Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Book Review: Historic Photos of World War II: Pearl Harbor to Japan

by Bob Duncan
Review by Liz Berndt Morris, Central Michigan University

This summer I spent several pleasurable sittings viewing and reading Historic Photos of World War II: Pearl Harbor to Japan with text and captions by Bob Duncan. This 10” x 10” coffee-table book features 198 full-page, black-and-white photos of scenes from America’s Pacific Campaign. These photographs are arranged in roughly chronological order and in three chapters: Crisis in the Pacific (1941-1942), Leaning New Ways of War (1942-1944), and A Colossus Emerges (1944-1945). A final chapter, Notes on the Photographs, serves as an appendix providing each picture’s title, location, and, if available, call or box number. The vast majority of these photos came from the National Archive and Naval Historical Center, but there is a dash of privately owned photographs as well. While this book is the second volume in a two volume set compiled by Duncan, it can easily stand on its own as an independent book.

A consideration that Duncan had to make for a book of World War II photographs is to what extent to include graphic photographs. This book does not contain any photographs that I found gory, but it does contain a few photographs of fallen soldiers. With this being a coffee-table book, it is very tasteful in how it handles the violence of war and one should not be worried of the age appropriateness of the book.

The book is well united by Bob Duncan’s preface, chapter introductions, and short picture captions. However, the tone of the writing is unabashedly nationalistic in the United States’ favor. This is easily divulged by reading the dust jacket summary:

On December 7, 1941, America’s hopes of remaining neutral in World War II disappeared in the oily smoke that roiled from her battleships burning at Pearl Harbor. The nation faced Herculean tasks to strike back against the Imperial Japanese military that had attacked her. Victory demanded crossing thousands of miles of ocean, creating new weapons, and arming hundreds of thousands of young men to fight their way across a series of desolate islands that a fanatical enemy had fortified to exact the highest possible price from the American troops.

Historic Photos of World War II Pearl Harbor to Japan portrays this epic story, using black-and-white photographs selected from the finest archives and private collections. From the sinking of the Arizona to the raising of the Stars and Stripes over Japan, Historic Photos of World War II Pearl Harbor to Japan depicts in a way mere words cannot the determination, struggle, and sacrifices of America s fighting men as they rose to the challenge of liberating free peoples of the Pacific from a conquering invader.

The sweeping statements of this book’s nationalistic tone at times irked me. For example, a picture of captive Japanese prisoners states the reason Japanese soldiers abandon the code of Bushido was because of “how well they were treated in American captivity” (82). A picture of the aftermath of the atomic bomb in Nagasaki describes Japanese citizens’ “near-instant death”; ignoring through generalization the terrible fortune Japanese people endured and the reality that war is horrible. This undermines the sacrifices made on both sides.

With that said, I found the majority of the captions quite helpful in contemplating the pictures. The selection of photographs in this book is terrific. Simply glancing at any of these pictures is not possible. I found myself at times contemplating some pictures for long periods of time. Historic Photos of World War II: Pearl Harbor to Japan book would be an excellent gift for any World War II history enthusiast and could serve as a catalyst for anyone searching for inspiration for World War II research.