Military Book Look: Pearl Harbor: The Verdict Of History

Military Book Look: Pearl Harbor: The Verdict Of History

The devestating -and essential- follow-up to "At Dawn We Slept"

“Hey, this is hot!”  Colonel Rufus Bratton (E.G. Marshall) exclaims when he enters with a warning message for Hawaii towards the climax of the classic docudrama Tora! Tora! Tora!   I think the same phrase applies to this book by Gordon W. Prange and his associates, one which even tops their previous work At Dawn We Slept in terms of clearly spelling out all the facts in a lucid, non-sensational manner.

The new edition is touted on the cover as being “controversial.”  I can vouch that if it has attained such a status by now it is not because the facts are slanted, bent, or just plain made up: the contents are as kosher as can be.   I’ve checked the book’s meticulous footnotes and found that, while superfluous dialogue from, say, somebody’s testimony is omitted for brevity, the quotes are not bent or twisted to suit any “thesis” Prange and his associates have to argue.

The book pulls no punches when examining just why America was so complacent during the run-up to the “date which will live in infamy.”   Prange, Goldstein, and Dillon find much blame to go around without any sinister “conspiracy” theory the likes of John Toland and others have touted over the years.   In fact, Mr. Toland’s much ballyhooed book Infamy comes in for a drubbing several times in non-emotional, matter-of-fact dissections.  Here is a sample:

Toland suggested that Roosevelt let the attack proceed because he expected that “the Pacific Fleet would not only stem any Japanese attack with little loss to U.S. shipping but deal a crushing blow to Kido Butai itself.”   With this remark Toland stripped the gears of his own principal thesis, for how could Roosevelt expect the Pacific Fleet to deal a “crushing blow” to the Nagumo task force if he did not ensure Kimmel and Short were fully alert?   An American victory at Pearl Harbor would have served his alleged purpose just as well as a shattering defeat.

Like I said, Prange and his associates find plenty of blame to go around, both in Washington D.C. and in Hawaii, but the chapters that grabbed my attention the most were the ones dealing with the actions –or lack thereof- of Army General Walter Short and Admirals Husband Kimmel and Claude Bloch, the latter of whom was in command of the 14th Naval District charged with assisting the Army in defense of the Pearl Harbor naval base; all three failed miserably to be on the alert when the storm broke.

Here is a taste of their summary of Kimmel and Short’s reaction to the messages they received on November 27th, 1941 which alerted them of war:

Kimmel and Short were different personalities, yet upon receipt of the warning message of November 27, they reacted like Siamese twins.  Both acted negatively, deciding that it was more important to continue to prepare for future action which might or might not develop rather than to meet the challenge of the moment.

And Admiral Bloch, an officer about to retire in his last billet as commander of the 14th Naval District?  Prange, Goldstein, and Dillon say:

The Navy Department might have erred in sending Block to Pearl Harbor, to a job that obviously called for a vigorous man, which Bloch was not, as well as for an experienced man, which he was.  Nevertheless, as commandant of the Fourteenth Naval District, responsible for assisting in the defense of Pearl Harbor and for advising the Commander in Chief, Bloch must be adjudged partially to blame for what happened on December 7, 1941.

Finally, this book has keen insights into the Japanese side of the story such as what the fate of the man who conceived the idea for the attack –Isoroku Yamamoto-- would have been had he lived through the war:

A number of his friends and colleagues agreed that, had he lived, the International Military Tribunal of the Far East would have demanded his life.  So when American airmen shot down Yamamoto’s plane over the island of Bougainville on April 18, 1943, unwittingly they granted him the noblest boon he could have asked: a quick, clean death in combat instead of a criminal’s end on the scaffold.

In sum, this book is a benchmark in the realm of literature about the Pearl Harbor attack and crucial reading for serious students about the attack.   For my money, it has written “case closed” all over those ridiculous “conspiracy” theories that in my unvarnished opinion are slurs on the memory of those who died on that tragic December day.