Hooper’s War: An Imaginative Retelling of the End of World War II

hooper

W.J. Astore

What if World War II in the Pacific had not ended with the atomic bombs and Soviet entry into the war in August of 1945?  If the Manhattan Project to build atomic weaponry had failed, and if that failure had necessitated an American invasion of Japan’s Home Islands in 1946, what level of destruction would have been visited upon Japan, and at what cost to the invading Americans?

Alternative histories can be an intriguing way to highlight the contingencies of world events in a way that captivates readers.  Peter Van Buren’s Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan, both intrigues and captivates.  Hooper’s War imagines a world in which Americans did have to launch an amphibious invasion of Japan in 1946, and that invasion is as bloody and as awful as students of history might expect.

Recall here the all-too-real bloodbaths on Iwo Jima and Okinawa in 1945.  Recall as well the devastating firebombing raids led by General Curtis LeMay against Tokyo and numerous other cities that killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese. Now imagine if these had persisted into 1946, taking Kyoto, a most sacred place to the Japanese, with them.

The historian John Dower wrote convincingly of how the U.S. war against Japan was different in kind from its war against Nazi Germany. For Dower, the U.S./Japan war was a “war without mercy,” a war where each side demonized the other as culturally and racially inferior. Such attitudes produced the most vicious fighting and bred atrocities on both sides.  Japanese warrior fanaticism, moreover, led to suicidal attacks, the Kamikazes, that sunk or damaged so many American ships.

Nothing good can come from prolonging such a war, and in Van Buren’s retelling, atrocities and tragedies occur with a frequency one would expect of a war driven by racial hatreds and profound cultural misunderstandings.  Nevertheless, in the darkness he provides a ray of hope as Lieutenant Nate Hooper, the main character, becomes separated from his unit and has to deal on an intimately human level with a Japanese sergeant.  I don’t think I give away much by stating their relationship doesn’t end well for all — such is the reality of a war driven by hatred.  The horror of war goes deep, Van Buren shows us, but so too does the potential for mitigating and ultimately for overcoming it.

Some readers of Bracing Views will recall that Van Buren formerly worked for the U.S. State Department.  His first book, “We Meant Well,” is that rare thing: an honest retelling of the failures of America’s reconstruction efforts in Iraq to which he was both witness and participant.  He brings his experiences of war and diplomacy to bear in this, his latest book, enriched by the years he spent working in Japan with the State Department.

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Peter Van Buren

Hooper’s War is for anyone interested in World War II in the Pacific, for anyone with a yen for imaginative “what-if” histories, or indeed for anyone who enjoys a good story well-told.

Full disclosure: Peter Van Buren sent me an advanced copy of Hooper’s War, to which I contributed a well-deserved commendatory blurb.

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8 thoughts on “Hooper’s War: An Imaginative Retelling of the End of World War II

  1. This brings up at least two other unknowns regarding Japan’s nuclear program and the US bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Dr Yoshio Nishina’s program was basically sidelined by the Japanese navy when Nishina thought the whole thing was so difficult that even the US would not be able to produce such a weapon. However, it was sidelined until after the war when they would have the resources to get back to it. The Japanese Army had their own program and were going ahead with it regardless but that too fizzled.

    When I think of how much the very smart, very industrious Japanese grew commercially after WWII, first producing what I still remember were goods considered cheap at the time (1950’s) and later top quality, kicking our rear ends with cars and electronics. I have to wonder what would have been the result had the Japanese not unconditionally surrendered and not been occupied and had they revived their nuclear weapons programs. Would they have built a nuclear stockpile? Would they have retained their aggressive military? Would they have returned to conquering other countries? Unknown. Just speculation.

    Even so, that does not necessarily justify the two atomic bombs we dropped although one can always argue equivalencies between Gen. Curtis LeMay’s massive fire bombing campaigns vs two bombs (which were really prototypes, one offs) at the time. And one can argue the experience of Iwo Jima and other such bloody battle locations affecting the decision to drop them. At the same time, one has to wonder whether those two bombs created a revulsion (like dozen dead from gas rather than hundreds of thousands dead from bullets and explosives tearing bodies apart in Syria) which prevented later and perhaps deadlier use of the weapons, maybe Korea. Maybe Vietnam. Who can know.

    And now that we seem to have forgotten such revulsion or fear, will the current president or someone else let loose one or more of the current generation of nuclear weapons. Forgetting the fear would be similar to deciding to forego polio vaccines because we are no longer confronted with the fear of polio all around us (I was one of those kids getting the first vaccines and later the oral dosage. I still remember how common it was to see people with leg and arm braces because of polio). Between the forgetting and the eagerness to use “the toys” such as the MOAB recently, I’m almost surprised that we, the citizens of this planet, have not seen another nuclear device used on a population again. There have been close calls.

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    1. My Mother had polio as a girl, a milder form, and she recovered until later in life. Dr Salk donated his vaccine, took no profit from it. Would pharmicuticals do that today? Hell no, it would be way overpriced. Also, Dr. Oppinheimer proposed to Gen. Marshall a plan to sew the German country side with plutonium. Gen. Marshall declined offer.

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  2. One more thought. I’ll be quick. In “The Bourne Ultimatum” there is a brief exchange at the end of the film, on the top of a roof as the assassin (Paz) who is supposed to kill Jason Bourne asks Bourne why he didn’t kill him (Paz) earlier when he had the drop on Paz and had the opportunity. Bourne had Paz cornered with a gun on him, then decided not to shoot.

    Paz: Why didn’t you take the shot?
    Jason Bourne: Do you even know why you’re supposed to kill me? Look at us. Look at what they make you give.

    I love the “Do you even know why you’re supposed to kill me?” line. It contains just about everything in the relationship between “leaders” (rulers) and those who are the pawns/peasants/military.

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    1. Good point. Love that scene as well.

      It was a great way to end the “Bourne” trilogy. Sadly, the latest movie was tireless action devoid of meaning.

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  3. William.

    One day there might be a “what if” novel based on Diana West’s, “American Betrayal”- a tough World War II read.

    I’ve passed the pages dealing with Soviet agents and sympathizers at the highest levels of the FDR administration, and to the part dealing with American prisoners abandoned to Stalin’s mercy. Bottom line: Senator Joe McCarthy was right.

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    1. Walt: McCarthy was incredibly reckless with his charges. He ruined the lives of innocents. That doesn’t mean, of course, that there were no communists and/or Soviet agents.

      Indeed, it’s important to distinguish between Soviet agents and American communists. Consider the case of J. Robert Oppenheimer. He expressed communist sympathies, and his brother was openly a communist. But this was at a time when Stalin was our ally in the war on Nazi Germany, and quite a few Americans saw communism as desirable in the sense that it was radically opposed to Hitler.

      The Oppenheimer case is especially revealing. When he was needed to build the atomic bomb, the U.S. government trusted Opie with its most sensitive secrets. When Opie became a critic of the Pentagon and its pursuit of the hydrogen bomb after WW2, he was persecuted as an alleged communist and his security clearance was stripped.

      In the end, “communist” is just a label, and governments use and discard people based on what they can get out of them, regardless of labels.

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      1. The big “winner” in WWII was Stalin and Soviet communism, just as the big winner in our war to overthrow Saddam was militant Islam (as led by Iran). WWIII, coming up.

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    2. Hey, Walter: Have you gotten to the pages dealing with all the Soviet agents in the Nixon and Reagan administrations? Hell, Nixon even had some of Chairman Mao’s “sympathizers” in his cabinet. He and Henry Kissinger never would have started withdrawing our troop/targets from Vietnam if The Great Helmsman hadn’t given them his permission. Kissinger once told the story of how he tried to bullshit Mao by saying: “We don’t want anything from you and, of course, we know that you don’t want anything from us.” Replied the no-bullshit Chinese leader: “If I wanted nothing from you, I wouldn’t have invited you. And if you wanted nothing from me, you should not have come.” Ouch!

      Keep reading, man. if you’ve only gotten to the scurrilous FDR stuff put out for generations by the Republicans — who never forgave a Democratic President for winning World War II (thanks to the Red Army) — you haven’t begunn to plumb the depths of partisan perfidy in America.

      As for the drunken guttersnipe, “Tailgunner Joe” McCarthy, he told only one truth in his miserable life: namely, that got the idea for all that red-baiting from Richard Nixon. Gotta give credit where due. Nixon, of course, never learned that you should take care whom you kick in the teeth on your way up the greasy pole, because you’ll meet the same people on your way back down.

      Nixon and McCarthy. Probably sharing the same cell in Dante’s Inferno (bottom level) eagerly awaiting the arrival of Five-Deferment Dick Cheney to make it a threesome. Karmic justice.

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