- From Mahan to Pearl Harbor: The Imperial Japanese Navy and the United States
One should take with a grain of salt some electronic reviews of Sadao Asada's latest volume. This book is not about the Japanese government, nor about Japanese society, the Army, or royal leadership, writ large. It is a well- researched and well-written volume about the Japanese Navy and how it sought power. While some will lament the lack of a multifaceted examination beyond 1941, one takes such a view with great risks.
The book is a well-executed examination of the Japanese Navy from Alfred Thayer Mahan's first seapower study in 1890 to the attack upon the American naval base at Pearl Harbor. The in-depth research focuses upon the Navy's drive to international power and is complemented by Asada's access to materials held in private hands. Furthermore, Asada provides a substantive look at the idée fixe in the minds of the influential fleet (antidisarmament treaty) faction. A substantial number of such officers are well presented. They believed that the Navy would have to possess a "bigger stick" if it was to serve as the primary guardian of national security.
Some might take Asada to task for his repeated references to the Navy's desire for a sufficient ratio in fleet power vis-à-vis the United States. However, such critics would miss the point. First enunciated in 1907, the concept of a battlefleet rated at 70 percent, or more, of that possessed by the U.S. Navy guided future generations of conservative naval planners right up to the eve of war. Asada demonstrates that an idea planted in the first decade of the twentieth century, like the American War Plan Orange, shaped (and drove) future naval policy and planning. Thus, Japanese naval officers fretted repeatedly and loudly about the perceived ratio disparities forced upon Japan in the interwar disarmament treaties. Even if there was no wide-ranging conspiracy by the Anglo-American naval powers, the failure to achieve a larger ratio served to reinforce the idea that Japan had been compelled to accept a weaker standard of naval defense. One notes, however, that the concept of total war obviated somewhat the notion that only a battlefleet could provide security for an island nation.
In the case of the ratios, however, the Japanese were unable to sustain for long the vision of a deterrent naval force compelling either a retreat or a decisive defeat of their identified number one "hypothetical enemy." Asada's closing highlights several elements of that Japanese failure. Some might not fully agree with the use of typically Western jargon, i.e., "Mirror-imaging" and "group think," but this book is a most valuable addition to the collection [End Page 1270] of any historian or layperson interested in the process that led the Imperial Japanese Navy to Pearl Harbor and destruction. One notes with a bit of woe that the number of historians and scholars in the field remain small. Asada's influence will be felt for a long time, but his absence will leave the discourse poorer.