The Naked Truth Of Battle

A preeminent author reports on his experience as one of America's first combat historians, among a handful of men who accompanied soldiers into the bloodiest battles to write history as it was being made

Editor’s note: Fresh from Williams College’s history program, the author entered World War II as a 24-year-old combat historian, earning four combat medals and a Bronze Star. He would go on to become a leading presidential historian, writing a two-volume biography of FDR, the second book of which won both the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. He has also written notable books on John F. Kennedy and the subject of leadership. Read more »

Eavesdropping On The Rising Sun

A young man from Queens jumps into the thick of World War II intelligence activities by translating secret Japanese messages

IN HIS MARVELOUS MEMOIR, Flights of Passage, my friend and onetime colleague Samuel Hynes, a Marine Corps combat aviator in World War II, writes that the war is the shared secret of his generation—those young men who came of age between December 7, 1941, and September 2, 1945. For those of the approximately 12 million Americans in uniform for some or all of those years, it was an experience both personal and collective like nothing before or after. Those who went through the hell of combat carry physical and emotional scars as reminders.Read more »

The Trial Of General Homma

Was he the Beast of Bataan, or was his true war crime defeating Douglas MacArthur? A troubling look at the problems of military justice

On the morning of December 16, 1945, Lt. Robert Pelz steeled himself to meet a monster. A young Army lawyer not long out of Columbia Law School, Pelz was stationed in Manila, where he had been assigned to work on the trial of the most notorious Japanese war criminal of them all: Masaharu Homma, the general who had handed America a staggering military defeat—the surrender of the Bataan Peninsula on the Philippine island of Luzon.Read more »

“A Straight Path Through Hell ”

Stationed near Nagasaki at the close of the war, a young photographer ventured into the devastated city, and stayed for months

 

I had trained at Parris Island thinking, I was going to the Pacific to fight the Japanese or at the very least to photograph American troops fighting the Japanese. That whole time it had been drummed into us Marines how fiendish the Japanese were. We knew the story of the Bataan death march by then. We knew about the kamikaze pilots crashing into our ships. We knew the Japanese would never surrender.

History’s Largest Lessons

A historian of the ancient world believes that in every era humankind has reacted to the demands of waging war in surprisingly similar ways, and that to protect our national interests today Americans must understand the choices soldiers and statesmen made hundreds and even thousands of years ago

In a time when the usefulness of the past as a means to comprehend the present remains the object of skepticism, if not outright attack, inside the academy, Donald Kagan, the former dean of Yale College and a professor of ancient history, has published a book about the necessity of historical analogy for understanding a nation’s security interests. Read more »

My Search For Douglas MacArthur

An overheard remark sent the author off on a years-long quest to discover the truth about a man whose power to inspire both rage and reverence has only grown after his death

In the Summer of 1958 I joined the army straight out of high school and two years later found myself, by now an Army journalist, flying into the Philippines. Strapped into a bucket seat aboard a C-54, I was seated next to a pair of sergeants, both of them combat veterans of World War II. As the plane began its descent toward Clark Field, the two NCOs started talking about the disastrous Philippine campaign of 1941–42.

The Little Diplomat

As a ten-year-old boy, the author had a role to play in bringing Douglas MacArthur’s vision of democracy to a shattered Japan

On August 30, 1945, just days after Japan capitulated, ending World War II, Douglas MacArthur first set foot on the island nation, to set up temporary headquarters at the New Grand Hotel in Yokohama—and to set in motion a unique experiment that little more than three and a half years later would cause me also to spend my first night in Japan in the New Grand. Read more »

Tokyo, 1945

The author entered the conquered capital days after the surrender to meet high officers of the Imperial Navy

Fifty years ago, in the summer of 1945, I was a naval officer in Norfolk, Virginia, contemplating my inevitable return to the Western Pacific, when two bombs were dropped, the Soviets entered the war, and the Japanese emperor prevailed on his government to throw in the towel. On August 28 the first occupation forces arrived; on September 2 the formal surrender took place. A few days later Rear Adm. R. A. Ofstie, for whom I was working, called me down the hall and asked if I would like to go to Japan. Read more »

The Biggest Decision: Why We Had To Drop The Atomic Bomb

On the morning of August 6, 1945, the American B-29 Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Three days later another B-29, Bock’s Car , released one over Nagasaki. Both caused enormous casualties and physical destruction. These two cataclysmic events have preyed upon the American conscience ever since.Read more »

The New Deal And The Guru

How Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of Agriculture sent an eccentric Russian mystic on a sensitive mission to Asia and thereby created diplomatic havoc, personal humiliation, and embarrassment for the administration

Early in 1934 Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace appointed Nicholas Roerich, a renowned painter and a self-proclaimed guardian of world peace and culture, to lead a scientific expedition to North China and Manchuria, to search for drought-resistant grasses that might revive the Dust Bowl. By the time the project ended, in 1935, the eccentric artist had compromised America’s diplomatic position in Asia, embarrassed the Roosevelt administration, humiliated Wallace, and damaged the careers of several botanists.Read more »