by Richard Frank
New York: Penguin, 2001. Pp. 474. .
Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $16.00. ISBN:0-141-00146-1
Richard Frank’s follow-up to his 1992 Guadalcanal
managed to top that solid work. In Downfall, Frank has gone into
new territory: Exploring the final stage of the war against Imperial
Japan. Frank relies on documents that were newly declassified at the time
he was writing this book.
This book maintains the strengths that are
found in Guadalcanal. It is appealing to both serious historians
and to those with a more casual interest in World War II.
Frank pulls no punches about Japan’s mindset
in 1945. This was a foe that refused to acknowledge it was defeated, and
was ready to fight to the death. Rather than editorializing in the main
body of the book to mixed effect (Guadalcanal’s major weakness,
particularly in the assessment of Dan Callaghan), Frank here places his
conclusions at the end, keeping to the facts and timeline of events in the
chapters leading up to the book’s conclusions.
Frank catalogues the resources Japan was
building up on Kyushu (up to 545,000 troops), and how the diplomatic efforts
were not going anywhere. If anything, the buildup figures on Kyushu alone
show that Operation OLYMPIC, the planned landing, would have been a horrific
slaughter of Americans and Japanese alike. In his conclusion, Frank
justifies the use of the atomic bombs against Hiroshima and Nagasaki with
logic, and a stark portrayal of the costs that the alternatives would have
In short, Frank reaches the conclusion that the use of
the atomic bombs was justified, and the evidence presented in Downfall
backs up his conclusion. Frank’s book is highly recommended reading, and
should be required reading for all those interested in the history of World War
II. It also stands as a stark reminder of what could be a potential
scenario in the present war on terror. Downfall’s portrayal of the
events leading up to Japan’s decision to surrender is scary in that sense, but
worth reading so that people can understand what hellish decisions are often
faced by those responsible for national defense.