Pacific Skies: American Flyers in World War II by Jerome Klinkowitz.
University Press of Mississippi (http://www.upress.state.ms.us), 3825 Ridgewood
Road, Jackson, Mississippi 39211-6492, 2004, 256 pages, $32.00 (hardcover).
English professor Jerome Klinkowitz has written extensively about World War II in such books as Their Finest Hours: Narratives of the R.A.F. and Luftwaffe in World War II (1989), Yanks over Europe: American Flyers in World War II (1996), and With the Tigers over China, 1941–1942 (1999). In Pacific Skies, he takes the familiar in a new direction, leaving the archives to historians and using as his material the narratives written by participants, both during the war and in the half century since. With room for only 100 of the thousands of memoirs and biographies available, Klinkowitz is necessarily selective in making his choices. His selection seems representative, including the classics as well as relatively obscure works. And he uses writings by both American and Japanese veterans.
The book has two parts. First, the author tracks the war chronologically, dividing it into four parts: peacetime and the sudden outbreak of war, the Japanese advantage, the turning of the tide, and the late-war shift in approach, including the kamikazes and low-altitude firebombing. This is not a battles-and-leaders narrative; the book presents not only the old, familiar accounts of Curtis LeMay, Jimmy Doolittle, and “Pappy” Boyington, but also (and more often) those of various aces, heroes, and ordinary Airmen. It relates a personal war rather than an official one. The first section consists of the introduction and all but one of the topical chapters (“Going to War in Peacetime,” “An Air War at Sea and on Land,” “Tales of the South Pacific,” and “Endgame”).
“Endgame” discusses the final phase of the war, characterized by kamikazes and the firebombing of Japan. The increasing brutality of war during this period provides a natural lead into the other part of the book, the thematic one. In this section, Klinkowitz examines the attitudes of the adversaries, philosophical underpinnings and motivations, and perception of the foe. He also draws distinctions between the nature of war in the Pacific and in Europe. Moreover, he deals with an odd phenomenon—the unusually large percentage of Pacific veterans who turned to religion of one sort or another in the aftermath of the war.
A polished and experienced writer, Klinkowitz has 40 books to his credit and knows how to tell a story. The work holds together nicely throughout. We encounter a bit of slippage late, when Klinkowitz discusses debates over the dropping of the atomic bombs in a one-sided manner. His attempt to make the kamikazes explicable is adequate but not satisfying. Also, he seems to have written the philosophical section without consideration of Paul Fussell’s Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War, written in 1989 but arguably still the best study of attitudes and motivation in the Pacific war. Regardless of these shortcomings, however, Pacific Skies is worth the few hours it takes to read it.
John H. Barnhill, PhD
and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author
cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of
[ Home Page| Feedback? Contact the Editor ]