1945: A Novel
Contributor: Andrew Nguyen
Review Date: 26 Aug 2016
One of the great what-if stories of history is the potential invasion of Japan at the end of World War II. Before the atomic bomb came onto the scene, the Allies had long considered the possibility of having to invade the four main islands of Japan in order to end the Pacific War. In the march towards the Home Islands, the Allies had witnessed fanatical Japanese resistance, which created a dark question in their minds. If Japan fought hard for their island holdings, how hard would they fight for their homeland? Predictions were for exceptionally high casualties amongst the Allied forces and even higher casualties for the Japanese forces. In fact, the US produced a score of Purple Hearts for the invasion of which the stock is still in use today for all of the wars since World War II.
Codenamed Operation Downfall, the invasion of Japan consisted of two phases. Phase I, named Operation Olympic, would begin in November 1945 with an invasion of Kyushu. Landing in three main locations, the invasion force would seize airfields and harbors on Kyushu to establish land. Phase II, named Operation Coronet and timed for March 1946, would be the invasion of Honshu with the focus of the attack being on the Japanese capital of Tokyo. It would have become the biggest invasion ever, dwarfing that of Normandy. With the advent of the atomic bombs and the lead up to Japan's surrender, the invasion became unnecessary.
Multiple authors have written books about the planned invasion while those that have supported the decision that lead to Hiroshima and Nagasaki have often used the potential invasion of Japan and the devastation that it would unleashed as a justification for the atomic bombs. The situation of the invasion has also had a presence in computer games that dealt with World War II in the Pacific. A few have ventured to tell a fictionalized version of how the invasion would have gone down if US president Harry S. Truman had ordered the attack.
Author Robert Conroy who had written two books on alternate history would join their ranks as he provided his own take on a potential Operation Downfall with his book titled 1945, which the company Ballantine Books published in 2007.
The story begins with the uprising by the Japanese extremists in the 24 hours before Japan was supposed to surrender having a far different outcome than in actual history. With the support of General Anami, the uprising succeeds and takes the Emperor into custody while ensuring that his speech would never see the light of day. Though almost virtually destroyed, Japan is willing to go down fighting to the last man while the US, wishing to end the war and dealing with other problems at home and around the world, steels herself for the final assault. Throughout the story, the reader gets the point of view of multiple people whether they are the common soldier or pilot, civilian, politician, or military leaders.
Once the prologue is finished, the main story takes up the rest of the book in four main parts. They deal with the planning stages of the attack, the invasion and the fanatical resistance that Japan throws into the face of the Americans. As the invasion grounds on, the fighting becomes even more desperate as the combatants utilize extreme measures against each other and riots that are in a vein similar to Vietnam and the later wars of the 20th century break out in the US. Adding to the complications are political matters as Britain makes requests of its own and Russia is playing both the Americans and Japanese for its own benefits. In the end, it's up to key individuals in different locations to find a solution to the madness, often resorting to dangerous measures to stop the killing once and for all.
The story consist a cast that is a mix of historical characters and those that are supposed to represent the everyday people caught up in the hellish madness of war. They include regular infantrymen, pilots, submariners, spies, etc. Some of those everyday people would eventually play pivotal parts in this story. As this is a novel of historical fiction, it is no surprise that some historical characters met fates that were completely different from what took place in actual history while events that took place in reality change in the background portrayed by the book.
As for the fighting itself, although it is shrouded in speculation, the author definitely has done his research on the matter. In other instances though, Conroy also had to use events that happened in the modern world and portray them in the mindset of World War II (mainly the protesters back in the US) so as to gain a visual impact of the repercussions of the invasion of Japan and the lost chance to end the war and spare more American lives.
Overall 1945 was an interesting book as it attempted to portray one of the great what ifs of history and perhaps after reading it, thankfully the idea remains speculation.
For the author, it would not be his last foray into speculative World War II fiction, as he would write several more books that dealt with the earlier stages of the Pacific War as well as an alternate scenario of what could have happened at the end of the war in Europe.
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945