Remembering Pearl Harbor
Today is the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. I grew up under the impression--based mostly upon movies--that this was an unprovoked, surprise attack. As an adult, I began studying World Wars I and II more closely, with a particular interest in trying to understand why they occurred. What I learned about the Pearl Harbor attack was that it was neither unexpected or unprovoked.
There was a history of escalating tensions between the U.S. and Japan that went back a decade or more prior to the attack. When Roosevelt moved the U.S. Pacific Fleet from the West coast of the U.S. and concentrated it far out into the Pacific at Hawaii (which was at that time a U.S. territory) it was perceived by the Japanese as a direct threat and provocation. Roosevelt knew that this would be the effect, having stated, "Sooner or later the Japanese will commit an overt act against the United States and the nation will be willing to enter the war." Roosevelt was following the recommendations of an intelligence document now called "The McCollum Memo" which was created a year prior to Pearl Harbor and outlined eight steps to thwart Japanese Imperial expansion in Asia by goading them into a war.
The movement and concentration of U.S. naval forces to Pearl Harbor was opposed by Admiral James O. Richardson, who was then Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. He was overruled by Roosevelt and relieved of his command. Admiral Nimitz was offered the command of the Pacific Fleet and turned it down, stating to his son (also an Admiral), "It is my guess that the Japanese are going to attack us in a surprise attack. There will be a revulsion in the country against all those in command at sea, and they will be replaced by people in positions of prominence ashore, and I want to be ashore, and not at sea, when that happens."
An attack by the Japanese was not only expected, it was provoked.
Pearl Harbor was a tragedy. 2,402 U.S. and 65 Japanese servicemen were killed. 68 civilians were killed (mostly by errant U.S. anti-aircraft fire). None of those who died (or the many who were injured and maimed) were privy to the geopolitical machinations of Hirohito, Roosevelt, Churchill, et al.
Even more tragic is that the attack on Pearl Harbor was used as a justification to escalate a global war which ultimately killed 60 million people, the majority of whom were civilians.
So, December 7th is a day to remember, but what we ought to remember is that war is stupid, futile and utterly evil and that men in high places will wager human lives (by the millions) for their grand geopolitical aspirations.