From “The Pearl Harbor Myth” by Alan D. Zimm:
As a wave of shock surged from Pearl Harborâ€™s burning waters, the nation stood in awe of the destruction wrought by the Imperial Japanese Navy on the U.S. Pacific Fleet. â€œThe incredulousness of it all still gives each new announcement of the Pearl Harbor attack the unreality of a fairy tale,â€ a young naval aviator stationed in Virginia wrote just hours after the attack. â€œHow could they have been so mad?â€¦ If the reports Iâ€™ve heard today are true, the Japanese have performed the impossible, have carried out one of the most daring and successful raids in all history.â€¦ The whole thing was brilliant.â€
In just 90 minutes, the Japanese had inflicted a devastating blow: five battleships were sunk, three battleships, three cruisers, and three destroyers were damaged, and nearly 200 aircraft were destroyed. The most devastating loss was the 2,403 Americans killed and 1,178 wounded. Michael Slackman, a consulting historian to the U.S. Navy, described the attack as â€œalmost textbook perfectâ€ in his book Target: Pearl Harbor (1990). Gordon Prange, the battleâ€™s leading historian, judged it â€œbrilliantly conceived and meticulously planned.â€ Another prominent historian, Robert L. Oâ€™Connell, author of Sacred Vessels: The Cult of the Battleship and the Rise of the U.S. Navy (1995), likened it to the perfection of a â€œflashing samurai sword.â€ Even the recorded narration on a Pearl Harbor tour boat says the attack was â€œbrilliantly conceived and executed.â€
Yet a detailed examination of the preparation and execution of the attack on the Pacific Fleet reveals a much different story. Even after 10 months of arduous planning, rehearsal, and intelligence gathering, the attack was plagued by inflexibility, a lack of coordination, and misallocated resources. A plan for a likely contingency was cobbled together by three midgrade officers while en route to Hawaii. The attack itself suffered significant command blunders. Though armed with enough firepower to destroy up to 14 battleships and aircraft carriers, the Japanese landed killing hits on only three battleships; luck, combined with American damage control mistakes, added two more battleships to their tally. Not only was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor far from brilliant, it also narrowly avoided disaster.