Killing the Rising Sun

Suggested by Brad Nelson • An enthralling, gripping account of the bloody battles, huge decisions, and historic personalities that culminated in the decision to drop the atomic bomb and brought the war in the Pacific to its climactic end.
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9 Responses to Killing the Rising Sun

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I finished this a few days ago. I found it to be a real page-turner from start to finish which is the highest compliment I can give any book. I’m just going to cut-and-paste comments I had posted elsewhere:

    It starts with a prologue that includes Pastor’s Wright’s justification for the Islamic actions of 911. Because we had bombed Nagasaki and Hiroshima, he said that America’s “chickens are coming home to roost.”

    O’Reilly and Dugard (not sure if Dugard does the lion’s share of the work or not) go on to a summarized view of the war, including Japanese atrocities. Only black, America-hating racists such as Jeremiah Wright could not see that the bombs were a result of Hirohito’s chickens coming home to roost.

    O’Reilly and Dugard also do not pull punches about Hirohito’s involvement in the war. That Hirohito’s image was white-washed (perhaps necessarily so) in order to transform and rebuild Japan is another subject. But in this one, there is no white-washing.

    The overview and summary is good and well-chosen as the authors bounce around various events in WWII, both in Europe and especially in Asia (where most of the book is centered). The larger story we all know by heart. But contained in their overview is not only an immediate sense of how the war appeared to those taking part in it (thus dropping the bombs was not considered particularly controversial in the context of what was going on, and had already been done, particularly by the Japaese). Included are a lot of little details as well. Perhaps not so little are the details of the run of Bockscar.

    What a harrowing, even botched, bombing mission they had. If the Enola Gay was a 9.5 of the “things going smoothly” scale, Bockscar was about a 3.5. But it did work and they did (mostly) hit a secondary target. They barely made it back to Okinawa, the engines running out of fuel one by one as they landed and taxied.

    Something astonishing that I had never heard before was the Hiroshima clock tower that three days before had stopped precisely at 8:15. It sat that way for three days because there were no spare parts to fix it. Three days later Little Boy was released from the bomb bay at exactly 8:15. And it was 8:15 (and some seconds later) that the bomb went off, fixing many more clocks to that time. The authors quote a Hiroshima resident who had noted the stopped clock and thought it portended some misfortune.

    The authors also don’t flinch from describing the misery of the aftermath of the bombs. I’m at the point in the book where they’ve just dropped Fat Man, describing the bizarrely error-plagued bombing mission. I haven’t gotten into the aftermath of the bomb yet.

    It’s interesting to note that Truman did not trust MacArthur. MacArthur was kept out of the loop until days or hours before the bombs fell. As he himself noted, it would be as if they dropped one of these bombs on Germany without telling Eisenhower. (Eisenhower was fully briefed beforehand on both bombs.)

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      The authors also don’t flinch from describing the misery of the aftermath of the bombs.

      Rhodes does this in his book as well, but he uses a technique which I find ineffective. He quotes people who were in or around Hiroshima when the bomb dropped. For example he will start with a doctor who was working in a nearby hospital, then jump to a girl who was in grade school there, then he will jump to someone in some building and he keeps on jumping from thought to thought.

      Martin Gilbert used a similar technique when he wrote his book on the holocaust. The thing became so detailed and focused on individual cases that I found it lost its effect.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I’ve seen the same technique used in describing the Tokyo Fire Raid and its effects on the victims. It certainly worked for me, particularly since the statistical evidence is uncertain in so many of these raids (and including the Dresden attacks, and probably Hamburg aka Operation Gomorrah in 1943).

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        I think these authors did a very nice job of what you might call “summation, with details.” You get a good overview with many well-chosen details to give the story a sense of realism.

        I did not expect to like this book. When people merely add the prestige of their name to a title (as Arthur C. Clarke did with a lot of the later junk), there is every reason to suspect a sort of literary con. And the other Killing books may all be junk for all I know, but this one was good.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    Eisenhower was not only briefed, but gave his opinion — he opposed dropping the bomb on Japan. Of course, he had no experience of the Pacific War, though he had been a subordinate to MacArthur not only when the latter was Chief of Staff (and had a lot to do with the violence against the Bonus Army) but also later, in the Philippines.

    I recall that they also do a great job of demonstrating American heroism on Iwo and Okinawa, including behavior that earned the Medal of Honor.

    I’ve never talked about it specifically, but Elizabeth no doubt has mixed emotions about the second atomic bomb. Her family would later live and teach in Kokura, so she’s glad they didn’t hit that. But Nagasaki was important culturally in the early development of Japanese Christianity, so she regrets it being hit. And the only other planned target, Kyoto, was also important to Japanese culture.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Only an insane monster wouldn’t have mixed feelings at one or both of the bombs. The horrid reality was that the bombs probably saved Japan and secured her from any direct influence by Stalin.

      A great part of the book is the description of MacArthur landing with his staff in Japan. MacArthur did not allow sidearms since he figured they couldn’t possibly be effective against thousands of a Japanese and he also thought it better to show a little confidence. One of pilots noted the eery reality of now being swarmed by the appreciative people which was in stark contrast to what the population would do to a downed pilot. Might the have been some relief at being freed from the Japanesemilitary monster?

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I suspect this was true. Some of the women jumping off the Suicide Cliffs of Saipan didn’t do so voluntarily. But the Japanese culture at that time placed a high priority on obedience to authority, though many of the radical nationalists were fond of gekokuju all the way to the 8/14/45 coup attempt. If you were told to be warlike, you were. And if you were told to be peaceful, you were. Hirohito’s 8/14 announcement (the coup attempted to block this) did that.

        Had the war gone on to an invasion, at the least Stalin would have ended up with Hokkaido, and possibly some of northern Honshu.

        I guess what I meant about mixed feelings over the bombs was mixed feelings about the target choices.

  3. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    Only an insane monster wouldn’t have mixed feelings at one or both of the bombs.

    I think this pretty much covers wars in general, even justifiable wars.

    MacArthur did not allow sidearms since he figured they couldn’t possibly be effective against thousands of a Japanese and he also thought it better to show a little confidence

    I recall reading this somewhere as well. I seem to also recall that thousands of soldiers lined roads with their backs to the MacArthur entourage showing their humility, subjugation or loss of face.

    I don’t know if the book mentioned it, but after the surrender, the number of Allied soldiers on the ground across much of Asia was so small that Japanese soldiers were often given back their weapons so as to maintain law and order until the Allies could get sufficient troops on the ground to control things.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      The book framed it as giving MacArthur the honor previously reserved only for the emporer. And that sounds quite plausible using Japanese to aid in enforcing order.

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