China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) did not just appear out of nowhere with China’s rise to military superpower status in the 21st century, though there has been very little written in English about its origins. Until now: Toshi Yoshihara, a former professor at the Naval War College and currently a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, traces the PLAN’s beginnings to the Chinese Civil War and the early years of Mao Zedong’s rule in his new book Mao’s Army Goes to Sea.
Steve Kemper’s Our Man in Tokyo is the second book in three years to deliver fulsome praise on the untiring yet unsuccessful effort by Joseph Grew, the US Ambassador to Japan in the 1930s and early 1940s, to avoid a war between the US and Japan. Like Lew Paper’s 2019 In the Cauldron, Kemper’s book depicts Grew as an unheralded diplomatist trying to avoid armageddon, while portraying policymakers in Tokyo and Washington as stubbornly blundering into war.
On 2 September 1945, on the US battleship Missouri, US General Douglas MacArthur concluded the formal surrender ceremony of the Pacific War by stating: “Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world, and that God will preserve it always.” When the guns of the Second World War fell silent in Asia, peace did not return to the peoples of East and Southeast Asia. Instead, as Ronald Spector details in his meticulous and informative military history of the postwar Far East, the region “erupted” as a result of decolonization, civil wars, and the broader Cold War. The region became a vast “bloodlands” in which nearly four million combatants and probably close to 20 million civilians died.
Earlier this year, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists estimated that India has 160 nuclear warheads that can be delivered by aircraft, land-based ballistic missiles, and sea-based ballistic missiles—a small nuclear triad. How and why India developed nuclear energy and weapons programs in the midst of the Cold War is the subject of Jayita Sarkar’s fascinating and revealing book Ploughshares and Swords.
The fighting on Borneo during World War II is often forgotten because in the larger picture of the Pacific War it was relatively insignificant compared to the battles in New Guinea, the Philippines, and smaller islands of the central Pacific and southwest Pacific. The fighting on Borneo occurred near the end of the war between March and September 1945. Most of the heavy fighting took place on the small island of Tarakan, along the east coast near Balikpapan, and in Northern Borneo along the coast near Laubuan.
In mid-June 2020, Indian and Chinese forces clashed in the mountainous north-western portion of the Sino-Indian border in the Galwan River valley in Ladakh, resulting in scores of casualties, including twenty Indian and four Chinese deaths. Each side eventually deployed about 50,000 troops to this freezing battlefield located 14,000 feet above sea level. Both sides quickly deescalated, but the clash upended years of diplomatic efforts to resolve the long-simmering border dispute. Indian journalist Manoj Joshi’s new book Understanding the India-China Border provides details of the clash, historical insight into the causes of the fighting, and places the longtime Sino-Indian border dispute in the context of global geopolitics.
In 2012, Murali Ranganathan, a historian and translator of Gujarati and Marathi, came across the memoir of Nariman Karkaria, a Parsi from Gujarat, titled Rangbhoomi par Rakhad, published in 1922. The book recounts Karkaria’s travels throughout Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, and his experiences in the First World War. The memoir, Murali Ranganathan writes, “is the only Indian war memoir from the First World War to have been discovered thus far.” Though initially skeptical of Nariman Karkaria’s story, and unable to independently confirm the accounts of Karkaria’s war experiences, Ranganathan believes the accounts therein are genuine.