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Battleship Yamato: Of war, beauty and irony
by Jan Morris
Liveright Publishing Company, 2017, 111 pages

This unconventional book contains few historical details about the battleship Yamato but instead is focused on the author's reflections about war and the iconic Japanese warship. Jan Morris, a well-known historian and travel writer who has written about 40 books, compares Yamato and her Okinawa-bound suicide mission to works of art and musical works. About half of this book, which can be read very quickly, consists of photographs and other images.

The book's few historical details contain some basic errors. Yamato did not sink at 1345 (p. 86) on April 7, 1945, but rather at 1423. The battle did not last three and a half hours (p. 75) but rather about one hour and 50 minutes if one assumes that the battle started when Yamato commenced firing at American aircraft in the first wave to attack the ship and ended when the battleship sank. The ship did not have eleven 18-inch guns (p. 67) but rather a total of nine 18-inch guns (three triple turrets). The Navy's Kamikaze Corps did not have just single-seat suicide aircraft (p.33) but also used extensively aircraft with crews of two or three men. Although not relevant to Yamato's history, the Battle of Gettysburg did not take place in 1862 (p. 17) but rather 1863.

Since this book's contents differ so greatly from other books on the history of battleship Yamato, one of the author's musings about the ship is included below (pp. 70-1):

To my mind the painter Picasso, as far away from the action as we are ourselves, foresaw it all. There was no ship to be sunk in his epochal masterpiece Guernica, which he had painted in 1937, and there were no horses with the Special Attack Force, but the essence and the meaning of Yamato's coming ordeal are there in his artist's vision for us to see – whether in foresight, retrospection or imagination, for it is a vision beyond time, and while it ostensibly commemorates the useless horrors of the Spanish Civil War, as I see it its meanings are our own. For me Guernica is a scene of disillusionment, all greys, blacks and whites, no colour, no sound, fury signifying nothing. The tortured horse and the anguished bull in the picture have suffered to no purpose. The human beings are scarcely human. The lamp illuminates nothing. The whole scene seems to me to be groping, crying for meaning and finding none.

It is a picture of pandaemonium, and so I choose it to stand in illustration of Yamato's final navigation: because the voyage towards Okinawa is going to take her, and us, not merely into Armageddon, the ultimate battle between good and evil, but into Chaos, where meanings are distorted, and values themselves seem meaningless.

Guernica by Pablo Picasso, 1937

Readers with a desire for a more typical history should consider A Glorious Way to Die: The Kamikaze Mission of the Battleship Yamato, April 1945 by Russell Spurr. Also recommended is the personal memoir Requiem for Battleship Yamato by Mitsuru Yoshida, a battleship Yamato crewman who survived the ship's sinking.