SAN JOSÉ, California, December 9, 2015 — On December 7, concerned Americans remembered the “Day of Infamy” as an incredibly dark day in the nation’s history. The sneak attack by the Japanese Empire against the United States upon the naval base at Pearl Harbor is recognized as one of the most successful surprise attacks in military history. Japan’s extremely belligerent, empire-building government had attacked the U.S. stronghold on the westernmost frontier, which resulted in the successful killing of over 2400 men and boys.
The attack shocked America and the world. Nevertheless, the remembrance of this atrocity should not evoke hatred or ill-will toward Japanese people – it should be directed at the unrestrained government power that was its original cause.
Many Americans may have reflected yesterday on this tragedy. But Americans should continue to take time to remember the attack on Pearl Harbor. It is important to maintain an historical perspective on this atrocity. Remembrance of this insidious attack, especially in light of current world tensions and international events, should stimulate Americans to seek a more substantial understanding of its root cause.
While many Americans are familiar with the history of the day of the attack, many more are not familiar with the U.S. history related to this event. Even more Americans do not know the history of Japan that led to this horrible tragedy. Who in the West, after all, could be bothered to study Japanese history? The U.S. was attacked. What else is there to know?’
Yet history holds answers that many have difficulty to acknowledge. American records indicate that on a calm Sunday morning on December 7th in 1941, beginning at 7:55 a.m., bombs and torpedoes began to fall and explode, destroying military targets on Oahu. When the attacks ceased shortly before 10:00 a.m., the dead and wounded were strewn everywhere as smoke from destroyed machinery, vessels and other wreckage billowed into the December sky.
Over 2,400 Americans had been killed in the attack. 1,178 military personnel and civilians had been wounded, 188 aircraft had been destroyed with an additional 159 more aircraft damaged, and approximately 20 ships were either completely sunk or severely damaged. That vision is usually the limit of all that Americans need to know.
Sadly, the tragedy at Pearl Harbor went far beyond Hawaii, and an understanding of this is important. By the time President Roosevelt addressed Congress on December 8, 1941, the Empire of Japan “had undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area.” F.D.R. reported to Congress that he was aware that the Japanese government had launched simultaneous attacks against Hong Kong, the Philippine Islands, Malaya, Guam, Wake Island, and Midway.
Americans soon learned that the empire-building government of Japan had attacked the U.S. stronghold in order to keep the only nation that could stop them out of its way. This bold act of terror was designed to cripple the Pacific Fleet as well as generate fear in the U.S. and elsewhere.
This attack was also a powerful demonstration of Japan’s military might, intended to instill terror in the American public, which it did. Americans found such a devastating attack hard to believe, and had to grapple with their grief over the sudden and violent destruction and so much loss of human life.
Ironically however, Admiral Yamamoto, the officer who had planned and initiated the attack, is remembered in the U.S. for his prediction that such an unprovoked attack would “arouse a sleeping giant.” It did, and the rest of this confrontation became a matter of history.
Yet, as a stunned nation mourned the tremendous loss of life, many Americans demanded to know why the U.S. military had not been prepared for the attack. Rumors began to circulate that President Roosevelt, was determined to draw the nation into war, and baited Japan with the tempting target of an unguarded harbor.
Investigations were initiated by different political factions to discover who had been accountable in order to assign blame. Similar efforts to assign blame occurred in our own time after the simultaneous attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon after 9/11. Conspiracy theorists still believe in the dark, secret agendas of the U.S. government.
Despite the controversy, for the duration of America’s efforts in World War II, the assignment of blame would have to wait. The question regarding the real cause of this tragedy was essentially dropped until the war ended in 1945, and it was ultimately taken up again by the U.S. Congress, which undertook to investigate what the U.S. might have done to incite the attack.
Some politicians actually blamed America for the attack. On August 29, 1945, President Truman — who had assumed the Presidency in April after Roosevelt’s sudden death — released investigative reports from the Army and Navy that actually found Washington officials, especially former Secretary of State Cordell Hull and U.S. Army Chief of Staff General George Marshall, responsible for unpreparedness at Pearl Harbor.
Understandably, after four horrible years of war, a weary American public yearned for reconciliation and a well-deserved peace rather than heightened political divisiveness. However, after years of fighting the Axis powers, Americans got back to fighting one another.
Congress initiated a joint investigatory committee to fully investigate the causes for the war and to explore the “contradictions and inconsistencies” in previous reports. The Pearl Harbor Committee was created as a 10-member committee, evenly divided between members of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Political disagreements soon erupted over simple procedures.
The Pearl Harbor Committee was primarily tasked to investigate “the facts relating to the events and circumstances leading up to or following the attack made by Japanese armed forces upon Pearl Harbor.” The Congressional hearings quickly became a major embarrassment for President Roosevelt’s Administration and by extension, for President Truman as well.
From November of 1945 through May of 1946, the committee heard testimony from officials at the highest levels of the military and the government at great expense to American taxpayers, even though most citizens were uninterested in pursuing the matter further.
After over six months and over 5,000 pages of the final report as well as 14,000 pages of printed exhibits, eight members of this committee of ten concluded that, “officers, both in Washington and Hawaii, were fully conscious of the danger from air attack,” but the military commands in Hawaii and the War and Navy Departments made “errors of judgment and not derelictions of duty.”
The supreme irony was its final conclusion, which affirmed that “The ultimate responsibility for the attack and its results rests upon Japan,” and “the diplomatic policies and actions of the United States provided no justifiable provocation whatever for the attack by Japan on this Nation.”
In retrospect, the Empire of Japan, led by military leaders intent on world dominion, had calculated the benefits of their outrageous act, and yet remained determined to erase all obstacles in their way to build empire. Throughout their slow, deliberate ascent to power dating from the turn of the 20th century, extremists in the Japanese Army secured more and more power throughout Japan’s political system.
In fact, the true obstacle for the military extremists was initially the democracy-minded Japanese civilian government itself. From 1921 to 1944 Japan gradually became a divided nation, and at its center was a bitterly fractious government, that ultimately proved powerless to control the mad dog behavior and tactics of the Japanese Imperial Army.
Japan’s military leaders slowly secured control, as they led the invasion and takeover of Manchuria and during the Sino-Japanese War, neither of which are recognized as the real “start of World War II” by western historians.
Eventually, the militarists eliminated their final opposition in Japan’s government on September 6th, 1941, when an Imperial Conference formalized the empire’s commitment to war, at which point the militarists won complete control of Japan and readied themselves to take on the world.
On that fateful day of December 7, 1941, their plans were fully set into motion. But history shows they grossly underestimated the U.S. Indeed, as Admiral Yamamoto himself had predicted, Japan had aroused “a sleeping giant,” which ultimately obliterated that country’s devious, destructive, and deadly dictatorship.
This moment in history should serve as a reminder for all in today’s Free World to be extremely wary of extreme and violent militarists. But it is carries a subtler lesson. A nation’s free citizens must be very careful to prevent too much power being concentrated in the hands of extremely determined and poorly restrained absolutist leaders. That is exactly why the brave colonists undertook to create the original United States of America.
It is widely believed that it was Edmund Burke who declared, “The only thing necessary for the triumph [of evil] is for good men to do nothing.” But regardless of who made this now famous observation, it clearly fits current history and is the undeniable truth.