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Pearl Harbor Reconsidered Part IV
The Beginning of the End
CK ‘73 50th Reunion Update
I see that several you have been clicking over to the website, and some of you let me know could not “register.” No matter what I do, I can’t get the “registration” thing to work (and their “support” doesn’t get back to me). What do you expect for free? If you want to let us know that you’re coming (and where you’re staying if you know), drop me an e-mail; Lucy’s got some stuff she’s still dealing with, so I’m handling this.
The Aftermath of Pearl Harbor
While the Pearl Harbor strike began five minutes before the diplomats were supposed to formally break relations with the United States (but hours before it was finally delivered), that minor misstep was a good deal more important to the civilian diplomats than it was to their bosses in the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy. Diplomacy no longer mattered to the samurai leadership…it hadn’t really mattered to the samurai since the Triple Intervention in 1895 “stole” Japan’s hard-won gains in China. If they were successful in their enterprise of getting the Americans back to the bargaining table in 1942, no one would either care or notice a gap between the diplomatic and the military. If the Americans didn’t stop fighting within six months, the samurai knew they were doomed.
And there is the crux of it…
Even the most enthusiastic and optimistic samurai bosses knew that in any conflict lasting over six months, Japan stood no chance of defeating any Western power, especially the United States. Resources aside, the few Japanese technological edges were razor thin. In any prolonged war, Japan from the beginning knew that she had but two real advantages: distance and time. Japan was half a world away, and that she was but one of three major enemies that the West was fighting.
Before Pearl Harbor, Japan planned everything they were to do based on a quick war.
When the British and Americans decided on “Europe first” in March 1941, it came not as a surprise but as a relief to Japanese planners. As long as Britain held out, Europe would be an easier target than Japan as long as Russia was out of the equation. The entire world expected the attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941 to require only a few months before the Soviets sought an armistice—December, at latest, which helps explain Japan’s timing. After the Soviets left the war, Japan expected Britain and the Netherlands to seek an armistice with Germany and Japan, leaving the Americans alone to face a Eurasian hegemony.
But the Japanese failed to appreciate the depths of Stalin’s hatred of the Nazi regime in 1941 and the lengths to which he could get the Soviet Union to drive its people to crush Germany.
They also failed to appreciate that their own war machine could be crippled in mere minutes by unforeseen events—in this case, two naval battles in early 1942 that devastated their cadre of carrier pilots and maintainers. Finally, the samurai didn’t realize that merely wanting—and hopefully being able—to break even as a war strategy made it extremely difficult to succeed against a superior enemy. Even if Great Britain only wanted a return to the pre-1941 status quo ante, they at least had the wherewithal to try and, sometimes, succeed.
Japan, once it lost any of its hard-won 1941-42 gains, could never get them back, and the leadership knew it.
While Pearl Harbor traditionally angered the US into a dreadful fury that ended in Tokyo Bay, any military action by Japan against any American territory in late 1941 would probably have had the same result. In the Atlantic, the US Navy had already been in a quasi-war with the Germans for close to a year by December 1941 and had lost a destroyer to German torpedoes in October. The American military was already on high alert; the National Guards and Reserves had all been called up, starting in 1940 with the fall of France, and a draft had been filling in the ranks since September 1940. American war materiel was being shipped to Britain and France (and the Soviets after June 1941) and was delivered to the “fighting French” wherever they were. Even if Japan had only ventured upon a bombing raid in the Philippines to damage the air forces, a war in the Pacific would probably have been the result anyway: the Americans were already tacit belligerents against the Germans. The complete destruction of a battleship or two in Hawaii—and twenty minutes’ worth of 1944 aircraft production—by a hazardous attack so far away wasn’t required to start a war with the US.
The Pearl Harbor attack, ultimately, was a far more devastating blow to samurai-dominated Japan than it was to the United States.
Even if the US prewar carriers had been in the harbor, the war would have delayed the ultimate result by perhaps a few months. For while rousing the sleeping giant/tiger/dragon (choose your metaphor) was the result, the destruction of Japanese military power only left a clean palette for more representative government to take hold once the centuries-old power of the samurai (“militants” to you purists) to dictate Japanese affairs had been broken. The Pearl Harbor attack should be seen as the beginning of the end of the swaggering swordsmen of Japan.
My co-author and I want to wish you all a happy, healthy and peaceful Christmas season, if you buy our book or not. Of course, they make exceptional gifts to everyone on your list…trust us.
New Year’s Eve 2022
On 24 December:
1818: Silent Night (Stille Nacht in German) was first performed in the at St Nicholas Parish Church in Oberndorf, Salzburg, Austria. Composed by Franz Xaver Gruber, with lyrics by Joseph Mohr, the hymn was first recorded in 1909. UNESCO declared it an intangible cultural heritage in 2011. It is probably the most covered tune in history, competing only with Happy Birthday To You.
1968: Apollo VII orbited the Moon, making the first Earthrise while reading from the book of Genesis. While terrestrial viewers—approximately a billion of them—saw a grainy black-and-white image, the astronauts captured it in color, which was turned into a popular poster. It was the first broadcast to fetch a larger US audience than the August 1967 finale of “The Fugitive.”
And 24 December is NATIONAL EGGNOG DAY for those of you who indulge in the stuff. Add whatever blows your skirt up to make it palatable, but enjoy!