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Was Pearl Harbor really a surprise?
28 replies to this topic
Posted July 03 2005 - 02:08 AM
I was watching the History channel the other day and they were talking about this American who led the Flying Tigers. It seems FDR approved to give resources to China in the form of planes and training to fight Japan, and this guy talked FDR into it months before Pearl Harbor. That, and I've heard we had an economic embargo against Japan around the same time. Was the US pinching the baby behind their parent's backs?
Posted July 03 2005 - 02:23 AM
The actual attack was something of a suprise (some conspiracy theories say we even knew about that), but I believe the plan was always to engage Imperial Japan before the end of WW2, so Pearl Harbor, or a pre-emptive strike against Japan would have happened anyway.
"Did you know that more people are murdered at 92 degrees Fahrenheit than any other temperature? I read an article once. Lower temperatures, people are easy-going, over 92 and it's too hot to move, but just 92, people get irritable."
Posted July 03 2005 - 03:28 AM
Pretty much what Garrett said. We didn't think the Japanese had the capablities to launch a carrier strike that far from their homeland, so inasmuch we were caught with our pants down. Regarding China, we were doing similar things with the Brits against the Germans. Imperial Japan was not the nice quirky country that produces badly translated instructions and Hello Kitty it is now, so we pretty much were goading them into a confrontation, just didn't expect it to be so close to home.
Posted July 03 2005 - 07:19 AM
The US was the OPEC of the time, and we had embargoed petroleum (and also scrap metal) to show our displeasure about the war in China. The Japanese considered their dwindling petroleum stocks and decided to strike first before their oil reserves gave out. With the US and UK navies out of the way, they could take oil-rich Indonesia. Hitler invaded Russia in part to protect his oil supplies from Romania and also to get the Russian oil from Baku. So we could consider WWII to have been a war about oil.
Feline videophiles Condoleezza and Dukie.
Posted July 03 2005 - 10:45 AM
I don't think you can say that. Oil was a big part of strategies, but the war wasn't started in either theater just to get more oil. Oil was needed to make war.
Posted July 03 2005 - 01:20 PM
I had once read that the Japanese envoys in Washington were supposed to have told US officials that we were at war right before the attack...But, they were delayed. I don't know how much truth their is to this.
Bring back John Doe! Or at least resolve the cliff-hanger with a 2hr movie or as an extra on a dvd release.
Posted July 03 2005 - 01:53 PM
Absolutely true. The Japanese were supposed to deliver a declaration of war just before the attack, but they were delayed. I can't remember the reason and I'm too lazy to google it right now, but it might have been translation difficulties. If I remember correctly, the declaration was delivered something like an hour after the first wave.
Posted July 03 2005 - 06:28 PM
no, i figured that movie was gonna suck. oh wait, wrong discussion. muh bad. kevin t
religion is the opiate of the masses
Posted July 03 2005 - 11:29 PM
The Japanese in the Washington embassy worked throughout the night and into the morning decoding and typing up a very long message from Japan (13 or 16 pages?). I don't think the message explicitly said that a state of war existed between the U.S. and Japan, just that Japan was breaking off relations with the U.S. Due to the top secret nature of the message the normal typists in the embassy couldn't be used to transcribe the message, so one of the upper level diplomats who couldn't type, had to try to type up the message as it was being decoded, and had to start over at least once. U.S. intelligence had intercepted the message and had it decoded and typed up long before the Japanese (it was in the Japanese diplomatic code which the U.S. could read). Edwin T. Layton's book "And I Was There: Breaking The Secrets - Midway and Pearl Harbor" provides a really excellent look at the U.S. intelligence community and gives a behind the scenes picture of most everthing that went on from before the start of the war through Midway as far as the U.S. intelligence efforts in relation to Japan. If anyone is interested in WWII and the war with Japan it's a must read.
Posted July 04 2005 - 04:16 AM
Er, yes and no. Imperial Japan at the time of WWII was evil - so bad was their treatment of Brit and Commonwealth prisoners of war that I can think of a high proportion of Brits aged 70+ who still will resist buying Japanese products if they can (and they are not redneck bigots). However, if you go back to Word War I, when Japan was on the side of the Allies, their behaviour was totally different. German prisoners of war (mainly from naval battles) were treated utterly fairly and if they behaved sensibly, were allowed to visit towns near their prison camps, where they were treated more as guests on an enforced stay than as 'the enemy'. The Germans reciprocated with concerts and plays for the locals, and by all accounts a good time was had by all. So much did some of the prisoners enjoy their time in Japan that they stayed in the country after the war (this explains why parts of Japan have bierkellers). Indeed, the League of Nations praised Japan for its humanitarian treatment of prisoners. What happened is that after WWI, a nasty military junta assumed power and forced the Emperor to do their bidding. In a culture raised on unequestioning obedience and belief in group before the individual, the inevitable happened. Anyone who thinks 'it couldn't happen here' would be well advised to look at the history of Japan between the two world wars.
Posted July 04 2005 - 05:02 AM
You're right, I should have qualified it as Imperial Japan after militant nationalism and Bushido were merged in the 20's. Was just trying to be glib.
When you consider 1 in 3 allied POWs died in Japanese captivity (and let's not get started on Bataan or the Sino-Burmese railroad), probably the only worse thing to be was a member of the German sixth army (Stalingrad).
Posted July 04 2005 - 06:18 AM
You need to take another look at Mein Kampf. Invading and conquering Russia for resources of all kinds and lebesnraum, "living space", was Hitler's primary purpose in fighting the war he planned for the mid-to-late 1940s. He wasn't especially keen on fighting the West at all, although he expected in the long run that Germany would have to. He certainly wanted to humiliate and punish France. But he didn't want to fight the British under any circumstances, and was hoping for an alliance.
Hitler never envisioned the fight as a two-front war. His original plan was to neutralize the west diplomatically (as he had at Munich) while he carried on his war in the East. He never expected Fance and England to honor their guarantee to Poland for the excellent reason that they were not in any military position to aid Poland (as they might have aided the Chezchs when they needed the help.) The only country in a position to offer direct military aid to Poland was the Soviet Union - a country the Poles didn't trust (for excellent reason as history showed) and with whom Hitler had in any case come to terms. He assumed that once Poland was his France and England would back down as they had so many times in the past. He was briefly panicked when the formal declarations of war were made, because he had virtually stripped Germany of troops in the west in order to make the most decisive thrust into Poland.
But Hitler quickly regained his nerves because he understood the French in a way he never quite understood the British or came close to understanding the Americans. Although the French could have driven straight to Berlin and overthrown the Nazi state with ease, Hitler knew that they would never leave their Maginot bunkers, and he was right. Thus after mopping up Poland he could regroup and then launch another one-front war for an even quicker knock-out blow against France.
Hitler was thus in possession through conquest or alliance of most of continental Europe in the months before the invasion of Russia. The United States was hostile, but still officially neutral, and as usual Hitler misunderstood American politics, Roosevelt and the American character. Britain was barely hanging on. Hitler still had the romantic idea that he could join the British fleet to the German Army and forge an unshakable Master Race coalition. (Let's remember that the Angles, Saxons and Jutes all came from "Nordic" and often "Germanic" lands, originally. Even the Norman conquerors who overthrew the Saxon monarchy were more Viking - "Norman" is a cognate of "Norseman" - than French in culture.) So Hitler (a) didn't want to crush England at the time and (b) didn't have the physical means and © didn't think it would be necessary in the long run.
In any case, despite pinpricks like commando raids at various places in Europe and some skirmishing in the African colonies, Hitler really wasn't fighting a war on any fronts after the fall of France in the spring of 1940. As far as he was concerned he had dealt with an unexpected threat in the form of the 1939 declarations of war and secured his rear by defeating France and neutralizing England. Now he could continue with the great project to which the invasion of Poland had only been a prelude - the long-planned invasion of the Soviet Union. This was not an act of desperation and not a response to a sudden need for oil. (Hitler had had access to the Ploesti oil fields in Chezchoslovakia for years, and had every hope of taking those of the middle east once Britain was out of the war.)
Hitler had convinced himself that the only reason Britain was hanging on was the hope that Russia would enter the war on their side. Hitler was sure that he could topple the Soviet Union in a single lightning campaign. ("One only has to kick in the door and the whole rotten edifice will come crashing down.") Britain had always depended on land allies in Europe along with its sea supremacy to defeat its enemies in the past. He believed that once Russia was off the table, Britain would have no choice but to accept a negotiated peace. Again, he never anticipated a two-front war, much less dove into one out of desperation to secure oil.
Re: The Pearl Harbor "conspiracy" theorists:
Like most such "theorists" they sieze on a few isolated anomalies, mistakes in testimony or reporting and imperfections in official reports to assemble elaborate intellectual constructs - which seem internally consistent, but which collapse either under the weight of their own contradictions or because they fail the comnmon sense test. They also make the mistake of anayzing the thoughts, motives and decisions of people involved in the light of events that would happen later, and of which the individuals had no knowledge at the time.
1. Had the U.S. been planning for war against Japan for years? It depends on what you mean by "planning"?
Military organizations develop contingency plans all the time precisely so they won't be surprised by events and forced to improvise from scratch. In looking at the military horizon in the 1920s, a time when the U.S. had acquired additional Pacific possessions after WWI and continued to develop its missionary ties to China, the Navy correctly concluded that the most serious potential threat to U.S., allied and neutral interests would be the superb Japanese Navy. Japan was becoming increasingly acquisitive and its conquest of Manchuria (and long undeclared border war with the Soviet Union) were making its aggressive military more influential. So the Navy and Marines fought a series of war games involving the hypothetical opponent "Orange" to develop strategy and tactics that could be used to push a conquering force back across the Pacific in the, oh, general direction of Japan.
Were these "plans to fight a war"? Not in intention. But they were certainly plans for "how to fight a war" if you happened to end up having to do so. The British and the Soviets did similar planning, and so - Heaven knows - did the Germans and Japanese. In September of 1939 the British and French went to war according to a well-established war plan that had been sitting in the files for years. If the Germans had acted as that plan expected, it probably would have worked. In early 1942 the U.S. was unable to fight the war it got according to its "Orange" plan, because Pearl Harbor had sunk the battelships the plan depended on. But after mid-1942, when the refloated and new battleships had been refloated, and when doctrine was rewritten around the aircraft carrier, the island hopping campaign that pushed the Japanese back across the Pacific largely conformed with the "Orange" plans developed a decade earlier.
2. What was FDR's position in late 1941?
He was concerned about both German and Japanese fascism and imperialism - but he considered Hitler by far the worst and most immediate threat. Although the U.S. remained officially neutral - because the American people were not ready to enter the war and it would have been political suicide for FDR to push them too far - it was already offering "all aid short of war" to the Allies and secretly doing much more.
Joint staff meetings with the British (supposed to be secret, but leaked to a Chicago newspaper) were already underway - and the policy was settled - "Germany first." FDR knew that we'd have to fight Japan eventually, but, again, he saw Germany as the primary threat. The Rainbow 5 plan that emerged from these talks (a play on the fact that it combined earlier color-coded contingency plans) called for a holding action in the Pacific against Japanese expansion, and an all-out effort to destroy the Nazis in Europe. Once Europe was eliminated, Japan could be dealth with. (Especially if the Soviet Union could be brought in against Japan to threaten Manchria, China and the home islands, while the U.S. and British fleet dealt with Japan's overseas possessions, crippled its tradde and finally drove on the home islands from the sea.)
With hindsight, we see "WWII" as the struggle against Japan and Germany (with Italy thrown in as a comic-opera bit player.) At the time "WWII" was undersood as a resumption of WWI - where despite all the fighting elsewhere, the vital theater was always Europe, and the main players European. Even though Germany and Japan were theoretically allies, their alliance was purely defensive. Germany was committed to come to Japan's aid if it were attacked, but not if it did the attacking. (And vice versa. Japan used this escape clause to justify its refusal to open a second front against the Russians after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, and even after Pearl Harbor - which led to the odd circumstance of Japan and the Soviet Union being at peace with one another, despite being members of warring alliances, until after the fall of Germany.) Few people at the time would have seen our going to war with Japan as "getting us into WWII". Opinions differed then, just as people today argue about whether or not the war in Iraq is part of the larger War on Terror. (<---- This is an observation of historical fact, not an invitation to a discussion of the merits of the example, which would clearly violate forum rules. ) Roosevelt understood Germany and Japan to be two sides of the same coin, but not everyone else did.
So those who say that Roosevelt "wanted to get us into the War" should be obliged to say which war they think he wanted to get us into.
In 1941 Roosevelt wanted to get us into the War against Germany. He wanted to do to Japan what Hitler had done to France and England, neutralize a potential foe through diplomatic means or at least use a combination of bluster (in the form of the embargos) and talk to prevent the outbreak of hositilities until the greater threat had been dealt with. The last thing he wanted to do was provoke Japan into a war in the Pacific - which his Navy viewed as its balliwick - when he expected to need every ship plane and gun to keep England afloat long enough for Hitler to give us a pretext to declare war.
The Navy's "neutrality patrol" was a defensive convoy in all but name, and German and American ships were exchanging fire regularly in the North Atlantic. Some historians suspect that Roosevelt was using the neutrality patrol not only to help the thinly stretched Royal Navy keep Britain's lifeline open, and to protect American and neutal shipping, but as a trip-wire. They think he hoped for a big enough and public enough incident that was clearly the German's fault to serve as a casus belli. But he never found one and instead took steps to conceal the facts surrounding the deaths of the Americans who died during this period.
Starting a war with the Japanese was not a way to get us into the war with Germany, that much should have been clear to everyone. But let's say that FDR was dumb enough to think otherwise. Does what he was alleged to have done at Pearl Harbor - sit on certain and detailed knowledge about a planned attack - make any sense? Frankly, no.
Consider this: What happened the one time when we know Naval intelligence had some advanced knowledge of a major Japanese Naval operation? It happened just six months after Pearl Harbor, at Midway. With much less detailed information than Roosevelt is supposed to have had the Navy essentially ignored a Japanese attack on the Aleutian islands, correctly identifying it as a diversion, and instead set a trap at Midway that cost the Japanese four carriers and the cream of their naval aviators, while turning back the Midway invasion force. If Roosevelt knew the day and hour of the Pearl Harbor attack he could easily have made sure the battleships were at sea, just as the carriers happened to be. (And Japanese intelligence had no idea the carriers had left - their carrier pilots were confused by their absence.) Roosevelt could have arranged for a "routine" air patrol to "discover" the Japanese fleet right after it had launched its fighters with the clear intention of attacking the United States. Then our carrier and ground based aircraft could have engaged the Japanese aviators over water, far from civilian targets, and devastated the Japanese fleet.
FDR still would have had his proof of Japanese treachery and his clear justification for securing a declartation of war - but the war would have started with a huge American victory instead of a stunning and humiliating defeat. Roosevelt might even have been able to stop a Pacific war in its tracks, since the whole plan of Japanese conquest rested on destroying or otherwise neutralizing the American Pacific fleet long enough to carry out its plan of conquest. With the American fleet intact, its plans exposed and its officers being interrogated at Pearl, the Japanese military government might have fallen in disgrace.
If FDR had the information he is alleged to have had, the scenario above was clearly one of his options. WHY would he instead choose to risk having thousands of American service personnel killed, millions of dollars in shipping wiped out, and hundreds or thousands of civilians killed or wounded - not to mention leaving both Hawaii and the American west coast essentially undefended against further Japanese aggression? All to get into the one war he didn't want to fight?
When FDR addressed Congress on December 8th 1941 the word "Germany" never crossed his lips. He asked for, and got, a declaration of war only against Japan. Rainbow 5 and his promise to the British lay in ruins much as the U.S. Pacific fleet did. The American people wanted vengence on Japan. The Navy wanted priority on all war materials and appropriations - and Congress was going to give it to them. Germany was about the last thing anybody cared about - except FDR himself and a handful of others. And none of them had any idea how they were going to persuad an aroused American public that they should fight a holding action in the Pacific while taking on Germany first.
FDR's dillemma was solved by Hitler. The German dictator inexplicably, and quite unnecessarily, issued a unilateral declaration of war against the United States in support of his ally, Japan. Roosevelt immediately secured an answering declaration from Congress and quickly swung things back to Germany first with a huge sigh of relief. But there was no way anyone could have predicted Hitler's response, which was not required by the Axis Pact and not at all in his own interest, and FDR certainly could not have counted on such a thing in "allowing" the Japanese to devastate Pearl Harbor on December 7th. So unless you think Roosevelt, contrary to all historical evidence, was a complete moron you can't seriously contend that he let the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor to bring the United States "into the war" The fragmentary "evidence" of when a message was decrypted or reports (which first surface 50 years after the event) that some coastwatcher interecepted an ambiguous transmission simply don't trump reality and logic. It is especially unhelpful when people miss the fact that in December 1941 we had largely cracked the Japanese diplomatic code, which was used by the embassy and which did not carry military traffic, but had not cracked the current Japanese naval code - which we wouldn't start being able to read (in bits and pieces, imperfectly) until shortly before Midway. Given the secrecy surrounding the enitre operation is is inconceivable that the Washington embassy would have been given detailed or even general information about the pending attacks (and, indeed, that has never been alleged by any professional historian, even among the conspiracy theorists.) All they were told was to break off talks and (working from memory here) at a given time (which, unknown to the diplomats, would have been just after the attacks started) to deliver a declaration of war.
Posted July 04 2005 - 08:04 AM
This is why I was kicking through the sand in Chu Lai 40 years ago, so we could discuss ancient conflicts in the HTF on the Fourth of July.
Thanks to all who keep this mellow.
Thanks to all who keep this mellow.
"I was born to ramble, born to rove
Some men are searchin for the Holy Grail
But there ain't nothin sweeter
Than riden' the rails."
Some men are searchin for the Holy Grail
But there ain't nothin sweeter
Than riden' the rails."
Posted July 04 2005 - 08:18 AM
Thanks, Joe. That was a fascinating read.
Come, Rubidia. Let's blow this epoch.
Come, Rubidia. Let's blow this epoch.
Posted July 04 2005 - 08:36 AM
Here's a page from the CBC Archives where there were similar events during WWII involving German prisoners held in Canadian P.O.W. camps. Some P.O.W.s wanted so much to stay in Canada that they tried to escape the camps so they wouldn't be shipped back to Germany at the end of the war.
Posted July 04 2005 - 08:42 AM
The army leaders of any country worth its salt spend their whole time planning for wars - including fighting their closest allies. E.g. during the 1930s both the USA and the UK had plans for what to do if they had to go to war against each other (it wasn't that they didn't trust each other, but basically, both sides were worried about what sould happen if government rule broke down during the Depression years and a communist government took over). The calculations, as far as I can recall. would be that the USA would win (not v. surprising), but the Brit navy would practically have destroyed the American navy in the process.
Posted July 04 2005 - 09:28 AM
Quite. In military intelligence it is capabilities, not intentions, that count. As for the England/U.K. thing - I generally do use U.K., and wasn't aware that I hadn't done so in post above. I suppose it is the subject matter. Nobody (at least on this side of the Atlantic) used "U.K." in the 1940s. It would feel somehow anachronisitic to do so in a discussion of WWII. Maybe it's the influence of Winston's prose after all these years.
Posted July 04 2005 - 10:02 AM
No doubt, but from that statement it's interesting that the British were just as myopic as the US about the use of air power in the 30's. Amazing that Japan was the only nation that took Billy Mitchell's lessons and ran with them.
btw, slightly off topic, but I always found this battleship comparison fascinating. http://www.combinedf...com/baddest.htm
Posted July 04 2005 - 12:06 PM
Well, a little less amazing when you realize that it wasn't, quite.
There were plenty of people in both the U.S. and Royal Navies who took airpower as an offensive weapon very seriously indeed. ("Bull" Halsey learned to fly in his 50s so that he could qualify as a carrir commander.)
And it was the British raid on the Italian fleet at Taranto by torpedo planes launched from HMS Illustrious (November 1940) that suggested the Pearl Harbor operation to Yamamoto in the first place. The Japanese did pioneer the technique of concentrating airpower in carrier fleets and task forces, something never conceived of by Billy Mitchell. But the new fleet carriers that were already on the drawing board and which would be produced in large numbers by the U.S. were superb offensive weapons by design, not by accident.
Posted July 04 2005 - 12:33 PM
I'll disagree with you here. Of course there were individuals within the military who believed in the future of air power, but as measures of national policy the belief was in battleships slugging it out. You can see this in the design of ships into the 30's. The Hood (yes I realize Hood is older) and Bismarck both had massive belts of armor (for the time) along the waist, but much weaker top armor. Why? They expected low trajectory shells from fairly close range, not high trajectory shells or bombs. I will concede that ship designs in the late 30's started to account for plunging fire and bombs, but my opinion is it's more from a realization of improved fire control than an aerial threat. My point was not that people didn't realize planes could sink ships, but that aircraft carriers could operate independently across long distances and conduct offensives. The Japanese seized upon this, whereas the Americans had to send their B-25's one way only. I don't think Taranto really counts in this regard as well. Mitchell did hypothesize an aerial and seaborn attack against Hawaii and Phillipines in 1924. His words following Attack will be launched as follows: Bombardment, attack to be made on Ford Island (Hawaii) at 7:30 A.M..... Attack to be made on Clark Field at 10:40 A.M.
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