December 09, 2013

Gordon Prange

University of Maryland professor Gordon Prange spent his entire professional life not finishing the definitive work about the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was left to a former student, Donald Goldstein, to edit 10,000 pages of notes into what would become At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor.

The story of this improbable literary and historical journey is recounted in Prange & Pearl Harbor: A Magnificent Obsession. Goldstein, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel and a professor of international affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, is featured prominently in the documentary.

Prange not only amassed an entire shipping container full of source material (the Gordon W. Prange Collection at the University of Maryland), but as chief historian in MacArthur's staff, he interviewed key players in the Pearl Harbor attack and later brought several to the U.S. as his personal guests.

The movie Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) was based on two articles Prange wrote for Reader's Digest, a précis of what would become At Dawn we Slept. Instead of laying blame for Pearl Harbor at the feet of American incompetence, Prange credits Yamamoto with executing a brilliantly planned attack.

Though it proved a Pyrrhic victory, the consequences of which Yamamoto himself prophetically foresaw:

I shall run wild [in the Pacific] for the first six months or a year, but I have utterly no confidence for the second and third years.

The tide of war turned a mere six months later at the Battle of Midway. And a year after that, Yamamoto was killed when a squadron of P-38s shot down his transport plane over Bougainville (again thanks to U.S. codebreakers).

Prange & Pearl Harbor: A Magnificent Obsession still shows up on public television stations. The Utah Education Network (KUEN) broadcasts it every year on December 7, something to keep in mind for next year. In the meantime, the DVD should be available from Maryland Public Television.

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