On the morning of December 7th, 1941 a Japanese naval armada loaded with warplanes descended upon the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The Japanese unleashed a ruthless surprise attack on the base, crippling America’s Pacific Fleet. It was “A Date Which Will Live in Infamy” to quote Franklin Roosevelt’s legendary speech.
While many Americans are aware of the damage done at Pearl Harbor, most don’t realize that the America’s ability to conduct warfare in the Pacific theatre was severely hampered. Over the next few months the Japanese invaded and seized lands in Asia and the Pacific with impunity.
Pacific Crucible tells the story of how America was able to resurrect itself after the attack at Pearl Harbor, through the leadership of extraordinary Admirals like Halsey and Nimitz, and the unquestionable bravery of the members of the U.S. Navy.
What Made the Japanese Attack
The reason for Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor is rarely discussed in American classrooms. If I were to survey 50 random people on the street, I’m guessing that none of them would be able to answer.
In the mid-19th century Japan was a recluse in world affairs. At that time they were still considered by many as medieval in some ways. It wasn’t until Commodore Perry and his ‘Black Ships’ forcibly entered Japanese waters under the direction of President Fillmore that Japan finally gave way. About 90 years later and Pearl Harbor was attacked.
While Japan greatly benefited from opening its doors to the outside world, they always remained skeptical of outsiders. During the 1920’s and 1930’s Japan underwent a growth in intense Nationalistic fervor.
The U.S. was not a direct target, however, until Japan could take no more of an embargo that had been placed on the island by the American government; it was choking them for dear life. People will still debate the reasons for the attack, and some say FDR even knew about the impending attacks; that however, is a discussion for another day and does not make much of an appearance in this book.
Pacific Crucible Sets Itself Apart
I have often shied away from many books on military history because I either found them to complex with discussions of military tactics or jargon I didn’t understand. Or in many other cases because it was simply too dull. In Pacific Crucible, Toll not only manages to avoid both those common drawbacks, but creates an excellent work of American military history.
Toll does an excellent job of covering all perspectives of the war. He spends a generous amount of time in the Captain’s chair (literally), but he also discusses what life was like for the midshipmen. One lucid example is when he describes the unbearable heat of working and living on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific.
Where It Fell Short
My one complaint about the book is that the ending felt somewhat rushed. Toll concludes with a depiction of the Battle of Midway, but spends little time meditating on the events that followed.
Also, I would have liked more regarding the other Pacific battles of WWII such as Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima, but since the book was primarily about the major naval actions of the Pacific from 1941-1942, it was understandable.
Pacific Crucible is one of the best books on military history I’ve ever read. Toll tells an engaging story, while at the same time he breaks down military tactics and maneuvers for the military novice.
This book also covers the Pacific theater, which often gets neglected in favor of the Allied attack on the Axis on the European front. Overall, an informative and entertaining tale of heroics and patriotism.
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