's attempt to show that the United States was primarily fighting to control China in the postwar world is not at all well substantiated. There is too much narrative of the familiar military operations in the Pacific and not enough about the undoubted diplomatic and political maneuvering to extend America's influence in Asia. More a history of the war than an expos of evil imperialist aims, this work can be considered a companion to Thompson's earlier A Time for War: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Path to Pearl Harbor (LJ 7/91), which blamed the president for the Japanese attack. This jumble of a book will be of interest only to large World War II, diplomatic, and Asian history collections. (Maps, photos, and index not seen.) -Daniel K. Blewett, Coll. of DuPage Lib., Glen Ellyn, IL
Kirkus Reviews
Revisionist history casting the 20th-century struggle for control of the Pacific Rim nations as a conflict among various expanding empires. Noted for arguing in A Time for War (1991) that President Roosevelt provoked the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Thompson (History/Univ. of South Carolina) turns here to mid-20th-century attempts by Britain, China, Japan, and the US to gain supremacy in the Far East. He argues that as British colonialism waned, a political void emerged throughout eastern Asia and inspired the Japanese government, starved for natural resources, to fill the resulting power vacuum. As early victories in China created momentum, Japan's armies forcibly expelled the British from much of the region and, according to Thompson, awakened a national belief that it could take on the industrial might of the US. The author also explores infighting between Chinese nationalist Chiang Kai-shek and communist Mao Zedong and suggests that the US attempted to position itself to assume Britain's economic role following the ultimate defeat of Japan. Thompson further supports his argument by documenting General Douglas MacArthur's obsession with reestablishing himself as the most important figure in the Philippines after his early flight from the island fortress of Corregidor. This combination of opportunism and paternalism, Thompson asserts, established a new economic colonialism that eventually led the US into morally ambiguous conflicts in Korea and Vietnam. While of possible interest to a general audience seeking to explore the historically neglected WWII Pacific theater, this generally conventional history fails to provoke the controversy many readers will expect.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465085750
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 11/13/2001
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 448
  • Lexile: 1110L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 9.56 (h) x 1.59 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Prologue: Washington, December 8, 1941 xi
Part I The Road to War
1 The Fall of Imperial China 3
2 Japan's Response to the West 21
3 The Open Door 41
4 New Order in East Asia 57
5 The Road to Pearl Harbor 75
Part II Japan's Far-Flung Battle Line
6 The Onslaught 101
7 The Singapore Debacle 123
8 Warriors of the Rising Sun 141
9 But Not in Shame 159
10 Midway 177
Part III The Receding of the Tide
11 America Rising 199
12 The Hammer and the Anvil 221
13 Grand Strategy 239
14 Unanswerable Strength 257
15 Turning Points 277
Part IV Recasting the Imperial Far East
16 Yalta 297
17 Return to the Colonies 313
18 The New Taipans 327
19 The Masters 343
20 They Call It Peace 363
Epilogue: World War II and the Road to Vietnam 377
Notes 391
Sources 401
Index 415
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2004

    Liberators, not Conquerors?

    The Japanese attack on a U.S. Naval Base in Hawaii was unprovoked and unexpected. The U.S. was 'minding its own business' when it was 'brutally' attacked by Japan. The U.S. had 'no choice' but to firebomb major cities in Japan and Germany, killing thousands of civilians. The U.S. had 'no choice' but to drop Atomic and Hydrogen bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing and maiming several hundred thousand civilians. If you accept these historical 'facts' then don't bother reading this book because it will ruin your day. Books like this are dismissed as 'revisionist' because the questions they raise are too unpleasant to deal with. For those who are familiar with geopolitical realities however, the assertions the author makes are not hard to come to terms with. It is a fairly enjoyable read for a history book and I recommend it to those who still aren't afraid to question what they have been 'taught' in school.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2002

    Revisionism at its worst

    When I read the publisher's synopsis and the reviews by other authors, I was looking forward to reading a thought provoking book. Now that I am finished, I wonder if they read the same book. At best, the book is a mediocre general history of World War II in the Pacific. The author fails to soundly argue his case or draw hard conclusions for the reader. He relies upon the selective inclusion and omission of facts to force the reader to draw his own conclusions. For example, when discussing the use of the atomic bombs, he mentions that the invasion of Japan was scheduled for April, 1946, implying that the United States had ample time to blockade Japan into submission. He does not mention that the invasion of Kyushu was scheduled for November 1945. The Battle for Okinawa would have paled in comparison. He also states that Okinawa remains a U.S. zone of extraterritoriality. He does not mention that U.S. occupation formally ended in 1973 and that the U.S. military has significantly reformed its cooperation with Okinawan civil authorities to include giving Japanese courts jurisdiction over cases involving U.S. servicemembers. His representations are likely to be believed by people with a shallow knowledge of the region, especially during World War II, with an inclination to blame America first for all the world's ills. Unfortunately, his implications are not firmly based in fact or presented in a coherent manner which seriously impacts the scholarly usefulness of the entire book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2001

    Superficial re-hash of the Pacific War

    The title promises much. However the majority (95%) of the book could be written on the computer by an amateur historian in 5 days. And that's without much research. With regard to wartime China there is little beyond Tuchman's book about Stilwell. There seems to be sparse insight about American imperialism. World War II books are popular now but they should present scholarly research or new syntheses. There are also annoying editing errors.

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