Pearl Harbor Essay

Published: 2020-04-22 08:25:56
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Category: Pearl Harbor

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In Pearl Harbor, H. P. Willmott has written a fine, and in many ways a very enjoyable book, which will serve as a useful introduction to the subject, even if it cannot be listed as an in-depth scholarly work. A clue to this is that the pages of the book are wider (10 ? inches) than they are tall (10 inches), a feature often found in coffee table volumes, but virtually never found in scholarly treatises.

Secondly, this book emphasizes visual materials: posters commemorating Japans victory in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 (12-13), photographs from Japans campaign in Manchuria in 1931 (15), photographs and diagrams of the great warships (26-27, 28, 29, 32-39, 42, 46-53, 58-59), diagrams of the various war planes (54-57, 61,64-65, 68-72), a photograph of the miniature model of Pearl Harbor the Japanese built to develop training films (62), color maps showing the Japanese approach to Pearl Harbor, maps showing the approaches taken by the Japanese aircraft attacking American air defenses (102-03) and the second wave concentrating on American ships (110-11), and photograph after photograph detailing the devastation that the attacks wrought (104-09, 112-26, 128-32, 135, 139-41).

Willmott also supplies several tables, showing such details as the number of aircraft on each aircraft carrier (185, 188-89), the number and description of the ships in each fleet (199), and the American aircraft and ship losses throughout the Pacific during the grim opening days of the conflict (203). What there is not is extended detailed discussion of the issues involved with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor or the wider question of why the Japanese felt compelled to attack the United States. Notably, the discussion that Willmott provides is precise and often detailed. He covers considerable ground in the limited number of pages of text that he offers. This book is not a comprehensive study of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

One of the key issues which Willmott does not address directly in detail is why Japan decided that war was the only way to deal with the United States. Willmott identifies the commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet, Yamamoto Isoroku, as the key Japanese commander directing the operation against Pearl Harbor, but for brevity sake, he gives nothing about his background, or his scepticism about war with America. Yamamoto understood the tremendous resources that the United States could bring to a war. In 1940, he had predicted that if Japan and the United States went to war, Japan would enjoy six to twelve months of unbroken victories. After that, however, he believed Japan would be beaten.

Given this, why did Japan attack? Willmott gives a brief and forceful discussion of the Japanese failure to launch a third strike which would have concentrated on the massive fuel depot and repair facilities. After the war, American military leaders acknowledged that an attack on these facilities would probably have done more to impede American war efforts than the damages inflicted in the December 7 strike. (142-49) In this context, Willmott does not consider in any detail Japans failure to undertake even more ambitious efforts. In the wake of Pearl Harbor, the United States had no adequate military force covering the Panama Canal or any of the major west coast cities. Further, Hawaii did not have any organized defenses.

Had they been truly ambitious, the Japanese could have landed an amphibious invasion forced that would have taken Hawaii, could have knocked out the Panama Canal, and could have severely damaged naval harbor facilities in several major cities. The result would have been to hamper severely the American response to Japans attack. A full scholarly discussion of this topic is beyond this book, although Willmott has taken up the subject in his more substantive works. Willmott has an experts insight into strategic thinking, and his discussion of the aftermath of Pearl harbor is excellent, moving with brevity and force through the various actions that led to the disastrous Japanese offensive against Midway Island.

He is clearly familiar with the formidable body of material that has come out of the Pearl harbor dispute, as he shows by his comments on various disputes, in which he includes a range of citations to more serious scholarly works. Further, he shows a fine ability to cut to the chase, to give the telling detail that forecloses the need for further discussion. (158-77) Willmott disposes of one of the lingering issues surrounding Pearl Harbor with a forceful blend of clarity and brevity. He gives four pages to the allegations of intelligence failures surrounding Pearl Harbor, and he it does not rehash at any length the lamentable questions of whether the United States, President Roosevelt, or some conspiratorial cabal allowed the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbor.

Two of the four pages state a single sentence, printed in huge red letters across a stark photograph of the fireball that burst into the sky when the forward magazine of the U. S. S. Shaw exploded: Once a thing has happened, a fool sees it. (176-77) In a separate two-page essay, he addresses the issue in some depth, noting that many of the allegations are founded in bitter partisan attempts to discredit President Franklin Roosevelt. (197) While admitting that some questions about possible mishandling of intelligence cannot be answered, Willmott sums up forcefully his view of the motivation that has driven much of the more useless speculation o this issue.

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