The first pre-publication review of Surprise Attack – from Kirkus – is now out and those interested can read it directly from Kirkus:
Rather than just repeating it here, I thought I would take the opportunity to provide some further information about points which are noted in the review.
The book begins with a study of not only Pearl Harbor but on the intended simultaneous Japanese attack on American installations in the Philippines. While there were multiple commissions and official inquiries into the Hawaiian attack, there were none on the Philippines strikes, which did not go according to plan and actually occurred following several hours after the Hawaii attacks. The weather delays in the Japanese Philippines’ attack allowed extensive warning and orders to prepare for attack and execute the standing war plan against Japan. All the Pacific and Pacific Rim installations – from Alaska and the Panama Canal to Hawaii and the Philippines were already under advanced war alert and had been since late October. In particular the Philippines had been specifically warned that it would be the target of any Japanese surprise attack. There is a general knowledge of the strategic value of the American fleet which had been deployed to Hawaii but much less of the strategic bombing force that was being built in the Philippines, in a major effort to at least delay any Japanese military action. Yet with hours of warning, including specific orders not to let the bomber force be destroyed on the ground, that is exactly what happened. The very complex and intertwined story of warnings and failures for both Hawaii and the Philippines is explored in what I think is a unique fashion in the book.
Surprise Attack also digs into elements of the warnings intelligence and “fear factors” in the first years of the Cold War, exploring areas generally not examined in conventional history books. One of those is the extent to which the American military became convinced that Stalin and the Soviets were very actively engaged in both aggressive and risky psychological warfare but also in aerial reconnaissance over the British Isles, American bases overseas and very possibly over America itself. The first post war intelligence group – CIG – offered that estimate to President Truman and later Army Air Force Intelligence conducted a highly covert and extremely serious overseas collections effort based on leads that the Soviets were deploying German jet and missile technology and it was followed by early Air Intelligence “estimates of the situation”. There was also a frenzied intelligence effort partly based in information that the Soviets were building a massive fleet of “flying wing” jet bombers – to be used in support of a western surge by the Red Army across Western Europe.
The Kirkus review touches on several areas relating to the book’s focus on the evolution and performance of National Command Authority and efforts towards civilian control of the American military – efforts both successful and critical during both the Berlin and Cuban crises under JFK and unsuccessful and costly in terms of American lives under the military micromanagement of LBJ and Nixon/Kissinger. Equally importantly the review does not mention (after all Surprise Attack has ended up being a 500 plus page book) the book’s analysis of how civilian national command authority has performed during decades of crisis and attack – a very important (if depressing) subject and an examination that I think is relatively unique to Surprise Attack.
One of the reasons the book is so long is that seven decades of history allows patterns to emerge which are not easily visible in individual events. And a considerable portion of the book is an effort to evaluate those patterns against both recent history and current events. It becomes a great deal easier to see what tools and tactics work in terms of both warning and preparedness – and even in command and control while under surprise attack. In that regard, Surprise Attack delves into the details of the national security response following domestic events such as the assassination of President Kennedy and shooting of President Reagan, to overseas incidents involving American intelligence collections ships (from the destroyers in the Tonkin Gulf, to the Liberty in the Mediterranean and the Pueblo off North Korea). From there it advances to the warnings intelligence and the defensive responses to the World Trade Center bombing, the Millennium plots, the attacks of 9/11 and the more recent attacks on American diplomats and facilities overseas, including those in Libya. There are some hard lessons to be learned from each of those crises, the book pulls no punches and that section will no doubt be more controversial than the Kirkus review suggests. My intent was to make the examination factual enough and objective enough to push past the agendas, politics and yelling to some substantive assessment and even recommendations. Suggesting, of course, that I must be an eternal optimist.