UWG professor discusses Pearl Harbor as 'strategic defeat' for Japan

By JEFF BISHOP jbishop@newnan.com Although Japan was facing an oil and steel embargo from the United States in 1941 and "had to do something," ultimately the Japanese "made the wrong decision and paid for it royally" when they decided to attack Pearl Harbor that morning of Dec. 7, Dr. Walter Todd of the University of West Georgia told the Newnan Rotary Club on Friday. Todd said there are many "misconceptions" about the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. A new book by Dr. Alan Zimm, "The Attack on Pearl Harbor: Strategy, Combat, Myths, Deceptions," is helping to set the record straight, Todd said.
"There's been a huge amount of investigation about what actually happened during the raid," said Todd. "This is going to disprove a lot of misconceptions that Americans have about it. "I grew up hearing a lot of stories about Pearl Harbor and the 'Dirty Japs' from my father," said Todd. "Now I'm married to a Japanese woman, so I guess it all comes around." He said the United States' Pacific Fleet really wasn't supposed to even be there. The fleet had been sent to the Hawaii area in 1940 for maneuvers that were supposed to only last about a month. But when President Franklin D. Roosevelt became concerned about what he perceived to be some aggressive moves on the part of Japan at about that time, along with the defeat of France at the hands of the Germans, the fleet became a more or less permanent fixture in Hawaii. "World War II really began when Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931," said Todd. After that, the country became more and more isolated, even from countries that formerly had been its allies, such as the U.S. "The U.S. and Japan had a long history," said Todd. "It was the U.S. that brought Japan into the modern world. And it did not come willingly." Japan saw that it would be in its own best interest to become a developed country, he said, so that they would not become "overrun by Europeans," as had so many other counties, including China. "So they decided to become a modern industrialized nation," said Todd. "In a short time, they transformed themselves from a feudal kingdom into the only Asian industrial giant in the world." The U.S. became concerned about Japanese expansionism, as the country began to claim more and more territory, he said. A turning point came when Japan dealt Russia a surprise defeat just after the turn of the 20th century. "Here was this very small country, with very limited resources, defeating Russia," said Todd. That got the world's attention, he said. But Japan's ambitions were checked by the fact that the country was entirely dependent upon the U.S. for its gas and oil supplies. When the U.S. put an embargo in place, it effectively choked the country. Japan had managed to stockpile two years' worth of the resources before the embargo went into effect, but it desperately needed a new strategy, Todd said. "Japan was in a quandary," he said. "What were they going to do?" At first the country tried to move into Siberia to get access to the resources it needed, but they were "soundly defeated by the Russians" this time, he said. That left the Philippines, which was under U.S. control at the time. "They thought that Americans were businessmen, not fighters," said Todd. "Americans wouldn't really spend the necessary money to fight back. Americans wouldn't give up their young sons." So when it became clear that the U.S. fleet intended to remain at Pearl Harbor indefinitely, plans were set in motion for an all-out attack. Meanwhile, America made plans of its own. "We had what were called our 'Rainbow Plans,'" said Todd. "Every country had its own color. Japan's was orange." Japan had some advantages. It had torpedoes that went five times the distance of American torpedoes, and carried warheads that could inflict twice the damage. And when they saw the devastating results of a British attack on the Italian warship fleet at the Battle of Taranto in November 1940, they had their model battle plan. The battle was the first all-aircraft, ship-to-ship naval attack in history, as the British successfully flew a few obsolete biplane torpedo bombers from an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean Sea. "Japan took great notice of this," said Todd. "This was done with some old bi-plane bombers." So Japan set out to perform a "perfect copy of what the British had done" at Taranto. "The Japanese were actually Anglophiles," he said. The big difference? Britain had used only 21 planes. Japan would use 354. The plan was to send the planes across the less-traveled Northern Route of the Pacific, and then to attack the U.S. fleet in two successive waves. "It didn't go as planned," he said, and became more or less a "furball." In spite of that, the Japanese managed to kill 2,389 U.S. troops and destroy 145 aircraft. Twenty U.S. ships were sunk or damaged significantly. While it was a tactical victory for the Japanese, "it was a strategic defeat," said Todd. Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto is famously portrayed at the very end of the 1970 film "Tora! Tora! Tora!" and in the 2001 film "Pearl Harbor" as saying after his attack on Pearl Harbor, "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve." Although the quote hasn't been verified, the general sentiment was probably true, Todd said. "The Japanese caught 'victory disease.' They thought they couldn't be defeated," he said. "They thought Americans were lazy, and that they didn't really want to go to war. They were mistaken."

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