Days of Infamy: Active History and the Teaching of History

This week our new novel, Days of Infamy, is being published by St. Martin’s Press. Days of Infamy is the sequel to Pearl Harbor, (just released in paperback) and carries on the story of “what might have been” if a different, more aggressive commander — Admiral Yamamoto — had led the Japanese Fleet in their surprise attack at Pearl Harbor in December, 1941.

The Wrong Admiral for the Wrong Job

In real history, the Japanese high command assigned their Pearl Harbor strike force of six aircraft carriers to Admiral Chuichi Nagumo. If ever there was an assignment of the wrong man for the wrong job, it was this one.

From the beginning of his forty-year career, Nagumo had been trained in surface warfare, especially the use of destroyers and cruisers as “hit and run” weapons. Thinking like a destroyer commander, he always saw the attack on Pearl Harbor as a “hit and run” raid: Go in, strike, then get out as fast as possible. He believed, as did most admirals in virtually every navy in 1941, that the battleship was the key to victory — and that the aircraft carrier was just a vulnerable and limited auxiliary to the battleship.

Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

The real history of Pearl Harbor demonstrates the results of Nagumo’s caution and traditionalism. After the two initial air raids, Americans forces on Oahu were wide open for total destruction. Our repair shops, dry docks, five million precious barrels of oil stockpiled in flimsy tanks, and especially our aircraft carriers (which luck, or fate, had placed outside the harbor that morning) were all vulnerable to renewed attack. The Japanese could have inflicted grievous additional blows. But a cautious “hit and run” admiral ordered an immediate retreat instead, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Thus our fascination with what we call “active history.” Pearl Harbor asked readers to consider how profoundly different December 7, 1941, would have been if, instead of a cautious “hit and run” commander, the attack on Pearl Harbor had been led by Admiral Yamamoto, a man who understood the value of aircraft carriers and air power and whose goal was to wipe the slate clean on the first day of the war, sinking all of our carriers and gaining total air superiority across the Pacific.

Days of Infamy picks up where Pearl Harbor left off and invites readers to imagine how the ensuing battle in the Pacific might have been different with a small but significant twist in history.

Making History Come Alive

“Active history” is a concept my co-author, historian William Forstchen, and I developed a few years back (along with Albert Hanser, a contributing editor of all our books) to get people more interested in the leaders and events that have made us who we are. We were tired of history being taught in a boring way that forces students to memorize dates and events. That method makes people think of history as something to “get through” rather than something to enjoy, think about, argue over, and discuss.

As history professors (all three of us have doctorates in history and have taught with enthusiasm and excitement) we wanted to inject excitement and a dynamic sense of “what might have been” into the study and teaching of history.

So we developed the concept of active history. Active history teaches readers the events that have shaped their lives by inviting them to compare what actually happened with what might have happened. It shows how the wisdom — and the folly — of decisions made in the past impact our lives today, and how our decisions, in turn, will effect our children and grandchildren.

Gettysburg, Grant Comes East, Never Call Retreat, and Pearl Harbor

In Gettysburg, Grant Comes East, and Never Call Retreat we developed an active history version of the Civil War beginning with Lee winning at Gettysburg (which General Bob Scales and Colonel Leonard Fullenkamp of the Army War College helped us develop and think through).

In Pearl Harbor we began applying the model of active history to World War II in the Pacific. Many years ago we wrote 1945 as an active history of WWII in Europe involving Germany, but we decided that for a longer series we wanted to focus on the Pacific. Even as Asia is becoming more and more important to the United States economically and militarily, much of the history of twentieth-century Asia has not been fully explored and written about.

Admiral Yamamoto: A Risk-Taking Air Power Advocate

In real history Admiral Yamamoto was both the intellectual force behind the Japanese naval strategy in 1941 and a leading advocate of naval airpower. He had commanded an aircraft carrier and was head of the Japanese navy’s aeronautics department. He had presided over the development of several Japanese naval aircraft and had thought long and hard about the use of aircraft carriers.

From a novelist’s perspective there is an additional aspect of Yamamoto’s personality that is intriguing. He was a very successful gambler. He had won a lot of money at poker while serving in the United States and had been successful in the casinos of Monte Carlo while serving in Europe.

A Dramatically More Aggressive and Daring Japanese Attack

In Pearl Harbor, our decisive, active history plot twist was to shift from the timid, battleship-oriented Nagumo to the gambling, airpower advocate Yamamoto. We showed the initial evolution of a dramatically more aggressive and daring air attack.

Many students of the Pearl Harbor attack have wondered what would have happened if there had been a third wave of attack late in the day on December 7. In Pearl Harbor we give them our interpretation of that event.

In our active history there is a third wave launched at the now virtually defenseless naval and air facilities. Virtually all of the American aircraft had been destroyed on the ground in the first wave, and those who had gotten into the air were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of Japanese aircraft.

If Yamamoto Had Commanded, Would He Have Left After Just One Day?

Now, in Days of Infamy, we ask a simple question: Would Admiral Yamamoto, knowing that he had complete air superiority, have left after just one day of attacks? We suggest that, unlike Nagumo, who wanted to leave as quickly as possible, Yamamoto would have planned for the possibility of staying two or three extra days. That means, for one thing, that he would have had to bring his tankers closer to Hawaii for the refueling needed for his destroyers.

And how would Yamamoto have evaluated the first day’s success?

Where Nagumo focused on the sinking of the American battleships and felt very successful, we believe Yamamoto would have focused on the absence of the American aircraft carriers in the harbor that morning and would have felt very frustrated and almost in danger of failure.

Two Different Leaders, Two Different Histories

These two different views of what happened on December 7, 1941, demonstrate the importance of personality and doctrine in leaders.

Nagumo believed in a weapons system of the past. Yamamoto believed in the weapons system of the future. Therefore, they could look at the same evidence and reach exactly the opposite conclusions.

Nagumo was timid, tended to avoid risks, and valued safety for his ships over damaging the enemy’s ships. Yamamoto was a gambler, a calculating risk taker, very aggressive, and focused on how many American ships he could sink — not how many Japanese ships he could keep safe.

This intersection of personality and doctrine leads to a dramatic difference in how two different leaders would have fought at Pearl Harbor.

The Hunt for the Saratoga, the Lexington and the Enterprise

In Days of Infamy we carry the story to its next logical stage.

Admiral Yamamoto, having achieved decisive surprise on Sunday morning and having established complete air and sea superiority over the America forces, is now in a position to hunt for the missing American aircraft carriers.

The Japanese believe there are three American aircraft carriers in the Hawaiian Islands. Actually one of them, the Saratoga, has gone to Bremerton, Washington for refitting in such secrecy that the Japanese do not know it is gone (in real history, the Saratoga was actually pulling into San Diego on its way back from refitting on December 7).

The Lexington is near Midway where it is delivering aircraft (it would turn back, keeping the aircraft with it).

The Enterprise is on the way back from Wake Island, having delivered aircraft there.

Halsey versus Yamamoto in the Pacific

Admiral Halsey is in command of the Enterprise task force. He was America’s most aggressive admiral. It is not surprising, then, that Halsey’s reaction to the news of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor is to hunt the Japanese.

Given Yamamoto’s willingness to take risks and Admiral Halsey’s confidence, it is easy to imagine the two of them aggressively seeking to destroy each other’s forces in the battle that begins on December 8, the day after Pearl Harbor.

And that is where Days of Infamy begins….

Your friend,

Newt Gingrich

P.S. — I’ve heard from many of you about my new ad with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. As I’ve said before, I believe that protecting the environment is an issue that conservatives must take seriously in order to promote innovative, entrepreneurial solutions to our environmental challenges rather than the regulation, litigation, and bureaucracy advocated by the left. If you have thoughts on this topic or would like to join in our ongoing discussion about Green Conservatism just click here.

P.P.S. — A big week of endorsements and adoptions for the Platform of the American people!

The Nevada GOP held their state convention this weekend and adopted 13 planks/principles from the Platform of the American People into their party platform!

They also pledge to hold Nevada elected officials and those running to be Nevada elected officials accountable to the items in their platform. This is an example of what conventions and platform building should truly be about. Read more about the Nevada convention and see which planks they adopted!

U.S. Representative, Kay Granger (R-TX) endorsed the Platform of the American People this week!

Join the excitement! Sign up to be a part of the movement! And, as always, stay tuned to for more updates.