Cataclysm: General Hap Arnold and the Defeat of Japan

By McGovern, Jeff | Air & Space Power Journal, May/June 2014 | Go to article overview

Cataclysm: General Hap Arnold and the Defeat of Japan


McGovern, Jeff, Air & Space Power Journal


Cataclysm: General Hap Arnold and the Defeat of Japan by Herman S. Wolk. University of North Texas Press (http://untpress .unt.edu/), 1155 Union Circle no. 311336, Denton, Texas 76203-5017, 2012, 352 pages, $24.95 (hardcover), ISBN 1-574412-81-7; $19.95 (softcover), ISBN 1-574414-73-9.

In Cataclysm Herman S. Wolk argues that Gen Hap Arnold counted upon the B-29 campaign as a means to an end (i.e., the continued future of the Army Air Forces [AAF] and the effort to make it an independent service). The author does not indicate that Arnold himself ever openly promoted strategic bombing as the decisive tool for victory and, thus, a proof of concept. However, he does convincingly present the case-through Arnold's actions-that privately he thought that the strategy of air bombardment and the AAF's participation in creating a sea blockade could bring about the war's end without a costly ground invasion of the Japanese home islands.

The book includes an introduction and seven chapters, the introduction and last chapter acting as bookends. In the introduction, Wolk identifies his goal of uniquely examining the interconnected roles that General Arnold played in the development and deployment of the B-29 and the establishment of Twentieth Air Force as well as the strategies and policies of an air campaign whose design could have ultimately led to the defeat of Japan. He also notes that his study draws on a source little used in the examination of that defeat-the wartime accounts of the Japanese themselves, a source that gives particular credence to his thesis. In the final chapter, "Who Was Hap Arnold?,'' Wolk addresses the impact of Arnold's determination to bring about an independent Air Force, including his futurist vision of a radically different aviation technology. The central chapters cover the general's career from his early days in aviation to the period immediately following the Second World War. Each chapter develops the unfolding story of policy, strategy, and command that emerged from the debate about whether an air cam- paign and naval blockade could bring about a Japanese surrender or whether a ground invasion was necessary. Of course, the successful use of the atomic bombs rendered that debate moot.

Within the central chapters, Wolk details Arnold's relationship with President Franklin Roosevelt and his cabinet members, such as Harry Hopkins; his struggle to ready the B-29 for operational deployment in spite of numerous technological problems; and his successful establishment of Twentieth Air Force as an independent command under his direct leadership. …

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