John Eric Vining discusses:
“Violet Lightning: A Blueprint for Japanese Victory in the Pacific, 1941-1942”
Sometimes, the genesis of a book comes from an unusual source. Take my book, Violet Lightning, for example.
My brother, essayist and author Robert E. Vining (penname: Raymond Refoen) and I grew up on a small farm in Northwest Ohio in the 1960s and 1970s. Our father had a day job and our mother worked as a teacher, so Bob and I spent a lot of time alone working together, planting and harvesting crops, tending livestock, and completing general maintenance on the farm buildings and machinery. Since we were both very interested in history, ofttimes we discussed historical topics while we worked. World War II and the Korean War had ended not many years before, and the Vietnam War was ongoing at the time. As we had differing views on many subjects and were both quite forceful in expounding them, sometimes these discussions would evolve into rather heated debates. During one discussion on World War II while performing maintenance on our combine, we took polar opposite views on why the Axis powers started and actively pursued the war, plus their respective prospects for success. Bob, being much older and considerably taller and heavier than me, sometimes used these characteristics as “rhetorical weapons” when the debates grew more heated. This was one of those days. Finally, as this lengthy and increasingly loud debate neared an apex, he stood to his full 6 feet 4 inches atop the combine, glowered down at me, and shouted, “Look, John: the Germans had a chance to win World War II and the Japanese never did! Got it?” End of discussion.
I never quite forgot that. As I grew older and read increasingly more deeply into the Second World War, I pondered that particular debate over and over again. Yes, I found, the Japanese faced an almost insurmountable task in defeating America in the Pacific. But no chance? Why in the world would they start a war if they had no chance to win it? The Japanese were a very intelligent, experienced, collaborative people. Surely, they must have had some war plan that allowed them to rationally envision a path to victory. What was it?
I mean, really: nobody picks a fight when they know before they start it that they are going to get beaten to a pulp…
Thus, I began an over fifty-year, on-again, off-again quest to determine why the Japanese started, pursued, and lost World War II in the Pacific and Far East. And then, true to my manager mentality, to fix it.
From reading about Japanese aims, national strengths and weaknesses, and the historical flashpoints over a 45-year pre-World War II period between Japan and the United States, the Japanese war plan and the reasoning behind it slowly emerged. I then studied the strategies, tactics, and weapon systems they developed to pursue the plan. I studied and analyzed the many early victories the Japanese achieved as well as the later profound mistakes and defeats they suffered during World War II.
From this research, the basis for the book became clear: What if Japan capitalized upon and leveraged to the hilt her strengths; and conversely, she omitted her many mistakes, in the pursuit of World War II in the Pacific? What if the “good things” that happened to the United States happened to Japan; and conversely, the “‘bad things” that happened to Japan happened to the United States? Was there a path for Japan to pull it off and “win” her war in the Pacific?
That in a nutshell is the idea behind this book, “Violet Lightning: A Blueprint for Japanese Victory in the Pacific, 1941-1942.” It is a recitation of the conflicted history of Japan and the United States between 1895 and 1942. This is followed by the development of a plan and a set of campaigns that I feel had a rational chance of allowing Japan to achieve her goals in going to war with the United States in the Pacific during World War II.
John’s post-publication note on “Violet Lightning.”
I recently read in a military history magazine that, “Counterfactual history has a deservedly gnarly reputation in scholarly quarters for its simple absurdity.”1 This sentiment is held by some people because there are a substantial number of works in print that are built around such typically ludicrous questions as: “What if Napoleon had nuclear weapons?” or “What if Robert E. Lee had machine guns?” These types of books and articles are, yes, patently absurd. The weapons described had not even been contemplated at the times that these generals, admittedly brilliant but ultimately unsuccessful, conducted their campaigns. Thus, it was impossible by any stretch of the imagination that these weapons could have been available to them for use in their endeavors.
But the same article goes on to say, “That being said, approached cautiously and analytically, such consideration of what Winston Churchill referred to as the ‘terrible ifs’ of history can, in fact, be both illuminating and valuable.”2 This statement more than fully applies to Violet Lightning: A Blueprint for Japanese Victory in the Pacific, 1941-1942. In Violet Lightning, all of the weapons, strategies, and tactics discussed in the book could have been available to the Japanese, and in a plausible time frame that would have allowed them to be potentially Pacific War-winning tools. There are numerous footnoted chapters in this book that describe (to paraphrase a famous 1970s political line) “what the Japanese knew and when they knew it.” One academician serving as a manuscript reviewer for this book described the plans, facts, and actions developed in Violet Lightning as “chillingly believable.” Another reviewer said, “If you have never read a history book before, this is the one you need to read…”
So, if you are questioning whether you want to delve into what some have blithely dismissed as the murky genres of “alternative” or “counterfactual” history, put away those concerns and pick up Violet Lightning. As I noted at one point in the book, “The real wonder of it all is that something like this did not truly occur in actual, historical World War II.”
1 Bob Gordon, review of “Hitler’s Great Gamble: A New Look at German Strategy, Operation Barbarossa and the Axis Defeat in World War II,” by James Ellman, in Military History, Vol. 36, No. 6 (Vienna, VA: HistoryNet LLC [March 2020]), p. 75.