Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Pearl Harbor 75

Today is the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. A carrier fleet sent planes to attack the American navy base there, and achieved complete surprise, and devastated the American fleet there. It as not just a surprise, but illegal, since translation and decoding difficulties delayed the Japanese embassy's delivery of its declaration of war until after the attack had taken place - probably not very important practically, but important propaganda... At about the same time, Japan launched attacks across the Pacific, in the Philippines and other American possessions, on British Hong Kong and southeast Asia (Malaya), and so on. They swept all before them - by spring they held the Malay peninsular and Singapore, Borneo and New Guinea, they'd taken the Philippines, the Allies were driven back to Australia, and it was in danger. But that was as far as they got.

In the end, Pearl Harbor did the Japanese no good. They did terrible damage to the American battleship fleet, but there were no carriers present - so it did little more than inconvenience the Americans. The attack itself showed this change: a carrier based air force wrecked a host of surface ships - that was the way the war was going to go. Carriers and their planes were going to do the major work: everything else was support. The Japanese made it worse, by concentrating on the ships, and neglecting the harbor - they did not bomb supplies or ship building and repair facilities or oil or armament stores - the port and its facilities were far more important o the Americans than the ships. Attacking the ships had the biggest psychological impact on the Americans, but all of it bad for Japan - it's easy to identify with ships; attacking ships meant casualties were probably a lot higher than if they had attacked facilities - all pissing the USA off and keeping the infamy of the attack in the front of their minds. Attacking facilities would have been far more useful strategically, and probably less harmful politically - though probably not by much. As it was, the US never lost the use of the port, and got most of the ships back in service before the war was over - they ended up pissing us off without doing the country any real harm.

It brought us into the war. We immediately declared war on Japan - a few days later, Germany and Italy declared war on us - almost as big a folly as Japan's attacks, probably. They might have gotten away with not fighting us for a while had they not declared war. Though we were pretty overtly committed to Britain by that time, so we'd have been in the shooting soon enough. And in the event - we took a licking from Japan in those early months, finally stopping their advances at the Coral Sea and Midway, before pushing back, starting at Guadalcanal, and moving on from there, with ever diminishing effective resistance. Though dug in Japanese could exact a terrific toll on their attackers - but they were increasingly isolated as the war went on, as Japan's navy and especially their naval air forces were destroyed. It was a carrier war - though lots of infantrymen had to die to convince the Japanese they were beat...