Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941: Major victory for Japan

The surprise attack against the naval base at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese Imperial Military was one of the most successful sneak attacks in military history. Photo: Hirohito at an imperial general headquarters meeting. (public domain)

SAN JOSE, December 7, 2013 — The sinister surprise attack against the naval base at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese Imperial Military is recognized by historians as one of the most successful sneak attacks in military history.

While many Americans initially thought the Empire of Japan intended to attack the United States mainland – Californians along the coastal areas felt especially vulnerable – the real targets were in Southeast Asia: Hong Kong, Siam, Malaya, Thailand, and the Philippines, as the first of many.

The attack upon the naval base at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, shocked America and the world. While Americans were still reeling, Japanese troops were already en route to their “real targets” specifically marked for attack, destruction, and domination.

Pearl Harbor served as a sucker punch for the Japanese Imperial Military, intended to keep the U.S. out of their business, as they seized absolute control of the small island nations of Southeastern Asia.

Over 2,400 Americans had been killed, and nearly 1,200 military personnel and civilians had been wounded.

This attack was a powerful demonstration of Japan’s military might, which was intended to instill terror upon the American public. 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.


SEE RELATED: Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941 sparked blame game


As the initial shock and disbelief gave way to the pain of loss, the grieving gave way to anger, and the anger gave way to resolution to pay back those responsible. Americans enlisted in the military in droves. Ironically, Admiral Yamamoto, 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.

Yet, it also led to top civilian and military officials in the U.S. pointing fingers to assign blame for those who would have allowed such a tragedy to happen. Japanese intelligence officials stationed in the U.S. at the time were probably laughing over such reactions of self-doubt and self-questioning.

In reality, on the other side of the world, the Empire of Japan had premeditated, well-planned intent to execute the infamous attack. It was the eventual outcome of a history of violent internal political strife and unprovoked aggression against neighboring nations. Such a turbulent history makes the political wrangling in the U.S. over who was responsible for the tragedy at Pearl Harbor seem laughable. The slow, deliberate ascent to power of extreme militarists in the Japanese Army provides real answers to those responsible for the “man-made disaster” on December 7, 1941.

The militant ambitions of Japan runs back centuries as Japan had a great interest in the Korean peninsula. Eventually in the mid-1800s, Japan was victorious in a war with China and could eliminate Chinese influence.

At the turn of the century, the Japanese gained strong economic and military influence over Korea. In time, rivalry with Russia over the greater control in the developing nation led to the Russo-Japanese War fought from 1904 to 1905. President Theodore Roosevelt had begun efforts during 1905 to mediate the conflict, and succeeded in hosting peace negotiations in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Through victory in this war, Japan eliminated the final rival for dominion over Korea. Basically, the Portsmouth Treaty recognized Japan’s “paramount political, military, and economic interests in Korea,” and permitted the Imperial government to attain complete dominion over Korea. 

As a geo-political counter-balance, a separate treaty, the Taft-Katsura Agreement, between the U.S. and Japan specified the U.S. interests in the Philippines and reinforced recognition of Japanese interests in Korea.

During this period, Korea came under Japanese dominion and became a protectorate through the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1905. “Reforms,” which were designed to weaken any chances of Korean resistance, transformed the new state.  The Korean Army was reduced from 20,000 to 1,000 troops as Japan disbanded all garrisons, leaving only one garrison in the capital in Seoul.

Japan also eliminated the Korean police in Seoul, and installed a Japanese police inspector in each of the Korean prefectures.

The subjugation of the Korean people and their land was the foundation for the eventual colonial expansion during the 1930s, and the initiation of hostilities that commenced with the attack on Pearl Harbor. Ironically, the Japanese government had been an ally during World War I, and was beginning to become more democratic during the 1920s.

However, such a major structural change in government was poorly timed as the effects of the Great Depression reverberated through the world. As Americans struggled during the 1930s, the democratic experiment in Japan became increasingly distrusted by the people, especially by the Japanese Army.

Like the militarists in Europe, the Japanese military were extremely nationalistic; yet unlike Fascist efforts in Europe aimed at destroying traditional systems of government, the Japanese Army sought to restore traditional political control to military leaders. They believed Japan’s economic problems could be solved by foreign expansion, which translated into meant foreign domination, specifically China.

In September of 1931, Japanese troops from the Kwantung Army blew up a section of their own Japanese controlled railway line that stretched across Manchuria. They blamed it on Chinese “terrorists” and seized the town of Mukden, near the location.

The Japanese parliament was shocked by the Army’s actions, but powerless to do anything about controlling their highly militant army. In addition, the incident provided an excuse to simply take over Manchuria, and essentially transformed it into a colony which they renamed “Manchukuo.” Eventually, military leaders rose through the political system and secured more and more power, seeking to control Japan by utilizing the Emperor as the central symbol of national power, and ensured popular support for army leaders ruling in his name.

It is now known that Japan’s Prime Minister at the time, Prince Konoe (also spelled Konoye), had recommended the invasion of Manchuria to Emperor Hirohito, who held honorary military positions, and he did not object.

The League of Nations eventually protested the outrageous takeover, but Japan simply ignored it. Japan finally left the League in 1933. The true obstacle for the militarists was the democratic-minded civilian government. So, in May of 1932, nine army officers went to the home of Prime Minister Tsuyoshi Inukai to confront him.

After he cordially invited them in, instead of talking, the leader of the officers shouted, “No use talking!” and pulled out his pistol and shot him, prompting the others to shoot him in what showed up like a Mafia-style execution.

The incident essentially marked the end of any capable civilian control of the Army, which only became bolder and bolder.

Between 1921 and 1944 there were at least 64 incidents of political violence in Japan. On February 26, 1935, a large faction of the army officers actually attempted an unsuccessful coup, which had the sympathy of Prince Chichibu, one of Emperor Hirohito’s brothers.

Nevertheless, when the Emperor learned of the coup, he immediately ordered it quashed, and boldly stated if there were any problem with doing so, he would personally lead an effort to subdue the “rebels.” The rebellion had to be suppressed by the Japanese Navy, and most of the coup leaders were secretly executed. After this incident, circumstances only worsened.

In July of 1937, Chinese soldiers clashed with Japanese troops from the Kwantung Army on the Marco Polo Bridge in Peking. The Japanese Army subsequently ignored Tokyo’s order to establish a ceasefire, and invaded China fromManchukuo.  In reality, as the power of the militarists grew, Japan‘s civilian government grew increasingly powerless to control the Kwantung Army.

Ultimately, such mad dog behavior and tactics led to the Sino-Japanese War, which can be viewed as part of World War II, but is not technically recognized as part of the “real world war” by western historians. Yet, Japan’s aggressive conquests impressed the European Fascists in their aggression.

Surprisingly, despite the reigning Emperor’s position as head of the Shinto religion and the designation of Hirohito’s reign, the Shōwa era (meaning Enlightened Peace), beginning in 1926, he too was caught in the aggression. He is reported to have taken an active role in the fight against the Chinese.

According to reputable sources, Hirohito personally authorized the use of chemical weapons against the Chinese. In 375 separate incidents, from August to October 1938, Hirohito is reported to have authorized the use of toxic gas, which had been condemned by a resolution of the League of Nations.

Eventually though, as the war with China dragged on, it became a drag on Japan’s economy as well.

To continue funding the war effort, Japanese militarists needed alternative means for their island nation to access more resources. The military decided to make a drastic adjustment to the geo-political arrangement of the nations of Southeastern Asia – via military dominion. To clear the way, in July of 1940, a moderate government under Admiral Yonai was replaced by Prince Konoe. On September 27, 1940, despite reports that Hirohito had argued regularly with Prince Chichibu against alliance  during 1939, he eventually approved of Japan joining the Tripartite Pact with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, which cemented their common commitment to domination of large chunks of the planet.

Ultimately, on September 4, 1941, the Japanese Cabinet considered war plans that had been prepared by Imperial General Headquarters, in case any nation might oppose their efforts to dominate Southeast Asia. These plans ascertained that:

Our Empire, for the purpose of self-defense and self-preservation, will complete preparations for war … [and is] … resolved to go to war with the United States,   Great Britain, and the French if necessary. Our Empire will concurrently take all possible diplomatic measures vis-à-vis the United States and Great Britain, and thereby endeavor to obtain our objectives… In the event that there is no prospect of our demands being met by the first ten days of October through the diplomatic negotiations mentioned above, we will immediately decide to commence hostilities…

The following day, Prime Minister Konoe submitted a draft of the Cabinet’s decision to the Emperor. Reports indicate that afterward, Hirohito apparently aired serious questions whether such plans would provide a victorious outcome when he and Prince Konoe met with the chief of staff of the Imperial Army, Sugiyama, and the chief of staff of the Imperial Navy, Nagano.

Hirohito authorized the plans and on September 6th, an Imperial Conference formalized the commitment to war! Supposedly, Konoe had hoped war with the West could be averted through diplomacy, but sensed that negotiations based on such unreasonable demands would not yield to the ambitious supermarket approach of grabbing up Southeast Asian countries without war with the West.

Grasping that Hirohito had sided with the militarists, Konoe realized his isolation in restraining them,  and he resigned on October 16th feeling war to be inevitable. With their last obstacle gone, Japan’s militarists finally won complete control of the Empire, and were ready to tackle the world. History shows they grossly underestimated the U.S., and as Admiral Yamamoto predicted, Japan had aroused “a sleeping giant,” which ultimately obliterated such a devious, destructive, and deadly dictatorship.

This volume of history should serve as a warning for all in the Free World to beware of allowing too much power to be concentrated in the hands of determined and dangerous narcissists. 

As Edmund Burke stated, “The only thing necessary for the triumph [of evil] is for good men to do nothing.”  


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Dennis Jamison
Dennis Jamison
Dennis Jamison reinvented his life after working for a multi-billion dollar division of Johnson & Johnson for several years. Now semi-retired, he is an adjunct faculty member  at West Valley College in California.  He also currently writes a column on history and one on American freedom for the Communities at the Washington Times.

 

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