Tuesday, December 8, 2009

December 7th 1941

December 7th 1941Yesterday was the day that will live in infamy. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It was a beautiful Sunday morning all those years ago. The United States was fat, dumb and happy; isolated from most of the world. England had been in a death struggle with the Nazis for over two years. The Soviets were just getting over Operation Barbarossa, surprising the freezing Vermark interlopers with fresh Siberian troops that literally came from nowhere. Japan had been tearing around China for over a decade by this point and thanks to a U.S. embargo of oil and scrap metal was in serious logistical trouble.

The military junta that ran Japan decided to erase this problem by sinking the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. With no Navy to defend its far-flung possessions the U.S. could not prevent a Japanese takeover. Other Colonial possessions of other powers would be seized as well. All would be folded into the "greater Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. The Japanese rallying cry was "Asians for Asian" with the small caveat that Japan would be the top Asian Nation.

Needless to say the Chinese were not very thrilled about this particular arrangement. China felt that if anyone was to be the leading nation in Asia it should be itself. China had the largest population by far and it had the longest history to boot. China had been the great transmitter of culture, philosophy, governance, style and writing to Asia. Japan was a parvenu, a backwater nation with no resources to speak of that only a century before was wallowing in feudal stasis. Still in only fifty years it had gone from cultural and political regression to great power. It was China, via Korea, that was the first victim of Japan's expansive politics.

The Japanese Imperial designs on China began in earnest after the puppet state of Manchukuo was founded in 1931. They went into overdrive after the Marco Polo Bridge "incident" of July 7, 1937. By 1941 Japan had torn a huge slice of China from the Nationalist government and had occupied it. The Nationalists kept losing ground and retreating further into the interior of China. Japan kept "winning" in a purely Pyrrhic way getting further bogged down in China's vast spaces. Instead of accepting that there was no way a small, resource poor nation like Japan could ever cow the vast land and population of China, Japan decided that if they could just stop the "interference" from Western powers they could deliver a knock-out blow to the Chinese cause.

Japan assumed that a quick decisive blow against the United States was just the remedy for what ailed it militarily. A sneak attack would demoralize the U.S. and they would no longer aid the Chinese. It was a crackpot theory that missed the mark by several country miles.

At first it went swimmingly enough. Japan did deliver a crippling blow to the fleet at Pearl. Bureaucratic incompetence and bad military judgment greatly aided the Japanese. Almost everyone knows about the SNAFUs that plagued the Hawaiian military command structures that day. What is less know is how other commands, specifically MacArthur's in the Philippines, also suffered under negligent, incompetent foolish leaders. MacArthur especially should have been cashiered for his pre-war planning. His plan of action for the defense of the P.I. bore zero resemblance to the facts on the ground.

In the end the U.S. recovered from the initial disasters and Japan learned, much to its eternal regret, the penalties for pulling the American eagle's feathers. Little did the Japanese planners know on that date that they were the midwife to a global superpower. Little did they understand the overarching military-industrial power the helped bring into the world. Since Pearl Harbor the U.S. has maintained large continuously standing armies, something it manage to avoid from its founding in 1789 to 1941. From Pearl Harbor forward the U.S. has been either one of the preeminent military powers on the globe or the only preeminent military on the globe. We are the military one-thousand pound gorilla of the world stage today because of that fateful Sunday so many years ago.

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