Pearl Harbor: Why and How Japan Attacked the U.S.

How did the U.S. React after Pearl Harbor?

Several military gears and installations were lost for sure after Pearl Harbor. Both air and navy took significant hits. But the U.S. was swift and decisive. The military quickly repaired 6 out of the 8 battleships.  Luckily for the U.S., the oil storage facilities at the harbor were left unscathed. Somehow, the Japanese strangely missed those storage facilities. This negligence or error on the part of Japan would later come back to haunt them.

The U.S. politicians, officials, and Congress all acted in unison. They had a bipartisan voice under Franklin D. Roosevelt. The U.S. could no longer afford to remain aloof while World War II raged on. Therefore, the immediate consequences of Pearl Harbor drew the U.S. into World War II.

The first thing the following day, Congress declared war on the Empire of Japan on 8 December 1941. This was probably less than 24 hours after the Pearl Harbor attack. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) stood in front of Congress and gave a speech that will forever be remembered. He is quoted as saying this very important line:

“Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”

FDR’s Noon Speech to Congress, December 8, 1941

The American public wholeheartedly supported a war against Japan; and by extension Japan’s allies: Germany and Italy. There was however a minuscule piece of dissent that came from Jeannette Rankin, a Montana Congresswoman.  She described herself as a pacifist. She believed that war was a terrible thing and that America should just turn the other cheek. The records also show that Jeannette vehemently opposed the U.S. involvement in World War I. With the exclusion of Congresswoman Jeannette; the whole political establishment of the U.S. was fully in favor of striking back at Japan.

If the Japanese were that close to Hawaii, how come no one noticed their massive buildup?

Accounts and investigations revealed that about 4 hours before the attack, some navy officials spotted a Japanese submarine. The officers aboard the USS Ward sprung to action and fired at this submarine. Kimmel received this message exactly 2 and a half hours before the Pearl Harbor attack. However, he had to wait for confirmation. While doing so, the Japanese began their assault on the harbor.

There was also the observation made by U.S. Army private George Elliot. The private saw on his radar system a hoard of planes. He quickly informed his lieutenant. However, the lieutenant turned a blind eye to Elliot’s observation. The lieutenant felt that what Elliot had seen was a set of B-17 bombers belonging to the United States.

The Japanese army also had some very good cloaking technology and skills. They traveled in an area of the Pacific that was least used. All of the above made aerial reconnaissance by the U.S. extremely difficult.

Why did years of negotiation between Japan and the U.S. yield nothing?

The two countries did have several negotiations and talks for close to a decade or so. President Roosevelt even reached out to the Emperor of Japan, Hirohito. The Japanese ambassador, Kichisaburō Nomura had had several meetings with the U.S. Secretary of State, Cordell Hull. Nomura tried to persuade his country from going into war with the Americans. However, the Japanese were simply vexed that the U.S. did not halt its support for Nationalists in China. Japan was also power-hungry and needed a constant source of resources to fuel its expansionary efforts. The last straw for them was when the U.S. halted oil shipments to Japan. At that point, neither side was willing to budge. Therefore, the clash was unavoidable.

Could the attack have been prevented by the U.S.?

Yes. Had officials not grossly underestimated the Japanese and their capabilities, the attack on Pearl Harbor would not have been that severe. The entire chain of command had a role to play. Furthermore, Kimmel complained bitterly about his base not being properly resourced. However, the commanders themselves at the base failed to implement an effective radar training program. In retrospect, such a program could have spotted the advancing Japanese.

Also, had Kimmel conducted proper reconnaissance in the northwest, he would have spotted the advancing Japanese fleet. Another mistake of his was positioning the entire fleet anchored at the same place. Some of his men also proceeded to go on leave.

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