Alan Zimm at World War II Round Table

The Dr. Harold C. Deutsch RoundTable

December 9, 2010- Alan Zimm, Author of over 85 Publications and Casemate’s upcoming ATTACK ON PEARL HARBOR — with Veterans of Pearl Harbor- will discuss the flaws in attack and command issues that could have influenced the outcome of attack and the events that followed December 7th.

We had a chance to get to know a little more about Alan Zimm….

When did you first realize that you wanted to become a writer?

My first published article was in 1973.  As a young naval officer I was interested in learning more about ship design, and so I took a day at the Naval Archives to look into the original Bureau of Construction and Repair files.  I discovered several designs for ships that had never been built but were uniquely interesting, such as a design for a 70,000-ton US battleship from the 1920’s, and the flight deck cruiser from the 1930’s.  Writing articles about these designs was very satisfying, as I felt they contributed to our knowledge of naval history and did it through a uniquely analytic approach, using tools not available to conventionally-trained historians.

What is it about writing that appealed to you?

I have a unique background, as a naval officer, a military analyst, a naval nuclear engineer, and developer and user of complex military computer simulations.  In addition, I developed an interest in how decisions are made in large organizations, which became the subject of my doctoral studies.  I am not a “naval historian” in the traditional sense of someone who has a degree in history.  This foundation allows me to develop insights that cannot be extracted from the traditional historical process.  With this background, I enjoy discovering something new, something true, being able to prove that it is true, and sharing these insights.

Do you have any advice for budding military history authors wanting to get published?

First, thoroughly know your subject.

Second, have a concept of what you want to accomplish.  Hopefully, it will be more than just re-hashing a subject based on a commingling of information from secondary sources.  If you don’t have something unique to offer, go to a different subject.

Third, have a completed manuscript prior to contacting publishers.  Then, be ready to re-write it with the help of a good editor.  Don’t go to a publisher that does not provide editorial review – that means that they have nothing but a commercial interest in the book, and don’t particularly care about quality.

Fourth, get experts in the field to read and comment on your manuscript.  Get a professional navy or army officer to read and comment, with especial attention to terminology and details.  Get other authors (that you respect) to read and comment.  Don’t be afraid to re-write and re-write and re-write.  For my work, after I got the comments back and I estimate that I threw out 60,000 words and added 85,000 words of what eventually become a 142,000 word final draft.  A “first draft” is really about 50% of the work.

Fifth, be conscious of every detail, however small.  Any error in detail becomes a new historical myth – a terrible responsibility.

How much research did you do for the book?  Can you give us some tips on this?

This book was the culmination of many years of work.  Archival research is critical in order to develop new insights directly from facts unfiltered by historians, who might have incorrectly interpreted the events.  Many documents in the archives from wartime reports will provide inaccurate or contradictory information (in the military, it is an aphorism that the first report is usually wrong).  The author will have to work to get to the truth.  Don’t just assume that some statement by an admiral or general was correct, do the work and verify all the statements before accepting them.

The internet offers a great deal of material that has been collected by enthusiasts, much of it transcripts of primary source documents, making research easier.  But other written summaries and historical reviews on web sites must be handled with care, as many myths and much inaccurate “conventional wisdom” is propagated at those sites.   Remember, most of those sites are the equivalent of a “vanity press,” and have not been screened for accuracy or subjected to any form of peer review.  Some web sites are great, but some are just wacky.

Why did you decide to write this book? What prompted you to put this story down on paper?

I currently work at the Johns Hopkins University as an Operations Research Analyst, where part of our job is to publish material that serves to expand our knowledge of the human experience.  I have about 85 previously-published articles, and am always looking for interesting topics – getting something published that expands the human inventory of Truth is, to me, a very enjoyable process.  While working on a project for the Naval Air Systems Command dealing with precision-guided missiles, I became curious regarding the hit percentages of the Japanese dive bombers at Pearl Harbor.  I consulted the established histories without success.   I could not find numbers or details!  There was a lot of rhetoric covering up a lack of hard facts.  For example, one history wrote of a ship that was “smothered in bombs,” but when I went to that ship’s logs, I found that the ship was undamaged.  I found many other cases where authors had resorted to hyperbole to cover a lack of specific, detailed information. It appeared there was a gap in the literature of the Pearl Harbor attack that I might be able to uniquely fill, with the kind of “post-action analysis” that I often performed as a naval officer and Operations Research analyst.  I thought I might have a short journal article on the subject.  As I dug deeper, I found more and more problems with the historical record.  My initial idea for a 5,000 word article turned into a 142,000 word book.

How long did it take you to write it?

Three years.

What do you like most about your book? Why should we read it?

I found so many errors in the historical record.  I found where a Japanese participant in the attack seriously misrepresented his role and actions in planning and executing the attack, where there were internal conflicts between the planners and the commanders of the attack, where current English-language histories have embedded significant errors into the historical record.  I found that there were many myths about the battle that could be proven or disproved by simple calculations.  I found places where American admirals made incorrect statements that historians evidently did not know enough to challenge.  I have performed many studies and analyses for the Navy, and have learned that there are times where the admirals are wrong and the analysts can prove they are wrong.  This kind of skeptical attitude charged most of the work for this book: every statement and every source was considered critically, and nothing accepted unless the facts supported the conclusion.  So, what I like best about the book is the extent in which hard analysis and calculations have overturned much of the hyperbole associated with the history of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

You should read The Attack on Pearl Harbor for three reasons:

First, it represents a radical new interpretation of the history surrounding the attack.  It is not “revisionist history,” which in my experience involves two historians flinging dueling dueling opinions aimed at achieving tenure, but rather a factual re-analysis of the attack using modern Operations Research tools that are not available to the typical historian.

Second, it demonstrates a new and unique approach to naval history, where computations and computer simulations can lead to new insights.

Third, the analysis and conclusions in the book result in a drastic  re-evaluation of the leaders and participants in the attack.  Future historians will need to evaluate the evidence in this book when the history of the war in the Pacific is reconsidered.

Who are your favorite authors, fiction and non-fiction, and why?

Most of my “favorite authors” were so kind as to help in the creation of The Attack on Pearl Harbor, either providing research assistance, sharing documents, or reading and commenting on the draft manuscript.  They are acknowledged in the book, a list too long to provide here.  Otherwise, I don’t have favorite authors as much as I have favorite topics, and I will pretty much read anything I can obtain about the War in the Pacific, the ground combat in North Africa, naval combat in general, and military theory.  I also admit to a guilty pleasure, too many hours spent in reading military science fiction.

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