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  • Jack McDevitt

Blog #7

I’ll probably finish Gordon Prange’s We Slept At Dawn today. It’s, of course, a history of the Pearl Harbor attack. But it’s much more than simply an account of the raid. It’s the first time I’ve seen it all from the Japanese perspective, the reasoning that led to it, the debates, the warnings that it was not a good idea, the assumptions that the Japanese really had nothing to fear from the cowardly Americans, the planning, and ultimately how they were able to get their fleet of aircraft carriers and destroyers within range of the target without being seen.

The middle section of the book tracks the raid itself, in considerable detail. That provides the perspective from both sides.

And finally the aftermath. Who was to blame? We were fully aware that war with Japan was a distinct possibility. We had even broken their cryptosystem so we were able to read their communications. How did it happen, then, that we were caught flatfooted?

The immediate reaction was to blame the two men who oversaw the military, the Navy’s Adm. Husband Kimmel, and Gen. Walter Short, whose army unit was supposed to provide protection for ships based on Oahu. It quickly became complicated as Kimmel and Short denied having been warned that an attack was imminent. Investigators were unable to get access to what was actually known in advance because it was essential to maintain secrecy about our ability to decrypt Japanese communications. So nothing was being released. That problem remained even after the war had ended.

Another difficulty was that the people being questioned, who were mostly military, had a natural inclination to defend their branch of the service. Neither the Army nor Navy wanted to accept the blame.

Eventually it got even more complicated when, after the war ended, Congress got into the battle. The only U.S. president to serve more than two terms was then in office, so it’s easy to understand that Republicans saw an opportunity to defeat the president in the 1944 election, while the Democrats went on the defensive. All that was necessary was to show that FDR had blundered. Or, possibly, that he had deliberately withheld information from the Hawaiian command regarding the Japanese threat. The theory was that FDR was looking for a way to get into the war to help the UK. A Japanese attack would be perfect.

I’m anxious to see if Prange has any surprises in the last couple of chapters.


I’ve mentioned before that I remember the attack. I was attending a family party when the news came in. I was a bit young. But even given that, it’s hard to believe that, despite the rousing events happening around the world, my newspaper reading was limited to Dick Tracy, Smilin’ Jack, and the radio listings.

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