Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Final Storm

Jeff Shaara’s World War II trilogy (The Rising Tide, The Steel Wave, and No Less Than Victory) focuses entirely on the war as it was fought in Europe and North Africa.  Now, at least in part because he heard from so many WWII veterans and fans of his historical fiction that he should take on the war fought in the Pacific, Shaara offers The Final Storm: A Novel of the War in the Pacific.  In this single volume, Shaara turns his attention to the final months of the war against Japan, particularly the battle for the airfields of Okinawa and the dropping of the two atomic bombs that finally ended the war.

As he has done in past novels, Shaara tells this story of brutal warfare through the eyes of some of the actual men who were on either side of the battle line, be they of the lowest or the highest ranks.  Among the many characters he uses, are three key “narrators,” Private Clay Adams, Japanese General Mitsuru Ushijima, and Colonel Paul Tibbets. 

Private Adams is a young marine whose recovering health has allowed him to return to the Pacific just in time for the fight for Okinawa.  Young Adams, who had to be hospitalized before seeing his combat, now feels superior to the green troops arriving with him, but he learns quickly that combat veterans are not ready to accept him as an equal despite this being his second arrival in the theater.  He will have to prove himself under fire first – something he will be given the opportunity to do many times over the several weeks it will take to wear down the island’s Japanese defenders.

General Mitsuru Ushijima is in charge of defending Okinawa and its precious air fields from the American invaders.  A realist, Ushijima knows that there is virtually no chance that he will be successful, and that the best he can hope to accomplish is to prolong the battle as long as possible while maximizing American losses.  He is willing to fight to the last man, but he knows that his best chance is to strike from within his vast network of caves and hidey-holes – no mass suicide attacks are in his plans despite the assurances of fellow General Isamu Cho that a huge counteroffensive will drive the Americans back to the beaches.

Jeff Shaara
Colonel Paul Tibbets is pilot of the Enola Gay (named after his own mother), the B-29 from which the first atomic bomb is dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.  This mission, along with a second bomb dropped on Nagasaki three days later, finally convinces the Japanese to end the war.  Jeff Shaara does not attempt to rewrite history to fit today’s more modern sensibilities.  Colonel Tibbets, and the men who make the decision to use the bomb, have few doubts about what they are about to do.  They see the super weapon as the best opportunity to end the war without the sacrifice of the several hundred thousand lives likely to be lost to any invasion of Japan by Allied forces.  They seize that opportunity.

The Final Storm is a moving and effective depiction of the final months of the War in the Pacific - exactly as it was experienced by some of the men who were there.  Shaara’s storytelling is, in fact, so effective that it is easy to forget that his main characters are all real people.  The book’s “Afterword” section, in which Shaara details what happened to his key characters following the war, might even be a bit jarring for some readers.

Rated at: 4.5

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

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