Monday, March 12, 2007

What Really Happened? Pearl Harbor

Pictured: Nara Pagoda, courtesy of Fuji Film staff

by Brent Sutherland

"The first step was to place oil and steel embargoes on Japan, using
Japan's wars on the Asian mainland as a reason. This forced Japan to
consider seizing the oil and mineral rich regions in Indonesia. With
the European powers militarily exhausted by the war in Europe, the
United States was the only power in the Pacific able to stop Japan
from invading the Dutch East Indies, and by moving the Pacific fleet
from San Diego to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Roosevelt made a pre-emptive
strike on that fleet the mandatory first step in any Japanese plan to
extend it's empire into the "southern resource area."


The more I think about this whole "FDR had specific
foreknowledge of an attack at Pearl Harbor" theory the
more I think it doesn't stand up to reason and logic.
Here's why, in no particular order:

1. FDR's wanted war with Germany, not Japan. There was
no way he could know in advance that Japan's
declaration of war would cause Germany to declare war
on the US. The Tripartite Pact only required that it's
members respond to an attack on another member. Hitler
could quite reasonably say that Japan had attacked the
US first, therefore he was under no obligation to
declare war on the US. That's precisely the reason
Japan did not feel obligated to declare war on the
Soviet Union and UK when Hitler did. Given the way
Hitler had betrayed Stalin, no one could predict
exactly how he would respond to a Japanese attack on
the US.

2. It just wouldn't be possible for FDR to micromanage
naval operations at Pearl Harbour from the White House
in order to create an enticing target. The president
just does not make the decisions concerning which
vessels are in port on any given day, or how aircraft
are parked, etc.

3. The decision to declare war on the US had already
been made by the Japanese cabinet. The Pearl Harbor
attack was just the military expression of the
cabinet's intention to commence hostilities. The idea
that Japan declared war on the US just because Pearl
Harbour was a juicy target does not make sense. There
were larger issues such as the oil embargo that had
nothing to do with the inadequacies of day to day
operations at Pearl.

4. An attack at such long range by carrier was totally
unprecedented. That it was outside the imagination of
USN planners only proves that they didn't have very
broad imaginations.

5. If the USN had of engaged Nagumo's fleet at sea,
the war would have commenced in any case. FDR and the
USN would have looked very good, instead of
incompetent and the declaration of war still would
have been delivered in Washington. I'm pretty sure a
JIN fleet sneaking up on Hawaii would be a good enough
reason for war to suit the average American at the
time in any case.

6. Buy the fall of 1941 isolationist sentiment was
ebbing in the US. The USN had already depth-charged
U-boats in the Atlantic and lend-lease was in full
swing. Therefore US entry into the war in Europe was
already becoming inevitable, regardless of events in
the Pacific.

7. There was no way FDR could be assured of winning a
war with Japan. The idea that FDR would intentionally
seek a two-ocean war does not make sense. In fact, the
momentum in the Pacific war did not shift in favour of
US/Commonwealth forces until the battle of Midway in
June 1942.

8. What if USN patrols or merchant vessels had of
spotted the Nagumo fleet by chance? Did FDR have a
plan where Nagumo would be advised that his cover was
not blown despite, say..that Catalina that flew past?
After all, the Japanese were surprised at just how
lucky they got in avoiding detection. Was every
American fishing boat, etc. operating out of Hawaii in
on the whole scheme?

9. There was no way FDR could have known that the
Strike South faction had won out over the Strike North
faction back in Tokyo. Richard Sorge was well aware of
the situation, but it's very unlikely that Stalin
would have passed on Sorge's intel to the US.

10. A total catastrophe is very bad way to start a war
no matter how much said war is desired. The notion
that the loss of a vessel such as the USS Arizona
could be written just because she was "old" is absurd.
She was 25 years old at the time of her sinking. She
had her systems upgraded over the years and in fact
was undergoing radar installation at the time she was
sunk. The present USS Nimitz is now 32 years old, but
I doubt the USN brush off her loss. FDR was an
intelligent man of good character, so planning to have
the JIN sink a few battleships at Pearl just wouldn't
be his style.

"Roosevelt boxed in Japan just as completely as Crassus had boxed in
Spartacus. Japan needed oil. They had to invade Indonesia to get it,
and to do that they first had to remove the threat of the American
fleet at Pearl Harbor. There never really was any other course open to

This was originally published as a post at our Japan Living Forum.

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