Oil figured in Dec. 7 attack
In five days, Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day will mark the Japanese attack on U.S. military installations in Hawaii – an infamous action that prematurely pulled America into World War II and profoundly shaped today’s world.
“Remember Pearl Harbor” became a rallying point for the nation, which came together in ways not foreseen by the leaders of Japan and the other Axis nations of Germany and Italy. War was underway across Europe and throughout the Pacific. Hitler’s ar- mies invaded Poland in September 1939 and France the following spring. London was under air attacks. In the Pacific, Japan had conquered China.
In July, Japanese troops invaded Indochina and U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt froze Japanese assets here and cut off high-octane gasoline to Japan. FDR’s cabinet was divided on an embargo on oil shipments, some members pushing for a total embargo. Roosevelt feared an embargo “would simply drive Japan to the Dutch East Indies and that would mean war in the Pacific,” Doris Kearns Goodwin writes in “No Ordinary Time | Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II.”
Roosevelt needed time to train troops and mobilize mass production of airplanes, munitions, ships, tanks necessary to defeat Hitler, the first objective of U.S. foreign policy. Early war with Japan would be “the wrong war in the wrong ocean at the wrong time.”
The high-level disagreement on the embargo in the summer of 1941 illustrates that pro and con discussion about modern embargoes, and their ultimate effectiveness, is hardly new. And the fact is that the embargo on Japan was one factor in the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on the United States.
The sunken battleship Arizona perhaps is the best-known Pearl Harbor symbol. Japanese warplanes killed 1,177 Arizona crew members, almost half of the U.S. casualties on other ships, notably the capsized battleship Oklahoma, and at Wheeler Field, Schofield Barracks and Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay.
For Imperial Japan, the attack on Hawaii was secondary to Operation Number One in the Philippines, Guam and East Indies. Japan’s military leaders had a big debate about attacking the United States, and Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto warned that an attack would awaken a sleeping giant. As the Japanese planned the attack, they instructed Japan’s diplomats in Washington to continue meeting with Secretary of State Cordell Hull. The attack was underway as Hull and the Japanese were scheduled to meet on Sunday.
In his 2016 book “Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness,” Craig Nelson shows that the Japanese, known for surprise attacks, intended less than an hour’s notice of the attack, but that was delayed by a lack of typists in the embassy. FDR, military leaders, intelligence people and diplomats felt Japan might attack U.S. Pacific forces, but few thought the target would be Hawaii. That said, there was command failure by Admiral Hus- band E. Kimmel and Army Gen. Walter Short.
In 1941, before the Department of Defense, there was intense rivalry between the Army and Navy. President Roosevelt was a Navy booster, calling naval men “us” and Army people “them” until he was advised to stop.
Isolationism was the predominate ideology through the 1930s, and Pearl Harbor ended that. In his declaration of war message on Dec. 8, Roosevelt famously declared the previous day “... will live in infamy.” Only 21 minutes after FDR spoke, the Senate voted 82-0 to declare war on the Empire of Japan. Twelve minutes later, the U.S. House vote was 388-1. The one representative voting against was Jeanette Rankin of Montana, a lifelong pacifist.