I have long believed that the world can be divided into two groups; those who believe that the world is screwed up because a secret cabal is running things for their own advantage, and those who believe the world is so screwed up that obviously nobody is in charge. In the former category are those who are still convinced that somehow President Roosevelt was in some way responsible for the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. To quote one neo-conspiracy theorist, “Interestingly, that ‘surprise attack’ was preceded by an astonishing number of unheeded warnings and missed signals…” This neo-knowledgeable speaker was then Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, in a speech at West Point, on June 2, 2001, some three months before 9/11.At 7:48 a.m. on December 7, 1941, out of a clear blue sky, 353 Japanese bombers, torpedoe planes and fighters of the first wave began their attack on Pearl Harbor. The United States Pacific fleet was caught flat footed, unprepared, with our war planes on the ground. How could we have been caught so unprepared if not by a conspiracy?
But at the exact moment that Japanese bombs were exploding amongst American planes on Ford Island, it was 3:00 a.m. at the US Army Air Force base at Clark Field in the Philippines. The Japanese had planned a dawn attack here as well, but fog kept their planes on Formosa on the ground. The Japanese attack on Clark Field did not begin until 12:30 p.m. local time, nine long hours after the radio alert from Hawaii had warned American commanders (including General Douglas MacArthur) that the war had already started. And yet the Japanese were able to destroy half of all United States war planes in the Philippines on the first day of the war. How was this possible? Was the conspiracy that betrayed America so large it included the anti-New Dealer General MacArthur?
At 9:15 a.m. on February 19, 1942 – 74 days after the Pearl Harbor attack – a Coastwatcher on Melville Island, just off the North coast of Australia, looked up into a clear blue sky and reported a large number of planes heading for the harbor at Darwin, Australia. The report was dismissed, as was a report at 9:37 a.m. from Father John McGrath on tiny Bathhurst Island of “An unusually large air formation bearing down on us from the Northwest”. The commander of the attacking Japanese forces would later write, “…No planes were in the air. A few attempted to take off as we came over but were quickly shot down, and the rest were destroyed where they stood.”Just an hour later, as the first wave of Japanese planes banked to return to their carriers, they left behind 8 ships sunk in Darwin harbor. They had damaged a dozen other ships (including a hospital ship), destroyed the limited harbor facilities, as well as destroying 10 P-40 fighters, one B-24 bomber, 3 C-45 transports, 3 PBY flying boats and 6 Lockheed Hudson Australian Bombers, as well as knocking out Darwin’s electricity and fresh water systems, and killing at least 243 military personnel and civilians and wounding 200 more. The Darwin raid has been called “Australia’s Pearl Harbor”. How were the Japanese able to achieve another surprise attack after so many warnings?At 6:20 a.m. on the morning of April 18, 1942 (now 102 days since the Pearl Harbor attack) Japanese Vice Admiral Boshiro Hosogaya, commander of the Japanese Fifth Fleet aboard the heavy cruiser Kiso, was awakened to read an urgent message from picket boat Number 23, the Nitto Maru. The message read; “Three enemy carriers sighted -Position 650 nautical miles east of Inubo Saki.” The Nitto Maru failed to respond to calls for further information. The vice-admiral alerted the command of the Combined Fleet headquarters. He advised them that with the known range of American carrier based bombers, the Americans would not be within range to attack the home islands for another 24 hours. The combined fleet immediately sent the following message to all commands; “Tactical Method 3 against United States Fleet.” In response elements of the First and Second Fleets sortie-ed out of their bases at Yokosuka and Hiroshima and began searching for the American carriers. Japanese aircraft carriers as far away as the Indian Ocean began to steam at all possible speed toward home waters. They would not be in time.
Just after noon Tokyo time, that same morning, Argentinean attaché Ramon Lavelle thought he heard explosions and ran onto the roof of his embassy. “I…saw four American bombers flying over the rooftops. They couldn’t have been more than 100 feet off the ground….All Tokyo seemed to be in a panic…I could see fires starting near the port…” One of the attackers would later write, “...the Japanese apparently were entirely unprepared for the attack…farmers in the field looked up and went back to work undisturbed; villagers waved from the streets; a baseball game continued its play; and in the distance training planes took off and landed apparently unaware of any danger present." Ten targets were struck in Tokyo by the B-25 meidum range land based bombers, and one each in four other Japanese cities. A carrier under construction was hit by a single bomb. One bomb even landed inside the grounds of the Imperial Palace. Of the attackers, one B-25 received some minor damage from anti-aircraft fire, and another had to dump its load into the sea when it was attacked by fighters. The two American carriers that had launched The Doolittle Raid, and all escorting ships, escaped unharmed. It would be weeks before the American public was informed of the attack, but the Japanese responded immediately by diverting fighter squadrons and anti-aircraft units back to the home islands, and with more extreme measures. Long before another American bomb landed on Japan, 10% of Tokyo had been plowed under to form fire brakes across the city, which proved ineffectual in the B-29 fire raids of 1945. The common thread connecting these three nations from December 1941 to April 1942 was the assumption that war could be restrained by the plans of politics or strategy. But all wars appear out of a clear blue sky, even to those who start them. And no strategy survives the first contact with the enemy. So all wars are a form of compulsory education for those foolish enough to think they have nothing to learn. And the three lesson that war teaches are always the same. The only sin in war is losing. The only assurance of losing is arrogance. And arrogance always leads to war.
There are no vast, grand conspiracies that produce wars. There is only common human arrogance, and usually a surplus of that.
- 30 -