Wartime criticism

The invasion and occupation of Los Angeles

By William Wetherall

First posted 5 May 2010
Last updated 7 May 2010

Whitman Chambers, Invasion!, 1943
Homer Lea, The Valor of Ignorance, 1909, 1942

1943 first edition
1943 digest edition


During the Pacific War, Whitman Chambers, a writer of mainly western and mystery action stories, took a cue from earlier prophets of peril like Homer Lea, and plotted the path a handful of local denizens might take through the rubble of Los Angeles were the city to be bombed, invaded, and occupied by Japanese forces. The result was a novel called Invasion! -- published in 1943, hence a tale of future war rather than alternative history -- while Lea's The Valor of Ignorance (see below), first published in 1909 and reissued in 1942, was a work of non-fiction.

Invasion! appeared after America's victory at Midway, and after Allied Forces had captured most of the Solomon Islands and retaken significant parts of New Guinea. Though partly a "what if" examination of the on-going war, it is really a critique of what the author thought was wrong with America, in addition to being a character study of the kind one expects in such action novels.

Hardcover edition

Whitman Chambers
New York: E.P. Dutton & Co. Inc., 1943
320 pages, hardcover

The volume shown here, a stated first edition, is an ex libris copy with loose boards and no dust jacket. A second printing reportedly had red titles on a lighter cover.

Digest edition

Whitman Chambers
(A Thriller Novel Classic)
[No. 13]
New York, Novel Selections Inc., 1943
128 pages, digest edition


John Mercer takes refuge in a sewer rather that be evacuated with his wife after Japanese forces have landed and begun to sweep east. He is found by Happy McGonigle, the leader of a literally underground group of survivors, who encourages Mercer to help him harrass Japanese forces until the cavalry comes.

As the story unfolds, more is revealed about the survivors, what they had been doing before the war and how it is changing them. Adding to the tensions are interpersonal, including romantic conficts, ideological divides, and disputes over fight-or-flight strategies.

News, but also propaganda, are sometimes heard on a radio. The reader has the advantage of quotes, between chapters, of quotes from actual contemporary political statements and magazine and newspaper reports.

The action is frequently interruped by heated debate or discussion as to what caused the war, why it continues, and whether America petition for peace and surrender the West Coast, or dig in and fight to the finish. Some of these passages read like monologues and otherwise give the impression that the author contrived the story as a vehicle for his views of what is wrong with American society.

The Japanese enemy remains mostly in the background, but now and then the group comes close enough to observe and the enemy and engage in a fight -- leaving more of the group dead. One scene involves substantial dialog between a person who is either a Japanese American, an Americanized Japanese, or a Japanese who is posing as such for the purpose of deception.

The development and progress of the story toward the end will come as as a bit of surprise.


Among the many novels in English that feature a landing of Japanese military forces on the West Coast of the United States, Invasion!" is significant because it was written during the Pacific War. For a while after Pearl Harbor, the threshold of reasonable paranoia significantly fell.

By the time this book was published, however, America's victory at the Battle of Midway is old news, and the United States had also taken the Solomons and New Guinea. Only the most paranoid American would have thought Japan capable of doing anything so desperate as striking the Pacific Coast.

This, though, is the pretext of the novel, as is clear from what McGonigle tells Mercer (hard cover page 27-28, digest pages 13-14).

"You won't believe me, chum, but way last summer I seen this invasion coming. I put myself in Tojo's shoes, see? And I said, Holy Cats, Tojo, things ain't going so hot. You're spread out from hell to breakfast and everybody's pushing you around. MacArthur's guys have kicked you out of the Solomons and New Guinea. The Chinks are getting tougher every day. You're losing your navy. The U.S. is getting stronger and stronger.

"And I says, Jeez, Tojo, unless you pull a fast one that'll win the war in a few months your goose is cooked. So Tojo decides to invade the Pacific Coast. If it don't work, why what the hell? He's losing anyway and the agony will be over fast. If it does work, why he's won the war."

What prompted Chambers to stage the invasion in the area of Los Angeles and Santa Monica is not clear. The idea was not new, and very possibly he had read the 1942 reissue of of Homer Lea's The Valor of Ignorance (see below).

INVASION! BY WHITMAN CHAMBERS (1943) Shortly after Pearl Harbor, when invasion hysteria was at its height, Lea's book was reissued (with a new introduction by Clare Booth Luce), stimulating a hack writer named Whitman Chambers to fill in the grisly details. In his version, a Japanese airborne landing in Santa Monica is accompanied by incendiary and poison-gas bombardment that reduces much of L.A. to stucco rubble. A small group of civilian and military survivors, hiding in a Westlake storm drain, are transformed into guerrilla warriors by Happy McGonigle, a middle-aged "newsboy" who delights in killing the Japanese (who are portrayed as apes or insects) with his bare hands. McGonigle's band find their ultimate revenge at the battle-scarred corner of Alvarado Street and Glendale Boulevard, where they surprise a platoon of Japanese soldiers eating oranges (a particularly obscene image to Chambers). Happy delegates the slaughter of the prisoners to a Jewish GI named Abe, while the rest of the band debates the tactics of total race war against the invaders.

Biographical note

Elwyn Whitman Chambers (1896-1968) was a very prolific writer of mysteries. Many were set in the San Francisco Bay Area, especially Oakland, and many featured a newspaper reporter.

Whitman Chambers, sometimes as and E. Whitman Chambers, wrote numerous short stories as well as longer fiction. The following Titles include his most representative works.

1924 Garber of Thunder Gorge (with John Mersereau)
1926-05-15 Rogues of the Jungle (Top-Notch, cover story)
1927 Don Coyote (western mystery)
1928 The Coast of Intrigue (UK title: "Contraband Coast")
[Romance and revolution in small Latin America republic]
1932 The Navy Murders (written with Mary [Strother] Chambers)
1933 The Campanile Murders
1934 Murder for a Wanton
[Ernie Hynes, a young newspaperman who is studying for the bar, investigates three deaths in a family. Originally serialized as "The Affair at the Green Lantern" and the basis of the 1936 film "Sinner Take All".]
1935 13 Steps
1935 Dead Men Leave No Fingerprints
1938 Dog Eat Dog (UK title: "Murder in the Mist")
1938 Once Too Often (1938) (UK title: "Murder Lady")
1939 You Can't Get Away By Running
1940 Bright Star of Danger
1940 Dry Tortugas
1941 Dangerous Water (also titled "Deadly Lure")
1942 Bring Me Another Murder
1943 Invasion!
1945 Action at World's End
1953 The Come-On (Pyramid)
1959 Season For Love (Monarch 122, 1959; Monarch 380, 1963)
1959 In Savage Surrender [Batista, Cuba] (Monarch 139, 1959; Monarch 416, 1964)
1960 Manhandled (Monarch 156, 1960;, Monarch 434)


The Valor of Ignorance

Imaginative writers are constantly coming up with new means of destroying Los Angeles. One of the earliest was Homer Lea, who in 1909 proposed a perfectly conventional and, to him, plausible way -- a Japanese military invasion (1942 hardcover edition page 274, digest edition page 142, underscoring mine).

Though Los Angeles constitutes, as will be seen, the single strategic point upon which depends the security of southern California, no effort, up to the present time, has been made to render it secure from attack. One regiment can now occupy the city with impunity. The only effort made toward its defence has been the advocacy of fortifying Point Fermin at the entrance of San Pedro Harbor. This proposal but demonstrates that to which we have already called attention, the prevailing ignorance concerning modern warfare.

In Lea's scenario, Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest, including Washington and Oregon "without even the probability of a battle" (hardcover page 271, digest page 140). Japan would fein an invasion of San Pedro and gain an easy foothold in Santa Monica Bay. Los Angeles would quickly fall, then Japan would push eastward.

Early editions

Homer Lea
The Valor of Ignorance
New York: Harper & Brothers, 1909
New York: Harper & Brothers, 1913
344 pages, hardcover

1942 hard cover reissue

1942 hardcover edition

Homer Lea
The Valor of Ignorance
(With Specially Prepared Maps)
New York, Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1942 (1909)
31 (introduction), 1 (preface), 7 (introduction), 5 (introduction), 344 pages (text), hardcover

The Pacific War hardcover reissue included a separately paginated introduction by Clare Boothe, followed by the contents, maps, and appendices of the 1909 edition.

Introduction by Clare Boothe, undated (circa 1941-1942), 31 pages

Preface by Homer Lea, March 1909, 1 page

Introduction by Lieutenant-General Adna R. Chaffee, Late Chief-of-Staff, United States Army, undated, 7 pages

Introduction by Major-General J.P. Story, U.S.A., Retired, undated, 5 pages

The edition described here is an ex libris volume with two library stamps, one for TIMMS LIBRARIES Inc. (Syracuse, N.Y.) and SANGER'S LOAN LIBRARY (no address). An unclipped dust jacket is pasted to the boards. The price was $2.50.

Blurbs on jacket of 1942 hardcover edition

The blurbs on the jacket of the 1942 edition tell a story in themselves.

Front of jacket of 1942 hardcover edition


In 1909, a little hunchback named Homer Lea, who had served as a Lieutenant General in the Chinese Republication Army, issued an extraordinary warning to the people of the United States. In a book named The Valor of Ignorance he proclaimed Japan's war-like intentions toward the United States, showed clearly by word and map the course her aggression would take. Now, thirty-three years
(Continued on the front flap)

Back of jacket of 1942 hardcover edition

What Critics thought of Homer Lea's
in 1909:

"Written in an amazingly highfalutin' style, bristling with historical generalizations." -- Independent, Nov. 18, 1909

Mr. Lea has written a very daring and startling book. [Under the marshaling ?] of this bright and conscientious author they tell a story which every American would do well to ponder." Literary Digest, Nov. 27, 1909

"Entertaining reading." -- American Monthly Review of Reviews, Dec. 1909

"Had Homer Lea done nothing else, his fame would rest upon this book." -- Harper's Weekly, Jan. 4, 1913

What They Are Saying Now:

"An extraordinary warning issued in 1909 by an extraordinary man named Homer Lea. . . . One third of a century has passed since he had visions of invasion. Many men, among them many men of the U.S. Army and Navy, had had plenty of time to ponder his lessons. -- Time, Dec. 29, 1941

The Valor of Ignorance demonstrates clearly by means of word and chart just how the Japanese were to take America . . . An examination of his arguments shows no flaws in the plan. . . . If Japan had struck then we might now be paying taxes to the Mikado. Lea includes a map of the Japanese attack on Luzon which is so like the plan in use right now as to be astonishing. . . . It is astonishing that thirty-two years have passed since Lea's book came out, and substantially the same plans can be used today. . . . Visionary or genius, the turn of events would probably have set Lea up as one of the world's wisest men." -- N. Y. Daily News, Dec. 28, 1941

1942 digest edition

1942 digest edition

[General] Homer Lea
The Valor of Ignorance
(With Specially Prepared Maps)
Sandusky (Ohio): The American Reader's Library, 1942
189 pages, digest edition
The American Reader's Library No. 2

Author's preface dated March 1909

Introduction by Lieutenant-General Adna R. Chaffee
Late Chief-of-Staff, United States Army

Introduction by Major-General J.P. Story
U.S.A., Retired

Cover of 1942 digest edition

The digest edition also promoted Lea's The Day of the Saxton, first published in 1912 and also reissued in 1942 by Harper & Brothers.

Back cover of 1942 digest edition

THE VALOR OF IGNORANCE, AND THE DAY OF THE SAXON, by General Homer Lea, are today recognized as the two most astounding books on this world-wide suicide of nations. His predictions on the Japanese situation in the Pacific, are being fulfilled 100%, and his predictions about the fall of the British Empire and the struggle in Europe, and its threat to America, have been coming true with startling accuracy. These two books are the greatest insurance policy that the American People have against the defect and loss of our country and freedom. It is the sacred and patriotic duty of every real American to study these two prophetic books so that he may think and act with intelligence and wisdom NOW to preserve his sacred birthright. You just can't understand or discuss this great world-wide holocaust intelligently until you have read these two books, and when you have read them, you too can see clearly just what is happening and going to happen. Be an Intelligent Well-Informed and Useful American. Both of these books are for sale wherever books are sold for 25¢ each, in the American Reader's Library Edition.