A re-evaluation of the attack on Pearl Harbor in the context of Japanese regional and domestic politics.
In this debut history book, O’Connell takes a thorough look at Japan’s history and its role in geopolitics in an effort to understand the decisions that led to the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. The book begins by acknowledging that most World War II histories have considered the attack “preposterous” and counter to all reasonable military and diplomatic objectives. Before offering an unconventional analysis that gives a plausible explanation for the attack, O’Connell takes the reader on a deep dive into Japanese history, from the initial settlement of the islands through the feudal period, the development of relations with the West, and the development of the 20th-century militarist culture, and also places this history within a regional context shaped by Russian, Chinese, and European territorial goals. This Japan-centered approach allows the book to challenge standard interpretations, such as the idea that the country was isolated until the arrival of the U.S. Navy: “Japan was never closed; it simply never approved trade with any Westerners except for the Dutch.” O’Connell maintains that perspective as he links Japan’s military behavior to the evolving British colonial presence, the threat posed by the Soviet Union, and conflicts within the military and political structures, leading to a plausible portrayal of circumstances in which an overt attack on U.S. territory was a logical tactic. Although the prose occasionally gets carried away (“the early United States had Hamilton, Madison, Marshall, and the rest to figure out such things and Washington to reassure everyone, despite the persiflage and occasional violence some of those figures attracted, sometimes from one another”), the book’s arguments do not, and a detailed notes section provides a substantial base of evidence for the assumptions and inferences that underlie the work’s re-evaluation of the standard interpretations of World War II history.
A convincing analysis of Japan’s role in World War II and a reasonable argument for a logic process that led to the attack on Pearl Harbor.