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Short Takes: Countdown to Pearl Harbor

December 7th gets me everytime, much like the anniversaries of the JFK assassination, the lunar landing, and 9/11. It seems impossible to not reflect on how Pearl Harbor happened and what the country was experiencing. On the most recent anniversary of Pearl Harbor, I found myself thinking about how little I knew or remembered about it. Mainly the easily remembered bullet points: risky sneak attack; catastrophic loss of lives and naval assets; and the event that prompted a reluctant America to enter World War II. There was also the never-ending debate about whether it could have been prevented, which sometimes included the conspiracy theorists who thought President Roosevelt allowed it to happen. When I saw that author Steve Twomey would be in Seattle on 12 December to discuss his book Countdown to Pearl Harbor, I decided to go, try for some photos, and learn more about the book. twomey-pearl-harbor-town-hall

Mr. Twomey is an excellent speaker. He presented a rich, structured overview of the book, highlighting some of the main actors and aspects of the attack that we rarely consider. For example, I did not know that the Japanese fleet sailed to a remote harbor ahead of the attack for operational security. According to Twomey, most of the Japanese sailers did not know their objective; many suspected they were to attack the British. The Japanese fleet also maintained strict communications security, receiving reports but not broadcasting them.

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Twomey also helped place that era or period in better context. Satellites did not exist, communications were slow, and naval intelligence assets had limited means of tracking opposing naval forces. I think one of the most fascinating points he covered was that when the Japanese decided to commit, they would sail out of the harbor not knowing what they would find, and they would have little means along the way to determine if they had been discovered. Almost equally worrisome for the Japanese, if their fleet arrived and Pearl Harbor was empty, their situation and courses of action would take on additional layers of uncertainty.

If the book is half as informative as the talk, it will be worth reading. I know that my Christmas shopping got a lot easier. (Thanks again The Stranger for running a great events page.)