FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Pearl Harbor Revisited

by Carl Estabrook

In our state capitalist society, everything becomes a commodity, even truth — you can have as much of it as you pay for. The Disney corporation’s desire to market their movie “Pearl Harbor” in Japan compelled them to suggest in the movie that the Japanese attack on the US navy base in Hawaii in 1941 was something other than purely evil and cowardly. The commander of the attack, Admiral Yamamoto, is given a line (in Japanese, with subtitles) in which he explains that Japan was compelled to attack Pearl Harbor because of a US oil embargo. Thus crass commercialism has slightly redressed the balance of more than two generations of American concentration on the “infamy” of the Japanese “sneak attack.”

In the 1950s, comedian Zero Mostel had a routine in which he portrayed a rather dim Senator demanding to know, “What was Pearl Harbor _doing_ in the Pacific?” The humor of fifty years ago contains an unintended truth. Why was there a major military base in this US colony in the mid-Pacific? The US had seized Hawaii by force, against the will of its inhabitants, less than fifty years before the Japanese attack. Then a few years later, the US slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people in the Philippines in a Vietnam-style war to bring those islands into the US Pacific empire. So the US rejected as ludicrous the eventual Japanese claim that it was establishing an equivalent to the Monroe Doctrine for East Asia.

The opinion ascribed to Admiral Yamamoto (a Catholic from a Nagasaki family converted by Jesuit missionaries in the 16th century, he was eventually assassinated on orders from President Roosevelt) has, as the well-known war criminal Henry Kissinger was wont to say, “the extra, added advantage of being true.” Radhabinod Pal, one of the judges in the post-war Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal (run exclusively by the Americans, but meant to parallel the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi leaders) said later that the US had started the war with embargoes that were a “clear and potent threat to Japan’s very existence.”

The Japanese home islands contain little in the way of mineral resources and no oil, so after the German conquest of France, Japan signed an agreement with the puppet French government in the summer of 1941 that led to Japan’s assuming military control of Vietnam and its energy resources. “Almost immediately, the U.S., Britain, and the Netherlands instituted a total embargo on oil and scrap metal to Japan — tantamount to a declaration of war,” writes one historian. “This was followed soon after by the United States and Great Britain freezing all Japanese assets in their respective countries” (as the US did more recently in regard to Iraq).

My grandfather, an Annapolis man newly appointed captain the in the US Navy, became commandant of the Navy yard at Pearl Harbor in 1932. In that year — nine years before the Japanese attack — the US Pacific fleet carried out a war-game that included a simulated attack by carriers and planes on Pearl, an exercise adjudged a complete victory for the attackers. So the US was hardly in doubt about the feasibility of the attack that eventually took place. Ever since 1941 it has been suggested that the Roosevelt administration purposely left the fleet open to attack, in order to stampede the American public into a war. Like Lincoln with the Confederates at Ft. Sumter, every government launching a war wants to appear in an aggrieved and defensive role. (Even Germany invading Poland in 1939 announced, “We’re finally shooting back!”)

By the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the war in Europe had been under way for more than two years with the US officially neutral, and there was strong anti-war sentiment in the US. The US fought the Second World War not to stop Fascism, much less to prevent the Holocaust. When the US finally entered, the decisive events of the war in Europe — the fall of France, the battle of Britain, and the invasion of Russia — had already taken place. Nor did the US go to war because of Japanese atrocities in Manchuria or the rape of Nanking, but because Japan attacked military bases maintained by the US on colonies that it had stolen in the Pacific.

Three days later Japan’s ally Germany declared war on the US. Whatever else it was, the death of almost 2,400 Americans at Pearl Harbor was a propaganda triumph for the pro-war US government. Sixty years later, that tradition is maintained in different circumstances by a “cheesy melodrama [with] a lot of sugary, unashamed American patriotism.” CP

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
September 23, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Meaning of the Trump Surge
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: More Pricks Than Kicks
Mike Whitney
Oh, Say Can You See the Carnage? Why Stand for a Country That Can Gun You Down in Cold Blood?
Chris Welzenbach
The Diminution of Chris Hayes
Vincent Emanuele
The Riots Will Continue
Rob Urie
A Scam Too Far
Pepe Escobar
Les Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes, Obfuscation and Propaganda in Syria
Timothy Braatz
The Quarterback and the Propaganda
Sheldon Richman
Obama Rewards Israel’s Bad Behavior
Libby Lunstrum - Patrick Bond
Militarizing Game Parks and Marketing Wildlife are Unsustainable Strategies
Andy Thayer
More Cops Will Worsen, Not Help, Chicago’s Violence Problem
Louis Yako
Can Westerners Help Refugees from War-torn Countries?
David Rosen
Rudy Giuliani & Trump’s Possible Cabinet
Joyce Nelson
TISA and the Privatization of Public Services
Pete Dolack
Global Warming Will Accelerate as Oceans Reach Limits of Remediation
Franklin Lamb
34 Years After the Sabra-Shatila Massacre
Cesar Chelala
How One Man Held off Nuclear War
Norman Pollack
Sovereign Immunity, War Crimes, and Compensation to 9/11 Families
Lamont Lilly
Standing Rock Stakes Claim for Sovereignty: Eyewitness Report From North Dakota
Barbara G. Ellis
A Sandernista Priority: Push Bernie’s Planks!
Hiroyuki Hamada
How Do We Dream the Dream of Peace Together?
Russell Mokhiber
From Rags and Robes to Speedos and Thongs: Why Trump is Crushing Clinton in WV
Julian Vigo
Living La Vida Loca
Aidan O'Brien
Where is Europe’s Duterte? 
Abel Cohen
Russia’s Improbable Role in Everything
Ron Jacobs
A Change Has Gotta’ Come
Uri Avnery
Shimon Peres and the Saga of Sisyphus
Graham Peebles
Ethiopian’s Crying out for Freedom and Justice
Robert Koehler
Stop the Killing
Thomas Knapp
Election 2016: Of Dog Legs and “Debates”
Yves Engler
The Media’s Biased Perspective
Victor Grossman
Omens From Berlin
Christopher Brauchli
Wells Fargo as Metaphor for the Trump Campaign
Nyla Ali Khan
War of Words Between India and Pakistan at the United Nations
Tom Barnard
Block the Bunker! Historic Victory Against Police Boondoggle in Seattle
James Rothenberg
Bullshit Recognition as Survival Tactic
Ed Rampell
A Tale of Billionaires & Ballot Bandits
Kristine Mattis
Persnickety Publishing Pet-Peeves
Charles R. Larson
Review: Helen Dewitt’s “The Last Samurai”
David Yearsley
Torture Chamber Music
September 22, 2016
Dave Lindorff
Wells Fargo’s Stumpf Leads the Way
Stan Cox
If There’s a World War II-Style Climate Mobilization, It has to Go All the Way—and Then Some
Binoy Kampmark
Source Betrayed: the Washington Post and Edward Snowden
John W. Whitehead
Wards of the Nanny State
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail