09 Aug 22

There are plenty of accounts drawing out the disruption and human consequences when wars start, but rather less about the same effect when they end. In When the Shooting Stopped, Tillman manages the later well, covering the end of the War in the Pacific in August 1945.

There is much to like in this book. Tillman writes lucidly, with some delightful summaries of individuals. For example, we are told that, “MacArthur’s command style remained consistent through most of his career, ranging from egotism to megalomania”. Tillman also has a control of pace honed by his experience as a novelist.

One might wish for slightly greater engagement with primary materials than indicated by the footnotes and bibliography beyond some US Navy combat reports, or of the broader analysis of the war beyond Overy’s work. That is, however, the price commonly paid for being in the hands of such a prolific author: 40 books and counting. The effect is mitigated by his wider knowledge, of the US armed forces in particular, and his balanced judgement. Indeed, to his credit, though Tillman is clearly a proud American he very nearly succeeds in avoiding a disproportionate focus on the American experience.

I confess though that I struggled with this book. It is essentially a series of human focused vignettes. Though each one is well written, and they are linked together as well as practicable, the cumulative effect is a mass of facts without a grand thread beyond their similar place in time. This is not so much a criticism of the author as of the type of book. Others may revel in what doesn’t work for me. I therefore recommended When the Shooting Stopped if you want multiple tales of human valour and chaos, or particular detail about the end of the war, but not if you’re looking to improve your understanding of the War in the Pacific as a whole.