04 June 2007

Don't mention the war...but today is a significant anniversary

Today is the 65th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Midway in WW2. Unlike the Battle of the Coral Sea a month earlier Australian forces, except perhaps for some intelligence analysts, played no part in the engagement, yet the result was much more emphatic. The US forces, after some initial setbacks and much uncertainty, eventually stopped the Japanese offensive. The loss of so many of its aircraft carriers made it much harder for Japan to initiate and sustain offensive operations, as its industrial capacity was nowhere near that of the USA's. The Japanese defensive perimeter in the Asia- Pacific region remained pretty much intact for the next two years, yet American industrial potential and performance so much exceeded Japan's that the ultimate outcome of the war in the Pacific was a foregone conclusion. Japanese doggedness, determination and fanaticism delayed it for longer than an assessment based primarily on relative productive capacity and available resources would have predicted, and it needed two atomic bombs to compel Japan to surrender, but Midway remains the primary turning point..

In Australia the Battle of the Coral Sea, which was in no way a decisive victory for either side, is celebrated as "the battle that saved Australia", it's somewhat surprising that Midway doesn't loom larger in our historical awareness. As several well informed writers have speculated, without the US victory a re run (or two) of the Coral Sea battle might not have been out of the question, and, if so, might well have produced a less favourable result for the Allies.

A little acknowledgment in Australia would not go amiss, but then the country is preparing to receive the Japanese Prime Minister on an official visit. I have no problem with rolling out the red carpet for him, but I don't believe that potentially unpalatable facts about our past history should be swept under that carpet.

Information about Midway

As well as the Wikipedia article I've linked to above, there's a wealth of (mostly US-based) information on the internet about the battle. A Google search will reveal a substantial chunk of it.

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