Storm Clouds over the Pacific, 1931-1941: War in the Far East Series, Book 1 Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
War in the Far East is a trilogy of books offering the most complete narrative yet written about the Pacific Theater of World War II, and the first truly international treatment of the epic conflict. Historian Peter Harmsen weaves together a complex and revealing narrative, including facets of the war that are often overlooked in historic narratives. He explores the war in subarctic conditions on the Aleutians; details the mass starvations in China, Indochina, and India; and offers a range of perspectives on the war experience, from the Oval Office to the blistering sands of Peleliu.
Storm Clouds over the Pacific begins the story long before Pearl Harbor, showing how the war can only be understood if ancient hatreds and long-standing geopolitics are taken into account. Harmsen demonstrates how Japan and China's ancient enmity led to increased tensions in the 1930s, which, in turn, exploded into conflict in 1937.
The battles of Shanghai and Nanjing were followed by the Battle of Taierzhuang in 1938, China's only major victory. A war of attrition continued up to 1941, the year when Japan made the momentous decision to pursue all-out war. The infamous attack on Pearl Harbor catapulted the United States into the war, as the Japanese also overran British and Dutch territories throughout the western Pacific.
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|Listening Length||9 hours and 4 minutes|
|Whispersync for Voice||Ready|
|Audible.com Release Date||August 24, 2021|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #224,678 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#83 in Southeast Asian History
#246 in Naval Forces Military History
#1,067 in Southeast Asia History
Reviewed in the United States on July 30, 2019
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Most of this book details Japan’s surge into China during the 1930s. History tells us that World War II officially started on September 1, 1939 when Hitler invaded Poland, but upon closer examination, you could make the argument that Japan was the real instigator of the crisis even though there really wasn’t any alliance or connection between Japan and Germany at the time.
In addition to reading about Japan, we also read a lot about the inner turmoil within China as well; specifically the rivalry between Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalists and Mao Zedong’s Communists. The main drive of this book though is that none of this internal conflict would have been so turbulent had it not been for neighboring Japan. So although we do read snippets of Russia, Thailand, and Indochina, the whole narrative is dependent on the Japanese goal of ruthless expansion.
Although this book is somewhat brief, it’s also very well detailed. This, for me, is a sign of an excellent book. I don’t like a book that is too thick with irrelevant details, but I never like it when the author cuts corners just to make the book concise. In other words, I’m fine with a long book as long as I can stay interested, but a shorter well-thought out narrative is good as well. This book seemed the perfect length. I was never bored. As stated though, there are more volumes to follow. So Peter Harmsen could have easily trebled the length of this book had he compiled all three of his narratives into one volume.
If one is unfamiliar with the events in the Far East during the 1930s, it should be pointed out that entire books have been written about events that this author quickly summarizes in a few pages. The Rape of Nanking is a great example. When one quickly reads of the events within the pages of this book, one really can’t begin to understand the true horrors. But again, the goal of this book is not to dive too deep into particular events. It must be said, though, that there are much more detailed (and horrific) accounts out there about such events. (I should also add that this author has a standalone book about the Rape of Nanking.)
As a native of the United States, the most interesting part of this book is when the U.S. gets “involved” in the business between Japan and China. This essentially led to the United States’ engagement in World War II. As time progresses, I’m betting fewer and fewer Americans truly understand the reason why Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. If you want to understand without getting bogged down with particulars, this book is an excellent place to start. In fact, this book ends directly after the Pearl Harbor attack (the same day when Japan also attacked the Philippines, Guam, and Malaya among other places).
What’s also nice is that the first chapter of this book gives a very nice brief history of Japan and China starting over one-thousand years ago. So not only does this book do a great job of telling you the “what”, but it also succeeds in explaining “why” Japan was such a torrid hawkish country for so many centuries.
As I write this review, the second book of the series has now been released. I’m eagerly awaiting to read the follow up to this book; as I am any future additions to this narrative.
The historical comparisons with more familiar European battles or tactics help to explain and bring to light the struggles, obstacles, calculations and miscalculations that played out in the Asian Pacific theater. Slowly it develops through some foreground historical information, on initial clashes, into a clearer view of the later polarization that developed between China and Japan; too often, this was fought out in Korea, which was caught like a shrimp between whales.
Key engagements of minor Asian players are also cleverly woven into this historical narrative that flows off of the page into your imagination. Mongolia, Thailand, Indochina and Cambodia to name a few, are not often explored enough even though they were pivotal scenes of political machinations and military engagements that would dictate the Japanese advance both north and south, for both political and material needs. Harmsen gets into key battles, figures and the strategic views that would play out. I especially, like how the French Vichy and German governments’ actions are included. That was a clear link between European machinations that affected the war in Southeast Asia; which illustrated how it was a world war.
The path to Total War was not a linear progression of planned colonization and imperialism as much as it was because of feverishly zealous Japanese military mavericks on the frontlines who would kinetically force their nations into battles. George Washington’s actions under the British, which sparked the French and Indian War, comes to mind. Once hostilities began, it became harder to give back fought over concessions. Things spiraled out of control. Harmsen explains this quite well through diverse Western and Asian perspectives.
From there, it quickly develops into a nail-biting progression of more sane civilian Japanese politicians/leaders becoming drowned out by the more militant military forces in their quest to overcome western imperialism encroaching upon their empire. The economic crash of the equities market that began in 1929 would spread around the world and sow the seeds of fascism and totalitarianism which infected Japan. Assassinations and plots to overthrow the government would overshadow and overpower the civilian leadership’s desires to prevent militarism and the descent into war. Once the saner civilian leaders became more insignificant in running the government, the quagmire of the China incident would progress further into the violent scene of full-scale war.
One area that I felt the book was shallow on is with atrocities. Specifically, human experimentation, weapons of mass destruction and the Fugu Plan. Japanese offensive poison gas attacks were mentioned but biological weapons attacks were not. There was also no mention of Japanese plans about importing Jewish refugees from Europe into Manchukuo, aka Manchuria, China. China was already overpopulated and planning to import foreigners into an overpopulated nation is horrifically wrong. The Japanese viewed the Jewish people, mostly from Europe, as superior to the native Chinese or Manchurians. Also, Japanese troops raped their genes into China and Southeast Asia.
Interestingly, Harmsen provides evidence, which reaffirms the mainstream historical view, that Japanese Americans were not colluding with the Japanese government against America. Harmsen illustrates this point with the economic divide between Americans and Japanese of the time. Ordinary Japanese Americans most certainly enjoyed a much higher living standard than ordinary people in Japan. They also formed genuine roots in America having lived and grown up there. Finally, a Japanese spy in Hawaii, reported on how Japanese Americans were loyal to America.
Overall, this book is not overwhelming in historical detail but it does paint a more comprehensive or understandable view of how the war in the Pacific developed as it did in a very interesting manner and at a quick pace. I never felt too bored to put it down. Harmsen accomplishes this through an exciting and fast progression of diverse perspectives, views and sources that better illustrates China’s and Asia’s pivotal role in WWII. It was truly a global war and Harmsen’s works are breaking down the myths about the lack of contributions from the Asian allies and the significance of the Asian Pacific theater in WWII.
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In Japan there is rising sense of insecurity.. why was this? How prevalent was Pan-Asianism in the Japanese military? What about the proliferation of Japanese ultra-nationalist groups and their influence on the Kwantung Army in Manchuria?
Of course Alvin Coox wrote a 1000 page book to cover most of the above and it is hard for Harmsen (or anyone to do so), but I would have liked to have seen more here... especially in the three volume set.
Harmsen is really in his own element, and very good, once he reaches 1937 and the Japanese advance into China and the coming wide-spread warfare between nationalist China and Japan. See his other books on the Battle of Shanghai and Nanjing if you need further in-depth analysis, or just a very good read in this area. Overall very good and a much needed level of analysis for those who want to understand the true nature of the war in Asia and the Pacific and break out of the simplistic and mistaken "Pearl Harbor" narrative.