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Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I believe this was the first American joke of World War Two: holding up a newspaper headline that read "Japs Bomb Pearl Harbor”, the hung-over volunteer in boot camp sadly announced, “I thought Pearl Harbor was a girl!” It was a good joke. And despite holding a ten year lead, the best Japanese gag of the war has largely been forgotten, because somehow many of the Japanese never got the joke themselves. Typical of the humorless sons of Nippon was Lt. Col. Kingoro Hashimoto, who wore the Japanese neo-con mantle long before such right wing ideologies could have been called “neo”.

Kingoro was known for being “… arrogant and insubordinate,” as well as “…ignorant and dangerous” and “a publicity hound”. And that was the way a Japanese general described him. Robert Butow pointed out in his 1961 book “Tojo and the Coming of War”, that Kingoro “…seemed to reappear on the national scene - whenever crises threatened – like a jack-in-the-box when the lid is released.” And that is actually my favorite image of this Japanese anti-social psychopath, as a jack-in-the-box, popping up to play martial music to drown out the punch line.

 It was Kingoro who helped plan two attempts to overthrow the elected government in 1931. Both attempts failed, and in response the public elected a moderate Prime Minister. So in 1932 Kingoro supported the assassination of that Prime Minister. In September of 1933 Kingoro help manufacture the Japanese takeover of Manchuria. And it was Kingoro who, during the 1937 infamous “Rape of Nanking”, in China , ordered the attack on the American gun boat Panay, which killed three American sailors and wounded 48 others. That little joke cost the Japanese $2 million in indemnity paid to the United States. (

However it provided yet more proof that many others in Japan did not favor the lunatics like Kingoro. Public pressure forced Kingoro’s recall and the American ambassador to Japan noted that his embassy was deluged by “…people from all walks of life, from high officials, doctors, professors, businessmen down to school children, trying to express their shame, apologies, and regrets” with the Panay sinking. The Ambassador noted that “never before has the fact that there are 'two Japans' been more clearly emphasized.” There were two Japans, and as the war with China dragged on year after year, the lunatic one remained not amused and unamusing.

According to the humorless plan of the Japanese ultranationalists, China was supposed to supply workers for Japanese industry. But instead of a pool of unlimited manpower, China became a swamp, a drain on Japanese resources, both human and industrial. Could the ultra-nationalists like Kingoro Hashimoto have been wrong? By 1940 there was nobody left alive in a position of authority to suggest so. In September the nationalists doubled-down their bet by invading French Indo-China, looking for natural resources to support their war in China, which was supposed to have made Japan industrially independent

The American response to this invasion was to cut off all oil shipments to Japan: just not right away. We were one of the world’s great oil exporters back in those days. And the American oil companies fought the crimp in their profits tooth and nail. Congress did not approve the embargo until July of 1941, which gave the Japanese time to plan their response. The Japanese navy was burning 2,900 barrels of oil every hour, 11,600 barrels every day. By September their reserves had dropped to 50 million barrels, about a six months supply.

The Japanese neo-ultra-nationalists now faced a choice. They could admit they had been mega-stupid. Or they could invade the Dutch West Indies, to capture the oil fields on Borneo. To protect the flank of that massive operation, the Japanese were forced to include the invasion of the American protectorate of the Philippines, and Operation Z.

 While Americans were sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner on November 20, 1941, six fast Japanese aircraft carriers and their escorts were taking on a full load of fuel oil. On November 26 they steamed for Oahu. And in the pre-dawn hours of December 7, 1941 they launched almost 400 aircraft in two waves to attack the naval base at Pearl Harbor. The attack sank four battleships, damaged four others, damaged three cruisers, three destroyers and one mine layer, destroyed 188 aircraft, and killed 2,402 and wounded 1,282 American servicemen. And for Japan the attack was a complete and total failure.

To quote from Ted Mahar, and his article on the History Net, “The Battle That Ignited America”(; “The attack on Pearl Harbor modernized the U.S. Navy in two hours, neutralizing our battleships and forcing us to use the weapon we should have been stressing all along, our carriers, none of which was even damaged, since none was there. Political wrangling between carrier admirals and battleship admirals could have slowed our retaliation. The Japanese streamlined the discussions.”

But more specifically, as was pointed out by U.S. Air Force Major Patrick Donovan in his 2001 paper “Oil and Logistics in the Pacific War”, “By far, the more surprising target oversight of the Japanese attack was the oil and gas storage tanks. The entire fuel supply for the Pacific Fleet was stored in above-ground tanks on the eastern side of the naval base. These tanks were perfectly visible to the naked eye and, ergo, perfect targets. These tanks were particularly susceptible to enemy action…Even a few bombs dropped amongst the tanks could have started a raging conflagration.

“The US Navy had just finished restocking Pearl Harbor to its total capacity of 4.5 million barrels of oil. …The Japanese strategic disregard of the fragile U.S. oil infrastructure in the Pacific was an incredible oversight on their part.”

In other words, the entire raid on Pearl Harbor could have been substituted with a dozen strafing attacks over those fuel tanks with incendiary bullets. Without the oil in those tanks the U.S. Pacific Fleet would have been forced to withdraw to California and Washington State. Hawaii would have been indefensible. And, in the words of Admiral Chester Nimitz, the man who won the war in the Pacific, “Had the Japanese destroyed the oil (stored at Pearl Harbor), it would have prolonged the war another two years.”

It displays an underlying truth about the ideological hawks who preach “preemptive strikes” and wars: they usually prove to be incompetent idiots once the shooting really starts. Kingoro Hashimoto was a perfect example. The man who once warned the world, “Watch me, Hashimoto. I am no man to sit still and talk”, was never promoted within the army. Instead he went into politics. He was convicted in 1948 of crimes against humanity, and was sentenced to life in prison.

He thus provided the best Japanese joke of World War Two. Did you hear about the super patriot who sent tens of thousands of young Americans and millions of innocent young Chinese and Japanese to their deaths? He died in his own bed, at 67 years of age, from lung cancer.

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