The Battle for China: Essays on the Military History of the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945

By Burrell, Robert | Naval War College Review, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

The Battle for China: Essays on the Military History of the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945


Burrell, Robert, Naval War College Review


Peattie, Mark, Edward Drea, and Hans van de Ven, eds. The Battle for China: Essays on the Military History of the Sino-Japanese War of 1937- 1945. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford Univ. Press, 2010. 614 pp. $65

The title of this book appropriately suggests a degree of ambiguity regarding the actors fighting over the territorial integrity and cultural identity of China. The interplay of imperial Japan, Nationalist and Communist Chinese, Great Britain, Germany, Russia, France, and the United States from 1937 through 1945 creates a terrain challenging to navigate with historical accuracy and objective truth. The conflicting viewpoints on these contentious events have proved difficult, and perhaps impossible, material from which to develop a definitive narrative. Consequently, the editors have chosen to avoid illusions of defining the "facts" of the matter, instead offering a number of exploratory essays from opposing viewpoints. In order to offer this multisource assessment, the editors coordinated the efforts of scholars from China, Taiwan, Japan, and the United States.

Editors Mark Peattie (a research fellow at the Hoover Institution), Edward Drea (former chief of the Research and Analysis Division of the U.S. Army Center of Military History), and Hans van de Ven (a professor of modern Chinese history at Cambridge University) stand apart as leading authorities on the Pacific War. The other seventeen contributors range from unknown doctoral candidates to heavyweight historians like Ronald Spector. Despite the pitfalls of bringing together authors of multiple disciplinary backgrounds, varying languages, and competing cultures and ideologies, the editors have maintained a surprisingly well organized text, firmly grounded in analysis of events from the perspective of military affairs.

The book is organized in six parts: the overview; opposing armies' organization, training, and equipment; initial hostilities (1937-38); a "stalemate in strategies" (1938-42); the Burma and Ichigo campaigns (1943-45); and conclusions. Each section begins with valuable information provided by the editors, furnishing continuity between thematic essays. The essays themselves are insightful, if not groundbreaking, offering milestones for future study and debate. One innovative and striking theme is the attention to and appreciation for the challenges facing Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalist Party, the Kuomintang (KMT). While not excusing any failures, the authors make it easy to understand the KMT's weak position in an agrarian society with undeveloped state organization in the face of a growing communist insurgency, tepid allied support, and a vicious campaign of destruction by an industrialized opponent. The deprivations endured and the sacrifices made by the Chinese through seven long years of the most brutal warfare does much to explain the KMT's precarious situation at the war's end. At the end of the book, Ronald Spector provides excellent context to these essays on the Sino-Japanese War, placing the scholarship within the framework of the Pacific War, World War II, and the history of warfare. …

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