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Home > Books & Journals > Book Review Last Updated: 14:22 03/09/2007
Book Review #11: July 10, 2001

"Pearl Harbor" by Willmott and "Pearl Harbor" by Sunshine and Felix

Title: Pearl Harbor
Authors: H. P. Willmott with Tohmatsu Haruo and W. Spencer Johnson
Publisher: Cassell & Co., London
Date/Time: 2001
Pages: English text 208 pages (Hardcover)

Title: Pearl Harbor: The Movie and The Moment
Authors: Linda Sunshine and Antonia Felix
Publisher: Hyperion, New York
Date/Time: 2001
Pages: English text 176 pages (Hardcover)


When you walk into any bookstore in the United States today, you will find a stack of oversized books, all entitled "Pearl Harbor" and covered with colorful pictures of warplanes and battleships, in the most visible section of the store. Needless to say, this is because of the much-publicized Hollywood movie of the same title, and publishers as well as bookstores wish to take advantage of it.

Although those books look much the same, their appearance can be deceiving. In fact, there are entirely different kinds of Pearl Harbor books currently available. On one hand, you can find some serious research materials such as the one authored by H. P. Willmott with Tohmatsu Haruo and W. Spencer Johnson, where Homer is quoted in the foreword as follows:

Chromius and Aretus went also with them,
And their hearts beat high with hope
That they might kill the men and capture the horses -
Fools that they were, for they were not to return
Unscathed from their meeting with Automedon...

H. P. Willmott, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and the Institute for the Study of War and Society, De Montfort University, and a lecturer at Greenwich Maritime Institute, University of Greenwich in the U.K., places this incident in a proper historical context and emphasizes the growing antagonism between Japan and the United States in the early 20th century leading to the Japanese attack. Tohmatsu Haruo and W. Spencer Johnson present Japanese and American perceptions, respectively, of the Pearl Harbor incident. The appendices give detailed figures regarding the size and extent of the Japanese attack on the basis of various statistics and previous studies in the literature. The book sheds new light on the issue of why the Japanese destroyed the battleship fleet and the land aircraft, but failed to attack various naval installations in Pearl Harbor.

But there also are many books with only propaganda and/or entertainment purposes, without much regard for historical facts. One such example is "Pearl Harbor: The Movie and The Moment," which quotes in the foreword from President Roosevelt's address to Congress:

...the United States was suddenly and DELIBERATELY ATTACKED by naval and air forces of the EMPIRE OF JAPAN. Always will WE REMEMBER the character of THE ONSLAUGHT against us. No matter how long it may take us TO OVERCOME this premeditated invasion, the AMERICAN PEOPLE, in their RIGHTEOUS MIGHT, will win through to ABSOLUTE VICTORY.

The book, as implied by its subtitle, is nothing but a description and an illustration of the movie itself and not necessarily of the historical facts about Pearl Harbor. While it may be entertaining to see movie stars' faces in seemingly historical pictures, the book fails to put the Japanese attack in the context of the long-term antagonism between Japan and the United States. It may even give the reader a false impression that the Japanese attacked not only battleships, warplanes and soldiers, but also offshore installations and civilians indiscriminately.

In the Pearl Harbor movie, a product of Disney Studios, Japanese warplanes are vividly depicted with Disney-style special effects as savage attackers that shot drowning soldiers, innocent civilians, and even hospitals full of wounded people. In contrast, American warplanes, which are falsely described as being on a suicide mission to bomb Tokyo in revenge, only attack some military installations, despite the fact that the whole city of Tokyo was virtually destroyed and many residents were killed in a series of US air raids, which are not even implied in the movie.

That kind of good guys versus bad guys approach may serve Hollywood well, but is actually a disservice to those who value historical facts and better relations between Japan and the U.S.. We all are better off with Willmott's version of Pearl Harbor.

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