With the benefit of hindsight, many seemingly rational acts (at the time) tend to blur into the irrational when viewed through the looking glass of history, and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is an almost textbook example of this phenomena. This seems even more-so with the inaccurate (but commonly cited belief) that all they had to do was to blow up a few battleships and the Americas would just run away. In reality, NOBODY at the time believed that, not even the most racist Japanese that thought quite poorly of the “fighting spirit” of your average American. They had other ideas.
To your average 21st century resident of the world it seemed as though the entire Empire of Japan (circa 1941) was on some kind of suicidal mission to get their butts handed to them courtesy of the air, land, sea, and Marine forces of the United States, along with the rest of the Anglospere. As with all bad ideas, they usually are incubated in the nursery of misconception and in assuming away the capability of your enemy in an attempt to imagine the enemy as you wish them to be, and not as they are.
Until June 22, 1941 there was a very strong isolationist bent in the American public’s mind. This was not really due to any ambivalent feelings toward Hitler (his poll numbers were quite low and trending lower), but instead the result of a MASSIVE disinformation campaign being run by the Soviets and their agents of influence in the United States (remember the The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact that allied Hitler with Stalin), some of whom had President Roosevelt’s ear (Harry Hopkins). That was also largely fueled by the mostly correct belief that WW-I (The Great War) was nothing more than a futile meat grinder that cost Europe an entire generation of young men and accomplished little, and that WW-I was a bullet narrowly ducked by the U.S. was still in much of America’s public consciousness. This was capped off by the also mostly correct belief that any lasting peace offered by President Woodrow Wilson were largely left on the floor as France and Britain’s rushed to pick over Germany’s emaciated nation-state corpse for largely imaginary reparations that could never be repaid.
Rarely are unfriendly foreign governments (such as the Empire of Japan) up to the minute as to what “America” is really thinking (as is occasionally our very own politicians) and so was the case with the Empire of the Sun in late 1941. They really did believe that the “peace at all cost” Americans were soft and lacking in resolve and conviction, largely based on information that was several months out of date, and a very incorrect belief that Americans were addicted to Jazz music and consumer comforts. This is part of assuming away the attributes of your enemy and replacing them with a caricatured stereotype that acts just as you believe they will. Usually this is how wars and battles are lost.
Japan believed that with a decisive blow against the United States in the Pacific they would have 6 months to a year to do anything they wished in the Pacific and to become, in the Japanese’s own words, “an immovable object” that would force America to eventually accept the new status quo with the Empire of Japan the new Masters of Asia and all of the Pacific, or at least as far as the Hawaiian Islands, which suited them just fine.
So, they wanted to own the Pacific and Asia and to dig in so deep in all of the surrounding territory that we would just say “screw it”. The term sue for peace is bandied about with almost a tinges of surrender, but in reality the Japanese never really expected that. They just wanted the White People out of the Pacific, and that eventually would have included Australia and New Zealand.
In my next post I will talk about how the Japanese blew their one really good opportunity at Pearl Harbor by, well, fighting and thinking like Japanese and by the Americans refusing to follow their scripted role.