Book Review: Refighting the Pacific War: An Alternative History of World War II


by Jim Bresnahan, editor

Annapolis: United States Naval Inst., 2011. Pp. x, 275. Illus., maps, tables, notes, biblio, index. $29.95. ISBN: 159114079X

A great many books claim to be “an alternative history of World War II” or some other event.  They are all, however, essentially fiction.  Refighting the Pacific War is different.

In putting together Refighting the Pacific War journalist and historian Bresnahan does something different, polling more than 35 scholars (e.g., John Lundstrom, Donald Goldstein, H.P. Wilmott, Jon Parshall, etc.) on a series of questions, some dealing with critical operational or tactical matters (e.g., readiness at Pearl Harbor, the relief of Wake Island, Halsey’s pursuit of Ozawa in October 1944, etc.), but others with significant political or strategic importance (e.g., could war have been averted, the "Two Ocean Navy" act, the Bomb, etc.).  The historians have responded with analytical “counter factual” over views – discussions rather than narratives -- of how things might have been changed, for the better or the worse, depending upon one’s perspective. 

In some cases, it becomes clear that no “alternative” existed.  For example, the Japanese did not have the resources to carry out all the operations they did execute early in the war and also capture Hawaii, as their resources in men, ships, and logistics was already stretched to the breaking point.  In others, the wartime alternatives somewhat alter the course of events, yet the long-term outcome, an Allied victory, would still have been the most likely result.  The most intriguing possibilities lay in the past, long before the war, such as a more equitable status for Japan in the naval arms limitation agreements of the ‘20s and early ‘30s.  Avoiding a common failing of “alternative histories,” none of the participants attempted to project the consequences of these changes decades into the future.

Its careful analytic approach makes Refighting the Pacific War a valuable read for anyone with an interest in the Second World War, exploring the intriguing "what ifs" while adhering closely to the facts.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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