[Marxism] Pearl Harbor myths

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Dec 4 14:34:56 MST 2006


The Myth That “Eight Battleships Were Sunk” At Pearl Harbor
By Richard K. Neumann Jr.

Mr. Neumann is a professor at the Hofstra University School of Law.

Every year as December 7 approaches we hear and read that eight battleships 
were sunk at Pearl Harbor. That is even repeated in a 2001 article by HNN 
staff on the HNN website debunking movie myths about Pearl Harbor.

It didn’t happen.

Eight battleships were there. Two were “lost in action,” the Navy’s term 
for damage that permanently destroys a ship’s usefulness. None were “sunk,” 
which means disappearing below the sea surface (the most obvious but not 
the only way to become lost in action). Pearl Harbor is shallow, with only 
a few feet of water separating the battleship’s bottoms from the harbor 
bottom. No capital ship could disappear below the waves in a shallow harbor.

Here is what happened to each of the eight battleships during and after the 
attack: Pennsylvania was in dry dock when the attack began and suffered 
only superficial damage caused when a destroyer in the same dry dock 
exploded. (Sinking a capital ship in dry dock is physically impossible, 
even if the dry dock is flooded.) Maryland was also lightly damaged. Both 
ships were seaworthy later that month. Tennessee suffered more damage, but 
was seaworthy early in 1942. California and West Virginia were torpedoed 
and settled onto the bottom of the harbor, their main decks well above 
water. If they had suffered the same damage at sea, they would have been 
sunk, but the shallowness of the harbor saved them — illustrating the 
foolishness of attacking ships in port. Both were repaired, with many 
improvements, and went to sea again. Nevada was the only battleship in 
motion during the attack. Her crew ran her aground to prevent sinking. 
Oklahoma capsized, and the forward magazine of Arizona exploded. These are 
the two battleships that actually were lost in action. Visitors to the 
Arizona memorial see nothing above water, but that is because the Navy 
removed the ship’s superstructures, guns and turrets, which would otherwise 
be mostly above water today.

The six surviving battleships fought in decisive battles later in the war. 
On D-Day, Nevada shelled German emplacements behind the Normandy beaches, 
with devastating effect. The other five survivors shelled many 
Japanese-held Pacific islands before the Marines and Army landed on the 
beaches. When the U.S. invaded the Philippines, the Japanese sent three 
naval forces to ambush American troop ships. One of them, with two Japanese 
battleships, came up the Surigao Strait, where West Virginia, Tennessee, 
California, Maryland, and Pennsylvania (all allegedly had been “sunk” three 
years earlier at Pearl Harbor) were on shore-shelling duty, together with 
Mississippi. After U.S. destroyers sank one of the Japanese battleships 
with torpedoes, the U.S. battleships sank the other one with gunfire. This 
was only time in history that U.S. battleships ever crossed an enemy’s “T” 
— the maneuver for which battleships were originally designed and built. 
And it was the last time that any battleships of any navy fired on each 
other in battle.

Despite initial appearances, the attack on Pearl Harbor was an abject 
strategic failure. The Japanese attacked a fleet in port, where it is hard 
to cause permanent loss of a capital ship and where repair facilities are 
already nearby. They attacked obsolete ships and in so doing taught the 
U.S. Navy from the very beginning to rely on aircraft carriers rather than 
battleships. The Japanese attacked without any guarantee that the most 
valuable U.S. ships — the carriers — would be present, and all the U.S. 
carriers were safely elsewhere on December 7. At Midway six months later, 
those same American carriers sank two-thirds of the Japanese carrier fleet, 
inflicting a wound from which the Japanese navy never recovered. And the 
Japanese ignored the unglamorous target that truly would have crippled the 
U.S. Navy for perhaps a year or more: the oil tanks next to Pearl Harbor. 
Without the ability to refuel at Pearl, the U.S. Navy would have had to 
retreat to San Diego, San Francisco Bay, and Puget Sound.



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