The attack on Pearl Harbor was conducted by the Japanese aircraft and it is considered as the beginning of the war between Japan and the United States. The attack was unannounced and brutal and it took place on the naval base of the United States in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The unexpected attack took place on December 7, 1941. Originally, the attack was planned only as preventive effort to keep the Pacific fleet of the United States from influencing the war that was being planned by Japan in Southeast Asia. However the attack on Pearl Harbor resulted in the entry of the United States in the Second World War which has been going on for more than two years in the Europe (Minoru, 1993). There are several questions that are related with the attack on Pearl Harbor. Many people have asked the question if America could have been well prepared for the attack but if it was an intelligence failure or the failure of the foreign policy of the US. In order to properly assess the problem of Pearl Harbor, it is important to study the US foreign policy at that time (Heinrichs, 1988).
The attack took place in the same way as was hoped by Japan. It was a total surprise and killed 2,403 Americans and 1178 were wounded. Apart from the loss of human life, 18 ships were sunk or damaged seriously. Similarly, 188 airplanes were destroyed and 159 were damaged. The question still remains to be answered if the attack was really a surprise attack. Several warning signs have been received by the United States which indicated that there was likelihood that Pearl Harbor may be bound. While comprehensive plans were made by Japan to carry out this attack, on the other hand it appears that Pearl Harbor was not prepared to deal with the devastation that was caused by this attack on December 7, 1941. It is alleged by many people that the government could have been prepared for the attack if adequate communication was present between the military officers and the government in this regard. At the same time, there are many who believe that the administration of Pres. Roosevelt can be held responsible for the devastation that was caused by this attack. As a result, for the lost more than 50 years, this incident has been involved in cover-ups, speculation and deceit although a number of studies have been conducted in this regard which have tried to reveal the truth (Stolley, 1991 p119).
The major events related with the attack can be described as follows:
Some of the key people that need to be mentioned while discussing the Pearl Harbor attack are:
Franklin D. Roosevelt: the 32nd president of the US. He implemented the economic penalties due to which Japan became angry. Roosevelt also requested the declaration of war after Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japan in December, 1941.
Yamamoto Isoroku: He was the Japanese admiral who had planned the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Hirohito: He was the Japanese Emperor and the approved the plan for attack on Pearl Harbor.
Richmond K. Turner: He was the admiral of the U.S. Navy. Turner had warned that the Navy should be put on high alert status and he had also recommended that security should be increased at Pearl Harbor. However the recommendations made by Turner were only implemented in part.
In Robert Stinnett’s Day Of Deceit, it has been alleged that Japan was deliberately provoked and allowed by the Roosevelt administration to attack Pearl Harbor so that the United States can enter the World War II. In this book, it has been claimed by Stinnett that he had come across certain information that reveals that the attacking fleet had been detected by radio and intelligence intercepts however the information was deliberately prevented from reaching Admiral Kimmel, who was the commander of the base at that time (Reischauer, 1990). Since its release, this book has been referenced by those who are in favor of advanced knowledge theories. On the other hand, there are many who reject this work and point out that several key errors are present in this book and at the same time, the author has relied on some doubtful sources (Budiansky, 2002).
However in this book, Stinnett points out towards several facts in favor of his theory. For example, Lt. Kermit Tyler was contacted regarding a radar contact on an inbound flight but he told the operators that we should forget about it. It was also ordered that AAF fighters should be parked in close proximity so that sabotage can be avoided. Similarly, some officers ordered that the ammunition should be kept locked, far away from the guns (Pelz, 1974 p73).
At the same time, comparisons have also been made between Pearl Harbor and the dropping of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In this regard, several arguments are being given both in favor of and against dropping the nuclear bombs on these Japanese cities. Some arguments try to justify the dropping of nuclear bombs. In this way, the arguments that try to justify the dropping of nuclear bomb claim that "all is fair in love and war" which means that there are no specific rules that have to be followed when it comes to the efforts for winning the war by a country. On the other hand, there are many who argue that the dropping of nuclear bombs on these two Japanese cities cannot be justified because such large-scale violence, against women and children cannot be justified. However, in this regard, the fact needs to be noted that nearly 1200 men women and children lost their lives in the Pearl Harbor attack by Japan and as a result, the attack on Pearl Harbor is frequently used to justify the dropping of nuclear bombs on Japan because these forms of play a major role in bringing the war to an end (Lutton, 1991 p431).
Analysis: In this regard, it can be said that basically, the attack on Pearl Harbor sums up the previous bad relations that were present between Japan and the United States. Another ironical fact in this regard is that on the day, the attack on Pearl Harbor took place, the diplomats from the United States and Japan were discussing the moves of Japan in Southeast Asia. However the diplomats from the Japanese side were well aware of the fact that the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese was in full preparation. In fact, due to the reason that the diplomats from the US and Japan were discussing war efforts, it helped the Japanese aircrafts to launch the sneaky attack. However, the Japanese generals also regretted the attack soon thereafter. For example, Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto admitted later on that the attack Pearl Harbor may have "awakened a sleeping giant" (Utley, 1985 p173). This means that the US could have been waiting for such a move on part of Japan and the attack on Pearl Harbor could have provided an excuse to the US to enter the War. In this regard, it is important to note that Admiral Yamamoto had himself made the plan for attacking Pearl Harbor as he was the commander in chief of the Navy of Japan. However he believed that the best strategy in this regard would be to act in complete secrecy because eventually the United States would engage in Japan in a war. Therefore, it was firmly believed by Yamamoto that the only hope Japan had of winning the War was to the strike first and in this way, knock-out the military power of the US (LaFeber, 1994 p399).
At the same time, it is also believed that the attack on Pearl Harbor was also a warning to the US to remain away from the war in Southeast Asia. However, the attack was considered as a challenge by the United States and it entered the World War II with strong determination. In order to teach a lesson to Japan for the attack on Pearl Harbor, the US had also stopped the flow of oil and rubber to Japan which had a significant impact on the war efforts of Japan because these supplies are required for tanks, ships and airplanes of Japan. Another thing that needs to be mentioned in case of the attack on Pearl Harbor is that the United States was considered as the major obstacle in the way of Japanese victory in Southeast Asia as well as in western Pacific Ocean (Wohlstetter, 1962). Japan was also aware of the fact that after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Americans will go all out to take revenge from Japan and as a result, the only possible way to defeat the United States would be to invade other countries so that supplies could be received from these countries (Utley, 1985 p173).
It has been revealed by historical analysis over the years that a number of warning signs were present during the months before the attack and some military leaders of the US, including Admiral Turner were concerned regarding the vulnerability of Pearl Harbor base to an attack from the Japanese (Wohlstetter, 1962). Moreover the US also succeeded in decoding and reading the Japanese military communications up to sometime before the attack when the military codes were abruptly changed by Japan. Under these circumstances, most of the people in the US administration, including Pres. Roosevelt were almost certain that some kind of major action was being planned by Japan against the interests of the US. In fact, a meeting had been scheduled for December 7 in order to discuss this matter. However, the administration was not aware of the target of the attack and similarly the authorities at Pearl Harbor were not notified to remain on alert (Reischauer, 1990).
Pres. Roosevelt had also appointed a commission of inquiry after the attack on Pearl Harbor in order to decide if negligence could have contributed in the success of Japan in its attack on Pearl Harbor. In the report of the commission, it was found that the Army and naval commanders stationed in the Hawaiian area, Maj. Gen. Walter C. Short and Rear Admiral Husband E. Kimmel were found to be guilty of "errors of judgment" and "dereliction of duty". Subsequently, these two officers retired from the Armed Forces. Similarly, a bipartisan Congressional committee also undertook an investigation in November, 1945. During this investigation, the testimonies from a lot of people were heard in order to review the attack. In the report of this Committee, the main blame was also placed on Short and Kimmel however they were not found guilty of dereliction of duty but only guilty of errors of judgment (McManns, 2000).
In the end, till this date, avid speculations are going on as to what could have been and what should have been done by the United States to prevent the attack on Pearl Harbor. Much more speculations have been going on regarding the amount of information available to the United States and its allies regarding the Japanese plans of attacking Pearl Harbor. It also needs to be noted that the prime minister of Britain, Winston Churchill desperately wanted that the United States should take an active part in the War and he was continuously pressurizing his old friend, Roosevelt that America should take an active part in the war. Some historians have even gone to the extent of suggesting that specific information was available with the British intelligence regarding the attack on Pearl Harbor however, Churchill deliberately decided to withhold this information because such an attack would make the United States joined the war. However, such claims have not been confirmed although a fierce debate is still going on.
Genda, Minoru, (1993), “Analysis No. 1 of the Pearl Harbor Attack, Operation AI,” edited by Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon, The Pearl Harbor Papers: Inside The Japanese Plans (Washington: Brassey’s)
Heinrichs, Waldo, (1988), Threshold of War: Franklin D. Roosevelt and American entry into World War II, (New York: Oxford University Press).
LaFeber, Walter, (1994), THE AMERICAN AGE: The United States Foreign Policy at Home and Abroad, 2nd ed. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company).
LaFeber, Walter. (1994), The American Age: U.S. Foreign Policy At Home and Abroad: 1750 to the Present 2 ed. W.W. Norton Company. London: 399-402
Lutton, Charles. (1991) “Pearl Harbor: Fifty Years of Controversy.” Journal of Historical Review 11.4: 431
McManns, John F. (2000) “Principles First” The New American 16.3 31 January: also at https://www.thenewamerican.com
Pelz, Stephen E. (1974), Race to Pearl Harbor Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 83-94
Reischauer, Edwin O., (1990), JAPAN: The Story of a Nation 4th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company).
Stephen Budiansky, (2002), Battle of Wits: The Complete Story of Codebreaking in World War II, Touchstone Books.
Stolley, Roger A. (1991) “Pearl Harbor Attack No Surprise.” Journal for Historical Review 12.1: 119
Utley, Jonathan G. (1985), Going to War With Japan: 1937-1941 University of Tennessee Press. Knoxville, 173
Wohlstetter, Roberta, (1962), Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision, (California: Stanford University Press)
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