Few historians today would quibble with the idea that the war against Nazi Germany was necessary. Japan, Hitler’s only major ally, has fared far better with many historians in the West—much better than in Imperial Japan’s former Asian colonies. Because the war ended with the atomic bomb, many in the West today look at the Pacific War in terms similar to what was called “moral equivalence” in the Cold War. That view shows disregard for the nightmarish world that existed during total war. As World War II passes into history, two fundamental points are essential for understanding the Asian-Pacific War. First, Japan started the Pacific War as the last stage of a long drive to gain Asian hegemony. Second, the Asia-Pacific theater’s violence, only equaled on the eastern front, resulted primarily from the way Japan’s leaders chose to fight and the battle ethos infused in their fighting men. The discussion of these points is not meant to remove from the historical record cruel and often unnecessary violence on the part of the countries fighting Japan but should make the actions of these countries more understandable.
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