"Find hungry samurai" -Gisaku

Pearl Harbor

[This review was originally #42 Never Forget Pearl Harbor]

December 7th, 1941; a date which will live in infamy.”

-Franklin Roosevelt

For months now, I had planned to write about Pearl Harbor. The idea was to send the column out on Memorial Day; so we would all have something to think about in and around our barbeques and videos. The backdrop of the movie coming out seemed perfect to me. Of course, I didn’t plan to actually watch the movie, because, in my infinite wisdom, I already knew what it was about. Then someone pointed out to me that I would have a lot more credibility if I saw the film before I ravaged it. Good point, I thought. So, last Saturday night, with a roommate in tow, I went off to see Pearl Harbor.

And I am glad I saw it. The movie is about what I had expected. There is a big love story-kind of like Titanic-except here it is a love triangle. This was added supposedly for the ladies, while the guys get off on all the special effects. I suspect that the guys will like the love story too. It is not as well done as Titanic, but it does hold your interest. At least, for the first two hours. The last hour seems like an entirely different movie. It’s like they could not figure out how to kill off one of the main characters in the original December 7 attack, (and believe me, I’m not giving anything away here), and so they had to make another movie to fill out the plot. But I don’t want to talk about that. Go see it yourself if your interested.

I want to talk about authenticity. Between my roommate-who’s ex-military-and me, we managed to ascertain that the filmmakers did a pretty good job on most of the details. The planes and ships all seemed accurate, and the timing seemed right. The movie even shows us the attack itself in something close to real-time; a bit less than an hour. That is not what has had me hopping mad for the last five months, ever since I saw the previews. What gets me is the treatment of Roosevelt. In Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt is shown as a compassionate hero, worried about our country, and determined to do what is right. Bullshit. That’s right; you read me correctly. Roosevelt is as much to blame for Pearl Harbor as the Japanese ever were.

First, let us go back to World War 1. Wilson was president then, and he campaigned in 1916 on a platform of staying out of the war. After Wilson was reelected, we promptly joined. FDR was Secretary of the Navy then, and he learned. Roosevelt as president knew we had to get into the war; I am not arguing that point. It was essential, and even inevitable, that America join the conflict. What I cannot stand is the way Roosevelt did it. At the time, America was not too high on entering another war. Roosevelt needed a way to rile up public sentiment and get the people behind him, so that he could bring America in. For several years, Roosevelt had provoked the Japanese, in ways he knew would eventually bring war. Finally, in early 1941, we cut off the Japanese supply of oil, which gave them precious little to go on. Roosevelt knew the Japanese would feel boxed in, and retaliate with a first strike. It gets worse.

We had broken the Japanese code, and were privy to all their naval communications. We knew what was coming, only we did not tell anyone in Hawaii. Then, the week before Pearl Harbor, the Japanese Emperor comes out with a statement that our (America’s) actions were tantamount to war, and to expect Japan to respond. It gets worse yet. In the week leading up to December 7, twice the Japanese sent emissaries to the White House, to tell them that this was indeed happening. Roosevelt would not see them, to preserve plausible deniability that he could later use to argue, “I didn’t know.”

But here is the absolute kicker: Roosevelt counted on an attack that would anger the public and give him an entry into WWII, but he didn’t count on the attack costing over 2400 lives. Why? Racism. You read that part right too. Roosevelt, and the rest of the military brass, were convinced that the attack on Pearl Harbor would not amount to much. You see, the Japanese have slanted eyes, at least compared to Americans. The conventional view was that Japanese pilots would all be near-sighted, and therefore not be effective attackers. Therefore, the plan was; the Japanese come in, do their little attack, be spanked badly, and we still get into the war.

But it did not work like that. We underestimated the ability of Japanese military leaders to plan an attack effectively. We overestimated our strength. In short we thought we were damn near invincible, at least as far as the lowly Empire of Japan was concerned. So Pearl Harbor happened. Our military leaders at Pearl were not made aware of the likely attack, and the Japanese came in and devastated our fleet there. Moreover, Roosevelt got what he wanted; we entered the war, and the rest is history.

So, go see the movie. Enjoy it. Cheer patriotically when we bomb Japan, and feel good about all we did to help the world. But never forget Roosevelt, and never forget Pearl Harbor.

June 1, 2001

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