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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 283

By centering on the story of the 1945 sinking of one American ship, the USS Indianapolis, Doug Stanton helps the reader understand the broader context of the last days of World War II and its impact on thousands of service personnel. While many readers would already be familiar with the facts regarding the dropping of the atomic bombs on two Japanese cities, fewer people understand the wide-ranging complexity of the related advance arrangements that enabled the deadly cargo to be transported to and loaded onto the planes. The Indianapolis played a huge role in fulfilling that aspect of the mission from its position near a tiny Pacific island. After the successful transfer of that material, a Japanese submarine torpedoed the ship, which sank before many survivors could escape.

Stanton is essentially telling two interrelated stories: that of the Navy personnel, both victims and survivors (which is the one that he accentuates), and that of the political and military situation surrounding the assessment of the responsibility of the ship’s commanding officer, Captain Charles McVay. The tragic losses of the seamen were exacerbated, the author shows, because rescue crews were not dispatched. This almost certainly increased the number of casualties. Stanton wanted to return to the event more than 50 years later in part because he believed the charges made against the captain, resulting in his court martial, were actually the Navy’s attempt to disguise its negligence. In that regard, the book also reads like a detective story as Stanton combs through records to construct what actually happened that fateful day. Although McVay was later exonerated, thanks in part to the survivors’s campaign, that action came three decades after he had died by suicide.


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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 178

In Harm’s Way is the chronicle of a disaster: namely, the sinking of a World War II battleship after it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine, and the harrowing ordeal that followed the sinking. Hundreds of men onboard were stranded in the Pacific Ocean for days, an experience that makes their story widely regarded as the worst naval disaster in history.

In vivid detail, author Doug Stanton chronicles the soldiers’ experience during the sinking, in the days that followed the sinking when they were left struggling in the water, and in the aftermath of the ordeal as they attempted to cope with the trauma. The book stresses the deadly effects of dehydration and exposure to the elements, and it explains the hallucinations and mental disturbances that haunted the victims long after the event. In this respect, In Harm’s Way is more than a story of a disaster; it is the chronicle of a disaster that has distinct parallels to the war itself. It stresses the harrowing effects of the experience and the bravery of the soldiers.

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