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One Damned Island After Another by Clive Howard and John Whitley

Many years ago, back in my early teens, I recollect that I would scour the shelves of my local library to find any work of fiction that would have the word 'Island' in its title. I doubt that I managed to find them all, even though I was not including children's literature which is rich indeed in 'island' books. The appeal of these isolated scraps of land is inescapable. Thousands of us make islands our holiday destination of choice and, come the day we earn our first billion, it seems likely that an island of our own will feature high on our shopping list. I guess an island represents an escape from the real world; maybe a place where time really can stand still.

Now mumblety-mumble years on from those library-searching days, as I scan the myriad of titles on the shelves at Stella Books, I find that a spine containing the word 'Island' will still jump out at me. Thus the book that I draw attention to here; One Damned Island After Another by Clive Howard and Joe Whitley.

The islands of the title are those idyllic specks of paradise that are scattered across the West Pacific Ocean, with their palm tree fringed beaches and coral lagoons. However, they were far from paradise in the mid 1940's.

In 1942 the Japanese Empire was losing the struggle to maintain its hold over territories in China and Manchuria and had sought compensation by expanding its power in other directions, towards Malaya, Indo-China and the Philippines - much to the objection of the United States who encouraged trade embargos and economic sanctions against them. When war between the two nations began to look inevitable Japan staged a pre-emptive, shock attack on Pearl Harbour. A huge number of American battleships and aircraft were destroyed, not to mention 2,403 lives lost. With the US having received such a humiliating bloody nose, and at the same time being drawn into the war in Europe, Japan thought the Americans would have little heart for a war across the Pacific and that they would settle for a negotiated truce. They were wrong.

From watching films like Hell in the Pacific and The Sands of Iwo Jima we probably have our own image of what the war in the Pacific was like and Stella has several books on the subject, but One Damned Island After Another reports it from a different angle. It is an extremely readable account of the American forces progression, island by island, across the Pacific Ocean to the shores of Japan itself, and the final Japanese surrender following the destruction of Nagasaki. It is the war from the viewpoint of the common soldier, and written largely in their own words. The grim hardships they had to endure and the sacrifices they had to make. One corporal wrote,
"...Heroes don't win wars, they just get their names in the paper. The guys who win wars are the guys who lug reams of paper around, or open thousands of cans of C rations, clean hundreds of pots and pans, or grease jeeps, or dig latrines or do any of a thousand jobs that nobody ever heard of. They are the real heroes. They are the guys who are winning this war."

I'm also guessing they are the guys who, when the war was won, didn't scour their local library for 'Island' books!

Contributed by Alec

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