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  • Day of Lightning, Years of Scorn: Walter C. Short and the Attack on Pearl Harbor
  • Fred L. Borch III
Day of Lightning, Years of Scorn: Walter C. Short and the Attack on Pearl Harbor. By Charles R. Anderson. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2005. ISBN 1-59114-011-0. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xii, 240. $34.95 (cloth).

This first-ever biography of Maj. Gen. Walter C. Short, the senior Army commander in Hawaii on 7 December 1941, is a valuable addition to existing scholarship on Pearl Harbor. This is because, in examining Short's family background and military career before discussing the Japanese attack on Oahu, author Charles R. Anderson provides a personal context for understanding why American forces failed to mount an effective defense at Pearl Harbor.

Anderson, who was a historian at the U.S. Army's Center of Military History when he wrote Day of Lightning, Years of Scorn, begins his book by recounting Short's childhood in the small farming community of Fillmore, Illinois. As the son of a relatively prosperous physician, Short had the resources to attend the University of Illinois, from which he graduated in 1901. While a college student, he joined the university's corps of cadets—-and excelled in his military studies. Consequently, when offered a regular commission as an infantry lieutenant in 1902, Short eagerly accepted.

The book devotes the next sixty pages to covering Short's career as an officer prior to his arrival at Pearl Harbor in 1941. He served at a variety of locations, including: Fort Reno, Oklahoma Territory; Fort Crook, Nebraska; Fort Gibbon, Alaska; and Malabang, Philippine Islands. He accompanied Gen. John J. Pershing on his Punitive Expedition into Mexico in 1916, sailed with the AEF to France in 1917, and remained in Germany after the armistice until mid-1919.

Short did well professionally during this period: he was promoted from captain to full colonel in less than two years. He did not, however, make his mark as a commander or combat soldier. Rather, he "came out of the war with a reputation as a master trainer of large numbers of men" (p. 48). But Short was not without imagination: at least "within his specialty . . . [he] was an innovator" (p. 69) and his ideas about machine gun tactics were "accepted as Army doctrine for three decades" (p. 63).

In the 1920s and 1930s, Short served twice in Washington, D.C. (in the Far Eastern Section of the Military Intelligence Division and Bureau of Insular Affairs), twice at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas (at the Command and General Staff School), and in Puerto Rico (as executive officer of the 65th Infantry). He received his first star in 1936 and a promotion to major general [End Page 532] in 1939. Short was commanding I Corps at Fort Jackson, S.C., when Chief of Staff General George Marshall tapped him to command the Hawaiian Division in 1941.

The remainder of the book—more than 125 pages—examines Short's role in the Pearl Harbor debacle. Anderson persuasively argues that Marshall selected Short as the senior Army commander in Hawaii because of his diplomatic skills and training expertise. As Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, the senior Navy commander in Hawaii, had a "reputation for gruffness" and a "proven trainer" was needed "to whip into shape" the fast-growing Army garrison in the islands (p. 77), this makes sense. But in Short's strengths thus lay the explanation for his failure: although he recognized that his command was vulnerable to aerial attack, and knew that war with Japan was both certain and imminent, Short "continued to focus narrowly on his training mission . . . and internal security" (p. 201). Moreover, "in deference to anachronistic service protocol," (p. 201) Short failed to check up on what Kimmel and the Navy were doing to protect Hawaii. As a result, Short never really knew what defensive measures the Navy had taken—and he definitely did not know that Kimmel was not conducting the long-range aerial reconnaissance that he had agreed the Navy would perform. As a result, Short never got the four-hours warning that he expected to get—and the airplanes that he had ordered...


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pp. 532-534
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2010
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