Days Of Infamy
by Harry Turtledove
Review by David Hecht
New American Library Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0451213076
Date: 02 November, 2004 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Tokyo, spring 1941: Commander Minoru Genda, Japanese Navy Air Force, Imperial Japanese Navy, persuades Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander-In-Chief of the IJN, to include a full-scale invasion of the Hawaiian Islands as part of the strikes that are planned against United States bases and forces there.
With this ?what-if?? Harry Turtledove begins what promises to be another of his classic alternate-history series. This time, there are no aliens ( Worldwar and Colonization series), time travelers (The Guns of the South), or magic (Darkness and Fantastic Civil War). Rather, we have a single, pivotal change that could plausibly have occurred in ?real life?.
Although all fiction requires some suspension of disbelief, serious students of the Pacific War will find this particular change hard to swallow. The classic formulation ?Amateurs study tactics; professionals study logistics? applies very strongly here. In ?real life?, the Japanese had already made a maximum effort to attack where they did, in the Philippines, Burma, Malaya and Indonesia (Dutch East Indies). Here, we are meant to believe that a force of two divisions (on the order of 30-40,000 troops, approximately the same size as the invasion force used against the Philippines) could have been transported to Hawaii ?more than twice the distance ? and arrived capable of taking on an (admittedly unprepared and demoralized) American force of comparable size and defeating it, without significant adverse impact to Japan?s other objectives. By way of comparison, in the Midway campaign, the Japanese brought only 4,500 troops, even though their offensives elsewhere were by this time in the mopping-up phase. This stretches credulity to the breaking point and beyond, at least for this reviewer.As if this were not enough, Turtledove finds a convenient solution to the problem that plagued the Japanese from the start: what to do about the American aircraft carriers Enterprise and Lexington, both of which were at sea on that terrible day, and thus escaped destruction at Pearl Harbor. Turtledove has them engage the Japanese carrier task force ? each on their own ? with disastrous results, as Japanese aircraft send both carriers to the bottom. In reality, both ships remained at sea throughout the attack and did not participate in the battle.
After the attack, invasion, defeat and surrender of the U.S. forces, we arrive at the occupation phase. This is in some ways the most interesting aspect of the book, though the material appears similar to accounts of Japanese occupation of other Allied areas: readers familiar with the Bataan Death March will nod their heads in grim recognition.The Doolittle Raid arrives in due course, though it is conducted over Hawaii rather than Tokyo. Still, it annoys the Japanese sufficiently that they, in turn, launch a retaliatory raid on San Francisco.
As the book concludes, the Japanese have bested the Americans in yet another carrier air battle, and the local Japanese occupation authorities crown one of the claimants to the Hawaiian throne as a puppet monarch.
Days Of Infamy contains all the hallmarks of Turtledove?s work: numerous viewpoint characters, who allow us to see the action from a variety of perspectives; painstaking attention to the details of everyday life in the period; and a storyline which ?being taken from history ? is in many ways far more exciting and engaging than any conventional fiction.
Unfortunately, Turtledove?s strengths are also to some degree his weaknesses. The plethora of viewpoint characters both makes for a fractured narrative and distances us from the characters themselves: just as we become engaged, Turtledove abruptly switches to another character and another thread in his multithreaded plotline. The number of viewpoint characters is reminiscent of Turtledove?s longer series: given that this series will allegedly wrap up in the sequel, Turtledove might have considered editing down the number of characters, as he did most successfully in his recent works, In The Presence Of Mine Enemies and ? particularly effectively ? Ruled Britannia.
One helpful addition (which may yet appear in the final, published edition) would be some maps: one of the northern Pacific from Tokyo to San Francisco, and one of Oahu, so that readers unfamiliar with either the geography of the larger war fighting space, or of Oahu itself, might have a convenient point of reference. Also helpful would be a Dramatis Personae to assist in keeping track of the various characters.