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May 6, 2010
Naval War College Museum
Lecturer: Joel Ira Holwitt
Topic: "Execute Against Japan"

News Release from Texas A&M University Press:

Author Examines U.S. World War II Naval Policy
COLLEGE STATION—Less than five hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a telegram from the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations ordered, “Execute against Japan unrestricted air and submarine warfare.” From that moment, the American war effort in the Pacific would target not only military assets, but all Japanese shipping: fishing trawlers, freighters, and tankers. This order would be supremely important in the outcome of the Pacific War. As Joel Ira Holwitt shows in this meticulously researched book, it was also illegal.

Unrestricted submarine warfare represented a major change in the longstanding American adherence to the classic doctrine of “freedom of the seas,” under which commercial vessels were held to have the right to navigate the oceans without threat of attack. However, this dramatic about-face in naval policy, potentially as controversial as the decision to use the atomic bomb, was never seriously contended or, until now, closely examined.

Holwitt has combed archival sources from the National Archives, the Naval Historical Center, the Naval War College, Yale University, and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library in order to reconstruct the development of both the U.S. submarine fleet and the policies for its use during World War II. As he demonstrates, faced with “the terrifying specter of an Axis victory,” U.S. naval leaders reluctantly chose a form of warfare they despised, judging it to be the lesser of two wrongs.

"Execute Against Japan” offers a new understanding of U.S. military policy during World War II. This thoughtful analysis will be a vital resource for military and maritime historians and professionals, as well as students of World War II.

JOEL IRA HOLWITT is a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, serving aboard the nuclear fast-attack submarine USS Houston. His Ph.D. in history is from Ohio State University.