December 8, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt spoke before a joint session of Congress.
His opening words have become part of America’s political heritage:
“Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy
— the United States was suddenly and deliberately attacked
by naval and air forces of the empire of Japan.”
Roosevelt added, “The facts of yesterday speak for themselves.”
But facts never speak for themselves. They are assembled, sifted,
discarded, and interpreted by those who come later.
As proof, let me offer this example. In replaying the recording
of Roosevelt’s speech at Disney World’s “The American Adventure”
presentation in the USA pavilion at Epcot, the rest of the sentence
after “infamy” is cut off. We see ships burning in a harbor, but
we are not told where or why. Odd, until you recall where people
see this presentation. When you think ” history,” think “tourism.”
The Empire of Japan is long gone. The yen isn’t.
On Sunday, December 5, I interviewed a veteran who had been at Pearl
Harbor that day. He had been a Marine who was on land, assigned
to defend the docks, close to Hickam Field. He told me that he fired
a 50-caliber machine gun at overhead planes. The ammo building had
been locked, and the officer with the key was missing, so a truck
knocked in the door.
I asked him how old he had been at the time. “I had just turned
18.” He had joined the previous June, gone through boot camp, and
had been scheduled to be shipped to China. He said the Marines had
been stationed in Peking. I presume that this was guard duty for
the Embassy. His unit had been reassigned to Pearl Harbor.
And so this young man was in the middle of the day of infamy.
CENTRAL PLANNING: STUPID RESULTS
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was among the most stupid events
of all time, although shortly eclipsed by the even more stupid decision
by Adolf Hitler on December 11 to declare war on the United States,
which the Axis’s Tripartite Defensive Pact did not require of him,
since Japan had initiated the attack.
When we watch Tora,
Tora, Tora, we learn of the careful attention to details
in the planning phase. The Navy was forced into the attack by Tojo
and the Army, but once assigned the task, the Navy did its job painstakingly.
The planners did neglect one thing. They forgot what the objective
was. This is a characteristic feature of all bureaucracies, but
especially government bureaucracies, which possess a monopoly.
What was the objective of the attack? Obviously, to put the U.S.
Pacific Fleet out of commission for a period of time. Admiral Yamamoto
estimated this to be about 18 months. He estimated wrong. Within
six months, the U.S. had sunk the four major aircraft carriers of
Japan at the Battle of Midway (June 4—6), which was the decisive
turning point of the Pacific war. The Japanese government never
told the Japanese people about this naval defeat until after the
war had ended.
What went wrong? Several things. First and foremost, the Japanese
Navy was influenced by a military code of honor. Wars are supposed
to be won by courage and dedication by warriors. A military tactical
plan had to conform to this requirement — a decidedly pre-World
War II outlook. Mass bombing of civilians pretty much ended that
outlook. Japan’s rape of Nanking in 1937 was a prelude of things
So, the Naval planners focused on military targets: ships and planes.
They devoted attention to such matters as harbor depth, torpedo
depth, bomb angles, and the shape of the targeted ships.
Nobody assessed the overall importance of what should have been
obvious: the fact in 1941 that ships ran on oil. If the first wave
of the attack had been aimed initially at the oil storage facilities,
with attacks on the ships only after the oil storage facilities
were smashed, the attack would have been far more successful militarily.
But what glory is there in blowing up oil tanks?
After Roosevelt replaced Admiral Kimmel with Admiral Nimitz as Fleet
Admiral, Nimitz admitted that “as bad as our losses at Pearl Harbor
on 7 December, 1941 — they could have been devastatingly worse
— had the Japanese returned for more strikes against our naval
installations, surface oil storage, and our submarine base installations.”
But Admiral Nagumo sailed away after two waves of attacking planes
Anther fatal flaw in the plan was the absence of America’s aircraft
carriers at Pearl on December 7. The battleship by 1941 was basically
obsolete as a primary offensive naval weapon. Despite the fact that
Japanese naval planners used the aircraft carrier as the primary
weapon at both Pearl and Midway, the reality of the strategic transformation
was not yet clear to the senior planners in December. After Midway,
The aircraft carrier was superior. Billy Mitchell sacrificed his
career in the Army’s Air Service by a series of highly critical
attacks on military leaders in the mid-1920s. They were ignoring
air power’s potential, he said. He was court-martialed for insubordination
in December, 1925. It was therefore no accident that the B-25 airplane,
16 of which were launched from the USS Hornet in April, 1942, against
Tokyo, was called “the Mitchell.” It was also fitting that Admiral
Spruance, who designed the Midway campaign, did so from his ship,
the Hornet, in June.
The planners surely did not understand the implications of the IBM
computer in the underground facility at Pearl Harbor, where Joe
Rochefort and his decryption staff would break enough of Japan’s
JN-25 naval code to identify the timing and the location of the
attack on Midway six months later. They also did not foresee Admiral
Spruance’s defensive strategy: to hide the three carriers on the
eastern side of the island, and wait.
But the most fatal flaw of all was the planners’ inability to foresee
the immense productivity of the American industrial system. They
did not foresee the revolution in mass production that American
capitalism would soon produce. New management techniques, new techniques
for reporting and assessing information, and the power of machines
to enable civilian women to match the output of men: none of this
was foreseen by Japan on December 7 and Hitler on December 11.
The Japanese imported their oil. Japan’s military leaders ran the
country. They were convinced that it would take military force to
ensure the supply of raw materials, especially oil, for Japan. And
so, year by year in the 1930s, Japan extended its rule by violence.
Japan attempted to create its “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere”
by force of arms.
This created military resistance from China, which was ineffectual
but constant, and diplomatic resistance by Western powers, who saw
their own trade arrangements threatened.
In October, 1940, Lieutenant Commander Arthur McCollum, an Annapolis
graduate who was fluent in Japanese, wrote a 5-page memorandum.
He was with the Office of Naval Intelligence. He outlined an 8-point
strategy on how to get Japan to attack the United States, thereby
enabling the United States to defeat Japan. He believed this conflict
was inevitable. The final two points were these: (1) persuade the
Dutch to block increases in shipments of resources, especially oil,
to Japan from the Dutch East Indies; (2) put a U.S. embargo on Japan.
His memo was sent to a pair of Roosevelt’s naval advisors on October
7. One of them was the Director of the Office of Naval Intelligence.
Over the next year, seven of the eight points were followed by the
President. The sixth was already in place: keeping the Pacific Fleet
in Hawaii, which the Fleet’s commander, Admiral Richardson, strongly
opposed. The day after McCollum wrote his memo, Roosevelt informed
Richardson that the fleet would remain at Pearl. Richardson vocally
opposed the plan one more time. He was replaced by Kimmel the following
February, which is covered briefly in Tora, Tora, Tora. The
scene in the airplane is the key scene for the entire movie, where
Richardson tells Kimmel that Pearl is not easy to defend.
You can read more about McCollum and FDR’s policies here: Chapter
2 of Robert Stinnett’s 1999 book, Day
of Deceit. Or you can read Stinnett’s own summary of his
findings here. There is additional
McCollum understood the Japanese mindset. He had grown up as the
son of a missionary to Japan. He understood that the preference
for empire rather than voluntary trade was basic to the mindset
of the nation’s leaders. Their faith was in power, not voluntarism.
Today, the suggestion that Japan would be wise to go to war in order
to gain access to imported oil would be seen as ludicrous. Only
an empire would do this.
The problem with empires is that there is always some version of
McCollum out there, someone capable of manipulating the foreign
empire’s leaders, luring them into offensive military adventures
that can only weaken the empire in the long run.
Pearl Harbor was a shattering event. Only one person in Congress
voted against declaring war on Japan, Jeanette Rankin of Montana,
who had also voted against the declaration of war in World War I.
She had been the first woman to be elected to Congress.
Today, Congress is not asked by Presidents to declare war, although
a Congressional declaration is required by the Constitution. So,
what we have are not wars, but police actions or other activities.
Note: Jane Fonda was never a traitor, because Congress never declared
war against North Vietnam. This is also technically why our POWs
in Korea and Vietnam did not gain protection under the Geneva Convention.
Congressman Ron Paul, who employed me in 1976 as his research assistant,
has identified our military problem today: the
abdication by Congress of its Constitutional responsibilities.
time Congress declared war was on December 11, 1941, against Germany
in response to its formal declaration of war against the United
States. This was accomplished with wording that took less than
one-third of a page, without any nitpicking arguments over precise
language, yet it was a clear declaration of who the enemy was
and what had to be done. And in three-and-a-half years, this was
accomplished. A similar resolve came from the declaration of war
against Japan three days earlier. Likewise, a clear-cut victory
was achieved against Japan.
have been forced into war since that time on numerous occasions,
with no congressional declaration of war and with essentially
no victories. Today’s world political condition is as chaotic
as ever. We’re still in Korea and we’re still fighting the Persian
Gulf War that started in 1990.
by which we’ve entered wars over the past 57 years, and the inconclusive
results of each war since that time, are obviously related to
Congress’ abdication of its responsibility regarding war, given
to it by Article I Section 8 of the Constitution.
has either ignored its responsibility entirely over these years,
or transferred the war power to the executive branch by a near
majority vote of its Members, without consideration of it by the
states as an amendment required by the Constitution. . . .
authority to wage war, calling it permission to use force to fight
for peace in order to satisfy the UN Charter, which replaces the
Article I, Section 8 war power provision, is about as close to
1984 “newspeak” that we will ever get in the real world.
is it sad that we have gone so far astray from our Constitution,
but it’s also dangerous for world peace and threatens our liberties
here at home.
are easily manipulated by enemies. Japan learned that lesson, 1941—45.
Empires substitute war for peace in gaining their objectives. Days
of infamy are then guaranteed.
Then, one by one, each day of infamy is forgotten. But the federal
debts that are issued to retaliate against each one roll on forever.