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The Devastation of Pearl Harbor

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The attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor that took place on the December 7th of 1941 was a shocking event for the American public, and had served as the catalyst for the country’s entry into the Second World War. The attack on Pearl Harbor is considered the most shocking event that left a mark on United States’ culture and public awareness before the September 11 attacks. One reason for this is the surprise nature of the attacks and the massive number of casualties.

Because of this, most historians and critics, along with the public considered Pearl Harbor as a grave tragedy.

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This paper goes beyond highlighting how the Pearl Harbor attack is a tragedy; rather, it wants to offer an effective understanding of the circumstances surrounding the attack and the immediate and long-term effects of the attack. Events leading up to the Attack Prior to engaging in the Second World War, Japan was already facing a myriad of problems. It started to depend increasingly on the supply of raw materials, especially that of oil from external sources instead of domestic production.

Even though they were faced with these difficulties however, even if they were lacking these resources and experiencing difficulties, Japan was also at that time, building a successful empire of stable industrial foundation, associated with good army and naval strength. The military became powerful part of the government, and this set the stage for trouble. In the early 1930s, the Japanese Army engaged in many and yet small conflicts with the Chinese in Manchuria. The Japanese had won several of these battles, and Manchuria was captured and turned into a part of the Japanese Empire.

The conflicts that took place in the area near Beijing’s Marco Polo Bridge in 1937 were one of popular conflicts that took place; however, whether these conflicts were planned or not remains a mystery up to now. These conflicts eventually became a full-scale war now known as the second Sino-Japanese War, one of the deadliest war that ever took place in world history. The war resulted into the final defeat of Japan in 1945. Before this however, the Second World War taking place in the other side of the world saw a string of victories by German forces, which included defeating Poland and France and the bombing of England.

Most of the European nations that Germany managed to capture had their own colonies such as East Indies and Singapore. Japan saw this as an opportunity. Most of these colonies controlled by the European nations possessed the natural resources that Japan was desperate for and because these countries are preoccupied with Germany and what is happening in Europe, Japan felt that it can be the right time to step in and seize some of these resources. In the United States, President Roosevelt sought to stop the expansion of both Germany and Japan, but the Congress and the public wanted the opposite and warned against intervening further.

The United States began to provide supplies and materials to countries at war with either Japan or Germany but also kept its space and maintained neutrality to prevent an overseas war from taking place. Meanwhile, the Axis Alliance was formed in September of 1940, which comprised of Germany, Italy and Japan. In 1941, Japan became determined to acquire access to the rich resources of the Southeast Asia and became afraid at the same time that it would be impossible to defeat the Western powers. As such, Japan thought of strengthening its armies so that it can stay in the war.

Japan started to enter and seize Southern Indochina, which met strong opposition from the United States. In response, the United States employed an embargo on the exporting of oil to Japan, which had significant consequences to the latter. Japan needed oil to keep its technologies and military running. Without oil, Japan’s industrial and military capabilities can be impeded. Therefore, oil embargo imposed by the United States was perceived as a declaration or an act of war by Japan. Throughout the next months of that year, the United States approached Japan with the idea of resolution.

However, Japan wanted to the United States to lift the embargo and at the same time, allow it to take China, which the United States cannot agree on. The United States refused to lift the embargo until Japan stop its aggression of China. Because the two countries could not agree and settle their demands of each other, war was thought to be inevitable between them. The United States viewed Japan’s tenacity on its interests and refusal to budge their position as a sign of hostility against the United States.

As such, the United States responded to this perceived inevitability of the war by putting more military forces stationed in the Pacific. For one, General Douglas MacArthur and his ground forces stationed in Philippines started to organize into a strong army. The B-17 was just coming into many air force bases across the country, and MacArthur viewed this as a positive development to aid their cause. In fact, the general was so confident that he claimed that nothing would be more pleasing to him that being attacked in the Philippines by Japanese.

In addition, the most powerful and most critical component of American defense in the Pacific Ocean was the US Pacific fleet, which was usually located along the West Coast of the US, and going to a training cruise to Hawaii annually. Because of the probable war, the US Pacific Fleet was transferred to the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii, which was deemed the ideal and strategic location for the American forces in the Pacific as it was located halfway between the US West Coast and the Japanese military bases located in the Marshall Islands.

The Pacific Fleet first touched base at Pearl Harbor naval base on April 2 of 1940 and was timed to go back to the United States mainland around May 9 of 1940. This schedules were radically changed because of the increased fighting taking place in Europe. Japan’s more rigorous attempts at expansion in Southeast Asia also played a significant part in this change in schedules. President Roosevelt deemed that the presence of the Pacific Fleet in Hawaii would be able to stall any activities of the Japanese to attack the United States. Admiral James Richardson of the Pacific Fleet was against the length of time planned for staying at Pearl Harbor.

He believed that the facilities were insufficient to sustain the ships or the crews that will manage the Fleet. However, it was maintained by the Chief of Naval Operations that the fleet stay on the Pearl Harbor so that Japanese would be deterred from entering the East Indies. The United States firmly believed that the fleet in Pearl Harbor would make the Japanese realize how foolhardy it was being and would see the many military disadvantages of their activities. The United States also expected the Japanese to backtrack and act on the situation immediately.

Richardson’s complaints therefore became futile and even caused his dismissal. November of that year, British torpedo bombers attacked the Taranto Harbor in Italy, therefore rendering the Italian Fleet incapable. This worried the US officials for fear that the same would happen in the Pearl Harbor. It was suggested to Richardson that they should place anti-torpedo nets but because Richardson did not like the location of the Pacific Fleet in the first place, he also claimed that such action would neither be required and pragmatic, causing him his job. His replacement, Admiral Husband Kimmel, lthough doubtful too of the fleet in Pearl Harbor, maintained his silence after seeing what happened to Richardson. As such, the Pacific Fleet was utilized as a defensive stance and to direct the attention of Japanese away from Southeast Asia. Japanese became preoccupied with United States’ activities through the Pacific Fleet such as the capturing of Caroline and Marshall Islands, the closing off of Japanese trade routes, and the protecting of Guam, Hawaii as well as the US mainland. These activities triggered Adminral Isoroku Yamamoto’s plan for his country’s position in the Pacific.

The admiral, or the commander in chief of Japan’s Combined Fleet knew that putting majority of his forces in the pacific islands would make the country vulnerable to European and American attacks. Therefore, the admiral formulated a plan that consisted of launching an opening blow to the US pacific fleet while simultaneously launching offensives against forces of Great Britain, United States and the Netherlands in Southeast Asia. The admiral devised a plan that intended to cripple the US while at the same time allowing Japan to conquer majority of the Southeast Asian states.

He hoped that the devised plan of attacking the Pacific Fleet would lead to the demoralization of the American forces and force the US to sign a peace settlement stating that Japan would maintain its power in the Pacific. After a month passed from the time Britain attacked Taranto Harbor, the admiral also decided that if war was indeed inevitable, then he would attack Pearl Harbor. The plan was very transparent as it was shared to other Japanese officials. While most of the officials did not agree to the plan, they continued to prepare for the attack. They provided all the training and resources to the troops and fighters.

While peace talks continued to take place until November 27 of 1941, these were stooped. Even though the US appealed to Japan to implement peace, on December 6, 1941, it was decoded that Japanese would likely attack Pearl harbour and that Japan would like to severe its ties with the US. The message was received too late and US response through a telegraph to Japan was not able to halt the attack at Pearl Harbor. The first bomb dropped eight miles from Pearl Harbor before the response of the US was received by Japanese. When the attack became known, it shocked the whole nation. The United States declared full scale war against Japan.

On December 11, Germany and Italy sided with their ally, Japan and declared war against the US, triggering a global conflict. Later on, the US would bomb Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki, bringing Japan to total surrender on August 14 of 1945. Analysis of the Events When one looks at the event critically, one would understand that the event is a tragedy not only because of the number of lives lost, but rather the fact that it could have been prevented in the first place. Had United States and Japan reassessed their positions and decisions, they could have prevented this tragedy from taking place.

If both sides acknowledged each others’ interests and set aside their ignorant and racist assumptions about each other, their conflict would have not escalated to this point. “Japan in 1941 was heavily dependent on outside sources for the minerals, petroleum and other raw materials needed to fuel its economy,” so its goal during the days before the attack took place “was to insulate the region from world-wide depression by allowing raw materials to flow into Japan for conversion into manufactured goods for the limitless Chinese market, hereby ensuring freedom from Western economic domination. Nonetheless, as Japan put this plan into action by brutally attacking and occupying China, the United States tried to intervene on its expansion into Asia with “the passage of the Export Control Act [which] gave the President an excuse to retaliate against Japanese expansion without appearing to be punitive,” and so President Roosevelt imposed an embargo on scrap iron and steel, followed shortly by a prohibition on “the exportation of aviation fuel and lubricants to all but Great Britain and the Western Hemisphere countries. ”

Although this cannot be considered punitive enough, in light of the options available to the United States, this action still had the ability to prevent and stall Japanese plans to the point that in 1941, a new Japanese ambassador was sent to Washington in the hopes that he could negotiate a deal, offering “a freeze on Japanese military operations in China and initiation of negotiations with Chaing Kai-shek [the leader of those portions of China not under Japanese control], who still exercised a precarious sway over its unoccupied provinces” in return for “a lifting of embargoes of critical materials, resumption of normal trade with the United States, US assistance in restoring the flow of raw materials from South East Asia, and exertion of influence on Chiang Kai-shek to open peace negotiations with Japan. The United States’ response showed how it undermined Japan and demonstrated that had United States been less ignorant and condescending of Japan, the attack would not have taken place and the tragedy would have been prevented. Instead of engaging in negotiations and talks with the Japanese ambassador on the possible terms of the proposal, the United States’ Secretary of State at the time, Cordell Hull, would not allow himself “to be drawn into specifics and countered with a demand for agreement in principle on four points before negotiations could begin – Japan was to pledge respect for the territorial integrity of all nations, non-interference in other nations’ internal affairs, equality of commercial opportunity, and a commitment to peaceful change in the status quo. Though these four points appear ostensibly reasonable, when viewed in the context of Japan’s ongoing occupation and war in China, as well as the United States’ long history of disregarding territorial integrity and interfering in other nations’ internal affairs, Hull’s counteroffer demonstrated an arrogance and disinclination towards genuine negotiation that put off the Japan ambassador, and so the talks amounted to nothing. While American disapproval of Japan’s treatment of the Chinese is understandable in the sense that it was generally atrocious, it is worth pointing out that this disapproval was almost certainly not born out of a genuine concern for the dignity of human life (once again, as represented by the entirety of the United States’ existence as a country), but rather out of its desire to secure an economic foothold in China for itself.

Recognizing this helps to explain some of the United States’ reluctance to enter into genuine negotiations with Japan in order to secure and end to the atrocities in China; the United States did not actually care about the people in China, but rather their potential as a consumer market, and so it was unwilling to negotiate without first ensuring that it would be able to easily access that market, or, to put it another way, ensuring the “equality of commercial opportunity. ” The meetings between the Japanese ambassador and the Secretary of State represented one of the last genuine opportunities to forestall war between the two countries, but the United States’ intransigence only served to escalate the hostilities.

In June of 1941, following the cessation of negotiations between the ambassador and Secretary Hull, “the United States suspended petroleum exports to Japan from East Coast and Gulf ports. ” Though negotiations would continue after that, this additional blow may be viewed almost as a point of no return, because events began to rapidly cascade towards war, culminating the attack on Pearl Harbor. Japan had long viewed the oil in the East Indies as one of the primary sources with which to wean itself off of Western imports, and the United States’ refusal to negotiate coupled with suspended petroleum exports made the decision inevitable; “on July 24th, the Japanese army […] occupied key positions throughout Indo-China” as part of a plan to eventually occupy “Malaysia, the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies and Hong Kong. Although the planning for Pearl Harbor had not begun, Japan’s decision to move into Indo-China was essentially a recognition that war with the United States was inevitable, because by November 1940, Japanese Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku had already “concluded that the oil-rich Dutch East Indies could not be subdued without provoking the United States and Britain into war. ” In response, the United States froze all Japanese assets in the country and placed an embargo on all petroleum exports to Japan unless they had a special license, which were ultimately never issued. From here, war became almost inevitable, because Yamamoto “never thought Japan could win a protracted war against the United States,” and so a decisive and stunning surprise victory was its best chance for removing the United States as a strategic and economic threat.

The planning and execution of the attack need not be elucidated here, as it has been discussed with almost fetishistic devotion in numerous books and journals. Instead, because the central argument of this essay is that the attack and the numerous deaths it resulted in, both immediately afterward and in the brutal war in the Pacific which followed, was preventable had the United States and Japan acted in good faith with a genuine devotion to negotiation, it will be worthwhile to discuss one common theory regarding the attack which also says it could have been preventable, but for completely different reasons. As Stephanie Fitzgerald notes, “some people think that the U. S. Government leaders knew that the Japanese were going to ttack Pearl Harbor,” and indeed, “looking back, it seems as if there were many clear warning signs. ” However, these warning signs, far from demonstrating that members of the United States’ leadership knew in advance of the attack, actually serve to prove how much a racist and ultimately ignorant attitude in regards to Japan led to the United States to divert its efforts in the wrong places. For example, though some estimates suggested that Pearl Harbor was an attractive target, “the United States focused on preventing sabotage by Japanese citizens [and some US citizens] living on the island,” and made the majority of its military preparations in the Philippines and other places closer to Japan.

Thus, far from realizing that Japan was planning an attack and abstaining from responding in an attempt to generate public support for war, the leadership of the United States was simply more suspicious of the people living within its own borders than Japan itself, which leads any reasonable observer to conclude that the leadership of the United States, despite some accurate guesses and predictions, had “no advance knowledge of the attack on Pearl Harbor. ” The United States could have prevented the attack, of course, not due to some cryptic secret knowledge of Japan’s plan, but rather through the careful application of diplomacy and mutual respect. Instead, the United States responded first with arrogance and condescension, and following the attack, with brutality and cruelty. Assessing the events prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor and scrutinizing the underlying assumptions shaping how decisions were made in the side of the US, and in the side of the Japan would show that the war was not inevitable at all.

There were ways to stop it had both sides were not belligerent and ignorant as they were. Both sides have the opportunity to stop the tensions from escalating and diffuse the hostilities between them, but none were taken. The US refused to meet Japan on equal terms and used its economic might to put Japan into a corner. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki could have been prevented if Japan was not foolish in engaging the US wrath, knowing full well it had no chance of winning. The deaths that followed could have been prevented, as the xenophobia and racism that ensued. Works Cited Coox, Alvin. “The Pearl Harbor Raid Revisited” in The American Experience in World War II: Pearl Harbor in history and memory. Walter Hixson, ed.

New York: Routledge, 2003. Print Fitzgerald, Stephanie. Pearl Harbor: day of infamy. Minneapolis: Compass Point, 2006. Gorman, Jacqueline. Pearl Harbor: A Primary Source History. Milwaukee: Gareth Stevens Publishing, 2009. Jacobsen, Philip. “Pearl Harbor: Radio Officer Leslie Grogan of the Ss Lurline and His Misidentified Signals. ” Cryptologia 29 no. 2 (2005): 97-120. Kishimoto, Kyoko. “Apologies for Atrocities: Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of World War II’s End in the United States and Japan. ” American Studies International 42 no. 2 (2004): 17-50. Maechling, Charles. “Pearl Harbor the First Energy War. ” History Today 50 no. 12 (2000): 41-47.

Cite this The Devastation of Pearl Harbor

The Devastation of Pearl Harbor. (2016, Sep 18). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-devastation-of-pearl-harbor/

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