January 2012

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:

Military Book Look: Dien Bien Phu

Howard R. Simpson's classic work on the fateful battle


“To the dead.”

That is to who this book is dedicated.

After absorbing Howard R. Simpson’s gripping, accurate, insightful account of the fatal French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, one realizes how apt a dedication it is.

By 1953 the Indochina War (also referred to as the First Indochina war to differentiate from the American-involved Vietnam War) had dragged into stalemate.  The French high command could not catch and destroy Ho Chi Minh’s Communist Viet Minh army led by Võ Nguyên Giáp  even when Giap’s troops suffered defeats such as during the battle of Na San the previous year when Giap’s troops attacked and were repulsed by French forces holding a series of fire bases surrounding an airstrip.

Emboldened, the French command decided to try such a tactic again at Dien Bien Phu, an insignificant hamlet that possessed two key military aspects to its place on the map of northwest Vietnam: an old Japanese-built airstrip from Japan’s occupation of Indochina during World War 2 and a place close enough to the border with Laos that, in theory, would mean the base could prevent Communist forces from advancing into that French colony and raising Cain there.  Alas, they left vital high ground around the base unsecured on the fatuous assumption Giap’s army had little or no artillery.   Giap proved them wrong; very wrong.  So wrong the whole plan turned into a fiasco with many a brave soldier’s life wasted for nothing on the French side as Giap’s men bore steadily inward into the base until the inevitable final act on May 7th, 1954, when the base was overrun.

Military Book Look: Gods Samurai

The biography of Mitsuo Fuchida

He has been challenged, criticized, and condemned both in his lifetime and after, but I believe Mitsuo Fuchida at heart was a good, decent man even during World War Two.  This book only reinforced that belief.

At first, Fuchida’s story reads like that of a warrior destined for greatness.  Born to a humble background, he found a calling in the Imperial Japanese Navy, where he discovered both a love for flying and a knack for leadership.  A knack which saw him at the head of the attack on Pearl Harbor, after which Fuchida returned home to a hero’s welcome and high praise from one and all.

But by war’s end Fuchida could no longer serve his country, because her head now was bowed in utter, agonizing defeat, having suffered tenfold the consequences of that infamous dawn attack.

During this fallow time in his life, Fuchida eventually discovered a new cause, one that sprang from spiritual awakening: Christian evangelism.    And with his sword thus turned into a plowshare, Fuchida dedicated the rest of his life to the cause of Jesus.

This book is not a “wartless” look at its subject.  Fuchida is here, warts and all.  The man, the warrior, the preacher, the father, the husband, even the lover of another woman during that fallow time after the war, all are captured beautifully by Prange and his associates.