Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, and the Sino-Japanese War

Someone on a message board recently made a comment about how the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was justified because of Pearl Harbor. This is an issue that I feel warrants a closer look, as misconceptions about Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor are so widespread.

I was a twenty-something adult, with a degree in History from a highly academic college, before I ever uncovered the facts surrounding Japan’s attack of Pearl Harbor. I had never had a teacher or professor discuss the reasons why Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Their motivations seemed to be an unimportant footnote to history. All I ever picked up from my myriad American History classes was that Japan had more or less attacked Pearl Harbor as an unprovoked aggressor, bent on dominating the Pacific Rim. And since the U.S. had a presence in Hawaii, Japan wanted them out. I’d wager to say that 99.9% of Americans probably believe this same thing. In fact, I’d wager that most Americans simply think the Japanese were the bad guys and bombed Pearl Harbor because they were evil and insidious. The inherent Japanese insidiousness is all the explanation most Americans probably need.

Interestingly enough, it was a show on the History Channel that first began answering some of the questions I had about why Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and it spurred me to investigate some things on my own. What I discovered was surprising.

Starting as early as 1931, and in full swing by 1937, the Japanese and Chinese were involved in a war. In historical circles, this is called the Second Sino-Japanese War (the first taking place at the end of the 19th century). Japan was attempting to spread its influence beyond its tiny island nation, and they saw China and the Pacific Rim as their “stomping ground,” as it were. China was unstable and involved in a civil war with the Communists, and Japan saw their weakness as an opportunity to expand. If they could control east Asia and the Pacific, they could be the eastern world power, as the U.S. was the western world power.

The United States, however, had no interest in Japan controlling the Pacific and all of east Asia. After all, “this earth ain’t big enough for the two of us.” The U.S. didn’t want any other nation challenging it for “Biggest Bad Ass in the World.” (The post WWII Cold War with the USSR proved how much America was intent on establishing its sense of world dominance.)

So the United States began secretly aiding China in its war with Japan. Supplies, munitions, arms. Eventually equipment like airplanes and tanks. The United States also provided military training to Chinese troops. Eventually, the U.S. even began, secretly, to form a military unit made up of Americans. This was a flying squadron that was formed in 1940 and early 1941. In April of 1941 (eight months before Pearl Harbor), President Roosevelt signed a secret order allowing American servicemen to resign their spots in the American military so they could volunteer to fight in China. About 300 Americans went in secret to China, with passports indicating they were teachers, so they could begin training to fly against the Japanese. This squadron would eventually come to be known by a name you probably recognize....the Flying Tigers.

Japan began to get wind of America’s secret involvement with China. Needless to say, they weren’t pleased, and this only served to create a sense of antagonism between the U.S. and Japan. Japan insisted the U.S. stop aiding China. The U.S. refused. In fact, the U.S. instituted an embargo on steel and oil against Japan, crippling their military industry.

Of course, all these actions on the part of the U.S. ultimately led to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The U.S. involved itself in the Sino-Japanese war by supporting China with equipment, training, and personnel, and when Japan found out about it, the U.S. was belligerent about it and instituted an embargo.

One would almost suspect that the U.S. was trying to pick a fight.

Well, it worked, of course. Japan, realizing that Pearl Harbor was the base of operations for America’s support of China, devised a sneak attack, and brought the U.S. into World War II. And based on America’s actions leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor, one must question whether this is not exactly what the United States wanted. When you take into account the very strong arguments that many historians have famously made in recent years about how the U.S. may actually have known the Pearl Harbor attack was coming, and chose not to stop it, an interesting picture begins to form.

The U.S. fears Japan will become a major world power, controlling east Asia and the Pacific Rim and threatening U.S. interests. They want to stop Japan, but don’t want to be viewed as the aggressors. So they begin secretly aiding China, with the knowledge that Japan will eventually find out. When Japan does find out, the U.S. does not back away, but instead steps up their antagonistic actions by instituting a major industrial embargo. They provoke Japan to attack Pearl Harbor, and even have prior knowledge of the attack, but choose not to stop it, because they know it will give them a clear in-road to all out war with Japan.

Such a scenario greatly alters the picture many people have of the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Since Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Nagasaki and Hiroshima were justified, right? But if you take the scenario painted above into account, you have a country (Japan) that was intentionally provoked into attacking the United States, and the United States allowed the attack to happen so that it could have all out war with Japan. Then, when Japan proved to be a tougher and more persistent foe than America anticipated, the U.S. dropped nuclear bombs on two of their cities and slaughtered a quarter of a million civilians!

God bless America, indeed.

Perhaps this is conspiracy theory, and it didn’t happen exactly that way. Well, perhaps. But there is no question that the attack on Pearl Harbor was not the unprovoked, out-of-thin-air attack by an evil regime bent on world domination, against a sweetly innocent, unsuspecting target, as the U.S. schools and history books and propaganda machines have taught for 65 years.


Don Thorsen said...

Hello Scott,
Just stumbled across some of your writings while following links from Gospel of Peter/Cross Gospel searches.

I appreciate reading your entries, and the time and effort you have put in.

Regarding your "Pearl Harbor" entry I agree that one should look at broader pictures to pick up information left out of many accounts, i.e., in this case earlier US provocations towards Japan.

However, historians and cultural units often prefer to only include material that tends to make their point, or side, look more justified.

I would point out that Japan in 1931, took Manchuria from China by force. And that Japan left the League of Nations in 1933, when that body placed some of the blame for that on the Japanese.

And then in 1933, Japan attacked China proper. With the Rape of Nanking, etc., taking place a few months after Japan had removed itself from observing international laws giving some protections to civilians, etc.

So I would argue that the US was at least using primarily non-lethal pressure to influence Japan's massive war of aggression against China. Which casts the actions in yet a different light than you suggest.

Of course one could bring up the fact that the US and the League never tended to look at Western Colonialism's actions throughout Asia. And whether similar actions would have been taken if say a Western country were raping China. But that would be another discussion.

Thanks, Don Thorsen

Don Thorsen said...

In my note of 6:56, my brain and fingers clearly meant to say "1937" (not 1933) was the year Japan attacked China proper.
Thanks, DT

Scott said...

Wow I haven't revisited this post in a really long time. I think the thing that stands out to me most is how much more "aggressive" my writing was in 2006. Haha.

Anyway, thanks for leaving a comment. You're right that Japan wasn't exactly an innocent combatant in the China conflict. The U.S. was probably justified in supporting China, being that Japan clearly had imperialistic desires.

Still, it's important to note that Pearl Harbor wasn't just out of the blue as is so often suggested.

But collective memory is short and highly selective.

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