H.P Willmott uses this book to describe the Pearl Harbor attack on America by Japanese forces (Willmott 13). Apart from the actual strike on the American Navy ship, the book examines the historical and political events that led to war between these two nations in the Pacific. The thesis of the book is to retrace the events that led to the Pearl Harbor bombing and help readers comprehend the case.
Willmott explains about the turbulent period preceding this war. It is one of the key points in the book since it helps the reader understand the origins of the animosity by going into great detail. Japan and America were at political and economic odds. The former had experienced overwhelming victories over China and Russia in 1895 and 1905 respectively. Japan's took advantage of her preeminent position in the Western Pacific after the First World War. Subsequently, they went to war with China in 1931, and this action widened the existing rift between Japan and western powers, especially America. Japan was expanding into China using military force against the wishes of the US. The setting of the war is already coming into shape since the first sign of a difference in opinions is now evident. Differing ideologies, coupled with military might, is a recipe for international confrontation. It also shows the factors that caused Japan to make the first move in a war that changed the course of history and left many casualties. The surreal and complex process used by the Japanese High Command to reach this decision is explained. Willmott also reveals that the Japanese navy selected its most elite forces to conduct the attack since they could not afford to fail or lose the initial strike crew (Willmott 15). Apart from understanding the background, Willmott shows the reader how a decision of such magnitude could be preferred over other, maybe diplomatic means.
Japan was continually flirting with war despite the huge strain of engaging China and supporting the domestic economy back home. It later became inevitable that Japan would link with Italy and Germany to form the Axis powers. A meeting of the three major naval forces- Great Britain, USA, and Japan- did not yield the intended results and instead resulted in animosity between two of the forces. Willmott shows us the rapid advancement of Japan from being a defenseless kingdom to a naval heavyweight. The confrontation between Japan and America, after the meeting, accelerated the development of ship design and tactical thought but the Japanese did not have an idea of how to engage the mighty American forces since it was economically daunting. Willmott helps to show that the Japanese did not comprehend the magnitude of modern warfare.
This backdrop serves as an explanation of the unorthodox attack preferred by the Japanese navy. Willmott now takes the reader through the beginning, planning, and attacking phases in a brief but detailed style. Many Japanese considered the plan a disaster since it was a radical departure from their established strategy. Willmott brings out the intrigue that infused the staff of the Combined Fleet in presenting plans for the attack on Pearl Harbor. The author shows that such an attack on American forces was a daunting prospect by addressing the numerous hurdles faced by the Japanese in attempting to position their Striking Force on the Pacific in range of Hawaii (Willmott 27).
Willmott concisely describes the attack accurately. He gives a detailed description of the attack on Pearl Harbor complete with the chilling statistics. He gives the number of people who died or suffered casualties as well as the ships and aircraft that were destroyed. A look at the numbers allows the reader to grasp the gravity of this attack in American history. The financial and human cost, as clearly brought out in the book, shows why the day will remain in American history. The images and maps used in the book help to bring the details into clear focus while enhancing the weightiness of the message. The Japanese commander radioed in the successful surprise attack ecstatically. The author shows the relief that spread through the Japanese ranks at the completion of their mission.
The text regarding the actual strike consist of tables that list every warship- midget submarines to aircraft carriers- that was involved in the Pearl Harbor operation. The warplanes are also described in detail including the targets they hit and the aircraft carriers where they took off (Willmott 19). Willmott shows how Japan's instigation of war contributed primarily to her loss as America responded devastatingly.
The author dedicates considerable attention in covering the controversial follow-up strikes on other facilities that surrounded Pearl Harbor. He dissects the other planned air strikes after the initial two waves had taken place successfully, to find out why they never occurred. Subsequent developments like Midway and the Battles of the Coral Sea and the bombing raid by Doolittle on Tokyo in 1942 are also covered in the book as the author seeks to show how America responded to the attack (Willmott 59). Willmott covers the Pearl Harbor attack in vivid detail that bring 'the day of infamy' into life.
Willmott, H. P. Pearl Harbor. Galahad Books, 1982.
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