Book Reviews

Many know the outlines of the post World War II war crimes trial of Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita, the victor of Singapore and the "Tiger of Malaya." He was charged not with committing war crimes personally, but for failing to control the troops who carried out the rape of Manila. Some are familiar with the outlines of his trial and the later allegations of cynical unfairness in his prosecution, but very few know the Yamashita case as Jim Webb presents it in this masterfully written and researched roman a clef . The Yamashita trial is the core of the book, wrapped within an entirely believable and poignant account of a U.S. Army officer's love for a beautiful Filipina.

As World War II ends, Lieutenant Jay Marsh, the story's protagonist, is a capable and conscientious translator assigned to General Douglas MacArthur's staff. Webb knows his real-life characters and captures them wonderfully: MacArthur is described variously as at times unbearable, an undeniable genius, and a charlatan. Other historical figures—Louis Mountbatten, Jonathan Wainwright, and Emperor Hirohito—are limned with economic accuracy, as are the sycophantic constants of MacArthur's personal staff, Generals Courtney Whitney and Richard Sutherland.

Lieutenant Marsh, initially a mere translator, is given missions of ever increasing responsibility. He eventually becomes MacArthur's "trusted listener," and the conduit between the Supreme Commander and Japanese officialdom—including even the Emperor.

In this role, Marsh is exposed to the harsh realities of postwar realpolitik , as practiced by the ever-duplicitous MacArthur and the ever-indirect Japanese. MacArthur had a clear personal animosity for Yamashita. What was that animosity's unanticipated impact on MacArthur's relations with the Emperor and his cabinet? Why did Yamashita surrender at the end of the war, rather than committing suicide, as many other senior Japanese officers did? Why did MacArthur direct a military commission to try Yamashita in Manila, rather than Tokyo, before the Far East War Crimes commission? And why was MacArthur so firm in not allowing war crimes charges against the Emperor or his family?

Webb's authorial skill and his interweaving of historical fabrics reveal that these interrelated questions are not plot contrivances, but genuine issues of historical significance. Most surprising, this wonderfully reasoned and evocatively written account answers these questions. With the insight of a political power player and an infighter's instinct, Webb explains the motivations of the characters and clarifies—as no scholar's account could—what lay behind the shameful prosecution of Yamashita.

Colonel Solis , author of Son Thang: An American War Crime (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1997), teaches law at the U.S. Military Academy.

 

Nansen: The Explorer as Hero

Roland Huntford. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1998. 610 pp. Photos. Notes. Bib. Index. $19.95. Book can be purchased from the publisher at www.barnesandnoble.com .

Reviewed by Captain Lawson W. Brigham, U.S. Coast Guard (Retired)

This is a sweeping biography of the Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930), arguably among the most famous of men during the late l9th and early 20th centuries. The British journalist and historian Roland Huntford previously has written two widely read biographies: Scott and Amundsen (1979) and Shackleton (1985). This new book completes his comprehensive trilogy on four notable polar explorers. Writing Nansen surely was a challenging endeavor, since Dr. Nansen was a complex individual with diverse interests and pursuits. His life was filled with extraordinary accomplishments as a polar explorer, scientist (zoologist and oceanographer), diplomat, humanitarian, pioneer skier, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Huntford skillfully weaves together these sometimes disparate phases of Nansen's life. The level of detail and meticulous primary research are exemplary, and mark this as an authoritative work. Fortunately, Huntford's prose also is engaging and at times elegant.

The author is at his best when relating Nansen's exploits in Greenland and in the Arctic Ocean—major expeditions that would make Nansen the father of modern polar exploration. Nansen gained early international fame by completing the first crossing of Greenland in 1888. He and his party did this primarily on skis—at that time a novel method of exploring. This fast method of travel influenced later polar exploration, in particular Roald Amundsen on his historic trek to the South Pole in 1911. Immediately after his Greenland triumph, Nansen set his sights on being the first to reach the North Pole.

Nansen took a keen interest in the finding of relics off Greenland from the Jeannette expedition, lost in 1881 near the New Siberian Islands. Since the ice had carried the remains across the Arctic basin, Nansen reasoned one might be able to freeze a ship in the ice and drift to the Pole. The result was the building of the now famous polar ship Fram . During 1893-96, the Fram drifted westward from the Russian Arctic coast toward Svalbard. Near 84NN, Nansen and Hjalmar Johnansen left the Fram with skis, dogs, sleds, and kayaks in an attempt to reach the Pole. Before running out of provisions, they reached a farthest north position of 86'14'N. Huntford's gripping account of their 17-month-long survival is a classic story of human endurance.

The author does justice to Nansen's complex personal life and his many roles as a stateman and humanist. Using his international celebrity status, Nansen was influential in helping Norway gain its independence from Sweden. The story of his time as Norway's first ambassador to Britain highlights his diplomatic skills. He also assisted the League of Nations with the repatriation of World War I POWs, and proposed a successful population exchange in the aftermath of the 1922 Greek-Turkish War. For these and other efforts, Nansen was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922.

This is a masterful and entertaining biography of a fascinating explorer and internationalist. Fridtjof Nansen's character was complicated, and he possessed a remarkable range of talents. It is hard to disagree with Huntford's judgment that Nansen "approached the Renaissance ideal of the universal man."

Captain Brigham is at the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge, UK, and for many years has worked with the Fridtjof Nansen Institute in Norway,

 

A Deep Legacy: Smaller-Scale Contingencies and the Forces that Shape the Navy

Peter Swartz and E. D. McGrady. Alexandria, VA: Center for Naval Analyses, 1998. 154 pp. Appendices. Notes. Bib. Available free from CNA at (703) 824-2943.

Reviewed by Commander Sam J. Tangredi, U.S. Navy

Some of the more significant assessments of the U.S. Navy do not appear as books or articles, but remain a part of the so-called "gray literature": reports of seminars, think tanks, and academic groups. Many of these might make good books. Deep Legacies , which describes how the Navy's fleet organizational structure and deployment patterns developed in response to smaller-scale contingencies, is one of these publications—with rather profound implications.

For those not familiar with the latest Pentagon buzz words, smaller-scale contingency refers to all military operations short of major theater war. It includes a wide spectrum of actions—from punitive strikes to shows of force.

Obviously, the Navy is no stranger to these operations. In fact, one could argue that the Navy was created for dealing with just such contingencies, and that it was decisive in only two major wars: the Civil War and World War II. The authors point out that the legacy of the Navy includes all of the supposedly "new" missions. For example, the Caribbean-based Special Services Squadron of 1920-40 was directed by the State Department to support U.S. interests in Latin America.

As an analysis, this study gives only a brief description of these operations. However, its main purpose is to correlate the Navy's internal organization and deployment pattern of the fleet with the actual force structure procured. The authors' conclusion is that no one model of command, deployment pattern, or ship procurement "has tracked throughout the Navy's history." In other words, the Navy long has been a flexible institution. Perhaps the overall organizational flexibility is why we cling so hard to those traditions—and deep legacies.

Therein lies a profound implication: if the Navy is so flexible, why does it retain its Cold War force posture in today's post-Cold War world? The current operational model of one-third of the fleet on six-month forward deployments is, historically, a fairly new phenomenon. Does today's deployment pattern match the actual employment of the Navy? The authors provide no answer, but their book should spark debate on the issue. Commander Tangredi is head of Strategy and Concepts Branch at OpNav.

Commander Tangredi is head of Strategy and Concepts Branch at OpNav.

 

Illegal Drugs by Sea

Edited by B. A. H. Parritt. London: Nautical Institute, 1998. 90 pp. Index. $37.50 ($33.74).

Reviewed by Admiral Paul A. Yost, U.S. Coast Guard (Retired)

This short, soft-bound book is a compilation by B. A. H. Parritt of a dozen essays or treatises, all relating to drugs and the problems they bring to the world's merchant vessels. Each essay looks at a different aspect of the problem. For this reason, the volume is a handbook to help those in the marine industries to understand and deal with the effects of illegal drugs on the business of going down to the sea in ships.

Despite the handbook nature of the volume, there are a number of adventure stories, sea chases, heart-rending drug related cases, and opinionated rhetoric regarding drug legislation that make this book an interesting read. The merchant ship master's blood is guaranteed to run cold at the thought of being involved in a drug boarding in Malaysian waters. For the naval person, pride will swell at the stories of the U.S. Coast Guard, the British frigate HMS Brave , and the U.S. Navy in drug interdiction. Many will take umbrage at the proposition by one author that the drug war is unwinnable. This writer also argues that any great nation should be wise enough to walk away from such a war.

The chapter by retired Coast Guard Rear Admiral John Linnon, from the viewpoint of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, describes in clear terms the maritime drug effort in the United States. He contends that drug use has declined 50% since 1979, and makes one ask if the war may indeed be winnable. With the help of the British, Dutch, and French navies, and massive support by the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Navy, drug smuggling by sea in the Caribbean has been reduced severely. Admiral Linnon would say this is one we can win.

This is good reading that not only will educate the reader on the impact of illegal drug smuggling on the marine industries, but also will present clear insights into the world's efforts to combat the problem.

Admiral Yost is the president of the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation in Washington, DC.

 

Secrecy: The American Experience

Daniel Patrick Moynihan. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998. 265 pp. Notes. Index. $22.50 ($20.25).

Reviewed by Mark Shulman

"Secrecy is for losers," concludes the former vice-chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Fortunately, Daniel Patrick Moynihan now has distilled the truths behind this conclusion into a witty, erudite, and personal primer on the United States' unfortunate experience with secrecy.

Moynihan defines secrecy as "a form of regulation . . . [by which the] government proscribes what citizens may know." Even after the post-Cold War draw down, secrecy continues to expand. Referring to sociologist Max Weber's seminal ideas, Moynihan notes "bureaucracy's tendency to amass official secrets." The U.S. government creates many secrets—notwithstanding commissions, laws, and executive orders to the contrary. In 1996, the number of "official" secrets increased by 62%.

Historically, the government has resisted the impulse to classify information. Prior to World War II there were some military secrets, but the Army and Navy were remarkably open. In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson's famous Fourteen Points defined the first requirement for any peace settlement: "open covenants, openly arrived at." At the same time, however, Wilson was using the Espionage Act to clamp down on dissent at home. He signed the Sedition Act barring "profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government . . . the Constitution . . . or the flag of the United States, or the uniform of the Army and Navy." The Sedition Act remains good law today, sanctioning the thousands of secrets kept from Americans.

During World War II, the government embraced secrecy—most notably to cover up the biggest secret till then, the Manhattan Project. In the years that followed, although Alger Hiss did perjure himself, and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg did give the Soviets hydrogen bomb secrets, the nation suffered a confused hysteria over the possibility of a domestic communist conspiracy because the Army refused to divulge the evidence it held. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Omar Bradley withheld the Venona decrypts of Moscow's messages to its American agents because the general did not trust the President with this information.

Throughout the Cold War, presidents recognized that "even harmless secrets were coins to power to be hoarded." The corrosive effects of official secrecy contributed to the worst strategic blunders of the Cold War: the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Iran-Contra. Most important, secrecy contributed to the persistent misunderstanding of Soviet capabilities and intentions. Also, because there are so many secrets, many well-informed citizens believe that government officials never tell the truth. For example, four out of five Americans believe the government is hiding evidence of extraterrestrial life, and three out of four believe the CIA assassinated President Kennedy to prolong the war in Southeast Asia.

A former sociology professor at Harvard, Senator Moynihan recently chaired the commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy. The Commission proposed reforms requiring a balancing test that weighs the public's right to know against any classification. It also would create a declassification system limiting the life of a secret to ten years unless reclassified specifically. And all secrets must expire after 30 years—unless doing so would threaten harm to an individual or an ongoing program.

The nation's most gifted scholar-statesman has produced a marvelous little book, and it should not be missed.

Dr. Shulman is author of Navalism and the Emergence of American Sea Power, 1882-1893 , published by the Naval Institute Press. He is editor-in-chief of the Columbia Journal of Transnational Law .

 

 
 

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