America’s best-selling “historian,” from at least 2011 through 2017, was former Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly. “He really became a publishing force with 2011’s Killing Lincoln, which has sold more than 2.2 million books in print and audio and spawned an entire Killing series (Killing Kennedy, Killing Jesus, Killing Patton, Killing Reagan, Killing the Rising Sun). All six of the Killing books have sold over 1 million copies each (and four of the six sold over 1.5 million copies each),” according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Matthew Stevenson, a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine, skewered O’Reilly’s “distortions of history” as “dressed-up psalms to an imagined past,” especially in “Killing the Rising Sun: How America Vanquished World War II Japan.”
“O’Reilly may be finished as a shock jock, but we are left to contemplate the shameful fact that this disgraced propagandist is the most widely read historian in America,” Stevenson wrote.
He cites O’Reilly’s “many factual inaccuracies” in the Japan book. And tackles the book’s major premise: “The biggest problem I have with O’Reilly and Dugard’s conclusions about the Pacific war is that they make the leap to nuclear faith without ever exploring any of the alternatives. They draw a line between the barbarity of the Imperial Japanese Army, especially in China and on various Pacific islands, and the necessity of dropping the bombs, which, they announce, both won the war and were just: Case closed.”
Stevenson argues that “the Japanese were prepared to surrender (provided they could keep the emperor on the throne) early in the summer of 1945, well before the bombs fell.”
He suspects “Bill O’Reilly came to this project with few doubts about his conclusion, which is that the war in the Pacific was history’s best expression of American idealism, even if firebombs and atomic weapons cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians.”
Stevenson concludes his piece by quoting Robert Graves, who wrote of World War I in Goodbye to All That: “Patriotism, in the trenches, was too remote a sentiment, and at once rejected as fit only for civilians, or prisoners.”