Cover image for Empires on the Pacific : World War II and the struggle for the mastery of Asia
Empires on the Pacific : World War II and the struggle for the mastery of Asia
Thompson, Robert Smith.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York, N.Y. : Basic Books, [2001]

Physical Description:
xiii, 434 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Reading Level:
1110 Lexile.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
D767 .T49 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



By moving China to center stage, Robert Smith Thompson expands the traditional boundaries of the Pacific Theater of World War II and casts the conflict in an entirely new light. What is commonly viewed as a discrete military conflict between an aggressive Japan with imperial ambitions and a reluctant, passive America now becomes the stuff of Greek tragedy. The overreaching British Empire is waning, yet is unwilling to relinquish its foothold in China, while an increasingly ambitious Japan is determined to dominate the region and conquer China as part of that plan. Enter the young upstart, America, with imperial ambitions of its own in Asia. The United States meant to replace Britain as the dominant power in Asia and saw Japan as a direct threat to that dominance. For Franklin Delano Roosevelt and for the United States, the war with Japan had little to do with revenge for Pearl Harbor. Japan would have to be vanquished so that it would never again be an imperial rival.This recasting of the Asian conflict profoundly alters our understanding not just of World War II in the Pacific but also of what followed in the Korean War and the war in Vietnam. Revisionist history at its best, Empires on the Pacific will provoke discussion and debate and it will alter our view of what many still consider the last "good war."Interest in WWII has never been higher: The summertime release of Touchstone Pictures' blockbuster Pearl Harbor-accompanied by Basic Books' own Pearl Harbor (April 19 release)-will create tremendous interest in the Pacific theater of WWII. Timely publication: The book anticipates the 60th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 2001. Striking, revisionist, controversial: America's wartime actions in the Pacific were not revenge for Pearl Harbor but were part of America's larger imperial ambitions to replace the British Empire as the dominant force in Asia, and, especially, in China. America won the war with Japan but lost the peace, which led, inevitably, to the Korean War and to the war in Vietnam. A long overdue explanation of what America's war against Japan was all about-in a word: China.

Author Notes

Robert S. Thompson teaches at the University of South Carolina

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Nothing is more infuriating than a historian who thinks he has ferreted out the "real" story and does so by trumpeting "new" evidence that has already been examined and discounted by far more credible historians. Thompson received a Ph.D. from Harvard and currently teaches at the University of South Carolina. In examining the causes of the war with Japan, Thompson asserts the obvious as if it was a deep, dark, secret: the U.S. had strong political and economic interests in East Asia and saw Japan as a danger to those interests. From that generally accepted base, Thompson makes a series of Olympic-caliber leaps, concluding that President Roosevelt provoked the attack on Pearl Harbor and President Truman dropped the "A" bomb to prove that the U.S. was dominant in Asia. The author makes his points by telling only one side of the story, but his alternate view of our "last good war" is bound to attract attention and may generate controversy. Expect some demand from WWII aficionados--Jay Freeman

Library Journal Review

Thompson's title is somewhat misleading since his book is primarily about the United States, China, and Japan, while other countries are only supporting players. There is no argument from this reviewer that the Great Pacific War was among empires and that Japan's war against China was the primary cause of U.S.-Japanese friction, but the author's attempt to show that the United States was primarily fighting to control China in the postwar world is not at all well substantiated. There is too much narrative of the familiar military operations in the Pacific and not enough about the undoubted diplomatic and political maneuvering to extend America's influence in Asia. More a history of the war than an expos of evil imperialist aims, this work can be considered a companion to Thompson's earlier A Time for War: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Path to Pearl Harbor (LJ 7/91), which blamed the president for the Japanese attack. This jumble of a book will be of interest only to large World War II, diplomatic, and Asian history collections. (Maps, photos, and index not seen.) -Daniel K. Blewett, Coll. of DuPage Lib., Glen Ellyn, IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Prologue: Washington, December 8, 1941p. xi
Part I The Road to War
1 The Fall of Imperial Chinap. 3
2 Japan's Response to the Westp. 21
3 The Open Doorp. 41
4 New Order in East Asiap. 57
5 The Road to Pearl Harborp. 75
Part II Japan's Far-Flung Battle Line
6 The Onslaughtp. 101
7 The Singapore Debaclep. 123
8 Warriors of the Rising Sunp. 141
9 But Not in Shamep. 159
10 Midwayp. 177
Part III The Receding of the Tide
11 America Risingp. 199
12 The Hammer and the Anvilp. 221
13 Grand Strategyp. 239
14 Unanswerable Strengthp. 257
15 Turning Pointsp. 277
Part IV Recasting the Imperial Far East
16 Yaltap. 297
17 Return to the Coloniesp. 313
18 The New Taipansp. 327
19 The Mastersp. 343
20 They Call It Peacep. 363
Epilogue: World War II and the Road to Vietnamp. 377
Notesp. 391
Sourcesp. 401
Indexp. 415