The combat history of the last few months of World War II is overshadowed by the use of atomic weapons against Japan. Within a short space of time, the human community began to differentiate between nuclear war and “conventional” war. The one, despite massive efforts to treat the new devices as little more than alternative weapons systems, rapidly became unspeakable, if not unthinkable, while the other was somehow tolerable, if not welcomed. As individuals, we somehow assumed that war was still a viable policy option so long as nuclear weapons were not involved. But, as George Feifer so eloquently reminds us, conventional war extracts its own terrible toll—as the inhabitants of Germany and Japan once knew and the people of Iraq recently discovered.
Feifer has not produced a retrospective assessment of what went right and what went wrong in the Battle of Okinawa. Rather, TENNOZAN consists of more than five hundred pages of appalling horrors—frightful, hideous, and dire incidents so disgusting the reader is pushed past revulsion into an emotional wasteland approximating that experienced by those who face death and destruction in the most stark of circumstances.
Concentrating on relatively few individuals, Feifer offers his readers a personalized account of the conduct of war. Feifer’s narrative stands in sharp contrast to the impersonal and thereby sanitized military history which are more concerned with the movement of pins on a map than with the death and mutilation visited upon human beings. Moreover, Feifer discusses a group often omitted from military accounts, that is, the innocent bystanders, those reluctant participants in the course of battles who seldom surface as other than items in statistical lists of the “collateral damage” produced by a particular engagement. Feifer graphically reveals the essential truth lost in the glow of the nuclear fires—war, of any variety, is inimical to sanity and health. TENNOZAN is not for the squeamish, but those are indeed the ones who should force themselves through its pages.