Book Review: War in the Far East: Storm Clouds over the Pacific, 1931-1941


by Peter Harmsen

Philadelphia: Casemate, 2018. Pp. vi, 236+. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $32.95. ISBN:1 612004806

Prologue to the Asia/Pacific War

Journalist Harmsen, the author of well-received accounts of the battles for Nanking and Shanghai during the ‘30s, is working on a planned three volume treatment of the Second Sino-Japanese/Asia-Pacific War (1931-1945). In this, the first volume, he looks at the events that preceded Japan’s attacks on British, Dutch, and American interests in December of 1941, a subject largely ignored in the West, despite the fact that it’s essential to understanding what came later.

Harmsen opens with an overview of earlier relations between the Japan and China, and touches on the different approaches to adapting Western technology that each adopted, the Japanese being the more successful. He also reminds us that a century ago progressive nationalists in China (even after the Sino-Japanese war of 1894-1895), as well as in other Asian, and even some African countries admired Japan’s ability to modernize and stand up to the West.

Harmsen then proceeds to look at Japan’s increasing expansionism, so that, after picking off chunks of territory from its weaker neighbor, particularly with the acquisition of Manchuria in 1931, by the mid-‘30s it began a war of conquest. By December of 1941 Japan had already been on a war footing for several years, and was seeking ways out of a stalemated conflict.

Harmsen looks at the complex and often bloody internal politics of both nations, with some kinder words about the Kuomintang regime in China than has been customary. He also looks at the international aspects of the conflict, particularly following the conclusion of the Nazi-Soviet Pact and the subsequent in Europe.

Harmsen shifts easily from cabinet rooms to battlefields, and gives us profiles of many persons, high and low, who played interesting roles in these events.

War in the Far East: Storm Clouds Over the Pacific is very good work about a very neglected subject in the literature of the Pacific War.


Note: War in the Far East: Storm Clouds Over the Pacific is also available in several e-editions.

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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