News | Dec. 19, 2023

The Road to Pearl Harbor: Great Power War in Asia and the Pacific

By John H. Maurer; Edited by Erik Goldstein

Review by Cmdr. Peter B. Mersky, USNR (Ret.)

This new book on the Japanese attack is more of a scholastic treatise, published as it was without a single photograph, except for the one on the front cover, which I find highly unusual in today’s publishing market. Photos are always required, if only to relieve very dry presentations and perhaps make the reader’s job easier, as this book’s struggles to keep one’s attention. For some reason, the first chapter is incredibly verbose and complicated on how the attack on Pearl Harbor might be planned and accomplished.

It’s obvious the Japanese had decided on war to establish their policy of Asia for the Asians. They were never satisfied with the results of the various post-World War I armament conferences that creep in and out of the stuffy essays that are a large part of the book’s text. The presenters’ language is frustrating and goes a long way in reducing any understanding of their subject. I found myself wondering if I needed to keep a dictionary by my side.

A few specific notes

Page 125: FDR had a distinct favoritism for Chiang Kai-shek as he struggled to lead his people toward independence while fighting the brutal Japanese, who delighted in kicking them (including refugees from Europe trying to make their way from their home countries now part of the growing Nazi empire) off the sidewalks so Imperial Japanese Army soldiers could walk them unimpeded by other humans.

Page 131: As the book progresses, it would appear the editors are trying to show how war in the Pacific against the Japanese was inevitable and would start first in Hawaii.
Chapter 5: There are many esoteric words that seem to assume the reader knows their meaning without a dictionary, such as “delphic” in line 7. Page 133: “Autarky” line 7, “Nazi Kristallnacht pogrom,” same page, line 38 (a major antisemitic event in November 1938, that many modern readers may not know). I could go on. The editors would have done themselves and their potential readers a service by explaining or elaborating these words and terms. The book’s page count is low enough that it could spend several brief expansive additional words of definition.

The book is a strong indictment of Japan’s between-war intentions and interactions of working with other countries to prevent another world conflict. One of the main rejection themes seems to be President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s continued vacillation on how to deal with Japan when it became increasingly clear how bent on war Japan was.

Finally, given current concerns on modern-day China’s growing military muscle and ambitions, it could be that the mainland’s intent to reaffirm what the pre-WWII Japanese were thinking in the late 1930s may be actually to bring back the Asia for Asians national philosophy. Books like “The Road to Pearl Harbor” could possibly have more substance for the West than at first reading. Frankly, it remains to be seen whether there may be examples of Western denial of what Japan’s WWII Zero fighter represented in today’s edition of eastern capabilities opposing existing Western types, and I wonder if, this time around, we have the time to explore these possibilities.