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Topic: Willmott, Parshall, and Tully< Next Oldest | Next Newest >
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GeorgeP Search for posts by this member.

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PostIcon Posted on: Dec. 11 2005,11:19  Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

I've recently picked up a couple of books with new ideas on old topics that I think would like some opinions on from the experts here.  The two books are Pearl Harbor, by H.P. Willmott (2001; Castle & Co.; London; ISBN 0-304-35884-3) and Shattered Sword: the Untold story of the Battle of Midway, by Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully (2005; Potomac Books; washington, DC; ISBN 1-57488-923-0).

Essentially, these books make the case that most of our understanding of certain elements of Pearl Harbor, and our understanding of essentially the entire Japanese viewpopint of Midway, comes from Fuchida's memoirs...but that Fuchida's memoirs are (to be charitable) not accurate.  Apparently, Fuchida's books have been discredited by Japanese historians for at least 25 years and they are amazed that his books remained the only accounts to have been translated to English.  Actually, I asked myself if these were the same Japanese historians who deny Japanese atrocities in China and other places, but there are other pieces that fit to cast shadow on Fuchida's story.  True, the ship's logs were lost at Midway...but apparently the air groups' logs survived, and they were used to compose the official Japanese history of the war published in the '70s.  Also, testimony form other Japanese officers (such as Genda) doesn't line up with Fuchida's story.

In the Pearl Harbor book, I'm specifically looking for opinion on the doubt cast upon Fuchida's credibility.


Any thoughts?


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PostIcon Posted on: Dec. 13 2005,7:48 Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

George,

There are a host of problems with Fuchida's accounts.  Evaluation of this problem is no simple task and could easily fill a small book.

Sometime ago I posted commentary regarding Fuchida and Murata's alleged loss during the Tjilitjap raid at the time of Kido Butai's operations south of Java in March, 1942.  Frankly, Fuchida concocted a bald-faced lie in that instance, as is borne out by Akagi's air group records.  The incident simply could never have happened.  Peraps Dave Aiken or one of the moderators can dredge up that post (which I think was originally on j-aircraft.com).

With that said, much of what Fuchida related to Prange, et al., CAN be verified.  Much depends on WHEN he was interviewed... usually, the earlier the better.

One other thing, in the 30 or so Fuchida/Prange interviews in my possession (that were obtained many years ago), Fuchida would advance a certain idea or statement on the fly and then retract the statement in a later interview.  Accordingly, one has to exercise great care, evaluating the body of interviews as a total entity so that nothing gets taken out of context.

I guess what I would say is that, over time, Fuchida became increasingly willing to tell people what they wanted to hear- much less so in the earlier years, but much more so by the 1950s-60s or thereabouts.

Mike Wenger
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PostIcon Posted on: Dec. 15 2005,11:14 Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

George,

One other matter.  You are correct in saying much of what we have understood about Pearl Harbor in the past was shaped by Fuchida's writings.  I suppose that constitutes an excuse for past sins, but no more.  There is a tremendous amount of official Japanese documentation relating to Pearl Harbor, even though a great percentage of those documents failed to survive the war, for various reasons.  Why this material is seldom, if ever, used is one of the great historiographical questions of World War II.

There are many reasons for the lack of a satisfying Western interpretation of the attack on Oahu.  I will offer a few observations here.

1. There have been (and still are) many misconceptions concerning what documentation exists (both in the Unites States and Japan), and the significance of that documentation.
One of the classic examples of is Gordon Prange.  Prange was no military historian- a great classicist- but no military historian.  He had great difficulty understanding the significance of the details of the attack as set forth in “Hawai Sakusen” (the Japanese history of the Hawaiian Operation).  His big-picture bias led him to regard the minutiae contained therein as a superfluous sideshow.  As a result, his understanding of the mechanics of the attack was shallow and flawed in the extreme.  Prange’s work demonstrates the necessity of competent military historians being involved in Pearl Harbor interpretation.  Honestly, however, most good military historians avoid Pearl Harbor like the plague.  They wish not to have their names sullied by an area of interest populated by a lot of (frankly) nutty people.  This remains- and I firmly believe this- the principle reason that no serious written work on the attack itself yet exists.  My co-authors and myself are changing that state of affairs even as I write this, but such is the current state.

2. No single person- however diligent- can write anything approaching an authoritative account of the attack on Oahu.
Years ago when I made the decision to pursue this project, I came to the conclusion that a team approach would be required.  The subject matter is simply too vast for one person to attempt the work.  That is why I have two co-authors and partners in my labors.  Anyone thinking that they can attempt a Pearl Harbor narrative going solo is delusional.  However, finding people in this area of interest who are collegial in nature is difficult in the extreme.  Unfortunately, too many have cloistered themselves into oblivion, being completely unwilling either to: a. share anything, or to: b. entertain any notion that they could possibly be mistaken.  This intentionally destructive behavior has done more than any other factor to impede our understanding of the Pearl Harbor event.  Good scholarship is rarely successful when conducted in isolation.

3. Just like any other slice of humanity, historians follow the Bell Curve and 80/20 Rule.
There are a few extremely talented individuals among their number, but the majority of historians are frankly lazy people who are unwilling to commit the requisite sacrifice of both personal and financial capital, without which one will NEVER gain access to the “right stuff”.

4. There is a GREAT misunderstanding among many people who are genuinely interested in Pearl Harbor that the internet holds the keys that unlock a great many doors hiding history’s secrets.
Nothing could be further from the truth.  Although there is an exceedingly large amount of raw data resident on the internet, most of it is totally undocumented which renders it useless.  The real keys to unlocking the doors to a fuller understanding of the Pearl Harbor event lie in the various record repositories in the United States and Japan, specifically the National Archives in Washington and the War History Office in Tokyo.  If one fails to wear away sufficient shoe leather at these venerable institutions, relying only on bottom-feeding from the internet, that person is going to miss 98% of the truly amazing information that exists.  It is a situation analogous to a blindfolded individual extolling the virtues and wonders of an elephant, based on well-intentioned and thoughtful observations made while clutching the tufted tip of the animal’s tail.  I enjoy the internet and (particularly) this site.  But, personally, I know I spend too much time on the internet.  It IS interesting, and a useful tool. But a historian’s limited days on this earth are far better invested in Washington or Tokyo.  I am weary of hearing people whining about how far they live from these places (talk to Parshall and Lundstrom!).  I made the decision a generation ago that I was going to make the required sacrifice.  I have visited the National Archives hundreds of times, and have invested a substantial five figure sum into my various projects (and I am NOT particularly well off).  The upshot of all this is- if you really want to find out anything worthwhile, shut off the silly computer and DO THE REQUIRED RESEARCH!

5. There are very few people working on book-length manuscripts on Pearl Harbor.
The reason for that (once again) is that it is too much work, and presupposes that one has accomplished what is required in 4. above.  I can tell you that a great proportion of my admittedly imperfect understanding of Pearl Harbor has accrued as a direct result of writing book chapters.  Writing (and ask Cressman, Lundstrom, Parshall about this) is a part of the discovery process.  The situation is much like letting the water out of a pond.  Only when you get the process going will you uncover the stumps and rocks- all of which need to be dealt with.  In writing on ANY subject- but particularly Pearl Harbor- the stumps and rocks abound.  I just completed number of chapters in our Pearl Harbor narrative, and I can tell you that what I THOUGHT I KNEW prior to writing and organizing the text was fundamentally flawed, and quite different from our collective end result.  But I never would have come to that realization had I just remained seated on the shores of the pond, thinking and dreaming about Pearl Harbor.  There are many, many people who possess a great deal of information concerning Pearl Harbor.  However, because they have not spent time WRITING, the process by which this information is converted into knowledge and wisdom gets short-circuited.  The upshot here is- to arrive at any fresh, new understanding, one MUST write.

Mike Wenger
Raleigh, NC


Edited by Mike Wenger on Dec. 15 2005,3:51

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PostIcon Posted on: Dec. 15 2005,2:42 Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Quote
The upshot here is- to arrive any fresh, new understanding, one MUST write.


Seconded! I've been working on a piece about destroyers at Pearl.
Sitting down and actually working through the process of writing forces you to develop a structure to learn, because you can't write what you don't know.


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Let's see what this does...

Tracy White
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PostIcon Posted on: Dec. 19 2005,8:18 Skip to the previous post in this topic.  Ignore posts   QUOTE

Tracy,

Am very much looking forward to your examination of the destroyers.  Though the battleshps rightly garner much of the 7Dec41 spotlight, such concentration often occurs at the expence of the other combatants in the harbor.  There was indeed a tremendous amount of very significant activity occurring elsewhere, most notably among the destroyers and district craft- all stories crying to be told.

Another area that always receives less attention than deserved is the AAF story, and the Army ground units in particular.  Part of the problem is that, compared to the Navy, the AAF and Army records were generated in a rather hapzard manner, and were quite indifferently maintained in subsequent years.  For the AAF, although I have burned about 3,000 pages out of Maxwell's microfilm, much of that is purely background- or tangential- to the attack proper, there being very few documents at a tactical level bearing specifically on 7Dec41, though there are notable exceptions.  The situation with the Army records is even worse.  I searched through (literally) hundreds of boxes at the National Archives, only to retrieve about an inch or two of copies.  There is very little in the way of extant reports.  In fact, no reports from the two Infantry Divisions and their components seem to have survived- a number of journals, extracts, and orders, but almost no formal reports.

All this renders production of a balanced account of the "Battle of Oahu" quite "problematic".  My coauthors and I have spoken of this frequently, with the result that we have probably gone overboard in our zeal to find Army/AAF related material.  But frankly, we will need every scrap of information we can find.  An interesting dilemma.

Mike Wenger
Raleigh, NC


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