Inside the Capitol

Saturday, August 20, 2005

8-24 WWII's Two Biggest Questions

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- The United States made many questionable decisions during World War II. Certainly two of the biggest lingering questions involve the events leading to the beginning and end of that war.
The first question is how could we have been so completely surprised by the attack at Pearl Harbor. We had already broken Japan's top secret diplomatic code and were monitoring transmissions daily. We knew that a fleet of warships had left Japan, headed our direction. And we knew war was almost undoubtedly inevitable.
So did President Franklin Roosevelt know what was coming and allow it to happen anyway in order to rally American public support for the war?
With only a few exceptions, relating to manifest destiny, Americans have been a peace-loving people, preferring to let two oceans isolate us from the rest of the world while we concentrate on building our nation.
So Americans were not excited about getting involved in a second major war in a little over 20 years. It, therefore, made some sense to suspect that Roosevelt knew of the impending attack.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who had been accused of similar intrigue to get America involved in World War I, had been cajoling Roosevelt for three years to get involved in the Europe conflict again.
It made some sense to suspect Roosevelt. And many still do. But the facts weigh on the other side. Japanese diplomatic transmissions, although strongly suggesting the possibility of war, never mentioned points of attack or a timetable.
Communiques from Washington to military commanders throughout the Pacific warned of impending Japanese attack. But we didn't know where. And almost no one expected the Japanese would be so daring as to attack anywhere as close to the United States as Pearl Harbor.
And that included the Army and Navy commanders in Hawaii, even though they knew a fleet of Japanese warships was lurking somewhere.
The reason for the huge Japanese gamble to attack Pearl Harbor was Fleet Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, who had traveled extensively in the United States and who knew our industrial might was sure to conquer Japan eventually.
The only possibility of delaying defeat was to deal a quick and crushing blow to America's naval and air forces. The prime target would have to be Pearl Harbor, where our Pacific fleet was headquartered.
So he set out from Japan, with that "missing" fleet of aircraft carriers and stayed well north of shipping lanes and reconnarsance flights. And he accomplished the unthinkable.
That "sneak" attack helped galvanize American attitudes about Japanese people and led to the incarceration of Japanese Americans in this country during the war. It also led to President Harry Truman's decision to end the war with atomic bombs, which would destroy civilians as well as military.
The dropping of those two bombs heads just about every list as the most significant event of the 20th century. It is bound to be second-guessed far beyond our lifetimes.
But the truth is that the United States already had made the decision to kill millions of Japanese citizens in order to end the war. Fire bombings of Japan's industrial cities were claiming as many as 100,000 casualties a night. Projections of Japanese deaths from an invasion of the homeland ranged as high as 70 million.
Japan's military leadership told all civilians to prepare to die for their country because everyone was expected to fight to their death, with sharpened bamboo stakes or whatever they had available.
In order to assure compliance, civilians were told Americans were sub-humans who would rape, torture and kill everyone, anyway, so they should die an honorable death defending their country and culture.
A grossly revised form of Shinto was developed by the military leadership declaring that anyone who died for the emperor would receive great rewards in the afterlife. This is the same doctrine that already had worked so well with kamikaze pilots.
WED, 8-24-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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