Pacific war too raw for war historian to tackle
British historian Antony Beevor has written a series of books, most notably Stalingrad and Berlin, which sold more than four million copies and covered the bitter fighting on the Eastern Front between the Soviet forces of Stalin and the Nazi troops of Hitler.
But despite his success in writing about the European theatre, Beevor, who visited Brisbane this week, said he couldn't write about the Pacific due to the reluctance of nations such as China and Japan to open their archives to foreign researchers.
"The Japanese attitude towards World War II is still so defensive ... so nationalistic, that the idea of allowing foreign historians, who they would regard as hostile, free range in their own archives is unimaginable," he said.
"However democratic Japan might be, it's still not exactly open minded about the history of World War II."
"If I can't get at material on both sides and be able to use it effectively I will duck the subject. I wouldn't be able to write it in the way I want to so I wouldn't even attempt it."
Beevor has moved on from the apocalyptic battles between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia to cover the Allied landings on D-Day and the subsequent battle to obtain a foothold in Fortress Europe.
Despite the wealth of material written about the invasion, Beevor unearthed previously overlooked information which had emerged since previous major works were published on the campaign.
Diaries and other papers bequeathed to archives as veterans died, previously unreleased archival information and the harrowing tales of the French caught in the middle of one of history's largest military operations allowed Beevor to assemble his comprehensive tome.
"The main histories had all been written in the 1980s and since then a huge amount of new material had become available and actually some material was lying in the American archives which had been rather overlooked," he said.
"This was the combat historian reports in which the Americans, with tremendous resources and imagination, used young historians to go in and interview the soldiers just after the battles. So you've got a real contemporary account - which makes a huge difference.
"The combination of all of this as well as the accounts of French civilians at the time make it possible to recreate the reality of the moment more than had been possible before."...
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HNN - 9/3/2009
Not being a mind reader, I don't know why Antony Beevor would make a statement like "The Japanese attitude towards World War II is still so defensive ... so nationalistic, that the idea of allowing foreign historians, who they would regard as hostile, free range in their own archives is unimaginable."
The Japanese have allowed foreign historians and researchers to use their military and government archives for more than a decade. The floodgates opened upon the death of Emperor Hirohito and researchers took immediate --- and very public --- advantage of that. Sadao Asada's "The Shock of the Atomic Bomb and Japan’s Decision to Surrender -- A Reconsideration,"* which won the AHA's Louis Knott Koontz Award is one example, and although Asada is a Japanese scholar, Herbert Bix is certainly a "foreign historian," and his Pulitzer-winning Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan is hardly an obscure work that Beevor would be unfamiliar with.
Even before post-Hirohito access to such resources as the Kido diaries, there was a wealth of material available through the Japanese archives and secondary Japanese-language sources. Perhaps Beevor simply didn't want to be sidetracked into talking about a subject other than his upcoming work, but what he said is not at all true.
D. M. Giangreco
* Sadao Asada, "The Shock of the Atomic Bomb and Japan’s Decision to Surrender -- A Reconsideration," Pacific Historical Review, 67 (November 1998). Also available in Robert James Maddox, ed., Hiroshima in History: The Myths of Revisionism, (Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 2007).
** Herbert P. Bix, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, (New York: HarperCollins, 2000).
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