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1942    by Robert Conroy order for
by Robert Conroy
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2009 (2009)
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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Robert Conroy writes alternate histories - 1901, 1862, 1945, and now 1942 - that branch off from one key decision or action to show us the fickleness of fate. In 1942, Conroy asks himself what would have happened on December 7, 1941 if Japanese Admiral Nagumo had not 'flinched in the face of success' and had carried out a 'planned final strike on Pearl Harbor'. He tells us in his Introduction that if Nagumo had sent his pilots against the oil storage facilities, that key decision 'could have changed the course of the war in the Pacific.'

The book's front cover tells us that 'The Japanese have conquered Hawaii ...' and Conroy lays out the fascinating details - including how the lack of fuel hampers U.S. efforts to save the islands and how dependent they are on the mainland for food and other essential supplies - while developing the stories of key characters on both sides of the conflict. U.S. Army Captain Jake Novacek is an Intelligence officer who is assigned a critical mission when his superiors surrender the islands - he stays on afterwards to lead a resistance effort on Oahu.

Alexa Sanderson is the niece of a Congressman and a Pacifist. She gets to know Jake after her Naval officer husband dies in the first attack. Alexa joins Jake on Oahu after being selected by sadistic kempetei Colonel Omori to be his mistress and abused by him. Pennsylvania naval officer Jamie Priest (a friend of Alexa and her husband) goes down with his ship, but survives to bring back essential information about the enemy to the generals and admirals in San Diego.

After the Japanese take over the islands, they starve American POWs, force civilian men over sixteen into work gangs and women to labor in rice paddies. Atrocities are committed against both captured Americans and civilians. The conquerors treat native Hawaiians and Japanese Americans somewhat better, though the cooperation of many lies only on the surface. Japanese American support becomes critical to Roosevelt's desperate attempt to retake Hawaii, an attempt that involves bomber pilot Colonel Jimmy Doolittle and his flying boats.

In 1942, Robert Conroy has done an excellent job of showing us how events might have evolved, if one high-ranking Japanese officer had come to a different decision - and, though the author is perhaps optimistic about how it would have all played out, it makes for a great story.

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