Pearl Harbor + 71

A date which will live in infamy

See Bookworm’s post and video from 2009 and her post from 2011; also, some alternate history from Shannon Love.

In 2010, Neptunus Lex posted a video of FDR’s speech, accompanied by relevant newsreel footage. See also his eloquent post from 2006.

Last year Jonathan worried that the cultural memory of the event is being lost, and noted that once again Google failed to note the anniversary on their search home page, whereas Microsoft Bing had a picture of the USS Arizona memorial.
(12/7/2012: same thing this year, at least as of this posting)

Shannon Love analyzes how Admiral Yamamoto was able to pull the attack off and concludes that “Pearl Harbor wasn’t a surprise of intent, it was a surprise of capability.”

Via another excellent Neptunus Lex post, here is a video featuring interviews with both American and Japanese surivors of Pearl Harbor.

8 thoughts on “Pearl Harbor + 71”

  1. There was a fascinating book I read on Pearl harbor –

    I thik his main premise – that FDR knew exactly what the Japanese were going to do – is a bit off but his offering previously secret Navy communications cables – offered under the FOIA – is pretty compelling.

    I think it was America’s mindset at the time – more than the information – that lulled us into complacency.

  2. I think that in addition to Shannon Love’s telling narrative, there is another level of surprise; that we can perhaps call geo-political. Roosevelt made a major misjudgement of Japanese reactions when he orchestrated the oil embargo on Japan in 1941, leaving Japan a stark choice of surrender to American demands vis-a-vis China, or within 6-12 months being unable to wage war anywhere or support their domestic economy.

    He assumed that:

    a) the Japanese government was akin to western governments, with the military totally subordinate to the civil. His State Department totally ignored the special provisions of the Meiji Constitution that gave the Army veto power over the civil government, and the repeated use of that power.

    b) he failed to comprehend that the Army’s actions in China had a dynamic that was totally outside civilian control. He ignored the assassinations of government officials who opposed that dynamic by Army officers throughout the 1930’s.

    c) he judged that the Japan of the time would yield when pressed by outsiders, the way a Western government might yield on a point of contention and try to win again later. That was a total misreading of the Japanese culture of the time.

    Of course, since Roosevelt is a saint to the American Left, it will be at least another generation before historians will be allowed to criticize his faults; assuming that history has not been totally re-written by then.

    Subotai Bahadur

  3. Let me immodestly add a post of mine, which in part contradicts Shannon’s argument.

    Here’s the key paragraph:

    “But why didn’t our experts consider the possibility that the Japanese would also attack Pearl Harbor? It was not, as claimed in this post, because our experts did not think that a carrier attack on Pearl Harbor was possible; in fact, such an attack was part of one official estimate. We knew that such an attack was possible in part because we had done it ourselves. In a Navy war game a year or so before the attack, a team had surprised Pearl Harbor in much the same way the Japanese did. (Ironically, when the Japanese war-gamed Midway, their team playing the American side surprised the Japanese team in much the same way we did in the actual battle.)”

    (I think Subotai, and perhaps others, will find the rest of the argument of interest.)

  4. Jim Miller,

    Ahem, I didn’t say in my post that the attack was “impossible”, I said:

    The combination of all these factors meant that even though Admiral Kimmel, General Short and others understood the theoretical dangers of a carrier attack on Pearl Harbor, they didn’t think it a likely enough scenario to take counter measures against, especially if that meant exposing Pearl Harbor to more likely forms of attack.

    Remember that astronaut murder attempt where the crazed astronaut drove straight through from Texas to Florida wearing adult diapers so she could make the trip so short a time as to effectively give her an alibi? It’s possible that every murder could be carried out by someone traveling a great distance in an unlikely amount of time but that’s not how cops start an investigation.

    If you read the details about all the pre-war mock and war game attacks on Pearl Harbor from the American side, they usually gloss over the part about actually getting the carriers to Hawaii and the actual likely hood of the Japanese taking that gamble. Just because they had gamed that the Japanese might do a lot of damage if the Japanese could and would send their carriers a quarter of he way around the planet to attack Pearl, that doesn’t translate into the war games and mock attacks demonstrating that it was the most likely form of attack.

    Kimmel’s plan was actually sound based on the both the original Japanese planning and their fallback plan if their carriers were detected before coming into range of Pearl Harbor and the Pearl attack was aborted. If one ship or trawler had wandered out of the sealanes and encountered the Japanese task force, the conflict would have unfolded very much as American planners originally foresaw.

    Remember, they couldn’t defend against everything. Defending against a carrier attack meant weakening the defense against all other forms of attack.

  5. BTW, vaguely OT, by speaking of alternative history fiction, I’d point out to anyone who hasn’t encountered it that there’s a great “fork” in WWII alternative military fiction called Destroyermen by Taylor Anderson.

    After the fall of Singapore, a decrepit WWI destroyer fleeing the battle’s failure runs through a strange storm that transports it to a different world where dinosaurs never died off, but a lemurian species, as well as a raptor-like species, have developed to sentience. As time in this world passes, they discover there are also humans present from other storms like the ones which brought them there.

    The main basis of the book series is that this formerly decrepit destroyer is now the highest form of technology on the planet (not exactly, but you’ll have to read it, if it interests you). Yes, the author does deal with the obvious fueling issues.

    It’s a nice change from standard military alternate histories, which tend to focus on either the Civil War or WWII.

    Anderson is former US Navy, so he works to get the military details right.

    Along with Island in the Sea of Time (S.M. Stirling’s Nantucket series, a sub-series of the Emberverse) I think it’s one of my favorite alt histories.

  6. I’ve bumped into a lot of denialism about the West’s part in winning the WWII eastern front. I bumped into this quote attributed to Zhukov. I’ll assume it’s accurate and let those with more interest and more resources fact check it for accuracy:

    “It is now said that the Allies never helped us . . . However, one cannot deny that the Americans gave us so much material, without which we could not have formed our reserves and could not have continued the war . . . we had no explosives and powder. There was none to equip rifle bullets. The Americans actually came to our assistance with powder and explosives. And how much sheet steel did they give us. We really could not have quickly put right our production of tanks if the Americans had not helped with steel. And today it seems as though we had all this ourselves in abundance.”

    The Lend-Lease program made a huge difference in the strength of the Soviet’s resistance. Don’t kid yourself.

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