07 December 2011

70 Years Ago Today

Today is the 70th anniversary of the cataclysmic event that confirmed America's transformation in the field of foreign relations from a largely non-interventionist one to a very interventionist one:  the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  This change began, arguably, with the Spanish-American War (though perhaps even earlier).  As we remember those who needlessly lost their lives on that day, Catholic political commenter Patrick Buchanan echoes a question that has been asked before and remains to be answered:

Did FDR Provoke Pearl Harbor?


Methodist Jim said...

Though one might not like or agree with one, two, or somehow all three of the possible answers, the question has been answered many times.

Athelstane said...

Buchanan, of course, has an excellent case that the U.S. entry into WWI was ill-conceived, and scarcely justified. That was certainly the mood of much of the country in the years between the wars, and with good reason.

It's also plausible to argue, as Pat does, that FDR's decisions to cut off critical minerals and oil helped drive the Japanese to a military solution in late 1941. Whether this was the goal, however, is harder to ascertain. It's much easier, based on the evidence, to conclude that FDR (goaded on by Churchill) *was* angling for a war with Germany. I still incline to think that Roosevelt and Hull simply misread the Japanese, and misread them badly.

But we cannot lose sight of the fact that, whatever their provocation, the Japanese launched a dastardly surprise attack on us, killing servicemen and civilians alike - behavior too much of a apiece with their amoral behavior during that period. Buchanan does not seem to be justifying that behavior, but certainly some conspiracy theorists have slipped into such thinking.

Unfortunately, a confrontation between the two rising Pacific powers was inevitable at some point, especially given the rapacity of Japan's military leaders. Their hunger for raw materials and captive markets was insatiable, without any reference to America, and it's hard to see how we could have avoided a shooting war with Japan by mid-century, short of total appeasement . The world is on balance a better place for the destruction of the Japanese military regime, even if it did come at a very high price in blood and treasure.

X said...

There was nothing dastardly about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor was a completely legitimate military target as evidenced by the fact that only a handful of the 2400 dead were non-combatants. Launching an undeclared war, in violation of their declared neutrality, i.e. the US, now that's dastardly. Dropping two atomic bombs on a civilian populace whose Govt is desperately trying to surrender, that's diabolical. I'll leave it to you to tell the hundreds of millions of people who have been slaughtered since the Second World war what a wonderful world it is now.

Athelstane said...

Hello X,

Fair point on the atomic bombs. Then again, every single major belligerent bombed civilian areas indiscriminately to some degree or other, Japan not excepted. We were pretty far down that moral rabbit hole after firebombing most of Japan's other major cities to cinders. That doesn't make it right; it just puts it in context. WWII deeply decivilized warfare, unfortunately.

Pearl Harbor was certainly a legitimate target; but it's customary to declare war first before blasting such targets. Japan didn't bother. They merely cut off diplomatic relations...about an hour after the attack. It wasn't the target that was dastardly, but the context.

But I don't know where you get the idea that the imperial government was "desperately trying to surrender." The emperor and privy council were certainly keen to end the war, but on their terms: no occupation, no war crimes trials, no disarmament, keeping the military regime in place, and keeping much of Japan's empire intact. Richard Franks' Downfall is a good read on this. Only after the a-bombs and the Soviet declaration of war did the emperor finally intervene to force acceptance of surrender, and even then he only barely fought off a military coup.