Wednesday, December 7, 2016

75 Years

Today is the seventy fifth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the entry of the United States into World War II.

Here is a recording of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's message to the American people before a joint session of Congress made the following day:

Gives you goose bumps doesn't it? Well it does me anyway.

The war in Europe was already over two years old by the time the US was drawn into the battle. France and the rest of mainland Western Europe had fallen, leaving Britain alone to fight Germany. Then in June, 1941, Hitler reneged on his non-aggression pact with Stalin and invaded the Soviet Union. Meanwhile in the Pacific, Germany's ally Japan, whose empire already included Korea, Taiwan and significant portions of China, Indochina and Mongolia, looked to expand further south.

Despite all that, before Pearl Harbor, public sentiment in this country was strongly opposed to entering the war. Roosevelt understood the threat of Hitler and Nazism, and the aggression of Japan, but knew he could not declare war against the Axis powers without the support of the American people and Congress. In order to help the Allied effort as best he could, Roosevelt signed the "Lend-Lease" act, which enabled the United States to send food, oil and supplies to Great Britain, Free France, the Soviet Union and China, in return for their leasing us territories for the use of strategic military bases. In theory, the supplies would be returned after the war. Roosevelt, as a means to sell the still skeptical American public, likened the act to "lending a neighbor your garden hose to put out a fire."

German U-boats attacked and destroyed merchant marine vessels transporting lend-lease supplies across the Atlantic. Roosevelt ordered US war ships to protect those vessels and threatened Germany that any attack on the US Navy would constitute an act of war. A perturbed Hitler, already with a two front war on his hands, was not eager to engage the United States. He ordered his navy to withhold attacking US ships.

For Japan's part, the only thing stopping them from expanding their empire to the Philippines, Indochina in its entirety, Indonesia and beyond, was the U.S., who at the time controlled the Philippines and had significant economic interests in the rest of the region. Roosevelt imposed an oil embargo on Japan after their aggression in French Indochina.

Most likely the attack in response to the embargo on the enormous American naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii had been planned at least one year in advance.

As Roosevelt mentioned in his December 8th address, late in 1941 with relations between the two countries at all all time low (up to that point), Japan's ambassador to the US, KichisaburĊ Nomura met with US Secretary of State Cordell Hull, attempting to negotiate an end to hostilities between the two nations. Nomura went to his grave claiming he knew nothing of the imminent attack, and his claims were backed up by Hull who insisted that the Japanese ambassador was sincere in his attempts to make peace with the Americans. His bosses in Tokyo were obviously not on the same page.

Conspiracy theories abound that Roosevelt and his generals knew in advance of the attack, but did nothing to stop it in order to rile up American sentiment in favor of going to war. Plausible as it may seem, there is little evidence to back this theory up. Roosevelt's biggest concern at the time was the war in Europe and it's very unlikely that he relished the idea of his own two front war.

Not only is it unlikely that Roosevelt knew about the attack in advance, but apparently neither did Japan's buddy, Adolph Hitler. Rumor has it that when the news of the attack reached Nazi headquarters in Berlin, one of the generals present asked the assembled group where Pearl Harbor was. Nobody knew.

Hitler reportedly said after the attack:

Now we can’t lose the war. We have an ally that has not been defeated in 3,000 years of history!” 

Still he wasn't eager to declare war on the United States. He was on the other hand, eager to engage Japan in his war against the Soviet Union. Japan clearly had a bargaining chip, and demanded that as fulfilling terms of their Tripartite Pact signed with Germany and Italy in September of 1940, Germany and Italy declare war on the United States.

Despite objections from his generals, Hitler did so on December 11, 1941.

Next to invading the Soviet Union, that was his biggest blunder. Allied troops in a combined effort led by U.S. General Dwight David Eisenhower, attacked mainland Europe via the English Channel on June, 6 1944 and began their inexorable push east toward Berlin. Meanwhile the Soviet Army did the same from the east. The Third Reich met its end with the suicide of Adolph Hitler in his bunker on April 30, 1945. Germany unconditionally surrendered seven days later.

Which leads to the obvious question: what would have happened to Europe, and the rest of the world, had Japan not attacked Pearl Harbor?

Only God knows.

I for one, shudder to think about it.

No comments: