The Long Shadows brings light to the environmental impact of World War II. This book not only looks at the impact in main areas World War II took place but uses an array of perspectives that display this impact as a global issue, not just a local one. This book opens up with a description of how fragmented the nature was not simply in one location, but throughout all of the battle fields that are described as, “in many ways, a miniature version of World War II”[1] (pg. 4, Laakkonen In their introduction, the authors claim that research on the environmental impact of wars, “was aroused by the radioactive fallout from the nuclear testing of the of the 1950s and 60s, in the wake of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki”[2] (pg. 5, Laakkonen The thesis the authors hope to drive home throughout this book states, “Even though the Second World War slowly withers away in the sediments of time, wounds are still there—in the bodies, hearts, and minds of people, as well as in societies and in the landscape”[3] (pg. 4, Laakkonen Through each section of the book we see this consistently addressed.

Perhaps the most striking chapter in this book to analyze is the section where Richard P. Tucker discusses Environmental Scars in Northeastern India and Burma. Tucker discusses how the war between imperial Japan and the combined forces of China, Britain, and the U.S. effected two big converging fronts in the areas of Northeastern India and Burma. The theme throughout this chapter regards the British conquest of both Upper Burma and Northeastern India. As the British began conquering these regions, they began utilizing areas such as the Brahmaputra Valley, “driven by the availability of tropical timber… as well as wide acreage in the middle-elevation hills that became the Assam tea plantations”[4] (Tucker, 119). Along with this, they also began to open Upper Burma to resource extraction by constructing a railway “north from Rangoon through Mandalay to the town of Lashio”[5](Tucker, 119). This is vital information because it was the first major transport artery cut through the teak forests of the region and played a critical role in the war against Japan. This is a small example of what Tucker lays out throughout the rest of the chapter.

To expand on the thesis of this book, one convincing argument is this: the exigencies of World War II cut jagged scars through fragile regions that had previously never been penetrated by modern transport networks[6] (Tucker, 131). This argument is specifically talking about the India-Burma-China borderlands, but I believe is prevalent throughout the entire book. To reiterate from the introduction in the beginning pages of the book, while the aftermath of World War II withers away with time, wounds are still there. The authors do an incredible job at displaying all of the ways that World War II has impacted the environment and ecology of the entire world, especially looking at the thorough study of Northeastern India and Upper Burma examples and how the participating countries in the war used the environment as leverage against each other without considering the long-lasting effects it would have. The only downfall of the main argument is, as mentioned by the authors multiple times, the lack of research that has actually gone into this issue. Tucker states, “the political and social dramas of the entire decade have commanded almost all historians attention; the environmental consequences have never been seriously studied”[7] (Tucker, 117). This is a shortfall of the argument but nonetheless, it has incredible validity and potential based off what we do know.

In closing, I highly recommend this book to anyone seeking further studies on the topic of the environmental impact that World War II had on the entire world. From what I know, there aren’t many more texts that display this topic much better. Poul Holm mentions in his review of the book that, “this book was by no means a definitive study but had him constantly surprised at the diverse and profound impacts of the war”. G. Tracey Mehan also describes this book as, “the first book-length work to offer global perspectives on the environmental history of World War II”. Nonetheless, The Long Shadows is not only a must-read, but it is essential to understand the long-lasting impact that World War II has had on the environment and mankind as a whole.


Book Review by G. Tracy Mehan III – Book Review by Poul Holm –

[1] Laakkonen, Simo, Richard P. Tucker, and Timo Olavi Vuorisalo. The Long Shadows: Toward a Global Environmental History of the Second World War. Oregon State University Press, 2017.

[2] Laakkonen, Tucker, Vuorisalo, The Long Shadows. 2017.

[3] Ibid. 2017.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

John Jones

University of Oklahoma

March 14th, 2019