This past Wednesday was the seventieth anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Early on Sunday morning at 7:48 a.m. to be exact the first Japanese plans initiated Operation Al which before ending claimed the lives of 2,402 Americans with another 1,247 wounded. We lost four battleships, two destroyers and another ship while another dozen ships were damaged in the attack. In addition, the two aerial waves conduct by Japanese fighter pilots also destroyed almost two hundred airplanes.
America was stunned by this attack which was not expected by the people, however the government knew for months that an attack somewhere was becoming inevitable. At the time Pearl Harbor occurred it was believed that Japan acted with malice and disregarded the proper code of conduct observed by civil countries about to engage in war. Without going into great detail, the customary protocol was for the aggressive to cut off diplomatic ties and notify the potential defender that attack would be forthcoming.
In this case, Americans were led to believe for several years that Japan violated these rules of engagement by failing to give due warning to expect an attack somewhere. In the book "Codebreakers", author David Kahn explains that while the public perception was this, the truth was a bit more complicated.
As is well known in political circles, diplomacy and the intelligence game maintain close quarters. The unwritten rules of the game seem to be that an ambassador's envoy most likely contains intelligence agents from the diplomat's home country. This has led over the years to several games of cat and mouse as indicated by some of the many memoirs written by former attaches and intelligence officers in several countries.
Part of the game is being able to intercept and decipher coded messages and in the case of Pearl Harbor, the American intelligence community was aware an attack was imminent hours before Pearl Harbor was hit. They knew because months before relations degraded, the US intelligence community had broken the Japanese diplomatic codes. This enabled them to decode and translate the Japanese communications so while Japan intended for us to discover they were about to attack a half hour ahead of time, we actually knew slightly longer than that.
If we knew, why didn't we prevent it by moving our fleet? The answer while seemingly unfeeling is quite simple. If we moved the fleet so close to the attack, the Japanese would know that we intercepted and broke their system of codes which would lead them to change them resulting in us having to start all over again, but in a time of war this would most certainly put us at a disadvantage. Furthermore, by not revealing we knew prior to the attack of Japan's plans we could paint them as the villain enabling us to declare war on this hostile and aggressive Pacific nation. Remember at this point, Japan was already engaged in hostilities with China and relations between us and them were severely degraded.
There are some historians who believe that even if we had revealed the warning, they still intended to attack without specifically telling us anyway, but we will never know. By the time the Japanese envoy arrived at our embassy the attack had already occurred. Our Secretary turned him away and formally cut off diplomatic relations. This was followed shortly after with the "Day of Infamy" speech by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in which we declared war on Japan. Three days later, the Axis declared war on us and we did the same which formally launched us into World War II.
Pearl Harbor remained a heinous attack on Americans for 60 years and one that seemed destined to be in a class by itself as over 2400 Americans died most of them soldiers. The USS Arizona lost 1,177 men that day alone while the Oklahoma lost another 429 sailors. This motivated America to fight for her freedom and led to the "Great Generation" who stood up for our rights and freedom and hundreds of thousands of American patriots laying down their lives for us.
As we celebrate this holiday season, we should remember the world is not at peace. We teeter on the brink of war daily. Our only hope is our leaders learn from the wisdom of history and use its lessons to govern wisely. Unfortunately human nature and peace are not comfortable bedfellows so it takes work and constant attention. We must strive to ensure the deaths of these patriots and those before and since are not in vain.
Too long we take our rights for granted and it's to the point where we allow political correctness to strip this country of its character. Twenty years ago this nonsense of "Happy Holidays" and not wanting to offend people by mentioning the word "Christmas" would be unheard of. While these soldiers died for us to express ourselves freely, I have a limit to how much political correctness I can stand. To be quite honest, I'm tired of having to be overly sensitive to people who whine about hearing the words "Merry Christmas" or seeing a nativity display. Instead of saying "Happy Holidays" to these people, I think we should say "Grow up."
Til next time …