The War in the Pacific – A Retrospective

September 24, 2016

Retrospective Film

I was Boat group Commander for my ship, leading Higgins Boats carrying assault troops in a number of invasions of Japanese-held islands, starting with Tarawa and ending with Iwo Jima, with many in between. My experiences led me to question, even at the time, whether some of these battles were actually needed in the ultimate victory over Japan.

These questions remain with me still, indeed, have “hardened” over the years. In the 5th century BC, the Greek historian, Thucydides, said in his Introduction to his classic history, “The Peloponnesian War”…

“Of the events of the war I have not ventured to speak from any chance information, nor according to any notion of my own. I have described nothing but what I either saw myself or learned from others of whom I made the most careful and particular inquiry. But if he who desires to have before him a true picture of the events which have happened, and of the like events which may be expected to happen hereafter in the order of human shall pronounce what I have written to be useful, then I shall be satisfied.”

I have attempted to follow the model of this great historian…

Much has been written about the War in the Pacific by able historians. I’ve consulted their books, but I don’t believe that some of my questions have been properly dealt with. As a participant and not a historian, I challenged then, and still do, the judgment of those commanders who decided which battles were to be fought and when.No doubt, some of my opinions are unorthodox, but they are opinions based on my experiences. I saw firsthand the disastrous consequences of “orthodoxy.”

An acknowledgement by our nation is long overdue, with shame, for those who fell in battles that should not have been fought, or who died or were wounded in battles led by commanders who were incompetent, or worse.

Among the “worse” I include General Douglas MacArthur, an especially overrated military figure. (I was in several of his campaigns, in New Guinea and the Philippines). MacArthur was a self-centered. arrogant man who pursued his personal goals while ignoring the safety and welfare of the troops in his command.

Well documented, for example, but not widely known is the game he played in making sure that he would be allowed to “Return” to the Philippines. The Joint Chiefs of Staff had decided early in the war that Japan could be conquered without the need for invading the Philippines. He threatened to resign unless the Joint Chiefs reversed their decision. He made sure this threat was communicated to FDR, who by this time had decided to run for his fourth term.

An ailing FDR would be no match for a vigorous military hero like MacArthur, one the Roosevelt-haters back home had persuaded to compete with FDR for the presidency. FDR personally overruled the Joint Chiefs thereby ensuring that the General would remain in the Pacific in order to Return to the Philippines. The General’s Return would result in more than 200,000 casualties among his soldiers.

There were other battles, of course, decided by other commanders that also had nothing to do with the defeat of Japan. One stands out: the battle of Peleliu, in the Palau archipeligo. Admiral Halsey, Admiral Nimitz’s most senior admiral, urged Nimitz to withdraw the fleet then steaming toward Pelieliu. The Japanese were in retreat everywhere in that part of the Pacific, Halsey argued.

Peleliu wasn’t even in the direct line to Japan’s Home Islands. Nimitz’s astounding response to Halsey was that the fleet “was already at sea, and it would be to difficult to recall it.” The battle for Pelieliu would result in more than 10,000 casualties among the 1st Division Marines, the highest casualty rate in all of the Pacific War battles.

If what I have wriiten has shed new light on that great conflict, or has been useful, then, like Thucydides, “I shall be satisfied.”

I have a blog (who doesn’t?) which includes some of my observations about the State of the World Want to read about my long-running efforts to get our big dumb government to remove the garbage from Red Beach on Tarawa, where hundreds of Marines died? It’s is now littered with piles of garbage left on it by the natives. “Bloody Tarawa” is another Pacific War battle that should not have been fought. Go to

Leon Cooper has had a varied work career in civilian life: inventor, with patented products used throughout the world, including a product used by all air lines that tests for the proper operation of fire alarm systems aboard their commercial airplanes; CEO of his own computer company, CFO of major corporations; now a successful writer, including co-author of an award-winning screenplay.


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