70 Years After Pearl Harbor, What Have We Learned?
70 years ago today the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and the world was never the same. This all ties into my upcoming third post on the American Civil War, but I’m still struggling with that. Everything is context. When I was a kid Pearl Harbor and World War Two was a considerably more living event. Every other kid’s dad was a World War Two veteran, and the entertainment media was filled with World War Two themed movies, books, comic books, games, etc. Now, not so much, and the youngest World War Two veterans are in their eighties.
So, moving right along, the Japs attacked Pearl Harbor. Those dastardly Nips attacked our peaceful anchored battleship fleet in on a Sunday morning, a day that will live in infamy forever. Barbarians! Monsters! The treacherous nature of the sub humans inhabiting Asia was well known, but it was still a huge shock to the nation. The 9/11 of its time. And I use racist language deliberately, before World War Two Asians were held in contempt by westerners, to a degree that’s hard to fathom in this day an age. It helps understand how Pearl Harbor came to pass.
The basic facts of the matter are pretty mundane. The USA and Japan had been expanding their Empires in the Pacific since the turn of the century, and conflict between them was more or less inevitable. The Japanese invasion of China in 1931 ratcheted up the tension in the region, and the outbreak of World War Two in Europe upped it another notch. After Germany destroyed France in 1940, Japan seized the opportunity, invading and ccupying French Indochina, aka Vietnam. The USA objected, embargoed US West Coast oil to Japan, and gave them an ultimatum: Until you pull out of French Indochina, no talks and no oil.
And that was that. The Japanese government was in a bind. The Japanese economy would shortly collapse if they didn’t get a resumption of American oil, or find another source. It was wartime, and all current oil supplies were spoken for, so there was no oil available on the open market. Japan could seize the “Dutch” oil fields in Indonesia, or accede to the USA’a ultimatum and hope the US resumed oil shipments from the West Coast. I could go on, but most should at this point be able to discern that Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor wasn’t some act of perfidy, but a desperate response to what only can be described as Roosevelt’s deliberate campaign to get Japan to attack the USA. He got his wish, and the rest of America got World War Two.
Moving right along, in a strictly tactical sense, the attack on Pearl Harbor while spectacular, was actually far less devastating than it could have been. Most people know that the Japanese were hoping to catch an aircraft carrier or two in port, and luckily they were all at sea at the time. It was worse than that though. In addition, the Japanese failure to bomb the dry docks in Pearl Harbor, and especially their failure to attack the US Navy fuel depot, was a tremendous missed opportunity. Damage to either would have crippled the US war effort in the Pacific for months or longer. Lastly, a case can be made that the attack in itself was a terrible mistake. Had they not attacked Pearl Harbor, the US would likely have followed their original plan, which was to sent a fleet of battleships to the Philipines to defend the US forces there. Where they would almost certainly have been sunk, with much greater loss of life and no chance of recovering the ships. Yes, all but one of the battleships sunk at Pearl Harbor were refloated and back in action within a year.
Moving right along, did the USA know that Japan was going to attack Pearl Harbor? It’s almost a certainly. The Navy had broken the Japanese diplomatic code before the war, and there is every reason to believe that they had broken the Japanese military code before the war as well. If so, why in the name of God did they allow the attack to proceed? Because it was inconceivable that the Japanese would be able attack with such devastating effect. Even caught by surprise the Navy assumed that its forces in Hawaii would easily be able to defeat whatever primitive and unskilled forces the Japanese threw at them. In fact throughout the Pacific western leaders made the exact same disastrous miscalculation about Japan’s military capabilities, and paid a terrible price for their over confidence. I have to admit that from my readings, almost every military catastrophe in history was foreshadowed by the losing side wildly underestimating their enemies capabilities. Fodder for many future blog posts there.
Lastly, God rest the souls of all who died that day. I can only hope that someday humans as a species will grow up enough so that they are no longer letting their leaders connive and manipulate them into senseless wars. (Ever here anyone talk about a sensible war?) Judging from recent trends in current events, I’m not holding my breath.
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit and is properly attributed and linked. Credit and copyright: Mitch Moore, Star Bulletin. It’s two World War Two veterans reminiscing over old times. The fellow on the left is Takeshi Maeda, he navigated a Japanese Kate Bomber during the attack on Pearl Harbor. The fellow on the right is P-51 pilot Gordon Scott, shot down and captured over Japan in 1945. They are working together to see if Scott’s plane can be pulled from its watery grave in a lake in Japan. People can get along just fine it’s our leaders that are the problem.)