Book Review – Japan 1941

Japan 1941Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy by Eri Hotta

Review: Ms. Hotta’s book on the eight months prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is a diplomatic, fact-based account that still does not pull any punches in detailing Japan’s unfortunate decisions leading up to December 8, 1941 (December 7th in Hawaii). It uses primary source documents from government archives and contemporary citizen papers to discuss the Japanese side of the events. Like a tragedy of errors, one hard line decision after another, created a situation in which Japan felt that it had no choice but to start a war that they knew was virtually unwinnable.

“They felt they had to choose between waging a reckless war and giving up all of Japan’s imperialistic conquests of many years in order to stave off war. They tended to ignore that such extreme choices grew directly out of their own recent decisions and actions. As they made more diplomatic missteps and committed themselves to an impracticable war, claiming all the while to be more prepared then they ever were, their range of policy options both at home and with the outside world narrowed considerably. It was as if Tokyo had gotten stuck in the thin end of a funnel. The war option, it must have seemed to those leaders, provided the quickest and surest way of breaking free of that constricting situation. That they didn’t think about what would happen afterward was a tragic act of negligence.”

Those in power had an overconfidence in their alliance with Germany and an ultranationalist view that prevented them from truly negotiating with the U.S. even when it would have resulted in favorable terms. If you have any interest in history and World War II, I recommend this unique take. Ms. Hotta’s writing can be, at times, a little dry but overall it was very informative.

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