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Cover-Up: The Politics of Pearl Harbor, 1941-1946 Hardcover – February 1, 1979
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For the reader who wishes for a substantial but relatively brief introduction to the matter, as well as guidance for further study, Bruce Bartlett's "Cover-Up" is one of the best ones available, encompassing some 190 pages and wasting very few. In format, it is fairly similar to Admiral R. A. Theobald's similarly readable early "revisionist" study, The Final Secret of Pearl Harbor, in that it covers mainly the political side of the Pearl Harbor scandal, and then both the background of the Japanese attack and its aftermath, when sundry forces in the Roosevelt administration and its allied quarters conspired to cover up various aspects of their actions in the latter half of 1941. (Whence the book's title.) In this connection we should also note, however, that unlike Theobald, Mr. Bartlett does not believe that Roosevelt purposely exposed the Pacific Fleet to be destroyed, although, again like him, he finds the President guilty of more generally provoking Axis attacks through his belligerent foreign policy.
That this was indeed the case is convincingly demonstrated in Bartlett's first three chapters, in somewhat less detail than some other studies have offered but through a pertinent and well-supported argument. The reader not previously familiar with this background will learn, for example, that Roosevelt ordered the Navy to attack German ships on the high seas months *before* Pearl Harbor, and then mendaciously presented German reprisals as unprovoked attacks on American ships in his public speeches. In other words, the war had already begun, though unofficially, well before December 7. Further, Roosevelt also conspired with Holland and Great Britain to subject Japan to a global trade embargo, which caused this very trade-dependent country to starve. He did so in the full knowledge that this left Japan no other options but to either die quietly or go down fighting. Not surprisingly, then, they chose the latter.
Given these facts, how could the fleet at Hawaii be taken by surprise -- Especially as US cryptanalysts had also long since broken the Japanese diplomatic and military radio ciphers? This is indeed a mystery, and it is not surprising that it has invited conspiratorial explanations. Bartlett, while noting many oddities in the conduct of various senior officers and officials, largely adheres to the conventional line: Namely, that incompetence rather than malice was to blame for the disaster. He is merciless, however, in exposing the government's conniving (one might perhaps even say, "corruption") after the fact, attempting as they did to disguise their own (major, however one looks at it) share of the blame for partisan political reasons, and to pin it instead on the unfortunate Navy man on site, Admiral Kimmel. This is the subject of the latter half of his book, and here the author fully supports, and concurs with, Theobald.
"Cover-Up" is derived from Bartlett's original master's thesis from his studies in diplomatic history in the 1970s, but whether it has been reworked or was authored before modern "academic" standards struck, its prose is completely free of that ponderous and artificial quality which nowadays, as a general rule, afflicts scholarly works and severely impairs their readability. Written for the general public, it maintains flow and ease of comprehension throughout as well as do the best of popular histories. This is not to say that it lacks scholarly credentials; on the contrary, its notes and bibliography most flatteringly bare Bartlett's considerable research, which included delving into unpublished primary sources. Indeed, for its length, the book's scholarly apparatus is very formidable. As an especial bonus, it also includes as an appendix a facsimile reprint of John T. Flynn's very early article The Final Secret of Pearl Harbor -- distinct from Theobald's work by the same title -- which was originally published in 1945 and was one of the first learned attempts to debunk the Roosevelt administration's apologias for December 7. This work, valuable even to the student who will not share all of Flynn's conclusions, is well worth the price of the entire volume by itself -- Though here Bartlett's own work is still the weightier of the two.
Altogether, I feel confident in recommending this book to any and all readers interested in its subject. While its introductory nature makes it best suited for the reader not previously well versed in the Pearl Harbor controversies, the depth of its research ensures that even a seasoned student will find at least some new datum in it. An excellent history by any standard, critical but fair, and largely unmarred by the political ax-grinding which usually accompanies the topic.
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Readers looking for more in-depth and exhaustive treatments after perusing this one may also wish to have a look at the following titles (for a start, out of the multitudes that could be cited). Day Of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor offers the best and most up-to-date argument in favor of the "conspiracy" interpretation that FDR deliberately set Kimmel's command up to be destroyed, while Pearl Harbor: The Verdict of History by Daniel Goldstein and Katherine Dillon remains the best attempt by "establishment" historians to debunk the same argument. Meanwhile, Days of Infamy by John Costello, a very well-researched study by a very independently aligned historian, presents its own unique but in many respects compelling take on the issue, which has annoyed scholars on both sides by opening up a third front in this drawn-out trench war.