Shadow of Pearl Harbor
By John J. Metzler
The thunderclap occurred on an early Sunday morning. Amid Hawaii’s idyllic and serene peaceful setting, Imperial Japan launched a surprise and devastating attack on the US fleet docked at Pearl Harbor, outside of Honolulu.
December 7, 1941 would be the date that would live in infamy for shocked and astonished Americans who first heard the news repeatedly, from California to Colorado to Connecticut. The United States was now embroiled in World War II with an attack few saw coming in the Peripheral Hawaii.
More than 2,400 US servicemen, mostly the US Navy, were killed that day; 20 warships were sunk including the US battleship Arizona. Four hundred planes were destroyed. The US Pacific Fleet was severely crippled, but most importantly not beaten.
Eighty years ago World War II officially began for the United States.
It was not so well known that almost simultaneously after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces carried out a series of coordinated, daring and strategically stunning attacks on US bases in the Philippines, Guam and Wake Island, as well. than the invasion of British Malaysia.
But let’s go back for a moment to a serious but often overlooked event of December 7th.
China had already been at war for a decade as Tokyo aimed to dismember Manchuria. Japan seized the industrial and strategic region of China and made it into a vassal state called Manchoukuo.
Japan’s movements in Manchuria were greeted with deep concern and diplomatic retreat at the League of Nations in Geneva, but little more. Tokyo got away with it.
In 1937, Japanese forces would extend deeper into China; Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing, the capital of nationalist China, which will become the site of the infamous six-week atrocity of the Nanjing Massacre. Yet the war in China dragged on and the Imperial Japanese Army was bogged down.
Japan’s over-reach on mainland China and stubborn resistance from Chinese nationalist forces have taken their toll. In the summer of 1941, the Roosevelt administration imposed a US oil and steel embargo on Japan, which effectively shut down its jugular line of oil needed by the Tokyo military machine. Japan faced a strategic conundrum; either stop offensive operations, or explode and seize the oil resources of the Dutch East Indies.
An attack and a suspected coup de grace against the US Pacific Fleet docked at Pearl Harbor in distant Hawaii became a serious military option, and then a virtual certainty.
All over the world, Europe was already in its second year of war since 1939 with the attack on Poland. France was occupied by the Nazis and Britain was under air attacks. Hitler’s National Socialist regime had already conquered much of Europe, but was now facing military operations during its first Russian winter.
But America is no longer on the sidelines. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States came into conflict. Nonetheless, even as war approached, the US military was woefully ill-prepared. President Franklin D. Roosevelt favored a policy of strong rhetoric over good military preparation.
Yet later what FDR called “the arsenal of democracy” ensured that the vast industrial and productive capacity of American industry could turn a peacetime consumer economy into a formidable war machine. In Detroit, civilian automobile production ended in 1941, and by 1942 factories were producing trucks and tanks.
Fast forward to newer times. On September 11, 2001, the United States faced what I still call the âPearl Harbor Momentâ of this generation. The Seemingly Endless “War on Terror” is far from over, but has largely neutralized the direct threat of Islamic extremism against the United States
Even today in East Asia, dark clouds gather as the People’s Republic of China flexes its political muscles, bolstered by a generation of trade and technology transfers from the United States that have improved capacity. Beijing military and its economic results.
As in the world in the 1930s, warning signs abound; contemporary threats of Communist China’s expansion in the South China Sea and its intimidation of democracy in Taiwan. All of this comes against the disturbing backdrop of a US Navy declining in size and strength.
Eighty years ago, Pearl Harbor became a wake-up call for the United States. Millions of Americans served in the military to turn the tide of Axis aggression in Europe and the Pacific. One of those men, Senator Bob Dole (R-Kansas) was counted among the greatest generation.
Soldier, senator and statesman, Bob Dole, who died at 98, was seriously injured in Italy and carried this evident burden throughout his incredible career in the Senate and his candidacy for the presidency. Senator Dole has always known the price of freedom. Few of his generation are still here to remember.
John J. Metzler (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of “Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China”.