Friday, May 18, 2012

Review: The Color of War by James Campbell

Title: The Color of War
Author: James Campbell
Format: Hardback
Publisher: Crown
Publish Date: May 15, 2012
Source: I received a copy from PR. This did not affect my review.

Why You're Reading This Book:
  • You're interested in the human side of history.
  • You're looking for a book that will broaden your horizon.
What's the Story?:

From "From the acclaimed World War II writer and author of The Ghost Mountain Boys, an incisive retelling of the key month, July 1944, that won the war in the pacific and ignited a whole new struggle on the home front.

In the pantheon of great World War II conflicts, the battle for Saipan is often forgotten. Yet historian Donald Miller calls it "as important to victory over Japan as the Normandy invasion was to victory over Germany." For the Americans, defeating the Japanese came at a high price. In the words of a Time magazine correspondent, Saipan was "war at its grimmest."

On the night of July 17, 1944, as Admirals Ernest King and Chester Nimitz were celebrating the battle's end, the Port Chicago Naval Ammunition Depot, just thirty-five miles northeast of San Francisco, exploded with a force nearly that of an atomic bomb. The men who died in the blast were predominantly black sailors. They toiled in obscurity loading munitions ships with ordnance essential to the US victory in Saipan. Yet instead of honoring the sacrifice these men made for their country, the Navy blamed them for the accident, and when the men refused to handle ammunition again, launched the largest mutiny trial in US naval history.

The Color of War is the story of two battles: the one overseas and the one on America's home turf. By weaving together these two narratives for the first time, Campbell paints a more accurate picture of the cataclysmic events that occurred in July 1944--the month that won the war and changed America."

My Two Cents:

This book is really made up of two stories. The first story is that of the Battle of Saipan, a very decisive battle in the Pacific theater during World War II. It was a hard fought battle that really turned around how the Americans were doing in the war against Japan. The second story is that of the Port Chicago explosion, a much lesser known event that happened during World War II that happened at a Naval munition shipping port of sorts. I actually had never heard of this event (at least that I can recall) and I really enjoy reading about World War II history.

In the battle of Saipan, most of the military personnel that fought were white. While at the Port Chicago explosion, many of the military personnel were black. The military was still really working (working might not be the best word; perhaps grudgingly and exceedingly slowly are more fitting) on trying to fully integrate the military. Even though all branches of the military desperately needed men (remember women were only in the military in a small, very specialized capacity), all branches of the military had serious misgivings about moving forward. It was stunning to see how bull-headed the military leaders were even though opening up the military to other races would have alleviated or at least helped to alleviate the dearth of personnel. It's amazing to look at how things have changed between then and the present. This is not to say that the military is perfectly equal now but man, we've come a long way.

What I liked about this book is that the two stories are told through the people that were there. You get to know the people that were there and what they were seeing and feeling and where they were coming from. I love history books that are told from the view of people. They seem more tangible and seem to touch you a little bit more. I think using stories of people that we, the readers, may be able to see a little bit of ourselves in the men in this book.

I really wish that there had been even more discussion on what was going on as far as integration and segregation in the military. You get a flavor but there isn't really that connective story between what was happening in Saipan and what happened at Port Chicago. The comparisons on how the different troops were treated is really left up to the reader, which is fine but I really wanted a little bit more.

That being said, history lovers are still going to find a lot to love about this book. One of the things that I love most about non-fiction history is seeing where we've been. It's been said that those who don't remember the past are doomed to repeat it. This is why we all should read history books!


1 comment:

  1. Definitely not a book that I would pick up on my own, although I love historical works, so thank you for the review.


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