The attack on Pearl Harbor is already coming to be one of my most visited topics! But I had to share a few words about this excellent book.
This book was recommended to me by Doug, a visitor to this site. I have previously recommended an anecdotal history and a more military/detail oriented work about Pearl Harbor attack. Countdown to Pearl Harbor is a narrative history. That means it describes the event as a story. For most of us, that’s the easiest way to understand an event, at least on a basic level.
This book is subtitled “The Twelve Days to the Attack”, which describes the format. The chapters take one day at a time for almost two weeks, ending December 7. They do include some details going further back when appropriate. It is written on a very personal level while introducing us to key players, both military and civilian, American and Japanese. I found it did an excellent job of bringing out the human element of this story.
As an introductory type history I don’t want to go into too many details, except to mention I so often find Admiral Husband Kimmel to be a sympathetic and tragic figure. He was good at his job and a proud military man. I’ve always suspected that in different circumstances he would have been known as one the great wartime commanders. But he did screw up badly. Pearl Harbor was the ONLY American Pacific command not on high alert December 7. That alone is damning. And by many accounts he was shattered by those events. Steve Twomey does a wonderful job capturing his character, his great strengths, and his fatal error.
One other observation, this is the first history I’ve read where the writer plainly states we are out of the era of being able to interview participants. This has sort of been true for a while, certainly the “big men”, the key players, planners and decision makers have been gone for many years. But until just recently, the majority of what’s written about World War II has drawn on interviews with eye witnesses. Given the shear bulk of written material out there its not like there will be a sudden shortage of material to read. But apparently writers who have questions, possibly new questions, can no longer arrange an interview or write a letter to anyone who might be in the know. The Greatest Generation is passing quickly. We can no longer pick their minds when we want to know…
When I was a kid they were the generation in charge of everything. In the last year I’ve buried both my parents. It all leaves me feeling very sad and aware of time marching on.