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A 11 Pages Term Paper on Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor was the working base of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.  The Japanese pulled a bolt from the blue attack on the U.S. on December 7, 1941 at 7:50 A.M. during the beginning of World War II.  On November 26 a powerful Japanese task force, under the command of vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, left the Kuril Islands; on December 2 it received a coded message issuing the attack order. The undetected Japanese force arrived off the Hawaiian Islands on the morning of December 7.  In two successive waves more than 350 Japanese bombers, torpedo planes, and fighters struck.  More than 75 U.S. warships including battleships, cruisers, destroyers, submarines, and auxiliaries were based at this Gibraltar of the Pacific. All U.S. aircraft carriers were some where else. Observing radio silence, it reached a launching point at 6 AM, December 7. At 7:50 AM, the first wave of Japanese planes struck Pearl Harbor, bombarding airfields and battleships moored at the concrete docksides.  The U.S. totally taken off guard had to defend themselves in their pajamas.  They used anti-aircraft guns in an attempt to stop the Japanese.  A second wave immediately followed.  The surprise attack was over before 10 AM.  The results were demoralizing; 18 U.S. ships were hit and more than 200 aircraft destroyed or damaged.  The battleship Arizona was a total wreck, the West Virginia and California were sunk and the Nevada was heavily damaged. Approximately 2,400 Americans were killed, 1,300 wounded, and 1,000 missing. Japanese losses were fewer than 100 casualties, 29 planes, and 5 midget submarines.  The Japanese totally destroyed the U.S. naval power in the Pacific. The attack was, however, a colossal political and psychological blunder, for it mobilized U.S. public opinion against the Japanese and served as the catalyst that brought the United.

Japanese Perspective

The overall Japanese strategy was for a short war. As late as December 3, 1941, Yamamoto warned the Emperor that they could be defeated in a long war, but the hope, based on a model Bismarkian a limited gain scenario, was that the United States would lose heart after a quick strike and would quit the war, thus leaving Japan her gains, including an occupied India. At the same time, Nazi Germany would divide the Americas.

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Many in the upper levels of Japan's military hierarchy doubted such a sequence of events was possible and worried that an attack on Pearl Harbor could cost Japan its war with the US virtually before it had begun. Seven of eight of Japan's former leaders, the respected Jushin, voted against the attack and Prince Fumimaro Konoye, then leader, showed his opposition by resigning from his post. His successor, General Hideki Tojo, blamed by the Allies as the architect of the attack, was not informed of the plans until after they were well in place.

Japanese doubts were finally set aside, and despite opposition, it was decided that the attack was a necessary gamble. The project was pressed through and the die was cast.

Before the first bomb fell, even before he strafed the first ships off Ford Island at Pearl, Naval Air Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, leader of Japan's attack planes, sent a message to his carriers that complete surprise had been achieved against the might United States Pacific Fleet.

Out of eight American battleships, nine cruisers and 77 other ships, eighteen ships were either sunk or crippled. One-hundred eight-eight aircraft were destroyed and 159 damaged. US military casualties were 2,335 killed and 1,143 wounded. It was the greatest defeat in American naval history.

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Against this astonishing achievement, Japanese losses were minimal, 29 planes shot down, 55 airmen killed, five midget subs sunk, and nine submariners dead and one ensign captured. Japan had feared it might lose a third of its attack fleet and lost none.

By a twist of fate, however, what was at first perceived as Japan's victory at Pearl Harbor was actually a massive defeat. Ahead of any other powers, the Japanese recognized the vulnerability of capital ships to mid-ocean attacks by carrier-based aircraft. The object of their attack on Pearl Harbor was to destroy the US aircraft carriers, but the preceding Nov. 28th; these ships had been ordered out to sea along with half of all US aircraft in the area. The antiquated, WW1-vintage battleships sunk at Pearl were cold consolation for the prized flattops, which six months later would defeat Japanese carriers at Midway and turn the tide of war in American's favor.

But the gravest error Japan made at Pearl Harbor was to underestimate the American reaction to a "sneak" attack an abhorrence that swept aside the country's isolationist splinter group and united the country into a mighty fighting machine.

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Behind The Scene

To this day most people in America and Britain accept Roosevelt's characterization of the Pearl Harbor attack as an unprovoked surprise assault which dragged an unwilling USA into the Second World War. Governments on both sides of the Atlantic have done their best to suppress any information which might suggest otherwise. Many important papers relating to the attack are still secret.

But a cursory examination of the available evidence which is available shows that the truth is very different from the school book history. For a start, both American and British had broken Japan's most secret communications codes. They often decoded and read diplomatic or military messages before their Japanese counterparts. It seems certain that US and British intelligence would have had some kind of forewarning about any attack.

The Americans and British were also well aware that the economic sanctions which they had already imposed against Japan could prompt military retaliation. As an industrial power with few natural resources, Japan was vulnerable to a blockade in raw materials. Many of its East Asian neighbors were colonies of Britain, France or the Netherlands.

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“A US state department memo in December 1938 acknowledged the possibility that any attempt by the Unites States, Great Britain and the Netherlands to cut off from Japan exports of oil would be met by Japan's forcibly taking over the Netherlands East Indies”.

“After the Japanese attack on Manchuria in 1931, US secretary of state Henry Stimson had proposed economic sanctions and military action. But President Herbert Hoover warned his cabinet that sanctions are the roads to war.” (Pearl Harbor's WWII Collector's The Official 50th Anniversary Magazine, 1991, Articles written by Blaine Taylor and Michael Bernson)

“America provoked Japan to such an extent that the Japanese were forced to attack Pearl Harbor', recalled Captain Oliver Lytletton, production minister in Churchill's cabinet, in 1944: 'It is a travesty on history ever to say that America was forced into war.” (Irvine H Anderson, 'The 1941 De Facto Embargo on Oil to Japan: A Bureaucratic Reflex', Pacific Historical Review, May 1975)

The thing was how we should maneuver them into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves. The complete surprise on Pearl Harbor is further exposed by the fact that there was already a public discussion of the possibility of war between Japan and the USA or Britain in the thirties. Lieutenant Commander Ishimaru's Japan Must Fight Britain was translated into English and published in 1936. Its contents were sufficiently sensitive to be repudiated by the Japanese minister of foreign affairs at the time. In the same year, the Oriental Economist, an authoritative English language journal published in Tokyo, raised the possibility of an Anglo-American military alliance against Japan. Such speculation became more frequent and heated in subsequent years.

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Nor was the discussion of a possible war confined to the Japanese side. Sutherland Denlinger and Charles B Gary's War in the Pacific in 1936 examined the strategy of a theoretical Japanese-American war. From the mid-thirties there was a debate about whether the USA should fight against Japanese aggression in China.

Over the years since Pearl Harbor, some critics have suggested that the USA's lack of preparedness for an expected attack on 7 December 1941 was due to a giant conspiracy by the Roosevelt administration. In this view, the president deliberately let the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor as a ploy to get the USA into the war.

Statements by several major players of the time point to a possible set-up. Shortly before Pearl Harbor, British prime minister Winston Churchill expressed his confidence that the USA would join the war in the Far East. Perhaps most revealing of all is an entry in the diary of Henry Stimson, by now the US secretary of war, for 25 November 1941. Stimson describes a top-level meeting at the White House where Roosevelt ignored the agenda and brought up entirely the relations with the Japanese.

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“He brought up the event that we were likely to be attacked, perhaps next Monday, for the Japanese are notorious for making an attack without warning and the question was what we should do. The question was how we should maneuver them into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves.” The Des Moines Register Newspaper, Pearl Harbor: the prequel by Daniel Nassim, 1990)

Roosevelt had repeatedly and publicly stated that America would not be the first to fire a shot in the war between the great powers. Roosevelt, however, was convinced that the USA would eventually have to enter the war to fulfill its global ambitions. From June 1940, his administration was sending military equipment to Britain. At a meeting in the Atlantic in August 1940, Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to abide by common principles that came to be known as the 'Atlantic Charter'. It later emerged that the need to stop Japanese expansion in Asia had been a secret part of discussions. One final element lends credibility to the conspiracy thesis. All four of America's aircraft carriers in the Pacific the crucial weapon in its naval armory were away from Pearl Harbor when the Japanese struck. Despite the apparent success of Japan's attack many of the ships that were destroyed or damaged, particularly the eight battleships, were already obsolescent.

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The Roosevelt administration and Churchill government may well have known something about the impending attack on Pearl Harbor. Yet ultimately it does not matter whether or not it was a conspiracy. The most important point to grasp is that Pearl Harbor, or something like it, was inevitable, not simply because of the machinations of politicians, but because of the broader rivalries which drove the USA and Japan to go to war with one another.

Who’s Responsible?

One topic that is sure to get historians arguing is who was responsible for Pearl Harbor? Was it Admiral Kimmel and General Short or was it Franklin Delano Roosevelt tricked by Winston Churchill? How about the role of Harold Stark chief of the Navy and George Marshall chief of staff?

The problem with Pearl Harbor research is time of war investigations were more concerned with protecting code secrets that finding the truth. Yes, Kimmel and Short were blamed early on, but most now believe they were pawns in a larger scenario concerning our entrance into the war.

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FDR knew that the Japanese and Germans were lying to US the secret codes told him they were negotiating with US while plotting our demise.  US government was looking for a way into the was that didn't anger the large America crowd. It was believed a back-door entrance to the fight against the Nazi's could be achieved if war with the Japanese could be instigated. The Japanese government wasn't an innocent bystander here. But most were focused on Europe at the time.

Roosevelt allows Pearl Harbor to get pasted in order to get US in a war he knew was inevitable. The navy was a favorite of FDR. He might sacrifice the Army, but never the Navy; he was under secretary of the Navy in World War I. If he knew an attack was coming he may have believed his beloved battleships were immune to bombing. No one knew that in Japan, Mr. Yosioka Adakats had designed a workable shallow-water torpedo. On the other hand, many did know of the British raid on Toranto, so in hindsight, officials should have been more wary. The Japanese knew conventional bombs would bounce off the battleships, so they used armor-piercing 12 and 14 inch Naval shells with crude wooden fins attached. They weren't very effective, compared to the torpedoes, but one lucky hit set off the explosion that doomed the Arizona.

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Since the British and Australians knew of the attack before it happened, the big question has always been Few wrote their thoughts down and 60 years worth of "cleansing" has followed.  The Navy is a "club" that doesn't like outsiders wandering around their hallowed halls. They covered up many aspects of the real story to protect their status. A read of the USS Iowa's turret explosion leaves one with the impression that the Navy hasn't changed much when it comes to a "circle the wagons" mentality.


Irvine H Anderson, 'The 1941 De Facto Embargo on Oil to Japan: A Bureaucratic Reflex', Pacific Historical Review, May 1975.

The Des Moines Register Newspaper, Pearl Harbor: the prequel by Daniel Nassim, 1990.

Pearl Harbor's WWII Collector's Edition The Official 50th Anniversary Magazine, 1991, Blaine Taylor and Michael Bernson.


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