10 December 2016

Seven decades after Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor some truth is finally beginning to emerge from the miasma of propaganda that still clouds our vision of World War II.

It seems clear by now that President Franklin Roosevelt’s White House knew from deciphered codes that Japan was planning an attack on America’s key naval base in Hawaii. Shamefully, the senior US Navy and Army commanders at Pearl Harbor were not informed of the impending attack. The US Navy’s three aircraft carriers were coincidentally moved far from harm’s way before the attack, leaving only obsolescent World War I battleships in port as sitting ducks.

Roosevelt was eager to get the United States into war against Germany at all costs. But Americans wanted no part of Europe’s war, recalling how British propaganda had deceived America into World War I. The single largest ethnic group in America was of German origin. In the 1880’s, my native New York City was the third most populous German city on earth after Berlin and Hamburg.

Roosevelt, whose sympathies lay far to the left in spite of his patrician background, understood that only a surprise attack would provoke Americans into war.

At the time, the US supplied 80% of Japan’s oil, 100% of its aviation fuel, and much of its metal. Roosevelt demanded Japan vacate China that it had invaded, or face an embargo of these vital strategic materials on which Japan’s industry depended. Japan’s fascist military government refused, as Washington knew it would. A US embargo ensued.

Japan had a one-year strategic reserve of oil. Its stark choice was either run out of oil, fuel and scrap steel over 12 months or go to war while it still had these resources. The only other potential source of oil for Japan was the distant Dutch East Indies, today Indonesia.

In 1991, then US President George H.W. Bush claimed that the US had a right to go to war with Iraq to assure its supply of oil.

Japan’s leading naval strategist, Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, gloomily predicted before Pearl Harbor that Japan was going to war for oil and would be defeated because of it. He was absolutely correct. America was ten times more powerful than Japan and had a huge industrial capacity.

It was a suicidal war for Japan in all aspects. Japan’s powerful army, deployed to occupy China and perhaps fight the Soviet Union, cared nothing for the Pacific. By contrast, the Imperial Japanese Navy had no interest in China. Its goal was conquest of the oil-rich Dutch East Indies, British-ruled Malaya, French-ruled Indo-China and the US-ruled Philippines and Pacific territories. Making matters worse, Japan’s navy and army ran separate wars, without any coordination, unified industrial policy or common strategy – in short, two different wars for a nation that was not even up to one conflict at a time.

Japan claimed it was waging a crusade to ‘liberate’ Asia from Western imperial rule. But few Asians bought this argument due to the brutality and arrogance of their Japanese occupiers.

Looking back, it was indeed an old-fashioned imperial war: the Japanese Empire versus the American, British, French and Dutch empires. The last empire, the Soviet Union, did not get involved until its smashing victory against Japan’s Kwantung Army in 1945, one of WWII’s greatest campaigns but now totally forgotten.

Why did the Japanese, an intelligent, clever people, think they could defeat the US and its allies? My view after long studying this question is that Japan’s militarists, boxed into a corner by Roosevelt’s crushing embargo, had to chose between a humiliating surrender to the US and giving up China, or a suicidal war.

Japan’s samurai culture that infused its armed forces saw surrender as the ultimate shame. Death in battle was preferable to surrender and the only honorable course for warriors.

Japanese militarized society had a belief in the ‘nobility of failure’ that was unknown to other peoples.

For Japan’s warriors, the highest glory and honor lay in choosing to fight a battle against greatly superior forces in which defeat and death were clearly inevitable. This was the ultimate expression of the knightly code of ‘bushido’ that guided Japan’s warrior caste.

By June, 1944, Japan’s imports of strategic material and food were cut off by US submarines. Half its cities were burning. The population was starving. Meanwhile, the US was assembling its atomic bombs.

In a final act of folly, right after Pearl Harbor Adolf Hitler declared war on the United States, presenting Roosevelt, whose government had numerous high-ranking Soviet agents, the war he had so long wanted.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2016

This post is in: History, Japan

8 Responses to “JAPAN’S ‘NOBILITY OF FAILURE’ IN 1941”

  1. Eric. Have read extensively regarding the attack on pearl harbour I have of course, read the conspiracy theories regarding the attack but have never come across any “smoking gun to categorically point the accusing finger at Roosevelt. I wish you would cite your sources so your readers can judge for themselves. Not to do so diminishes this article as “On the fringe to be thrown on the pile of “out there” conspiracy. I believe that the lessons learned during 10 official investigations were not learned and the out come was 911. Too much information not shared between different dept. Here is a question I do have and is rarely asked. 24 hours after Pearl Harbour “Dug Out” Doug had done nothing to prevent the destruction of bombers lined neatly in a row. Had done nothing to mobilize the military to prevent the landing of Japanese forces. His forces we completely surprised and there were several studies done to show most likely that the Japanese would go after the Philippines. Kimmel was sacked, wrongly in my opinion, but there was no excuse for McArthur.

  2. One of the things I find curious about the Japanese was why they fought to the death against the US and gave up by the hundreds of thousands against the Soviets (the greatest defeat on land suffered by Japan was against the Soviets in Manchuria/ Korea/ Sakhalins).

    The most common reason to “fight to the death” is the belief that the enemy doesn’t take prisoners or even worse tortures prisoners before killing them.

  3. The major fact overlooked by the Japanese was that it is very hard for a democracy to admit defeat. Even if the Japanese had had everything go their way at Pearl Harbor- all the carriers sunk in port- and some things they hadn’t planned such as the oil tank farms destroyed or even Hawaii captured and the Panama Canal wrecked ala St Nazaire- and the US Navy then sunk in the great Western Pacific ambush that was planned to happen about six months after Pearl the US wouldn’t quit. It couldn’t quit. Robert E Lee had the same problem. Arguably the US has the same problem in the Greater Middle East- it has no way to stop a war beyond surrender of the enemy- Korea being the only modern exception.

    • Vietnam ?

      • Exactly. The US supported the French for 11 years and then entered the war for another 21. It took the US 33 years to figure out that they should not interfere with Vietnam. It took 8 presidential election cycles to get to the point where Nixon could call it quits without a massive backlash.

        This BTW is why I think the idea that JFK would not have escalated the war is delusional. He was trapped in the same system as LBJ. He would have been accused of being soft on communism and domestic political calculations would have pushed him to send in the Marines.

  4. Thank you very much now if TRUMP would say this

  5. lpapoff@bell.net says:

    Did FDR know? Not likely. He wanted a war with Nazi Germany, not Japan. A Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour would not bring the Nazis into the war since the Pact of Steel, to which both Germany and Japan belonged, was a defensive agreement. Fortunately, Hitler was foolish enough to declare war on the U.S. something FDR wanted. Even in the immediate wake of the Day That Would Live In Infamy Forever, there was no support in the U.S. for a war with Nazi Germany. As for the carriers, they weren’t considered that valuable until after the attack.

  6. Roosevelt had a particular ‘hatred’ for the Japanese prior to Pearl Harbor.
    In addition, the US had put a ‘strangle hold’ on Japan by the embargo they had placed on it.
    Japan also threatened American businesses, hence, the embargo.
    Any wonder what caused the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbour happened.

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