Book of the week: ‘Pacific War’ – sneaking an oxymoron into the title

Back in 2001 my publishers of the day, Reed New Zealand, offered me an unheard-of deal: a multi-book contract. This was an absolute rarity in New Zealand, and I jumped at the chance. It involved writing three military histories in a series. I’ve covered the first two in earlier posts. The third was on New Zealand’s part in the Second World War in the Pacific.

I already knew quite a bit about the Kiwi part in that war; my grandfather served with 3 NZ Division in the Solomons campaign, and later was part of the commando raid on the Green Island group in early 1944. He wrote home to my grandmother every day. I have the letters, and I was able to use them as a source for the book – a unique insight into what it was really like to be part of the action. He didn’t mention, though, whether he’d met Richard Milhous Nixon, who’d been a SCAT stores sergeant with the New Zealanders on Nissan Island. Yeah – that Richard Milhous Nixon.

The original edition cover

I wrote the book during 2002-03 and it was published later in 2003. I gave it the title Pacific War: New Zealand and Japan, 1941-45, which my publishers liked – and that was how it appeared on the shelves. A simple, descriptive title which stated exactly what the book was about. It was also another of my execrable puns. Pacific War. As a proper noun, the first word was, of course, the name of the ocean within which it was fought, and that was the actual usage in the title. But if you took it as an adverb – well, then the title became an oxymoron. I mean, who ever heard of a war being ‘pacific’? Eh? Go on, groan.

The book was about 40,000 words long and covered the span of New Zealand’s Pacific struggle – a bit of a romp, as it had to be brief. I took the readers from a New Zealand whose Home Guard had to initially exercise with broomsticks, as there weren’t enough rifles; through to the fighting in the Solomons campaign of 1942-43, the disbandment of 3 NZ Division for manpower reasons in 1944, and then New Zealand’s part in the final largely naval campaign against Japan itself in 1945. Along the way I drew from material that hadn’t been published before, including my grandfather’s letters.

The book sold well at the time. Then, in 2015, I was able to get Pacific War re-released, initially as an e-book and then – just last year – as a new un-illustrated print edition in Royal Trade format (6 x 9″, basically). The photo on the cover is from a Japanese ‘good luck’ flag in my own collection; my grandfather picked it up when he was serving with 3 NZ Division in the Solomons and Green Island Group.

Pacific War is the best-selling of all my re-issued military histories. I don’t know exactly why. It can’t – surely – be the oxymoron. I suspect it’s because it’s a one-volume, containable overview of New Zealand’s part in that conflict – designed for anybody to be able to pick it up and learn the essential story of what happened. And hey, check it out for yourself. Click to buy.

Click to buy

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2019


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