Thursday, January 17, 2008

1945 by Robert Conroy

Alternate History:
What if Japan Hadn't Surrendered in 1945?

Generations of military theorists have argued that the US did not need to drop atomic bombs in Japan; that the home islands were already destroyed by the American firebombs, and that their government was ready to sign the Potsdam Accords and surrender before the horrific devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Few outside the halls of academe are aware that Japan trembled on the brink of rejecting the unconditional surrender. Robert Conroy brings this alternate fate to chilling reality in 1945; subtitled: "What if Japan hadn't surrendered in World War II?"

Conroy is the master of the single-player scenario, and 1945 flips the decision of Japan's Defense Minister General Korechika Anami to set the scene. Anami refused to support a military coup when Emperor Hirohito decided to accept the Potsdam Declaration and surrender. Without his support, the coup crumbled, and Japan surrendered. What if Anami had supported the coup instead? With this question, Conroy sets the story of the prosecution of Operation Downfall, the planned invasion of Japan to end World War II.

The details of battle and suicidal attacks by ill-armed and armored Japanese are obviously based on real historical action in the invasion of the Philippines. Conroy puts a paranoid General MacArthur in charge of the invasion, even as politicians back in the States plan for the eventual substitution of General Omar Bradley. Grand sweeps of men and materiel movement precede the inch-by-inch occupation of the southern island of Kyushu.

But to bring the story home, Conroy introduces individuals: Joe Nomura, the one-armed Nissei veteran of Italian combat, dropped behind the lines on Kyushu; Lt. Paul Morrell, who arrived in Europe too late to qualify to go home after VE Day, and now is headed for Japan; Dennis Chambers, an American POW in Nagasaki who got lucky and was in an underground cellar when the bomb fell, and then got lucky again and encountered a one-armed Japanese (Joe). He also uses a host of historical combatants: Anami, Hirohito, and sub commander Mochitsuro Hashimoto; MacArthur, Truman, and Bradley. The historical characters behave in ways consistent with their known philosophies and recorded deeds.

You do not have to be well-read in history to enjoy this novel, though — it is the fictional characters whose might-have-been lives are absorbing. The switches and turns of action are thrilling in the way any good combat yarn will be; you hang on the narrative to find out what happens next. Will Joe or Dennis be captured? Will Paul succeed in Japan as he did not in Europe? Will the mounting anti-war movement in America halt the advance of the front in Japan, or will the kamikazes succeed in halting it instead?

Engrossing and intellectually stimulating it certainly is. 1945 provides a marvelous view of a history that might have happened — if we hadn't all been extremely lucky.