Picks and Pans Review: Long Day's Journey into War

updated 12/09/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/09/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Stanley Weintraub

The saddest part of the price paid at Pearl Harbor 50 years ago this week, as these 706 fact-crammed pages document, is that the whole scenario could have been avoided or, at the least, minimized. Rumors abounded for weeks, in some circles months, of an impending Japanese attack somewhere in the Pacific. British agents had cracked Japanese codes and were aware of the plans. Yet in early December those messages were held back from military heavyweights so as not to interfere with their weekend golf games.

The American military had grown arrogant and lazy. Less than an hour before the attack, Army radar operators detected squadrons of air-craft closing in on Pearl but ignored the signals, incorrectly believing them to be late-arriving American planes. In another example, when told that one of his destroyers had sunk a Japanese sub just miles from Pearl Harbor, Adm. Husband E. Kimmel shrugged it oil and hit the links.

Weintraub's book spans the full 48 hours it lakes to complete one calendar day (taking the international date line into consideration). The author, a Penn State professor, is more historian than stylist. His stilted prose lacks the force needed to hammer home even the barest emotional points. The book is also poorly assembled, rummaging around the globe from Panama to Malaya to Washington, D.C., in a somewhat futile effort to convey the activities of all the principals.

Despite these weaknesses, Long Day's Journey is worth reading. The book answers nearly as many questions as it raises and is packed with hundreds of interesting tidbits, from the sad confusion of the British admiral Sir Tom Phillips as he watches his ships go down, to the inane predictions of American R. Adm. Richmond Kelly Turner, who was convinced the Japanese would never attack American forces. (Dutton, $26.95)

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