Review of Double Ace, by Robert Coram

51k8pmjd5bl-_sx328_bo1204203200_In Double Ace, Robert Coram does an incredible job spinning a fascinating tale about Brigadier General Robert L. Scott, Jr., one of America’s more controversial heroes of World War II. To his credit, Coram paints the picture of a complicated man whose tall tales stretched (or sometimes completely ignored) the truth. The warmth of Scott’s personality in “bugling” his way through stories contrasts with his selfishness in ignoring his wife and child and his multiple extramarital affairs. Coram went to great lengths to plumb the depths of Scott’s own multiple narratives of his life to find some strand of truth. He even dug to find the original accident reports or other documentary evidence to find an objective touchstone for many of Scott’s stories. I found myself surprised, however, that in a book that seeks to put tall tales to rest, the author perpetuated some some tall tales and stereotypes of his own. For example, he passes on the story of Wendell Willkie and Madame Chiang having an affair – a rumor now known to have little validity. He also ignores much of the complexity of World War II China and is instead satisfied to paint a simplistic caricature of Chennault, Stilwell, and particularly Chiang. To simply paint the Nationalist regime as one held together by the force of Song Meiling’s personality and to paint Chiang as a corrupt petty-tyrant, is to make the same mistakes that led to American disaster in China in the first place. The problem seems to stem from Coram’s overreliance on anecdotal histories of the theater – other biographies and autobiographies make up most of his source material for characterizing the war in China. That being said, Double Ace is the best CBI-related biography to hit the shelves in some time. In both quality of research and writing, it is clearly superior to the recent When Tigers Ruled the Sky.

Book Review: Nanjing 1937 by Peter Harmsen

Nanjing 1937

In Nanjing 1937, Peter Harmsen follows up his spectacular book about the Battle of Shanghai by describing Nationalist China’s subsequent retreat west and effort to defend their capital. In this new book, Harmsen demonstrates the campaign leading up to the capture of Nanjing as featuring prominently in Chiang Kai-shek’s plans to gain international sympathy for the Chinese cause and to buy time to retreat to the interior and wear down the Japanese in preparation for a long war. He contextualizes the brutality of the Rape of Nanjing (unforgettably described by Iris Chang) by recounting the absolutely horrific and merciless battle that preceded the Japanese takeover of the city. Throughout, he weaves in the personal stories of Chinese and Japanese soldiers, as well as foreign observers who heroically tried to protect human life. He includes many maps demonstrating the maneuvers of the opposing armies and many photographs from both sides of the encounter. This was the Pacific War four years before American involvement and understanding it is key to understanding the ultimate outcome in 1945. The Japanese clearly thought their pitiless victory at Nanjing would decisively end the war. In fact, it dragged on for eight more years. Hopefully, Harmsen will follow up this astonishing book with accounts of Taierzhuang, Wuhan, and Changsha to further bring this topic into the historical consciousness of the English-reading public.

Book Review: Eyes of the Tiger by Arthur Clark

Eyes of the Tiger

Arthur Clark has written a unique and fascinating memoir of his time in India and China during World War II. His journal entries and memories reveal a keen eye not just for the war, but for the people, societies, and geography he found himself around. In addition to detailing the operations of his reconnaissance squadron (35PRS), Clark develops for the reader a compelling account of what it was like to be an American stationed in the Far East at this extraordinary time in history. Accompanying the text are many stunning photographs and several useful maps. Eyes of the Tiger is an important addition to the sparse literature on World War II in China.

 

Win a Signed Copy of Famine, Sword, and Fire!

Enter to win a free signed copy of Famine, Sword, and Fire! Your name will be entered to win every time you “like” a post on this facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/famineswordandfire, on youtube, twitter, and/or instagram. Your name will be entered three times when you “share” a video or post! Drawing will take place July 30, 2015.

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Peter Harmsen on Famine, Sword, and Fire

I am very grateful for Peter Harmsen’s kind words about Famine, Sword, and Fire. His book, Shanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze is available on Amazon.com and his next book, Nanjing 1937: Battle for a Doomed City, is due out this October.

“The history of the China, Burma, India Theater has never got the attention it deserves in the otherwise voluminous literature about World War II. Dan Jackson’s new book is a valuable contribution towards filling this gap, mixing the general’s bird’s-eye view with the perspective of the ordinary soldiers and airmen who fought and died in some of the world’s most inhospitable terrain. It’s an added strength that Mr. Jackson’s background as a military pilot gives him a natural familiarity with the subject matter that few professional historians can match.”

– Peter Harmsen, author of Shanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze

This Day in 1944 – Chiang Kai-shek Demands General Stilwell’s Recall

Chiang Kai-shek, Madame Chiang, and General Joseph Stilwell pose for the newsmen in 1942. (National Archives)

Chiang Kai-shek, Madame Chiang, and General Joseph Stilwell pose for the newsmen in 1942. (National Archives)

On September 25, 1944, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of Nationalist China, formally requested that the President of the United States recall General Joseph W. Stilwell. Chiang had lost confidence in the general. He knew Stilwell disparaged him behind his back. He felt like he didn’t listen to his orders or respect him. When the Japanese Ichi-go offensive was plowing through central China, Stilwell remained unengaged, staying on the front lines in the jungles of Burma. The last straw was when Stilwell refused to advance to Bhamo, insisting that his troops rest even while the Japanese drove toward the key city of Guilin in central China. It was an act that showed how divided and broken the Allied war effort had become in the China-Burma-India Theater.