Pearl Harbor Perspectives, 50 Years Later
AS is fitting and proper, the 50th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor has brought forth a generous harvest of new books both about the battle itself and about the great sea war in the Pacific Ocean that followed from that successful surprise attack.The harvest includes a good mix of personal experiences with fresh treatment of the entire war. But there is one thing it has not done and could not yet do: settle the question of whether anyone deliberately blocked intelligence information from the American commanders at Pearl Harbor that might have given them a chance to meet the attack with weapons at the ready. The issue was almost settled in the most authoritative treatment of that subject so far published. Rear Admiral Edwin T. Layton was chief of intelligence on the staff of the commander-in-chief, Pacific, at the time of the battle. He spent the rest of his life researching, analyzing, and recording the story of what intelligence was gathered and what happened to it. His book, published in 1985, "And I Was There": Pearl Harbor and Midway - Breaking the Secrets (William Morrow, 596 pp., $19.95 cloth, $12.95 paper), puts the blame for unreadiness at Pearl Harbor solidly on bureaucratic feuding in Washington, mixed with inadequate reading of available information and an inability to conceive of the Japanese daring to attack Pearl Harbor itself. The Layton book is definitive on what happened in Washington. No one there, certainly not President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, consciously or deliberately held back anything that might have prevented the surprise. But one source of information was unavailable to Admiral Layton and is still closed. The British have a 75-year seal on their own intelligence records. Not until the year 2016 will the files be opened on what the British knew about Japanese intentions by Dec. 6, 1941, and what was done with their knowledge. This has led to a highly speculative and almost certainly unfair allegation that British Prime Minister Winston Churchill himself held back a warning he might have sent to President Roosevelt. Betrayal at Pearl Harbor: How Churchill Lured Roosevelt Into World War II, by James Rusbridger and Eric Nave (Summit Books, 303 pp., illustrated, $19.95) will delight anyone who would like to think that Churchill was capable of such a dastardly act. The theory cannot be disproved until the files are opened in 25 ye ars, but the book should not be read as provable or plausible history. It is highly doubtful that British code breakers, who were exchanging Japanese intercepts daily with American and Dutch code breakers, knew and held back something unknown to the others. The whole fascinating subject of what knowledge British, American, and Dutch governments assembled before the outbreak of the Pacific war, and what was done with it, is handled most satisfactorily in The Pacific Campaign: World War II, the U.S.-Japanese Naval War, 1941-1945, by Dan van der Vat (Simon & Schuster, 430 pp., illustrated, $30). It's a solid story of the entire war, well-written and in clear perspective. It could well be a college textbook. There remains that shadow of doubt, which can be removed only when the British open their files. But in the meantime, it is clear enough from this and other books that what really triggered the Pacific war was Japan's military expansion policy, which began with the invasion of Manchuria in 1931. By 1941, the Japanese had taken their armies deep into China and on into French Indochina. The United States, with reason, regarded this as a threat to American national interests. President Roosevelt responded o n July 26, 1941, with a broad program of economic sanctions, which included an embargo on shipments of oil and scrap metal. Japan at that time had been buying 4/5ths of its fuel oil and 3/4ths of its scrap metal from the US. Japan faced a crucial choice: to abandon its expansion program or conquer the oil sources of southeast Asia from the Dutch, British, and French colonial empires. This, they decided, would also require war with the US. The embargo led directly and inevitably to the attack on Pearl Harbor . Was this war inevitable? For those seeking the answer, "The Pacific Campaign" and A Time for War: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Path to Pearl Harbor (Prentice Hall, 449 pp., illustrated, $24.95), by Robert Smith Thompson, are particularly helpful. Both books make it clear that the US and Japan had been on a collision course from Japan's invasion of Manchuria in 1931. The long sequence of events, set forth in excellent detail in these two works, leads almost to the conclusion that it was inevitable from t hat time on except for one possible moment. In August 1941, the prime minister of Japan proposed to Joseph C. Grew, US ambassador to Japan, that he, Prince Konoye, personal friend of the emperor, would himself take ship and meet Roosevelt. He told Grew, or gave Grew reason to think, that Japan was ready to withdraw its troops from both Indochina and China and even to break off its alliance with Nazi Germany, if the US would first call off its economic sanctions. Grew reported the Konoye proposal on Aug. 18 and urged Washington to consider it. The Japanese set an Oct. 16 deadline for a response. With no acceptance by Washington by that date, Prince Konoye resigned and was replaced by Admiral Tojo. From that moment the war was inevitable. The only question was when and where the Japanese would start it. That story is told in fascinating detail in Long Day's Journey Into War: December 7, 1941 (Dutton, 706 pp., illustrated, $26.95), by historian Stanley Weintraub. This is a massive, 705-page tour de force that works. Professor Weintraub takes the weekend of Dec. 6 and 7 and divides it into 48 hours. Hour by hour, he describes what is going on all around the world. The actual attack takes place in hour 30. Before that, he examines what is happening not only in Tokyo, where the high command waits for word f rom its task force in the North Pacific, but also in other capitals and scenes of battle, including Adolf Hitler's headquarters deep in a pine forest in East Prussia. Weintraub's book does a superb job of putting the Pearl Harbor story into the fullest possible world context. Other books in this rich new harvest of Pacific war material deserve more attention than is possible in this survey. Trapped at Pearl Harbor: Escape From Battleship Oklahoma (Naval Institute Press, 187 pp., illustrated, $24.95) is a true thriller; the story of six men trapped in Turret No. 4 on the battleship Oklahoma when it capsized during the battle of Pearl Harbor. One of them, Stephen Bower Young, living today in Boston, tells in marvelous detail of the 25 hours he and his companions survived in dar kness in the narrow space of the turret with oil-covered water gradually rising around them and the air growing more foul as time passed. They were rescued through a hole cut through the upturned hull. All told, 33 men were rescued. The publishers say this book rivals "any fictional thriller." It does. Paul J. Travers, a former historian for the Maryland Park Service, deserves high marks for a splendid collection of eye-witness accounts titled Eyewitness to Infamy: An Oral History of Pearl Harbor (Madison Books, 270 pp., $24.95). He had the help of the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association in finding and recording the oral accounts of some 200 people who were at or near Pearl Harbor that day - on ships, on shore, in hospitals, at army posts, and in c ivilian life. It is an important addition to any Pearl Harbor collection. Fading Victory: The Diary of Admiral Matome Ugaki, 1941-1945, edited by Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon (Pittsburgh University Press, 731 pp., illustrated, $29.95) is the diary of Japanese Admiral Matome Ugaki, who was chief of staff to Admiral Yamaoto during most of the war and commanded the Japanese Fifth Air Force at the end. He kept throughout a factual, detailed, and remarkably objective daily record of his impressions, what he did, and what was happening around him. The book is well-tra nslated by Masataka Chihaya and handsomely printed. It is an important addition to the record of the Pacific war and makes fascinating reading. In Pearl Harbor Ghosts: A Journey to Hawaii Then and Now (William Morrow, 411 pp., illustrated, $22), Thurston Clarke tells the story of Japanese Ensign Tadeo Yoshikawa who, dressed and documented as a young vice-consul at the Japanese consulate in Honolulu, flew over Pearl Harbor as a passenger in a Piper Cub on Dec. 3, 1941, noting the location of every ship in the harbor and telegraphing all the details to Tokyo from the consulate that evening. It is a remarkable story of what an easy time the Japanes e had in gathering the intelligence they needed. Clarke also did some research on how the Japanese Nisei were treated even when they were in American uniform and served, later, in one of the most decorated divisions of the US Army in World War II. It is a sad story. Clarke visited the memorial built on the sunken hulk of what had once been the USS Arizona, sitting now in the mud of Pearl Harbor. He listened to the sometimes complacent and unrepentant comments of Japanese tourists, and they made him uncomfortable about the future of US-Japanese relations. This is an extremely sensitive book by a sensitive writer. There still are ghosts left from Pearl Harbor. Perhaps it is well that they be recognized, for they need to be exorcised if the US and Japan are to achieve the full reconciliation that both need for the future. All these books are important to our understanding of what happened at the moment when the US was pushed by Japanese action into an era of full US intervention into the affairs of the entire world. And we are still living in that era.