Saturday, November 12, 2016

Books: Japan's Pacific War - Interview with Author Augustine Kobayashi

Mr. Augustine Kobayashi is our featured guest today. We're honored to introduce him and learn more about his WWII book, Japan's Pacific War. History buffs, rejoice!

Please tell us where are you from and what’s your background?

I was originally born in Tokyo but mostly raised in one of the commuting towns just outside the city. I was always interested in world history, but Japan is unfortunately rather backward when it comes to historical studies. So I went to the UK to study history. I studied International History and then Byzantine History as my master's degree. 

I love history too. Tell us a little about your book.

My book, titled Japan's Pacific War, presents history of WW2 in Asia from 1941 to 1945 from Japan's perspective. It deals with the origin of the war, briefly explaining what domestic conditions led to political development that eventually produced policies leading to Japan's war with China and then even a dangerous belief that Japan must fight the West. The war is narrated by focusing on some vital campaigns that occurred, which decided the outcome of the war. 

Also, I dealt with some little known stories from the war in the Pacific, namely, the hardship of the Japanese merchant marine. This is important, as not only it was a tragedy for civilian sailors who paid the ultimate price for the cause they didn't quite understand but also their suffering epitomizes deficiency in Japan's strategic thinking and war planning.

I also included, among others, the battle for the Philippines in 1945. This is again not a very well known episode of WW2, perhaps because of world wide neglect of Asian history. The Philippines, which lost more than one million people during the war, saw some of the most brutal battles of WW2. The battle for Manila, the capital, has been compared to Stalingrad or Warsaw. The city was flattened completely because of Japan's deliberate tactics to get more people, either soldiers or civilians, killed. The Japanese had this insane hope that more bloodshed would turn US public opinion against war. Such unrealistic thinking was what made the war so bloody.

Sounds very informative. What's your target audience for the book?

I wrote this book for those who are not familiar with the subject or history in general.
Anyone who is only vaguely aware of the history of the Pacific War would learn something about Asian history in the first half of the twentieth century. But those who know the subject may find my analysis interesting. Those who use the history of the Pacific War to attack America’s current military actions should learn more about the actual history of this war, as they would learn that the Americans did not drop the atom bombs for fun.

History has so many different points of view, and I'm sure you had to do extensive research to write the book. So, why did you choose to write a book with this subject?

Over the years, I have encountered people who know absolutely nothing about the Pacific War, even among my historian friends. How the war in China in the 1930s directly led to the Pacific War, for example. My father had this American friend, who was a sailor during WW2 in the Pacific theatre. Upon discovering that I was a historian, the first thing he asked me was, why Japan attacked America in 1941? In the subsequent conversation, I realized that he genuinely didn't know. He was fighting out of a sense of duty, but without understanding what the war was all about. Too many people who belong to the post-war generations in the US, Europe and even Japan are mostly ignorant about the cause and course of the war in the Pacific. I was guilty of this collective ignorance myself, as I mostly study European, Roman and Byzantine history. My knowledge of WW2 was strongest in the Mediterranean theatre and Germany's war with Russia. Indeed, writing this book was also a discovery process for me too. 

A fascinating topic. Is there a historian that you think has influenced you?

Generally speaking, good historians collectively taught me how to read and write history. John Keegan is a good military historian who inspired me; I was impressed by some of Fernand Braudel's books. Arnold Toynbee too, as his work on Byzantine history was surprisingly good, even though I’m not really familiar with his other work for which he is famous. As I write popular history know, I tend to follow Tom Holland's work, as his books show how to write good and readable history for non-historians.

Why did you choose to write about WWII when your main area of study is Byzantine history?

Born in the early 1960s, WW2 was still fresh in the living memory of many people either in Japan or elsewhere. My mother talked about how his brother, a kamikaze pilot, caused such distress to her mother. (Luckily he survived as the war ended just a few days before his attack was due.) According to her, the cover page of my book so reminded her of her brother! Near my house, there used to be some caves, which, according to some locals, used to be part of underground bunkers and ammunition dumps in preparation for the expected American landing on Japanese soil. In a way, WW2 wasn't really 'history' yet, it was a part of the living landscape of the world we lived in for my generation.

Plus, military history was a fad in my childhood. There was a big publication industry, printing books on warplanes, tanks, battleships, submarines and so on. We kids were fascinated by these technological marvels. But when I began to encounter photographs of soldiers blown to bits by a tank shell, I sat down and studied military history more seriously, looking at the more human side of the history of war. Recently, there has been a strong trend to write about what happened to people in war condition, which I believe should continue.

Was Pearl Harbor a decisive moment for WWII in your opinion?

Yes, it is a decisive moment, if not the decisive moment. Now the US is in the war, the US would become a military superpower in the post-war world. Japan could have stayed away from war in Europe and dealt with only China, in which case, the world might have ended up with a division of power the Japanese themselves had envisioned, but it decided to take on the Western Allies, turning WW2 truly global. I mean, what if Japan had not attacked the US? The US might have never joined the Allies. Britain might have been defeated. Nazi Germany might not have been powerful enough to defeat the USSR, but then the USSR would not have been able to win outright either. So, we could have had a divided Europe between the Nazi Germans and the Soviets in a sort of cold war; most of Asia and Africa still under the British Empire; East Asia and Southeast Asia would have gone to Japan; and the US would have stuck with its own Monroe Doctrine. Ironically, such outcome would have been what Japan wanted in the first place! Instead the war led to downfall of leading Western European powers and Japan; and it produced a more streamlined power structure in the world, with the US, the USSR and China emerging as victors and dominating world politics. Without Pearl Harbor, this world might not have created. But, in this respect, the most decisive thing was Hitler's honoring the Berlin-Tokyo Axis agreements and declaring war on America, I think.

Thank you so much for your time and for enlightening us with some history. It's been a pleasure to host you on our blog today. Wishing you much success in your future endeavors and studies!

For more on his books, please click on the links below:

His book on

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