Book Review: Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire


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 imposed.

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.

rc=> Reviewer: Harold C. Hutchison    

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