Deborah Baker opens The Last Englishmen with the admission that she was looking for a new way to write about WW2 India when she came across the papers of John Bicknell Auden, the older brother of the well-known British poet, WH Auden. In her explorations, she found another brother of another poet—Michael Spender. The fortuitous connections lead her to yet another man, this time no brother, but a poet himself, Louis MacNeice. The result is a book that is a detailed account of who was having an affair with whom, especially one Nancy Sharp, a painter, and when, and who climbed which mountain peak and when, and discovered what. The book is three books in one: loving, mountaineering, and Baker’s original ambition to write a book about India.
War, Clausewitz wrote, is the continuation of politics by violent means. War also breeds revolution. It is no accident, as Marxists are wont to say, that communism gained power in Russia and China in the midst and the aftermath of world wars and civil wars.
The Second World War actually began on 7 July 1937 at the Marco Polo Bridge southwest of Beijing, when Imperial Japanese troops clashed with Nationalist Chinese forces. Japan had annexed Manchuria in 1931, but Chinese forces did not fight back then; instead, China’s leaders appealed in vain to the League of Nations. Six years later, after another Japanese-manufactured “incident”, China would fight back.
Now in her 10th decade, it would be understandable if Jan Morris could no longer cope with the amount of research she once so enjoyed. But she has not abandoned her craft. In her most recent work she has undertaken to memorialize the sinking of the Japanese battleship Yamato, a subject which she says has fascinated her since childhood.
White Chrysanthemum memorializes Korean comfort women—women forced into sexual slavery by Japanese occupying forces during World War Two. In her debut novel, London-based Korean-American writer Mary Lynn Bracht explores the effects of these women’s abductions on their families and on wider society, and celebrates the power of women to survive horrific circumstances.
In his new book Asia Betrayed, John Bell Smithback sets out to prove that British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (with the connivance of US President Franklin Roosevelt) through treachery and deceit lured the Japanese militarists to attack and invade British, Dutch and American possessions in the Far East so that the United States could become a full belligerent with Britain against Germany.
World War II created its fair share of myths: on the American side, the “Flying Tigers”—a “small private air force that fought the Japanese over Burma and Western China”—became one of the first, providing as it did some of the few bright spots in the days after Pearl Harbor. From December 1941 to June 1942, the force which “rarely had more than forty airworthy planes” managed to take down almost 300 Japanese aircraft. A John Wayne movie came out as early as 1942.