Award-winning naval historian James D. Hornsfischer presented a lecture on his new book “The Fleet at Flood Tide: America at Total War in the Pacific, 1944 – 1945” at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum on April 17, 2019. The event was sponsored by Armed Forces Thanksgiving, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation, and the National Archives and Records Administration.
New York Times bestselling author James D. Hornfischer’s books have led reviewers to rate him as one of the most commanding naval historians writing today. “The Fleet at Flood Tide,” recipient of the Navy League’s 2017 Commodore John Barry Book Award, is a major narrative of the U.S. Navy’s Central Pacific drive in World War II, covering the air, land and sea operations that seized the islands of Saipan, Tinian and Guam, as well as the strategic air operations conducted from the Marianas that ended the war.
All of Hornfischer’s books have been selections of the Chief of Naval Operations Professional Reading Program, managed by the office of the Chief of Naval Operations and the U.S. Naval War College. He is a regular contributor for the Wall Street Journal and has written for Smithsonian, Naval History, Naval Institute Proceedings, and other periodicals.
Hornsfischer begins his lecture focusing on the premise of the book, the Mariana Islands Campaign, which he describes as leading to Allied Victory in the Pacific War. It was from this victory at the Mariana Islands that he felt he could not only illustrate the end-game of the Pacific War, but also the beginning of the Cold War.
The Victory combined Allied strategy and execution with amphibious vehicles, Naval air-power, U.S. Marines on the ground, and the bombing capacity of the B-29 Superfortress aircraft. With the B-29, the bombing capacity included its ability to deliver the atomic bombs onto Japan which officially concluded the Pacific War with Japan’s Surrender in August 1945.
The book brings to life the circumstances from which the decision was made, out of necessity, to deliver the bombs and thus pressure Japan to surrender. The decision though comes from the conflicts throughout the Pacific and the continued losses of American forces, added with the forecasted future losses of military personnel to bring an end to the War.
The decision also was influenced by the reaction of Japanese civilians to the U.S. and Allied Forces. Civilians, following brainwashing by the Imperial Japanese Forces, chose to commit suicide, remain human shields for the Japanese, and gave resistance to the Allied Forces even after their defeating the Japanese island by island. Lead Generals of Japan also felt they would fight their next big battle to win, but if we lose, our citizens will choose to all die before foreign occupation.
While reflection on various theories, Hornsfischer also noted that even with their defeat forthcoming, Imperial Japan was not offering to surrender, as some atomic bombing opponents suggestion. Allied losses increased and battles were fought more fiercely as they moved closer to Japan mainland. The Japanese also offered their terms of surrender which were completely acceptable to the Allies, some of which included that their Emperor remain in power, no war crimes tribunals, no Japanese disarmament, and no occupation of foreign military.