Seventy-five years ago on this date, on a bright Sunday morning in the island paradise of Oahu, Japanese warplanes bombed, torpedoed and strafed American ships, aircraft, sailors, soldiers, Marines, civilians and facilities in and around Pearl Harbor. A total of 2,403 Americans were killed and 1,178 were wounded. From a legal perspective, none of the casualties were combatants, since the attack occurred before a state of war existed.
Before the aircraft did their deadly deed, the Japanese delegation was supposed to deliver Japan’s Final Memorandum to the United States, an ultimatum required by international law. The memorandum was in fact delivered at 2:20 p.m. Eastern time, well after the attack had begun.
Common history has the reason for the delay as administrative incompetence, but at least one researcher believes the delay was intentional.
“Study on Pearl Harbor diplomacy has been neglected, to my surprise, for half a century,” [former Japanese Ambassador Takeo Iguchi] said. He called for a “reinvestigation, a reappraisal, a search of original materials.”
Iguchi, known as a scholar and serious researcher into Japanese war and diplomatic history, made those remarks in 2006.
The Japanese memorandum, a response to the American proposal of November 26, ends thusly:
Thus, the earnest hope of the Japanese Government to adjust Japanese-American relations and to preserve and promote the peace of the Pacific through cooperation with the American Government has finally been lost.
The Japanese Government regrets to have to notify hereby the American Government that in view of the attitude of the American Government it cannot but consider that it is impossible to reach an agreement through further negotiations.
In fact, on the very day the Japanese received the American proposal, their fleet, which had been preparing for months, left port for Hawaii. Supposedly, should negotiations succeed, the fleet would “immediately put about and return to the homeland.” Of course, no negotiations were conducted until 2:20 p.m. on December 7th. The bombs falling on our fleet was the Japanese answer.
We must not forget when dealing with foreign powers, that they do not choose to play by our “rules” or the international order of things when they decide to take on the sleeping giant.
America must not fall to the smug belief that we are somehow superior, better informed, and supernaturally defended against treachery of the highest order. The world is decidedly a less safe place than it was eight years ago, and less safe than we thought it was on September 10, 2001. Yet we navel-gaze and focus on our “rights.”
Those rights do not exist in a vacuum. They were secured by the blood of every American soldier who fought and died in battle from Lexington Green to Appomattox Court House, to Iwo Jima, to Fallujah and Bagram. They are enshrined in the still-oily water above the U.S.S. Arizona’s sleeping hull, where 1,102 sailors and Marines rest.
We must not forget the lessons learned on this day 75 years ago. In a world where nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons are being developed by rogue states and nations who consider America the “Great Satan,” we cannot forget that the spectacular play, the knock-out swing, the sucker punch, is typically the strategy of choice for those who wish to take on the world’s super power.
And when that happens (not “if” in the sense of they don’t stop trying simply because we keep foiling their plans), we should be prepared better than Admiral Husband E. Kimmel was on a bright sunny Sunday morning on the island paradise of Oahu.
I took the photo at the top of this post on November 28, 2008. It was the day after Thanksgiving. The photo is of the American flag flying above the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, taken through the skylight. As I took the picture, I noticed in the distance, over the Ford Island Bridge, a rainbow in the sky. God keeps His covenant to never again destroy mankind. We must be responsible to keep our own covenant to oppose evil.