46. Review: “Killing the Rising Sun”, by Bill O’Reilly

January 9, 2018

Well, Killing the Rising Sun is certainly non-fiction, and is written in the manner of a scholarly historian or investigative journalist, and while I recommend it to any who didn’t actually have a contemporary experience of World War II, and especially of the behavior of the Japanese Emperor, Prime Minister Tojo, and his Army and Navy, in their military expansion throughout Asia beginning in 1937 in China, I fear it might prove too provocative for people who are fixedly anti-war-at-all-cost, or who are determined to see America as the aggressor in every instance, even to the point of portraying the Japanese as victims.

While O’Reilly was a high school history teacher and the documentation he provides is extremely thorough, there are people who view him as a right-wing liar, and the book would be wasted on them.  Personally, I found him to be one of the commentators on Fox News that I could listen to, because while he was clearly conservative, over the years I never heard him lie about anything, and he did seem to make an effort to present or at least report opposing views. [Ed. Even in the end, he did not deny accusations of sexual harassment and left quietly.]

I think if it were me, I might poll the members of a book club to see how many were dead set against even reading his book, and make the decisions whether or not to select it for a group, based upon the result of the poll.

If one is willing to assume that what is presented — the events, facts and figures — is fair and accurate, the book does explain how it could have seemed appropriate to use the atomic bombs that ended the war in the Pacific. I know that as a boy of eleven with nine uncles in the war, it seemed the best possible outcome to me. 

One argument used by many modern academics to second-guess the decision to use atomic bombs is that the “real” reason we bombed Japan and ended the war that August was that we didn’t want Asia to fall under the control of the Soviets.  The book provides a time line that makes it clear that after Potsdam, while the Soviets did attack in Manchuria at nearly the same time as the decisions were made to use the atomic bomb, concern about Russian victory was far less an issue than were the millions of casualties anticipated from an imminent invasion of the Japanese home islands.  MacArthur, in fact, not having even been told that we had an atomic alternative, was counting on the Soviets to keep major components of the Japanese Army pinned down in Manchuria while he prosecuted an amphibious invasion that would cost an expected 500,000 American lives.

To understand how a decision could have been made to drop an atomic bomb on the Japanese cities, one has to have witnessed, or be reminded of, how the tenets of shintoism (Japan was the home of the gods and Hirohito was literally a god) and bushido had enabled or caused the Japanese to conduct themselves during their war, committing each day yet another thousand atrocities involving civilians or prisoners of war. To those who cannot understand the need to bring an immediate halt to that behavior I can only say, You had to be there.