Part I: The Roads to War...
Considering the signals, warnings and consequences 75 years ago, how in the world did the attack on Oahu of Dec. 7, 1941 happen? In light of all the evidence, Imper
Craig Nelson presents that thesis in "Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness" (2016: Scribner) and shows the dangers of complacency (despite planning under War Plan Orange), hubris and racism, leading to "faulty stereotypes" and miscalculation.
"Five decades after December 7 and eight years before 9/11, Central IntelligenceNelson adds, "The Japanese, meanwhile, shared this cultural and racial blindness." While much of racially segregated and white-dominated America saw non-whites as inferior, the Japanese believed themselves to be a morally superior race – god's people un
Agency analyst A. R. Northridge summarized these attitudes in a September 22, 1993, Pearl Harbor report: 'It seems clear to me that we failed to foresee the Japanese assault largely because we were influenced by a faulty stereotype of what was an adversary nation. Today, progress in the arts of weaponry and technical intelligence collection make unlikely another Pearl Harbor kind of surprise attack, but the faulty stereotypes that can lead to grave miscalculation of an adversary's capability and intent remain with us, almost as a human condition ... what sort of people did Americans, at the time of Pearl Harbor, believe the Japanese to be, and what did they believe about Japanese intentions toward themselves? ... 'The Japanese people, given the conflicts of interest between us, will quite likely – or maybe only possibly – do us a mischief if they can; but they lack the capacity to harm us seriously, and they know that this is so. On the other hand, they are so cultivated and mannerly that it really is, after all, inconceivable that they would even try to harm us.'"
According to Nelson, "The Japanese also believed the United States was a nation governed of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich."
Warnings of impending war were clear in the lead-up to December 7, 1941, as War Plan Orange focused on the possibility of a U.S.-Japan war.
Chief of Naval Operations Harold "Betty" Stark assigned Rear Adm. Walter Ansel to do a study nearly a year before the attack, and Ansel warned Hawaii's Adm. Husband E. Kimmel and Rear Adm. Claude Bloch of the strong possibility of a "surprise attack upon the Fleet or the Naval Base at Pearl Harbor." A bizarre ad appeared in the New Yorker on Nov. 22 seeming to warn of the attack and including dice showing the numbers 12 and 7, "numbers on no known dice." Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox saw Imperial Japan's diplomats "deliberately stalling" and reported his concerns to Roosevelt on Nov. 29.
Talk to people who remember the 1930s and early 1940s and they will tell you that everyone in the country knew war was probable. Times were tense. Under a narcissistic authoritarian ruler, war was already a reality in Europe, and under a military-controlled government, Japan was waging conquests in Asia.
|Japan joins the Tripartite Axis with Germany and Italy.|
On the world's stage, Hitler brought Japan into the Axis powers. Japan's military, especially its army, took control of Japan's government and media. Japan's imperialism against China and Southeast Asia continued to escalate, but U.S.-led trade embargoes against Japan by President Roosevelt were biting into the military's expansion in November 1941.
"Japan's oil reserves were vanishing. America's Pacific forces, especially in the Philippines, were rising," Nelson writes.
|Adm. Kimmel and Gen. Short, tragic figures caught in infamy.|
In the bitter days leading up to Dec. 7, as negotiations broke down, Stark issued a new alert system for all of Oahu.
Why didn't Adm. Kimmel or the Army's Gen. Walter Short take more steps to minimize targets, conduct greater surveillance and protect major assets and otherwise mitigate a surprise attack? Is hindsight 20-20 vision? Could more have been done to prevent the debacle of the surprise attack? Clearly we underestimated our adversary.
"Japan, then, had the appearance of a civilian government, but it was a de facto military dictatorship. Yet, unlike the smooth governance offered by other fascists, all of this resulted in anarchy. In the fourteen years of the Great Wast Asia War – from 1931's Manchurian Incident, to 1945's unconditional surrender – Japan was led by fifteen different prime ministers. This wasn't just a fascistic and chaotic government; it was one so marred by threats of domestic violence that even the revered emperor regularly feared his assassination. One simple explanation for Pearl Harbor, then, is the great difficulty American leaders had in crafting an effective defense strategy against an enemy that had lost its mind."
|Imperial Japan's "God's army" invades Manchuria in the 1930s.|
As we approach the 75th commemoration of the attack on Oahu, Navy Reads is reviewing this timely and provocative book in parts, concluding with Nelson's view of the "greatest legacy" of Pearl Harbor.