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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Remember Pearl Harbor

Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. …… With confidence in our armed forces — with the unbounded determination of our people -- we will gain the inevitable triumph — so help us God. — Franklin D. Roosevelt, December 8, 1941

It was 7:30 in the morning of a clear day on December 7, 1941, over the Pacific Ocean, near the Hawaiian Islands. Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, of the Japanese Imperial Navy, could see the brilliant sunrise out of the starboard window of his Nakajima B5N2 "Kate" bomber as he made his way in a southwesterly direction towards the coast of the island of Oahu and Opana Point at 300 miles per hour. In another 25 minutes he would begin his dive and bombing run on the U.S. Navy ships and installations at Pearl Harbor.

Fuchida was leading a flight of 183 B5N2 “Kate” bombers armed with 1,760 lb armor piercing bombs and type 91 shallow water torpedoes. A second wave of 171 Japanese Navy planes led by Lieutenant-Commander Shigekazu Shimazaki would follow within the hour.

Fuchida had left Japan on November 26, 1941 as part of a strike force consisting of six aircraft carriers under the command of Admiral Chuichi Nagumo with the mission of destroying the U.S. Navy’s fleet at Pearl Harbor so Japan could gain total control of the Pacific Ocean. The overall commander and planner of the operation was Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Chief of Naval Operations.

When the first planes appeared over Pearl Harbor on that Sunday morning flag raising ceremonies were just beginning on many of the ships laying at anchor. Sailors were dressed in their white uniforms and the bands were striking up the first notes of the Star Spangled Banner. It did not take long for many of those white uniforms to turn red with blood or black from the oily smoke of burning ships.

Ninety minutes after it began, the attack was over. 2,386 Americans died (55 were civilians, most killed by unexploded American anti-aircraft shells landing in civilian areas), a further 1,139 wounded. Eighteen ships were sunk or run aground, including five battleships. Of the American fatalities, nearly half of the total was due to the explosion of Arizona's forward magazine after it was hit by an armor piecing bomb from a Japanese plane.

Already damaged by a torpedo and on fire amidships, the battleship Nevada attempted to exit the harbor. She was targeted by many Japanese bombers as she got under way and sustained more hits from 250 lb bombs which started further fires. She was deliberately beached to avoid blocking the harbor entrance.

The California was hit by two bombs and two torpedoes. The crew might have kept her afloat, but were ordered to abandon ship just as they were raising power for the pumps. Burning oil from Arizona and West Virginia drifted down on her, and probably made the situation look worse than it was. The disarmed target ship Utah was holed twice by torpedoes. The West Virginia was hit by seven torpedoes, the seventh tearing away her rudder. The Oklahoma was hit by four torpedoes, the last two above her belt armor, which caused her to capsize. The Maryland was hit by two of the converted (as bombs) 16 inch shells, but neither caused serious damage.

Although the Japanese concentrated on battleships (the largest vessels present), they did not ignore other targets. The light cruiser Helena was torpedoed, and the concussion from the blast capsized the neighboring minelayer Oglala. Two destroyers in dry dock, Cassin and Downes were destroyed when bombs penetrated their fuel bunkers. The leaking fuel caught fire; flooding the dry dock in an effort to fight fire made the burning oil rise, and both were burned out. Cassin slipped from her keel blocks and rolled against Downes. The light cruiser Raleigh was holed by a torpedo. The light cruiser Honolulu was damaged but remained in service. The repair vessel Vestal, moored alongside Arizona, was heavily damaged and beached. The seaplane tender Curtiss was also damaged. The destroyer Shaw was badly damaged when two bombs penetrated her forward magazine.

Of the 402 American aircraft in Hawaii, 188 were destroyed and 159 damaged, 155 of them on the ground. Almost none were actually ready to take off to defend the base. Of 33 PBYs in Hawaii, 24 were destroyed, and six others damaged beyond repair. (The three on patrol returned undamaged.) Friendly fire brought down some U.S. planes on top of that, including five from an inbound flight from Enterprise. Japanese attacks on barracks killed additional personnel.

Fifty-five Japanese airmen and nine submariners were killed in the action, and one was captured. Of Japan's 414 available planes, 29 were lost during the battle (nine in the first attack wave, 20 in the second, with another 74 damaged by antiaircraft fire from the ground.

Several Japanese junior officers, including Fuchida and Minoru Genda, the chief architect of the attack, urged Nagumo to carry out a third strike in order to destroy as much of Pearl Harbor's fuel and torpedo storage, maintenance, and dry dock facilities as possible. Military historians have suggested the destruction of these would have hampered the U.S. Pacific Fleet far more seriously than loss of its battleships.  If they had been wiped out, "serious [American] operations in the Pacific would have been postponed for more than a year”, according to American Admiral Chester Nimitz, later Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, "it would have prolonged the war another two years.” Nagumo, however, decided to withdraw for several reasons:
  1. American anti-aircraft performance had improved considerably during the second strike, and two thirds of Japan's losses were incurred during the second wave. Nagumo felt if he launched a third strike, he would be risking three quarters of the Combined Fleet's strength to wipe out the remaining targets (which included the facilities) while suffering higher aircraft losses.
  2. The location of the American carriers remained unknown. In addition, the Admiral was concerned his force was now within range of American land-based bombers. Nagumo was uncertain whether the U.S. had enough surviving planes remaining on Hawaii to launch an attack against his carriers.
  3. A third wave would have required substantial preparation and turnaround time, and would have meant returning planes would have had to land at night. At the time, only the Royal Navy had developed night carrier techniques, so this was a substantial risk.
  4. The task force's fuel situation did not permit him to remain in waters north of Pearl Harbor much longer, since he was at the very limits of logistical support. To do so he risked running unacceptably low on fuel, perhaps even having to abandon his destroyers’ en route home.
  5. He believed the second strike had essentially satisfied the main objective of his mission — the neutralization of the Pacific Fleet — and did not wish to risk further losses. Moreover, it was Japanese Navy practice to prefer the conservation of strength over the total destruction of the enemy.
At a conference aboard the battleship Yamato the following morning, Yamamoto initially supported Nagumo. In retrospect, sparing the vital dockyards, maintenance shops, and oil depots meant the U.S. could respond relatively quickly to Japanese activities in the Pacific and six months latter defeat the Japanese Navy at the battle of Midway. Yamamoto later regretted Nagumo's decision to withdraw and categorically stated it had been a great mistake not to order a third strike.

In Europe, Nazi Germany and the Kingdom of Italy subsequently declared war on the United States immediately after they began operations against a fellow Axis member, with Hitler stating in a delivered speech:

“    The fact that the Japanese Government, which has been negotiating for years with this man [Franklin D. Roosevelt], has at last become tired of being mocked by him in such an unworthy way, fills us all, the German people, and all other decent people in the world, with deep satisfaction ... Germany and Italy have been finally compelled, in view of this, and in loyalty to the Tripartite Pact, to carry on the struggle against the U.S.A. and England jointly and side by side with Japan for the defense and thus for the maintenance of the liberty and independence of their nations and empires ... As a consequence of the further extension of President Roosevelt's policy, which is aimed at unrestricted world domination and dictatorship, the U.S.A. together with England have not hesitated from using any means to dispute the rights of the German, Italian and Japanese nations to the basis of their natural existence ... Not only because we are the ally of Japan, but also because Germany and Italy have enough insight and strength to comprehend that, in these historic times, the existence or non-existence of the nations, is being decided perhaps forever.”

Though the attack inflicted large-scale destruction on US vessels and aircraft, it did not affect Pearl Harbor's fuel storage, maintenance, submarine, and intelligence facilities.

The attack was an initial shock to all the Allies in the Pacific Theater. Further losses compounded the alarming setback. Three days later, the Prince of Wales and Repulse were sunk off the coast of Malaya, causing British Prime Minister Winston Churchill later to recollect "In all the war I never received a more direct shock. As I turned and twisted in bed the full horror of the news sank in upon me. There were no British or American capital ships in the Indian Ocean or the Pacific except the American survivors of Pearl Harbor who were hastening back to California. Over this vast expanse of waters Japan was supreme and we everywhere were weak and naked".

Fortunately for the United States, the American aircraft carriers were untouched by the Japanese attack, otherwise the Pacific Fleet's ability to conduct offensive operations would have been crippled for a year or so (given no diversions from the Atlantic Fleet). As it was, the elimination of the battleships left the U.S. Navy with no choice but to rely on its aircraft carriers and submarines — the very weapons with which the U.S. Navy halted and eventually reversed the Japanese advance. Six of the eight battleships were repaired and returned to service, but their slow speed limited their deployment, serving mainly in shore bombardment roles. A major flaw of Japanese strategic thinking was a belief the ultimate Pacific battle would be fought by battleships, in keeping with the doctrine of Captain Alfred Mahan. As a result, Yamamoto (and his successors) hoarded battleships for a "decisive battle" that never happened.

Ultimately, targets not on Genda's list, such as the submarine base and the old headquarters building, proved more important than any battleship. It was submarines that immobilized the Imperial Japanese Navy's heavy ships and brought Japan's economy to a standstill by crippling the transportation of oil and raw materials. Also, the basement of the Old Administration Building was the home of the cryptanalytic unit which contributed significantly to the Midway ambush and the Submarine Force's success.

One further consequence of the attacks on Pearl Harbor and its aftermath (notably the Niihau Incident) was that Japanese American residents and citizens were relocated to Japanese American internment camps. Within hours of the attack, hundreds of Japanese American leaders were rounded up and brought to high-security camps. Later, over 110,000 Japanese Americans, including United States citizens, were removed from their homes and transferred to internment camps.

To this day there are numerous theories that Roosevelt wanted to enter the war with Germany on the side of Great Britain. In November of 1941 less than 10% of Americans would support the United States entering the European War. The German Blitz was devastating London and the battle of the Atlantic was causing great losses to the transport of goods and war materials to England. German U-Boat wolf packs had almost total command of the shipping lanes. While the sympathies of the American people the specter of another European war was too much for the electorate. Roosevelt and Churchill were painfully aware of this condition. Even Roosevelt’s policy of Lend-Lease had luke-warm support from the Congress and American people.

It is easy to look back on the horrific atrocities of the NAZIs and not understand why the American people were so against involvement in another European war. You have to place yourself in the time period to understand that we were still living with the memories of World War I and trying to climb out of an economic abyss. Even the selling of war materials to Great Britain did not catch on with the electorate as the British were not paying in cash, but were leasing these materials. The only faction of the American electorate that was supporting involvement a European war was the Communist Party of the United States. This support came after the CPUSA had opposed such a war prior to the Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. Once Hitler’s panzers crossed the Brest-Litovsk line into Belarus and the Soviet Union the CPUSA changed their tune and completely towed the line Stalin feed them.

Theorists challenging the traditional view that Pearl Harbor was a surprise, repeatedly note that Roosevelt wanted (though did not say so officially) the United States to intervene in the war against Germany. Military historian and novelist Thomas Fleming, argues that President Roosevelt, himself, had wished for Germany or Japan to strike the first blow, but did not expect the United States to be hit as severely as she was in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

An attack by Japan on the U.S. could not guarantee the U.S. would declare war on Germany. After such an attack, American public anger would be directed at Japan, not Germany, just as happened. The Tripartite Pact (Germany, Italy, Japan) called for each to aid another in defense; Japan could not reasonably claim America had attacked Japan if she struck first. For instance, Germany had been at war with the UK since 1939, and with the USSR since June 1941, without Japanese assistance. There had been a serious, if low-level, naval war going on in the Atlantic between Germany and the U.S. since summer of 1941, as well. Nevertheless, it was only Hitler's declaration of war on 11 December, unforced by treaty, that brought the U.S. into the European war.

Clausen and Lee's Pearl Harbor: Final Judgment contains some interesting information on the intelligence available to Roosevelt and Churchill prior to the attack. On page 367 in the Appendix is a PURPLE message, dated 29 November 1941, from the Japanese Ambassador in Berlin to Tokyo. A closing paragraph reads, " ... He (Ribbentrop) also said that if Japan were to go to war with America, Germany would, of course, join in immediately, and Hitler's intention was that there should be absolutely no question of Germany making a separate peace with England. ..." According to David Irving, Churchill (having full access to PURPLE traffic) was well aware of this message, noting it in red ink. While theorists challenging the conventional view the attack was a surprise treat this as a guarantee to join after Japan's attack, it can as easily be taken as a guarantee to come to Japan's aid, as Germany had done for Italy in Libya.

The U.S. government has had ten official inquiries into the attack – the inquiry by Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox (1941), the Roberts Commission (1941–42), the Hart Inquiry  (1944), the Army Pearl Harbor Board (1944), the Naval Court of Inquiry (1944), the Hewitt investigation, the Clarke investigation, the Congressional Inquiry (1945–46) and the top-secret inquiry by Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, authorized by Congress and carried out by Henry Clausen (the Clausen Inquiry; 1946). The tenth inquiry, the Thurmond-Spence Hearing, took place in April 1995. The Dorn Report resulted from this tenth hearing.

All ten reported incompetence, underestimation and misapprehension of Japanese capabilities and intentions, problems resulting from excessive secrecy about cryptography, division of responsibility between Army and Navy (and lack of consultation between them), and lack of adequate manpower for intelligence (analysis, collection, processing).

One perspective is given by Vice Admiral Frank E. Beatty, who at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack was an aide to the Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox and was very close to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's inner circle, with perspicuous remarks as:

    "Prior to December 7, it was evident even to me... that we were pushing Japan into a corner. I believed that it was the desire of President Roosevelt, and Prime Minister Churchill that we get into the war, as they felt the Allies could not win without us and all our efforts to cause the Germans to declare war on us failed; the conditions we imposed upon Japan — to get out of China, for example — were so severe that we knew that nation could not accept them. We were forcing her so severely that we could have known that she would react toward the United States. All her preparations in a military way — and we knew their over-all import — pointed that way."

Another "eye witness viewpoint" akin to Beatty's is provided by Roosevelt's administrative assistant at the time of Pearl Harbor, Jonathan Daniels; it is the telling comment about FDR's reaction to the attack - "The blow was heavier than he had hoped it would necessarily be. ... But the risks paid off; even the loss was worth the price. ..."

Ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor", Henry L. Stimson, United States Secretary of War at the time entered in his diary the famous and much-argued statement - that he had met with President Roosevelt to discuss the evidence of impending hostilities with Japan, and the question was “how we should maneuver them [the Japanese] into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves.” You can read much more about the policies, code-breaking (JN-25), bureaucratic in-fighting within the military and politics surrounding the attack on Pearl Harbor by clicking here.

Like most of the foreign wars the United States have been involved in the Second World War has its ongoing controversy. Roosevelt, the darling of the progressive left, was always a devious politician and anglophile. Rightly or wrongly he believed we had to come to the aid of Great Britain to defeat Hitler. We had pushed the Japanese hard in the Pacific with our trade policies and embargos. Imperial Japan was starved for raw materials and was expanding into China and Manchuria to acquire them. Their occupation of these counties was harsh, brutal and inhumane. They had envious eyes on the rich oil fields of the Dutch East Indies and they wanted total control of the Pacific Ocean to reach their aims.

Roosevelt knew this and our policies were driving Japan to take military action against our Pacific Fleet to attain Pacific domination. That’s all Yamamoto really wanted. The Imperial Japanese Navy did not believe they could ultimately defeat the United States; they just wanted us out of their waters. This proved to be a flawed line of thinking. As Yamamoto stated to and aid after receiving reports of the outcome of the Pearl Harbor attack’ “I am afraid we have awoken a sleeping giant.” 1,337 days later Japan would be brought to her knees by the might of this giant in the form of two 20 kiloton atomic bombs and we would enter the nuclear age.  This giant would also provide the resources and muscle to turn Germany into a pile of rubble and cause Adolph Hitler to kill his bride and himself in a bunker deep in the bowls of Berlin. The giant would emerge as the biggest, toughest guy on the block and the world would once again be changed for a while.

We will never know with any degree of certainty whether Roosevelt was complicit in the Pearl Harbor attack. It has been 69 years since Captain Fuchida crossed over Opana Point in his Kate bomber. People with direct knowledge of the events leading to the attack have died, records and documents have gone missing and agendas have driven the debate. The fog of war grows thicker as we grow more distant from December 7, 1941. Today’s historians no longer have original documents to work with and rely on secondary accounts and published works for their research. Perhaps this is the value Julian Assange provides through his WikiLeaks — the making public of classified documents. Or does it really matter? We know that the Expansionist policies or Imperial Japan, Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union were evil forces in the world and needed to be defeated. Unlike World War One, a war fought over political gain, the Second World War was necessary to cleanse the world of some very nasty people and governments. Just like 9/11 the American people, the sleeping giant, needed a wake-up call to see the face of evil in the world.

If you are interested in learning more about the attack on Pearl Harbor I recommend reading Walter Lord’s 1957 book “Day of Infamy” and watching the 1970 film Tora, Tora, Tora (Tiger, Tiger, Tiger). Lords Book is a well researched timeline account of the attack written from original documents and interviews with those present or involved, similar to the style of Cornelius Ryan’s Longest Day. Tora, Tora, Tora is a dramatic and factual account of the attack brought to the big screen by 20th Century Fox and produced by Darrel; F. Zanuck. It is the most factual account of the attack and the events leading up to it. The film is packed with action and dramatic suspense — and it’s basically true to the facts. Don’t waste your time on that 2001 chick flick Pearl Harbor starring Ben Affleck, It’s basically a love story with very little historical accuracy — pure Hollywood.

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