The Pacific War: Strategy, Politics and Players – Book Review
The Pacific War: The Strategy, Politics, and Players that Won the War. William B. Hopkins. Zenith Press, 2010. 392 Pages. Paperback. $22.99.
To be honest, I did not have high expectations for William Hopkins’ The Pacific War. My initial thoughts were that the author was overly ambitious: how could a volume of roughly 400 pages do any justice to the vast operations in the Pacific Theater? Within this genre of books, there have been numerous—and several outstanding—previous volumes that focused on particular battles and various aspects of the Pacific War. Surely, this overview book would offer little in substance to readers who felt comfortable with their knowledge and understanding of the War in the Pacific.
Hopkins writes in a very descriptive and personal style.
However, it became quickly apparent Hopkins had crafted something of value to many prospective readers. He finely tunes his book’s focus—and utilizes his own wartime experience in the Pacific Theater—to write a highly readable volume.
Readers must understand that the focus of The Pacific War is not to feature the dramatic and heroic combat that epitomizes the Pacific Theater of Operations. Essentially, the book relies on thumbnail sketches of all the key battles on land and sea; these concise snapshots will not make anyone an expert on those significant battles. However, they provide enough detail to give even the novice an understanding of combat in the PTO and the importance of each battle to the ultimate outcome of the war. That allows Hopkins to center on the true focus of his book, the "strategy, politics, and players" mentioned in the subtitle.
First, he discusses the Allied strategy in prosecuting the Pacific War. He addresses the rationale and background for strategic decisions and the internal conflict Allied decision-makers had in choosing courses of action. Additionally, he looks at these decisions in hindsight and provides some provocative analysis. This discussion is unquestionably the major strength of the book.
Second, Hopkins delves into the various political aspects of the Pacific War. He touches on the relationships and interaction between the Allied countries involved, of course, but his main emphasis is on the American inter-service politics that were such a significant part of the war against Japan. Hopkins’ decision to bring this to the forefront adds greatly to understanding operations in this theater of World War II.
Finally, the author provides interesting profiles and insights on the key Allied leaders, military and civilian, who were deeply involved in the aforementioned strategy and politics. With intriguing personalities such as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, admirals William "Bull" Halsey and Ernest King, and generals Henry Arnold, Douglas MacArthur, and George Marshall, he has much to work this. Hopkins also keys on some of the major military figures who were instrumental in leading operations on the ground. In particular, his discussion of Lt. Gen. Robert Eichelberger and Gen. Walter Krueger will be extremely valuable to those unfamiliar with their significant contributions on the battlefield.
Supporters of Gen. Douglas MacArthur will not find an ardent ally in Hopkins. Throughout The Pacific War, the author is highly critical of MacArthur. His criticism includes the standard fare such as the general’s inability to work with others, his penchant for publicity, and a fondness for the rear area. However, Hopkins is more focused on analyzing decisions MacArthur made or didn’t make in regards to Pacific Theater strategy. As with any discussion involving MacArthur, there will be readers who vehemently agree with the author’s opinions and others who could not disagree more.
As noted earlier, The Pacific War is a highly readable book. Hopkins writes in a very descriptive and personal style, organizing his volume in 30 concise chapters and deftly combining factual information with his own analysis and opinion. Numerous superbly crafted maps enhance the text. These elements combine to make the book extremely appealing, regardless of the reader’s level of prior knowledge of the subject.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book revolves around the author himself. Hopkins provides a distinctive—and increasingly rare—personal perspective of the Pacific War because he served in the theater with the 3rd Marine Division. What I find unique is that Hopkins released his book some 63 years after his service in the South Pacific. (As a side note, the author has written one previous book entitled One Bugle, No Drums: The Marines at Chosin Reservoir. Hopkins served with the Marines in Korea and, as with The Pacific War, crafted the volume well after his service—36 years later.)
In his introduction, Hopkins states, “this book attempts to present to the non-specialist a condensed account of the fighting highlights with emphasis on the personalities, politics, and strategy that caused each to take place.” Unquestionably, he has achieved his objective, providing an unexpectedly valuable addition to the scholarship of the Pacific War.
Rick Baillergeon is a retired U.S. Army Infantry officer. Since his retirement, he has served as a faculty member at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He is also co-author of the popular ACG Web series, "Tactics 101."