If there had been a third strike at Pearl Harbor, would the U.S. have been out?
Departing the Civil War battlefields (Never Call Retreat, 2005, etc.), Gingrich and historian Forstchen, that tireless team of military tweakers, raise this as their latest bellicose question. Central here is the issue of command. Had Admiral Yamamoto led the attack instead of Admiral Nagumo, the effect on America might have been not merely devastating but terminal. Yamamoto was a Japanese Ulysses S. Grant: a total victory, damn-the-cost warrior. Nagumo, like George Meade, was a confirmed risk-avoider, the quintessential quit-while-you’re-ahead type. To focus attention on the what-if-ness of their thesis, the authors take license, postponing the date of infamy until the eighth. But fair is fair, and the fact is that at the end of wave two, Nagumo was way ahead. Virtually all American aircraft on the ground had been destroyed, the airfields as well, and in the harbor the great ships were “burning hulks.” One could legitimately accept the Nagumo view that the American fleet had been rendered inoperative. For Yamamoto, however, that wasn’t enough. Understanding American resiliency, he believed a third strike was vital, and a crushing fourth and fifth and so on—as many as were required to extend the war beyond Hawaii to the American mainland. This was the only way, Yamamoto contended, to cope with a no-longer-sleeping giant.
One-dimensional characters engage in long, sometimes eye-glazing conversations, but the “what if” is plausible.