No Minister

They’re almost all gone

with 4 comments

The veterans of World War 2 that is.

Just a few hours ago marked the time on a Sunday morning eighty years past when Japan launched her attack on the United States at Pearl Harbour, smashing much of the US Pacific Fleet, and bringing the USA into the war.

For decades now the US veterans of that attack have gathered for the annual memorial. Soon they will be no more as age takes its toll, but there can still be heartwarming stories like this one, Crowdfunding sends 101-year-old Pearl Harbor hero to 80th anniversary ceremony:

An Oregon family has turned to crowdfunding to send their 101-year-old Navy veteran dad back to Pearl Harbor…“Lacking organizations with bigger pockets, I can’t afford to get my Pop over there,” Heinrichs writes on the GoFundMe page. “This fundraiser will cover flights, hotel, car, food for Ike and two family caregivers to keep him safe and be honored at the Pearl Harbor Anniversary ceremonies.”

They got the $10,000 they needed and a bit more. One of the many interesting aspects of this story is that Ira has been more willing to talk about the events of that day than earlier in his life. It’s well known that veterans of wars talk very little about their experiences, unless they’re funny stories, but it also seems to be true that as they get very old they’re willing to talk more.

The estimable historian Victor Davis Hanson reflects on the day

Most Americans once were mostly in agreement about what happened on December 7, 1941, 80 years ago this year. But not so much now, given either the neglect of America’s past in the schools or woke revisionism at odds with the truth.

The Pacific war that followed Pearl Harbor was not a result of America egging on the Japanese, not about starting a race war, and not about much other than a confident and cruel Japanese empire falsely assuming that its stronger American rival either would not or could not stop its transoceanic ambitions. . .

The whole essay is worth a read as Hanson explodes a few myths, which likely won’t die even so, although he doesn’t address the famous quote from Yamamoto:

In fact that’s quite the paraphrasing of something Yamamoto wrote and it was crafted for the 1970 movie, Tora, Tora, Tora. The screenwriter claimed he got it from a letter written by Yamamoto but nobody has ever found such. But like many such movie lines it’s just too good to ignore and has been repeated in other movies such as the execrable Pearl Harbour (2000) and the superb Midway (2019). I’m reminded of the line from the movie Apollo 13“Failure is not an option” – uttered by Mission Controller Gene Kranz as acted by Ed Harris. Kranz never said that but laughingly acknowledged that he wished he had and loved it so much it became the title of his autobiography.

Hanson points out that Yamamoto, “often romantically portrayed as a mythical almost reluctant warrior”, who feared sleeping giants and felt he’d only run wild for six months, was actually the primary force behind the attack:

Yamamoto himself agitated for the surprise Pearl Harbor attack. And he even threatened to resign if a skeptical General Tojo and Emperor Hirohito did not grant him a blank check to bomb the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Hawaii, a diversion of resources many in the Japanese military felt was unjustified, especially with the ongoing and increasingly expensive quagmire in China.

Big mistake as we all know now. Hanson suggests that there was an alternative strategy:

Both France and the Netherlands had been under occupation by the victorious Germans since June 1940. Had the Japanese simply expanded their newly acquired Indochina concessions—appropriated from the Vichy French in 1940—grabbed the equally orphaned oil-rich Dutch East Indies, and been content with conquering resource-rich, British-held Malaysia and its fortress port at Singapore—while bypassing Pearl Harbor and the Philippines—there would have been little likelihood even then of the United States entering the conflict.

Thank goodness they weren’t strategically smart!

In sum, it was largely Yamamoto’s enormous ego, his tactical genius, and his strategic ineptitude, along with Japanese hubris, that explain the strategic idiocy of a brilliant but short-lived victory at Pearl Harbor.

But to be fair, no student of military preparedness, economic resources, or social organization could have ever believed that a relatively vulnerable and isolationist United States, still reeling from recurring cycles of depression, in less than four years would have fought simultaneously across the Pacific and Europe with a 12 million person military, the largest economy in history, and the world’s most formidable weapons such Essex class fleet carriers, Balao submarines, B-29 long-range bombers, Hellcat and Mustang fighters and the world’s first atomic bombs.

Even viewed from this distance in time it’s a staggering effort. I was saddened by one comment on this day, especially since I find it hard to deny:

Now 80 years later, America is at best a nation divided and at worst a nation that no longer exists. We have no borders, we have no equal justice under a just and stable law and most dangerously, we are split into two camps that not only disagree on issues but disagree on the legitimacy and nature of the nation itself. While that is happening, China and to a lesser extent Russia are making geopolitical and technological moves that threaten to leave us in the dust.

Written by Tom Hunter

December 8, 2021 at 10:59 am

Posted in History, Military, USA

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4 Responses

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  1. I wonder if anyone would defend the tradition of ANZAC day? Jacinda could simply declare that ‘its not who we are anymore’ and remove it as an official holiday.

    Uncoffined

    December 8, 2021 at 11:38 am

    • She may well do so but she would be hard pressed to declare ‘who we are now.’

      ‘Twould not make pretty reading.

      adolffinkensen

      December 8, 2021 at 11:47 am

  2. Both France and the Netherlands had been under occupation by the victorious Germans since June 1940. Had the Japanese simply expanded their newly acquired Indochina concessions—appropriated from the Vichy French in 1940—grabbed the equally orphaned oil-rich Dutch East Indies, and been content with conquering resource-rich, British-held Malaysia and its fortress port at Singapore—while bypassing Pearl Harbor and the Philippines—there would have been little likelihood even then of the United States entering the conflict.

    I strongly doubt that is correct

    I don’t think the USA was going to allow a power to arise in the Far East that could challenge them in the Pacific, they would not have held back

    The reason why the USA annexed Hawaii and Midway in the first place was to have Naval dominance in the Pacific while the Japanese rationale for the Pearl Harbor Attack was to neutralize the Pacific Fleet before expanding into the European held far Eastern Territories so the USA couldn’t get involved immediately

    The Pacific War was a different War from the European War(s) that collectively define what the English speaking world now calls WW2

    The reason why Japan became belligerent in the first place was because the Western Powers including the USA were trying to slow its industrialization by restricting access to the raw materials it needed for its industry.

    Andrei

    December 8, 2021 at 9:39 pm

    • Given how isolationist the USA was in 1941 I think it is correct. As long as US territories were not directly attacked Roosevelt would have had a tough time getting a declaration of war through Congress.

      All hypothetical of course, but in support of it is that fact that even in the wake of the Pearl Harbour attack the general consensus was that Roosevelt would still not get a declaration against Germany and Italy. Luckily Hitler and company were as strategically stupid as the Japanese in declaring war on the USA in Dec 11.

      Of course they had an equally low opinion of the USA: “The Americans cannot build aeroplanes. They are very good at refrigerators and razor blades.”. I’ve always wondered what the look on Goring’s face was like when he saw the first P-51 Mustangs over Berlin. Did he say Meyer?

      Tom Hunter

      December 8, 2021 at 10:19 pm


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