Refighting the Pacific War: An Alternative History of World War II

By Bryant, Jacob | The Historian, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

Refighting the Pacific War: An Alternative History of World War II


Bryant, Jacob, The Historian


Refighting the Pacific War: An Alternative History of World War II. Edited by Jim Breshnahan. (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2011. Pp. vii, 275. $29.95.)

"What if?" No question can be as intriguing and, at the same time, as frustrating for a historian to attempt to answer. It is intriguing because it challenges the scholar to step out of the safe confines of deterministic history and, instead, try to understand how an event's outcome might have been altered. Therein lies the value of counterfactual history; it forces the historian to ignore hindsight when examining all of the components that brought about the outcomes and how, based on crucial decisions, twists of late, or other human actions, these events might have turned out differently.

Good counterfactual history can deepen our knowledge of such historical events by forcing us to reexamine our understanding of them. It is precisely such an outcome, applied to the Pacific war, which led Jim Breshnahan to undertake this project. In gathering a group of World War II scholars, enthusiasts, and veterans and asking them a series of counterfactual queries, Breshnahan hopes to educate the reader "about what happened and what could have happened" (vii). What results is a series of chapters, resembling round-table discussions, in which the editor poses a number of pointed questions and the contributors briefly respond.

Several contributions to this work can be held up as examples of valuable counterfactual history. Having been asked how improved Japanese-American relations in the years leading up to the outbreak of the war in the Pacific might have altered the conflict, Harold J. …

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