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Day of Infamy ()

    If we are to have war with America, we will have no hope of winning unless the U. S. fleet in
    Hawaiian waters can be destroyed.
           -Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander of the Japanese Combined Fleet

    ...Admiral Yamamoto radioed the task force: 'Climb Mount Niitaka.'  It was code for 'Proceed with
    the attack.'
        -Day of Infamy

    Yesterday, December 7, 1941 -- a date which will live in infamy -- the United States of America
    was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the empire of Japan . . . .
        -President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is one of the rare historic events whose significance and continuing ramifications it is probably impossible to overstate.  What If? games are inherently silly, however fascinating, and they can't produce any certain answers, but consider the course that history might have taken had the attack (or another like it) never occurred.  To an extent that Americans no longer seem willing to concede--witness the hysterical reaction to Pat Buchanan's musings on the subject--Pearl Harbor was the proximate cause of the United States' entry into World War II.  But for the attack, it is entirely possible that America would have safely sat out the War.  This in turn would have meant either a bloody stalemate between Nazi Germany and the USSR or victory by one, followed by a debilitating attempt to control the European land mass.  Meanwhile, Japan would have had a free hand to completely overextend itself in the South Pacific.  Ultimately, the victorious Axis powers, and/or the Soviets, would have collapsed of their own weight.  The Cold War would have been avoided and along with it the fifty year long economic displacement that the U. S. suffered through.  Or suppose that Japan had simply declared war before attacking : would the lack of the "sneak" in the attack have made enough of an emotional difference for Americans not to have imprisoned our own Japanese-American population or not to drop the atomic bombs on Japan ?  Well, you get the picture; we're talkin' big, big deal here.

What makes this event all the more remarkable is how utterly futile it was.  Even if the bombings had been completely successful and all the U. S. Naval ships in port that day had been destroyed  (in fact, only two battleships, one target ship, and two destroyers were permanently lost), what good would that have done Japanese war aims ?  At best it might have bought them a very little extra time in which to try to expand, and thus further overextend, their Empire.  There was never any chance that the Japanese could actually attack the American mainland, which meant that the U. S. would have the opportunity to rebuild those ships at her leisure. And, once entered into the War, it was inevitable that the U. S. would defeat Japan and Germany.    Pearl Harbor was essentially a national suicide mission by the Japanese.

One natural outgrowth of the importance of this episode is that for sixty years now there have been all kinds of recriminations and conspiracy theories surrounding the events of December 7, 1941.  Volumes have been written about what Roosevelt knew and when he knew it.  Ditto for Churchill.   U. S. Intelligence services have taken a beating.  The various military commanders have been blamed.  And so on, and so forth, with the unfortunate result that most versions of the day's events have some axe or another to grind.

One exception to this rule is Walter Lord's thrilling moment-by-moment account of the attack in his great book, Day of Infamy.  Ignoring all of the controversies and avoiding any finger pointing, Lord simply reconstructs, as best anyone can, what happened on that fateful day.  His thoroughness is staggering.  He interviewed some 577 participants, both Japanese and American,  and their recollections give the story an extraordinary level of intimacy and immediacy (for a similar effect see a more recent book on the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, In Harm's Way by Doug Stanton).  Though Lord masterfully  imposes order on the material, these first hand accounts convey a sense of just how chaotic things were during and after the bombings.  And he captures a sense of the violation that Americans felt in the wake of the attack.  Standards of conduct in warfare have fallen so far since then that it's easy to forget how outraged all of America was by this perfidious action.  Literally overnight, a healthy and so far triumphant Isolationist movement dissipated, as even the most vocal advocates of staying out of the War, voiced their commitment to avenging this wrong.

I've been a huge fan of Walter Lord's books since I was a kid. [In fact, I was shocked to hear that he's still alive.]  In addition to this one, he's written excellent books about the sinking of the Titanic, A Night to Remember, and about the War of 1812, The Dawn's Early Light.  Not that these are specifically kids' books, but they have a couple of things that recommend them.  Lord writes clearly and concisely.  Wherever possible he relies on the accounts of people who were there.  And, because he doesn't seek to place blame or provoke argument, the stories are populated by heroes, rather than goats.  Best of all they are truly exciting.  This sixtieth-anniversary edition of Day of Infamy has a cover blurb saying that one million copies of the book have been sold; here's hoping they sell a million more.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Book-related and General Links:
    -EXCERPT : Chapter One of Day of Infamy : "Isn't That a Beautiful Sight?"
    -BOOK SITE : Day of Infamy (Henry Holt and Company)
    -REVIEW : of TIME AND TIDE By Thomas Fleming (Walter Lord, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of CHARLES DE GAULLE A Biography. By Don Cook (Walter Lord, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of BITTER VICTORY The Battle for Sicily, 1943. By Carlo D'Este (Walter Lord, NY Times Book Review)
    -ARCHIVES : "walter lord" (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW : of Day of Infamy (Steve Martinovich, Enter Stage Right)
    -REVIEW : of THE MIRACLE OF DUNKIRK. By Walter Lord (1982) (Herbert Mitgang, NY Times)

    -FILMOGRAPHY : Walter Lord (Imdb)
    -INFO : A Night to Remember (1958) (Imdb)
    -ESSAY : Atlantic Crossings: Nation, Class and Identity in Titanic  (1953) and A Night to Remember (1958). ( Richard Howells, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television,  Oct, 1999)

    -ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA : "pearl harbor"
    -Front Page of the New York Times : December 8, 1941
    -Pearl Harbor Bombed! (American Treasures of the Library of Congress)
    -Pearl Harbor Remembered
    -USS Arizona Memorial (National Park Service)
    -USS Arizona site (University of Arizona)
    -USS Utah Historical Site
    -SPEECH : FDR Pearl Harbor Speech December 8, 1941
    -SPECIAL REPORT : Pearl Harbor (Newsweek, May 2001)
    -OFFICIAL FILM SITE : Pearl Harbor (Touchstone Pictures)
    -WEB RING : The USS Arizona and Pearl Harbor SiteRing (Larry W. Jewell)
    -ARCHIVES : "Pearl Harbor" (NY Review of Books)
    -ARCHIVES : "pearl harbor" (Find Articles)
    -INTERVIEW : Interviews: Russ Lott : U.S.S. Arizona Survivor
    -ORAL HISTORY : "80 Rounds in Our Pants Pockets" :  Orville Quick Remembers Pearl Harbor
    -EDITORIALS : We Have a Duty (The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 8, 1941)
    -ESSAY : Recollections : Witness to History (Arthur Lee, American History, December 1998)
    -ESSAY : Turning Points : One Day in December : Dawn came up golden over Pearl Harbor, just waking from tropic dreams. December 7, 1941 would be a day of deceit. A day of shock and horror. A day, for Americans, ever to be remembered. (Edward Oxford, American History)
    -ESSAY : Lessons on Readiness at Peace (Jeffrey Hart, Dartmouth Review)
    -ESSAY : Critic's Notebook; Commemorating Pearl Harbor: Books That Analyze and Revise (HERBERT MITGANG, November 30, 1991, NY Times)
    -ESSAY : Writers on the Grassy Knoll: A Reader's Guide (Stephen E. Ambrose, February 2, 1992, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY : USS Arizona : Preserving an Icon (Matthew A. Russell, Discover Archaeology)
    -AUDIO : Pearl Harbor (14.4 | 28.8) -- This past week marked the 59th anniversary of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, the event that ushered the U.S. into World War Two. The day after the bombing, the Library of Congress sent archivists out onto the streets of Washington, D.C., to record people's reactions to the event. As part of our American Talker series, we present a sampling of that historic tape (Weekend Edition, NPR)
    -ARTICLE : Artist honors hero of Pearl Harbor attack (Harold Morse, Honolulu Star-Bulletin)
    -REVIEW : David Kahn: Did Roosevelt Know?, NY Review of Books
       Day of Deceit: The Truth about FDR and Pearl Harbor by Robert B. Stinnett
    -REVIEW : of DAY OF DECEIT The Truth About F.D.R. and Pearl Harbor By Robert B. Stinnett (Richard Bernstein, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of AT DAWN WE SLEPT The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor. By Gordon W. Prange (Gaddis Smith, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of INFAMY Pearl Harbor and Its Aftermath. By John Toland (D.J.R. Bruckner, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO WAR December 7, 1941. By Stanley Weintraub (Otto Friedrich, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of PEARL HARBOR The Verdict of History. By Gordon W. Prange with Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon (Ronald H. Spector, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of PEARL HARBOR: FINAL JUDGEMENT By Henry C. Clausen and Bruce Lee (D. Clayton James, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  PEARL HARBOR GHOSTS A Journey to Hawaii Then and Now. By Thurston Clarke (Gary Y. Okihiro, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of BETRAYAL AT PEARL HARBOR How Churchill Lured Roosevelt Into World War II. By James Rusbridger and Eric Nave (Zara Steiner, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Pearl Harbor Betrayed: The True Story of a Man and a Nation Under Attack By Michael V. Gannon (Mary H. Meier, Boston Globe)

    -ESSAY : The rise of militaristic nationalism led Japan down the road to Pearl Harbor and World War II.  (Wil Deac, World War II magazine)
    -REVIEW : of HIROHITO AND THE MAKING OF MODERN JAPAN By Herbert P. Bix (Ronald Spector, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : Mar 29, 2001 Ian Buruma: The Emperor's Secrets, NY Review of Books
       Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan by Herbert P. Bix
    -REVIEW : of The American War With Japan. By Ronald H. Spector ( Donald M. Goldstein, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE PACIFIC CAMPAIGN World War II: The U.S.-Japanese Naval War, 1941-1945 (Kenneth J. Hagan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of WARRIORS OF THE RISING SUN A History of the Japanese Military. By Robert B. Edgerton (Donald M. Goldstein, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of MIRACLE AT MIDWAY. By Gordon W. Prange, Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon (Drew Middleton, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of COMMANDER IN CHIEF Franklin Delano Roosevelt, His Lieutenants, and Their War. By Eric Larrabee (John Keegan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Storm on the Horizon The Challenge to American Intervention, 1939-1941. Justus D. Doenecke and FDR  The War President, 1940-1943.  A History  by Kenneth S. Davis (Michael Lind, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of COMBINED FLEET DECODED The Secret History of American Intelligence and the Japanese Navy in World War II. By John Prados (Ronald Spector, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Prisoners Without Trial Japanese-Americans in World War II By Roger Daniels (Herbert Mitgang, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of THE DECISION TO USE THE ATOMIC BOMB And the Architecture of an American Myth. By Gar Alperovit (Michael R. Beschloss, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of HIROSHIMA IN AMERICA Fifty Years of Denial. By Robert Jay Lifton and Greg Mitchell (Michael Sherry, NY times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : Oct 21, 1999 Ian Buruma: MacArthur's Children, NY Review of Books
       Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II by John W. Dowerh

    -ESSAY : WAR: IT'S HARD TO GET IT RIGHT  (John Hersey, NY Times Book Review)

Recommended books by Walter Lord :
    -A Night to Remember  (1955)
    -Day of Infamy (1957)
    -The Good Years : 1900-1914
    -The Dawn's Early Light  (1972)
    -Incredible Victory