Bob's Reviews > At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor

At Dawn We Slept by Gordon W. Prange
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's review
Feb 27, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: history
Read from February 27 to March 18, 2012

How did the Japanese achieve such total surprise in the attack on Pearl Harbor? This has been the debate surrounding the events of December 7, 1941 ever since this occurred. Prange comes down very firmly against the idea that Franklin Roosevelt deliberately withheld knowledge of the attack in order to bring America into the war. Prange has sifted all the intelligence intercepts and high level discussions and he finds absolutely no evidence of this.

To what then does he attribute this? Fundamentally, he contends that the commanders on the ground, Kimmell and Short had adequate warning and given the looming threat of war should have been on the alert. Why weren't they? It came to their error in believing that it was just not likely that Japan would attack them, even though they knew that Japan was capable of a carrier-based attack. They were prepared but not on the alert. Certainly there was fault to be found with the failure to pass along some key bits of intelligence, including a "bombing plot" intercept with detailed information about Pearl Harbor and the shipping present. Yet the ground commanders did very little reconnaissance that might have picked up a task force. Anti-aircraft batteries lacked ammunition. And ships came into harbor every weekend in a highly predictable pattern that was easily picked up by Japanese espionage efforts.

The other side of the story was the determined and meticulous leadership of Admiral Yamamoto and subordinates who planned and executed the attack, perfecting airborne torpedoes, bombing techniques and careful training. Yamamoto's indomitable leadership overcame resistance to the plan throughout the Japanese naval hierarchy--he even threatened resignation if his plan wasn't approved. And all along, Yamamoto thought the war a tragic necessity that would end very badly--this strike was simply his judgment of what was needed to buy Japan the time to seize crucial southeast Asian oil to enable them to fight longer than 18 months.

From what I understand, this was Prange's lifework and the careful documentation and first-person interviews of both Japanese and American key figures makes this an outstanding work of history.

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