Pearl Harbor

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Dec 7 17:28:59 MST 2000

[41 years ago on this day Japan supposedly launched a "sneak attack" on the
United States. Here is a 'revisionist' analysis put forward by Michael
Zezima in the book "Saving Private Power" available from]

The build-up to Pearl Harbor began two decades prior to the attack when, in
1922, the U.S., Britain, and Japan agreed that the Japanese navy would not
be allowed more than 60 percent of the capital ship tonnage of the other
two powers. As resentment grew within Japan over this decidedly inequitable
agreement, that same year the United States Supreme Court declared Japanese
immigrants ineligible for American citizenship. This decision was followed
a year later by the Supreme Court upholding a California and Washington
ruling denying Japanese the right to own property. A third judicial strike
was dealt in 1924 with the Exclusion Act which virtually banned all Asian
immigration. Finally, in 1930, when the London Naval Treaty denied Japan
naval hegemony in its own waters, the groundwork for war (and "surprise
attacks") had been laid.

Upon realizing that Japan textiles were outproducing Lancashire mills, the
British Empire (including India, Australia, Burma, etc.) raised the tariff
on Japanese exports by 25 percent. Within a few years, the Dutch followed
suit in Indonesia and the West Indies, with the U.S. (in Cuba and the
Philippines) not far behind. This led to the Japanese (correctly) claiming
encirclement by the "ABCD" (American, British, Chinese, and Dutch) powers.

Such moves, combined with Japan’s expanding colonial designs, says Kenneth
C. Davis, made "a clash between Japan and the United States and the other
Western nations over control of the economy and resources of the Far East
and Pacific.. .bound to happen."

WWIJ, in the Pacific theater, was essentially a war between colonial
powers. It was not the Japanese invasion of China, the rape of Nanking, or
the atrocities in Manchuria that resulted in the United States declaring
war on the Empire of Japan. It was the attack of three of America’s
territories—the Philippines, Guam, and Hawaii (Pearl Harbor)—that provoked
a military response.

The first military step on this road to war came to be known the Panay
Incident. In 1937, the Japanese military forces occupying China ordered the
sinking of all craft in China’s longest river, the Yangtze (now called the
Chang). One of the ships sunk was a U.S. gunboat, the Panay, which was on
patrol with American oil tankers. The Panay was sunk on December 12. The
Japanese apology came two days later. Interestingly, on the day in between—
December 13—Japan attacked the city of Nanking and commenced to perpetrate
of one of the war’s most heinous crimes. The U.S., had it genuinely been
interested in morality and justice, had a hostile act and massive human
rights violations in consecutive days to use as a premise under which to
demonstrate its noble intentions. The best that could be mustered by the
arsenal of democracy was an increase in U.S. naval spending along with the
first U.S.-British plans for naval cooperation, anticipating war with Japan
over the rights to imperialist conquest.

After the sinking of the Panay, a literal act of war, the concept of
surprise should’ve been permanently abandoned—four years prior to Pearl
Harbor. The exact date, time, and place may not have been known but, short
of a major mobilization by the international working class, the U.S. was
clearly on a collision course with Japan once the burgeoning Asian empire
began interfering with American colonies throughout Southeast Asia.

The Great Depression hit Japan too, and like all military powers, they
chose to rely on colonialism as a form of relief Claiming a sort of "Monroe
Doctrine" of their own, when France fell to Germany, the Japanese moved
quickly to take military control of French colonies in Indochina (the main
source for most U.S. tin and rubber).

On July 21, 1941, Japan signed a preliminary agreement with the
Nazi-sympathizing Vichy government of Marshal Henri Pétain, leading to
Japanese occupation of airfields and naval bases in Indochina. Almost
immediately, the U.S., Britain, and the Netherlands instituted a total
embargo on oil and scrap metal to Japan—tantamount to a declaration of war.
This was followed soon after by the United States and Great Britain
freezing all Japanese assets in their respective countries. Radhabinod Pal,
one of the judges in the post-war Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, later argued
that the U.S. had clearly provoked the war with Japan, calling the
embargoes a "clear and potent threat to Japan’s very existence."

Further exacerbating matters, as Michael C.C. Adams reports, in November
1941, the U.S. sent 5100 million to Chinese nationalists to buy arms. This
was security against both Japanese. encroachment on American colonies and
the growing communist revolution within China itself

The attack on Pearl Harbor earned Japan a reputation as "treacherous," a
tag that justified many war crimes and lasted well past the bombing of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, before accepting such a racist stereotype
someone should have at least provided some evidence of treachery.

The above passages depict the disposition of the U.S-Japan relationship in
the years leading up to Pearl Harbor—a temper illustrated by one theory
surrounding the disappearance of aviator Amelia Earhart. Almost from the
moment her plane vanished in 1937, there were those who believed that
Earhart was killed or taken prisoner by belligerent Japanese. Historian
William Manchester has hypothesized that Earhart, while flying over the
Marianas in the Pacific, caught sight of the illegal Japanese
fortifications under construction on the string of islands and was "almost
certainly forced down and murdered," a theory that has never been proven to
be false.

How then, under conditions hostile enough to spawn such immediate
speculation, could any military attack be genuinely categorized as a
surprise and thus an act of treachery? If the U.S. wasn’t expecting
trouble, why did Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall request plans
before Pearl Harbor for "general incendiary attacks to burn up the wood and
paper structures of the densely populated Japanese cities"?

As historian Thomas A. Bailey has written: "Franklin Roosevelt repeatedly
deceived the American people during the period before Pearl Harbor.... He
was like the physician who must tell the patient lies for the patient’s own

The diplomatic record reveals some of what Dr. Roosevelt neglected to tell
his easily-deluded patients in that now-mythical "Date of Infamy" speech:

 • Dec. 14, 1940: Joseph Grew, U.S. Ambassador to Japan, sends a letter to
FDR, announcing that, "It seems to me increasingly clear that we are bound
to have a showdown [with Japan] some day."

 • Dec. 30, 1940: Pearl Harbor is considered so likely a tar get of
Japanese attack that Rear Admiral Claude C. Bloch, commander of the
Fourteenth Naval District, authors a memorandum entitled, "Situation
Concerning the Security of the Fleet and the Present Ability of the Local
Defense Forces to Meet Surprise Attacks."

 • Jan. 27, 1941: Grew (in Tokyo) sends a dispatch to the State Department:
"My Peruvian Colleague told a member of my staff that the Japanese military
forces planned, in the event of trouble with the United States, to attempt
a surprise mass attack on Pearl Harbor using all of their military

• Feb. 5, 1941: Bloch’s December 30, 1940 memorandum leads to much
discussion and eventually a letter from Rear Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner
to Secretary of War Henry Stimson in which Turner warns, "The security of
the U.S. Pacific Fleet while in Pearl Harbor, and of the Pearl Harbor Naval
Base itself, has been under renewed study by the Navy Department and forces
afloat for the past several weeks.... If war eventuates with Japan, it is
believed easily possible that hostilities would be initiated by a surprise
attack upon the Fleet or the Naval Base at Pearl Harbor.... In my opinion,
the inherent possibilities of a major disaster to the fleet or naval base
warrant taking every step, as rapidly as can be done, that will increase
the joint readiness of the Army and Navy to withstand a raid of the
character mentioned above."

• Feb. 18, 1941: Commander in Chief, Admiral Husband F. Kimmel says, "I
feel that a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor is a possibility."

• Sept. 11, 1941: Kimmel says, "A strong Pacific Fleet is unquestionably a
deterrent to Japan—a weaker one may be an invitation."

• Nov. 25, 1941: Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson writes in his diary
that, "The President.. .brought up entirely the relations with the
Japanese. He brought up the event that we’re likely to be attacked [as soon
as] next Monday for the Japanese are notorious for making an attack without
warning." • Nov. 27, 1941: U.S. Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall
issues a memorandum cautioning that "Japanese future action unpredictable
but hostile action possible at any moment. If hostilities cannot.. .be
avoided, the United States desires that Japan commit the first overt action."

 • Nov 29, 1941: Secretary of State Cordell Hull, responding to a speech by
Japanese General Hideki Tojo one week before the attack, phones FDR at Warm
Springs, GA to warn of "the imminent danger of a Japanese attack," and urge
him to return to Washington sooner than planned.

 Regardless of this record, there were still racists within the U.S.
military and government who never imagined that Japan could orchestrate
such a successful offensive. Few Westerners took the Japanese seriously,
with journalists regularly referring to them as "apes in khaki" during the
early months of their conquest of Southeast Asia. The simian metaphor was
maintained thereafter. This racist attitude continued on as the two sides
approached war—with unexpected consequences

"Most American military minds expected a Japanese attack to come in the
Philippines, America’s major base in the Pacific," writes Davis. "Many
Americans, including Roosevelt, dismissed the Japanese as combat pilots
because they were all presumed to be ‘near-sighted’.... There was also a
sense that any attack on Pearl Harbor would be easily repulsed." Such an
attitude appears even more ludicrous in light of the pre-Pearl Harbor
record of the Japanese fighter pilots flying the world’s most advanced
fighter plane, the Mitsubishi Zero.

"The first actual combat test of the Zero occurred in September 1940,"
reports historian John W. Dower, "when thirteen of the planes downed
twenty-seven Chinese aircraft in ten minutes." By August 31, 1941, thirty
Japanese Zeros "accounted for 266 confirmed kills in China." Still, the
American military planners were somehow shocked by the skill displayed by
the Japanese at Pearl Harbor.

Shortly after the attack, with the image of a uniquely treacherous enemy
spread throughout America, Admiral William Halsey, soon to become commander
of the South Pacific Force, vowed that by the end of the war, "Japanese
would be spoken only in hell." His favorite slogan "Kill Japs, kill Japs,
kill more Japs" echoed the sentiments of Admiral William D. Leahy, chair of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who wrote that "in fighting with Japanese
savages, all previously accepted rules of warfare must be abandoned."

Louis Proyect
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