Historiographical Synopsis: War in the Pacific, Okinawa 1945

14 Nov

From the US National Archives: A Marine of the 1st Marine Division draws a bead on a Japanese sniper with his tommy-gun as his companion ducks for cover. The division is working to take Wana Ridge before the town of Shuri

Countless historians have written about the War in the Pacific—from US Navy, Marine, Army, and Japanese perspectives. The very earliest scholars—termed “post-modernists” by Ernst Breisach, ranged from Samuel Eliot Morrison’s Victory in the Pacific 1945, from a US Navy perspective, to the team of Roy E. Appleman, James M. Burns, Russell A. Gugeler, and John Stevens and their Okinawa: The Last Battle, written from a US Army vantage point.It is worth mentioning that the authors of the aforementioned books also served during the war—the former with the US Navy and the latter group with the US Army.

It is quite interesting that these earliest historians were writing in a narrative tone; that is, considerable battle history with no high-level analysis or interpretation of the period’s events in context of history or the war itself. We, as historians, know this to be true; that they could not write in larger contextual history due to their proximity-in-time to the actual history itself. There would be little perspective or historical context for them to bring to their contributions when writing so soon after the war had ended.

The body of historical literature becomes more complete and interpretive the further we get from the history of the War in the Pacific and the causal relationship to the end of war. Recent history includes primary source data from Japanese archives and papers—offering a more balanced, comprehensive and cohesive interpretation of the history.

There exists the assemblage of “I was there-history” from such figures as E. B. Sledge and his autobiographical With the Old Breed and Robert Leckie’s Okinawa: The Last Battle of World War II. Far from academic history, they are fraught with bias and emotion—part of their appeal and station in popular history.As the earlier historiography of the era has evolved from “after-action report”-type works and battle strategies and their histories to more contemporary, contextual contributions, so has interest in the War in the Pacific and battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. More recent, contemporary historiography on the Pacific and Okinawa includes John Toland’s The Rising Sun: The Decline and fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945, Dan van der Vat’s The Pacific Campaign: The U.S.-Japanese Naval War 1941-1945, Ronald H. Spector’s Eagle Against the Sun: The American War with Japan, George Feifer’s The Battle of Okinawa: The Blood and the Bomb, and Max Hastings’ Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45 to name a few.

Additional contemporary secondary sources which focus on Japan include Michael A. Barnhart’s Japan Prepares for Total War: The Search for Economic Security, 1919-1941, Carol Gluck and Stephen R. Graubard’s Showa: The Japan of Hirohito, Peter Wetzler’s Hirohito and War, Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon’s The Pacific War Papers: Japanese Documents of World War II, Tsuyoshi Hasegawa’s Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan, William Craig’s The Fall of Japan: The Last Blazing Weeks of World War II, and Herbert P. Bix’s Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan.


Posted by on November 14, 2012 in WWII in the Pacific


4 responses to “Historiographical Synopsis: War in the Pacific, Okinawa 1945

  1. Jim McAndrew

    November 15, 2012 at 7:28 am


    This is the persepective that you have bee speaking about. You have done well to document the sources and the iinherent bias behind the I was there books. I look forward to reading your complete account.

  2. navyphoto22

    November 19, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    Hey Scott, what did you think of John Dower’s ‘War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War?’ Guy

  3. Scott M.H. Lyons

    November 19, 2012 at 10:36 pm

    Hi Guy, I was not aware of this book–but I like what I see on I’ll have to look into this for my thesis. Thank you for the heads-up. – Scott

  4. Mustang.Koji

    November 21, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    What a fabulous career and project. Best of luck to you. Indeed, it is difficult to sift through all the personal accounts – especially now due to time.


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