“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.” — President Franklin Roosevelt, Speech to Congress, December 8, 1941.
At 7:55 a.m. Hawaii time on a beautiful Sunday morning 71 years ago on this date, a Japanese dive bomber bearing the red symbol of the Rising Sun of Japan on its wings appeared out of the clouds above the island of Oahu. A swarm of 353 Japanese warplanes followed, descending on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in a ferocious assault. The surprise attack struck a critical blow against the U.S. Pacific fleet and drew the United States irrevocably into World War II.
With diplomatic negotiations with Japan breaking down, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his advisers knew that an imminent Japanese attack was probable, but nothing had been done to increase security at the important naval base at Pearl Harbor. It was Sunday morning, and many military personnel had been given passes to attend religious services off base. At 7:02 a.m., two radar operators spotted large groups of aircraft in flight toward the island from the north, but, with a flight of B-17s expected from the United States at the time, they were told to sound no alarm. Thus, the Japanese air assault came as a devastating surprise to the naval base.
Much of the Pacific fleet was rendered useless: Five of eight battleships, three destroyers, and seven other ships were sunk or severely damaged, and more than 200 aircraft were destroyed. A total of 2,400 Americans were killed and 1,200 were wounded, many while valiantly attempting to repulse the attack. Japan's losses were some 30 planes, five midget submarines, and fewer than 100 men. Fortunately for the United States, all three Pacific fleet carriers were out at sea on training maneuvers. These giant aircraft carriers would have their revenge against Japan six months later at the Battle of Midway, reversing the tide against the previously invincible Japanese navy in a spectacular victory.
The day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, President Roosevelt appeared before a joint session of Congress and declared, "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." After a brief and forceful speech, he asked Congress to approve a resolution recognizing the state of war between the United States and Japan. The Senate voted for war against Japan by 82 to 0, and the House of Representatives approved the resolution by a vote of 388 to 1. The sole dissenter was Representative Jeannette Rankin of Montana, a devout pacifist who had also cast a dissenting vote against the U.S. entrance into World War I. Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war against the United States, and the U.S. government responded in kind.
The attack on Pearl Harbor was intended to neutralize the U.S. Pacific Fleet, and hence protect Japan's advance into Malaya and the Dutch East Indies, where it sought access to natural resources such as oil and rubber. War between Japan and the United States had been a possibility of which each nation had been aware (and developed contingency plans for) since the 1920s, though tensions did not begin to grow seriously until Japan's 1931 invasion of Manchuria. Over the next decade, Japan continued to expand into China, leading to all-out war between those countries in 1937. Japan spent considerable effort trying to isolate China and achieve sufficient resource independence to attain victory on the mainland; the "Southern Operation" was designed to assist these efforts.
From December 1937, events such as the Japanese attack on the USS Panay and the Nanking Massacre (more than 200,000 killed in indiscriminate massacres) swung public opinion in the West sharply against Japan and increased Western fear of Japanese expansion, which prompted the United States, the United Kingdom, and France to provide loan assistance for war supply contracts to the Republic of China.
The attack had several major aims. First, it intended to destroy important American fleet units, thereby preventing the Pacific Fleet from interfering with Japanese conquest of the Dutch East Indies and Malaya. Second, it was hoped to buy time for Japan to consolidate its position and increase its naval strength before shipbuilding authorized by the 1940 Vinson-Walsh Act erased any chance of victory. Finally, it was meant to deliver a severe blow to American morale, one which would discourage Americans from committing to a war extending into the western Pacific Ocean and Dutch East Indies. To maximize the effect on morale, battleships were chosen as the main targets, since they were the prestige ships of any navy at the time. The overall intention was to enable Japan to conquer Southeast Asia without interference.
Striking the Pacific Fleet at anchor in Pearl Harbor carried two distinct disadvantages: the targeted ships would be in very shallow water, so it would be relatively easy to salvage and possibly repair them; and most of the crews would survive the attack, since many would be on shore leave or would be rescued from the harbor. A further important disadvantage—this of timing, and known to the Japanese — was the absence from Pearl Harbor of all three of the U.S. Pacific Fleet's aircraft carriers (Enterprise, Lexington, and Saratoga). Ironically, the Imperial Japanese Navy’s top command was so imbued with U.S. Admiral Mahan's "decisive battle" doctrine — especially that of destroying the maximum number of battleships — that, despite these concerns, Yamamoto decided to press ahead.
Japanese confidence in their ability to achieve a short, victorious war also meant other targets in the harbor, especially the navy yard, oil tank farms, and submarine base, could safely be ignored, since — by their thinking — the war would be over before the influence of these facilities would be felt
The American contribution to the successful Allied war effort spanned four long years and cost more than 400,000 American lives. There were many naval and land battles during the ensuing years including such names as Midway, The Battan Death March, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa that saw some of the most vicious fighting of the Second World War. Finally after 1,347 days and the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki the Japan's Emperor Hirohito announced his country's unconditional surrender in World War II in a radio address on August 15, citing the devastating power of "a new and most cruel bomb."
Today I wager that not many people in the United States under the age of forty are familiar with the causes and effects of the Japanese attack on our naval base at Pearl Harbor. I am sure they are ignorant of the viciousness of the Japanese soldiers and the many atrocities committed by the Imperial Japanese forces, especially to their captives — including men, women and children. They are also not aware of the horrific medical experiments carried out on civilians by Unit 731 in Manchuria to develop chemical and biological weapons — more horrific than anything the Nazis did in their concentration camps.
These younger citizens while not knowing much about the causes and atrocities of the Japanese during World War II are able to quote page and verse about the evils of our dropping the two atomic bombs to end the war. This is what they learn in our schools today. The other day while listening to a radio talk show I heard a caller state that his fourth grade daughter came home with an assignment that was based on a child’s book about a little girl who had lived through the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The caller, a former Marine, after reading the book was so incensed that he requested a meeting with the teacher to discuss what he was teaching. The caller went on to state that when he confronted the teacher on the lack of context for this atomic bomb book and the reasons we were at war with Japan and the ferociousness of the atrocities of the Japanese Imperial Forces he said the teacher had no answer. All the teacher could say is that this was the required reading according to the prescribed lesson plan. In other words the teacher was clueless about the events of the Second World War and Japan’s involvement.
We have revised and perverted history in our public school system to such an extent that our K-12 students no virtually nothing about our involvement in the Second World War — or much anything else. All they seem to learn today is about civil rights, Gay marriage, and redistribution of wealth. The latest example of this is a new animated video released by the California Federation of Teachers that shows the rich “1 percent” urinating on and stealing money from the less fortunate and middle class. The purpose of the video is to explain “economic inequality” and the need for wealthy people to pay their “fair share of taxes.”
According to the Blaze:
“Tax the rich: An animated fairy tale, is narrated by Ed Asner, with animation by award-winning artist Mike Konopacki, and written and directed by Fred Glass for the California Federation of Teachers. The 8 minute video shows how we arrived at this moment of poorly funded public services and widening economic inequality. Things go downhill in a happy and prosperous land after the rich decide they don’t want to pay taxes anymore. They tell the people that there is no alternative, but the people aren’t so sure. This land bears a startling resemblance to our land. After you watch this video, click here to share with friends, and send an email to your elected officials to let them know they need to restore higher federal tax rates on the wealthy so that we may once more enjoy properly funded public services.”
Of all of the films Tora, Tora, Tora (Tiger, Tiger, Tiger) is by far and away the best and most accurate portrayal of both the Japanese and American sides of the attacks. Made in 1970 with the cooperation of the United States Navy the film details the intelligence and tactical failures of our government leading up to the attack and how the Japanese planned the attack. It also has a fantastic musical score by Jerry Goldsmith along with some terrific aerial combat scenes that are not computer generated.
Air Force, made in 1943, before all was known about the attack is based on the story of the nine B-17 bombers flying into Hickham Field during the attack. It’s basically a true story based on the crew of this B-17 Bombers.
The worst film by far is the 2001 soap opera Pearl Harbor. This film follows the story of two best friends, Rafe and Danny, and their love lives as they go off to join the war. Eventually they have a conflict over a Navy nurse (the soap opera part) and end up flying two P-40 fighter planes to take on the Japanese. The film ends with the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo. If you view this film to get your history you will end up knowing nothing. Don’t waste your time on this 2001 chick flick starring Ben Affleck, it’s basically a love story with very little historical accuracy — pure Hollywood.
Over the years there have been numerous books and articles promoting a conspiracy at the highest levels of our government to drag us into a war in Europe. Most of these “theories” blame Roosevelt for pushing Japan into a corner and forcing them to attack the United States. Due to Japan’s three party agreement with Germany and Italy after we declared war on Japan the Germans and Italian would be forced to declare war on the United States (which they both did).
It is oft times easier and more comfortable to believe fiction than the truth. In 1941 there were two major bureaucracies in the United States. One was the alphabet soup of federal agencies created during the past eight years of the Roosevelt administration. These bureaucratic agencies grew out of the efforts to mitigate the effects of the Great Depression and often worked at odds with one another. The other and more entrenched bureaucracy was the United States military. Since the end of the First World War the military had been dramatically downsized. In 1941 U.S. Army ranked seventeenth among armies of the world in size and combat power, just behind Romania. It numbered 190,000 soldiers. (It would grow to 8.3 million in 1945, a 44-fold increase.) When mobilization began in 1940, the Army had only 14,000 professional officers. The average age of majors — a middling rank, between captain and lieutenant colonel — was nearly 48; in the National Guard, nearly one-quarter of first lieutenants were over 40 years old, and the senior ranks were dominated by political hacks of certifiable military incompetence. Not a single officer on duty in 1941 had commanded a unit as large as a division in World War I. At the time of Pearl Harbor, in December 1941, only one American division was on a full war footing.
There was a constant conflict over dollars and appropriations between the Army and the Navy and the services did not share intelligence easily. This was very similar to the situation prior to 9/11 with the various intelligence agencies. It should also be noted that there were two air forces; one under the control of the Army and the other belonging to the Navy. They flew different airplanes and trained their pilots differently. The Army Air Corps wanted strategic bombers while the Navy wanted carrier-based attack fighters, dive bombers, and torpedo bombers for fighting a war at sea.
It was this military bureaucracy that created the intelligence breakdown and lack of tactical preparedness at Pearl Harbor causing both Lt. General Short (Army commander) and Admiral Kimmel (the navy commander) to be relieved of their commands after the attack for negligence and disgraced throughout history. An example of the tactical errors was General Short’s commanding that all USAAF fighters (P-40) be parked in the center of the tarmac to avoid potential sabotage thus making them a perfect target for the Japanese planes. As for the Navy it was purely by luck that Adm. Kimmel ordered his three carriers out to sea before the attack thus saving these incredibly valuable naval assets from the Japanese.
By late 1941, many observers believed that hostilities between the U.S. and Japan were imminent. A Gallup poll just before the attack on Pearl Harbor found that 52% of Americans expected war with Japan, 27% did not expect war, and 21% had no opinion. While U.S. Pacific bases and facilities had been placed on alert on multiple occasions, U.S. officials doubted Pearl Harbor would be the first target. They expected the Philippines to be attacked first. This presumption was due to the threat that the air bases throughout the country and the naval base at Manila posed to sea lanes, as well as the shipment of supplies to Japan from territory to the south. They also incorrectly believed that Japan was not capable of mounting more than one major naval operation at a time.
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. (Click here to read Vice Admiral David Charles Richardson’s critical analysis of the Dorn Report)
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.”
In the 71 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor no credible evidence has been uncovered to point to a willful conspiracy by members of the Roosevelt administration or the U.S. Military to allow the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbor. Sometimes as Sigmund Freud stated “a cigar is just a cigar.”
The attack on Pearl Harbor began at 7:55 am Hawaiian Island time, which equates to 12:55 pm Eastern Standard Time. If you were at the New York’s Polo Grounds you would have been watching the Brooklyn Dodgers getting ready to Kick Off against the New York Giants. At Washington D.C’s Griffith Stadium where the Washington Redskins were playing the Philadelphia Eagles you would have heard the public address announcer page high-ranking government and military personnel who were in attendance, but did not mention the attack. Reporters were told to check with their offices.
President Roosevelt did not learn of the attack until sometime that afternoon and within a few hours his Solicitor General, Charles Fahy, was in the White House recommending the detention of some 1,000 Japanese-Americans in the Hawaiian Islands on suspicion of espionage. This was the beginning of one of the greatest civil rights violations in the history of the Republic.
On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized military commanders to designate “military areas from which any or all persons may be excluded.” The result: More than 110,000 Japanese-Americans, plus several thousand German — and Italian-Americans, were forcibly removed from their homes and relocated to remote internment camps — “War Relocation Camps,” — Roosevelt and other officials called them where they remained until 1945.
The Roosevelt administration argued that the internment of Japanese-Americans, most of who lived on the West Coast, was a matter of military necessity. Persons of Japanese ancestry living in the United States were, the administration said, suspected of disloyalty, espionage, and otherwise aiding their fatherland, with which the United States was at war. Moreover, wrote Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt, head of the Western Command, “it was impossible to establish the identity of the loyal and the disloyal with any degree of safety.” Therefore, the administration maintained, the government had little choice but to relocate and incarcerate them all.
Some of the wronged parties fought back through the courts. In 1943, Gordon Hirabayashi challenged a curfew the government had imposed on Japanese-Americans, while the next year Fred Korematsu took on the internment policy. Both clearly had the Constitution on their side. Roosevelt had unilaterally suspended habeas corpus for Japanese-Americans, though the Constitution — Lincoln's precedent notwithstanding — only permits Congress to undertake such a drastic action, and then only “in cases of rebellion or invasion.” The Fifth Amendment prohibits both the curfew and the relocation because both deprived individuals of their liberty (and, in the case of relocation, their property) without due process of law. The 14th Amendment mandates that all persons be afforded “the equal protection of the laws,” yet Americans of certain ethnicities were being singled out for unequal treatment.
The Roosevelt administration, never much concerned with the document FDR swore four times to “preserve, protect, and defend,” was determined to defend its policies toward Americans of Japanese descent at all costs, even to the point of lying to the highest court in the land. Solicitor General Charles Fahy defended the administration’s policies before the Supreme Court in the cases brought by Hirabayashi and Korematsu. Fahy argued that the curfew and relocation were matters of “military necessity” and “military urgency.” The court bought Fahy’s arguments and upheld Hirabayashi’s and Korematsu’s convictions, thereby declaring the administration’s policies constitutional.
Fast-forward to 2010. In the course of doing research on some immigration cases, Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal began looking into the World War II internment cases. On May 24, 2011, at a Justice Department event honoring Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Katyal revealed the following:
“By the time the cases of Gordon Hirabayashi and Fred Korematsu reached the Supreme Court, the Solicitor General had learned of a key intelligence report that undermined the rationale behind the internment. The Ringle Report, from the Office of Naval Intelligence, found that only a small percentage of Japanese Americans posed a potential security threat, and that the most dangerous were already known or in custody. But the Solicitor General did not inform the Court of the report, despite warnings from Department of Justice attorneys that failing to alert the Court “might approximate the suppression of evidence.” Instead, he argued that it was impossible to segregate loyal Japanese Americans from disloyal ones. Nor did he inform the Court that a key set of allegations used to justify the internment, that Japanese Americans were using radio transmitters to communicate with enemy submarines off the West Coast, had been discredited by the FBI and FCC. And to make matters worse, he relied on gross generalizations about Japanese Americans, such as that they were disloyal and motivated by “racial solidarity.”
“It seemed obvious to me that we had made a mistake,” Katyal added. “The duty of candor wasn’t met.”
The Roosevelt Justice Department had done far more than simply make a “mistake.”
“This was a deliberate, knowing lie by Fahy to the Supreme Court,” University of California at San Diego Professor Peter Irons told the Los Angeles Times. In the 1980s, wrote the paper, Irons “had found reports in old government files that showed the U.S. military did not see Japanese Americans as a threat in 1942. His research led to federal court hearings that set aside the convictions of Korematsu and Hirabayashi. Congress later voted to have the nation apologize and pay reparations to those who were wrongly held.”
This internment was simply another act of a nation on the verge of panic after the attack on Pearl Harbor. We had been through 10 years of a devastating depression, giant dust storms on the Great Plains, migrations of thousands of unemployed, and the 1938 Orson Wells radio program scare of an invasion by Martians as he dramatized H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds.” The nation was ready to take almost any action to prevent the fear of an invasion of the West Coast by the Japanese. There are many today that point fingers at the civil liberties advocates who did not speak out in 1942 against executive order 9066, but I doubt they would have done much better in the context of the times.
The final chapter of the war with Japan ended on August 6, 1945 when a B-29 bomber named the Enola Gay dropped a 20 megaton atomic bomb on Hiroshima and 3 days latter a similar bomb on Nagasaki. On August 15, six days after the bombing of Nagasaki, Japan announced its surrender to the Allies, signing the Instrument of Surrender on 2 September, officially ending World War II.
To explain to students that the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan was ethically and morally wrong is pure nonsense. Without a thorough explanation of the causes that led to the dropping of these bombs the teacher or writer does a tremendous disservice to the students and the nation. This is one more example of how revisionist history plagues our K-12 school system today. I wonder, with trepidation, how the attack on Pearl Harbor will be remembered on the 100th anniversary of the attack.
You can read a more detailed account of the attack on Pearl Harbor in my December 7, 2010 blog “Remember Pearl Harbor.”