Nemesis by Max Hastings Harper Perennial, HK$120 Max Hastings' manifest talents as historian and journalist are triumphantly combined in Nemesis: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45, which acts as counterpoint to Armageddon, his account of the closing stages of the second world war in Europe. Nemesis covers the final year of Pacific hostilities, which concluded with the detonation of atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, thereby altering the course of geopolitics for ever. This is no dust-dry, plodding tabulation of events seen through the eyes of an Englishman, and a former editor of the right-wing Daily Telegraph newspaper at that. Instead, Hastings vaults from statesmen's conference table to GI foxhole, company headquarters to housewife's kitchen, examining the war from the perspective of those exposed to shot and shell and the gruesome consequences, as well as those directing the action. The narrative is scrupulously even-handed, with Japanese civilians relating their experiences of fire-bombing and Allied prisoners recounting the occasional kindnesses - though these were exceptional - they were shown by some of their captors. And the text is spiced with the author's flair for seeking the facts and important statistics while skewering the more self-important individuals who rose to prominence in the Pacific theatre. General Douglas MacArthur is pilloried as a bombastic self-publicist while Hastings makes no bones about Chiang Kai-shek's overriding political ambitions (which he says far outstripped his concerns about combating the Japanese) and the corruption of the Nationalist regime. Other characters, well known and less so, are lanced by the three-pronged fork of Hastings' prose. Of General Adrian Carton de Wiart, Churchill's personal emissary to Chiang, he writes: 'He lacked an eye, a hand ... and any hint of intellect.' American Admiral William 'Bull' Halsey's 'boldness was in doubt seldom, his judgement and intellect often'. And Patrick Hurley, whom Roosevelt dispatched to China to represent American interests, is described thus: 'A rags-to-riches Oklahoman cowboy who had risen to political prominence as President Hoover's secretary of war ... Hurley was a buffoon, loud-mouthed and verging on senility.' Happily for the Allies, admirable and long-sighted generalship, together with the vast industrial might of the Americas, proved more than a match for the introverted and fanatical Japanese, because the battle for Japan was primarily led by the United States. The British Army's victory in Burma was a sideshow and Hastings points out that Australia played little more than a supporting role in the war's latter stages, the chagrin of numerous veteran Diggers notwithstanding. And despite the wholesale devastation inflicted on Tokyo and other cities by aerial bombardment, it was the blockade by the US Navy that brought Japan to its knees. A country starved of supplies to feed its population or fuel its troops, and with an intricate code of honour, embarked on a course of national suicide as American troops, already established on Okinawa after bitter fighting, prepared to slog their way up the home islands. Hastings' argument for the employment of the atomic bombs - which at one stage the US planned to drop on the historic capital of Kyoto - is cogent and convincing, as is Nemesis in its entirety. The course of the last 12 months of the second world war has had a residual effect on everybody living in Asia today. That Hastings is here to chronicle and make sense of events in a fashion that is compulsively readable is cause for more than a little gratitude.