Yamamoto: The Man Who Planned Pearl Harbor
© 1990 Edwin Hoyt
Isoroku Yamamoto was the indispensable man of the Japanese navy, the author of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and an object of such interest to the United States that it nearly spoiled its ability to read Japanese codes in order to shoot him from the skies. He is an intriguing character to study; as a subject of the emperor, he was loathe to think of Japan at war with the United States. He knew America, had traveled and studied there, and regarded the thought of military contest with her a joke. As a soldier, however, he strengthened Japan’s ability to make war, guiding the strategic development of her fleet into the future, helping create a carrier-focused force that would outmatch the western powers’ dreadnought mindset. When he was asked to use that weapon against the United States, he did his best to make it a killing blow. Yamamoto takes readers through Japan’s percolation as an imperial state, from its first tepid expansion in Asia at the turn of the 20th century, to its maturation as a major power who sought not just equality with, but triumph over, the west. On the sea, Yamamoto develops quickly as an officer to be revered and reckoned with — a strict, audacious, and strangely humble man who saw that the future of global war lay in aviation. On land, Yamamoto is tugged reluctantly behind waves of militarism as Japan sees cabinet after cabinet fail. Every attempt to reconcile the military with the less bellicose intentions of the emperor fails and brings the nation as a whole closer to jingoism, with one attempted coup and a rash of assassinations. For most of the book, Japan seems mired in China, its every martial action stressed by a fuel supply that requires constant attention. Title aside, Pearl Harbor receives little attention here, as Yamamoto receives its results from afar. Hoyt gives generous consideration to the extended brawl for Guadacanal, however, the battle which draws Yamamoto closer to the front lines and eventually exposes him to an assassination by fighter plane soon thereafter. Various military events are recorded here, Midway included, but none receive the treatment of Guadacanal, and for the most part military content is very general, and is included more to show the book’s subject at war, frequently frustrated by his subordinates’ timidity in pressing forward. Although Yamamoto’s talents as a commanding officer made him a fearful enemy to the United States, he is despite his ambush not villainous. Surprise was a meager advantage to be pressed; disarm the United States quickly and it might leave Japan to its new empire. Instead he merely drew blood, incited wrath, and fell prey to it himself. In Yamamoto we thus see the the death of man at the hand of a war he did not want — but out of a sense of duty, he had to fight.