One of the more popular “what ifs” of the Second World War is that of Operation Downfall, the projected invasion of Japan. Planned as a massive two-part operation, the surrender of Japan in September 1945 rendered it unnecessary. Yet such a scenario has intrigued a number of authors who have written fiction and non-fiction accounts hypothesizing on what might have occurred had such an invasion proven necessary.
David Westheimer’s novel offers one such exploration. It consists of a series of fictional vignettes depicting the experiences of the Americans and Japanese involved in an invasion of Kyushu. Though their stories he unfolds his novel gradually, describing the invasion through the soldiers (and in the case of the Japanese, the civilians) on both sides involved in it. Unlike the novels of such alternate history authors as Harry Turtledove the characters change from story to story; there is little continuity between the stories apart from the overall context, and the characters themselves suffer a fearful death rate. Yet Westheimer spends time fleshing them out while telling their tales, turning what could easily have been one-dimensional figures into distinctly-realized individuals.
In this way, Westheimer offers a gritty and bleak depiction of an invasion that never was, one that ranks among the better works of alternate history. Readers looking for the hypothetical strategic chess game will be disappointed here, as Westheimer never focuses on the high command or explains why the invasion becomes necessary in his imagined scenario. Instead, what readers get is a set of stories that show the terrible cost that might have been paid by everyone had such an invasion came to pass, and one that leaves readers grateful that it never did.