Was the Pearl Harbor Attack Inspired by a Novel?
Inspiration can come from anywhere and produce unpredictable results. An artist might draw inspiration from the most mundane object. A writer can come up with a fantastical idea based on real events. And possibly, a military official could come up with the idea for a deadly surprise attack from a 16-year-old novel.
When Hector Bywater wrote The Great Pacific War in 1925, chances are he wasn’t viewing the future through some crystal ball, and yet so much about the novel ended up unfolding in almost eerily similar detail. The book's action included the “island-hopping” strategy employed by the Allies and even foresaw the Allied victory over Japan, but its most intriguing connection to the real-life war in the Pacific was the depiction of a Japanese surprise attack on an American naval force in the Pacific.
On Dec. 7, 1941, 16 years after the novel was published, a Japanese strike force attacked the naval base at Pearl Harbor and targeted the US Pacific Fleet. This begs the question of whether Bywater, a former British naval spy, was simply insightful enough into the brewing conflict in the Pacific to be able to predict the Pearl Harbor attack, or if it’s possible that The Great Pacific War served as an inspiration for the idea.
Yamamoto’s Pearl Harbor Inspiration
Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was a revered military strategist, which is why when the time came to begin formulating a plan to attack the United States, he was enlisted as the mastermind behind the operation.
As admiral of the Imperial Japanese Navy, Yamamoto devised the strategy to attack Pearl Harbor using a strike force that would make its way across the Pacific undetected. Though Yamamoto was credited with formulating and planning the Pearl Harbor assault, there are hints that point to the admiral finding inspiration in the words of the British military novelist.
Not long after The Great Pacific War was published, it was translated into Japanese. Officers of the Imperial Navy read the novel and, according to journalist William H. Honan, Yamamoto had taken a great interest in Bywater’s works. Honan went so far as to say that the Japanese admiral read the novel “so assiduously… that it is no exaggeration to call Hector Bywater the man who invented the Pacific War.”
While it’s easy to read too much into the similarities between The Great Pacific War and the real-life war in the Pacific, there remains the strong possibility that Yamamoto's thinking was influenced at least to some degree from reading the novel. The book was certainly not the catalyst for the attack on Pearl Harbor, but there were enough similarities between Bywater’s work and Yamamoto’s eventual plan that one could reasonably argue that the author’s words from the 1920s played a part in shaping the admiral’s decision.