Review of Tears in the Darkness
Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and its Aftermath by Michael Norman and Elizabeth M. Norman. Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux of New York, copyright in 2009.
Review by William F. Sauerwein, 1SG, US Army (Retired). B.S., Historical Studies from Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville (SIUE) in 2004.
When I received this book I eagerly read it for I possess a thirst for knowledge regarding this period of American history. The events of this time provide harsh lessons regarding the need for military readiness during perceived “peacetime.” It further reveals the consequences of purposely ignoring the threat posed by “rogue nations” and deceiving oneself regarding their capabilities. When I learned that Michael Norman served in Viet Nam as a US Marine I anticipated an in depth analysis of American military operations. However, as I read the book I grew disappointed with the emphasis on the Japanese combat experience. While the book jacket states that the book “exposes the myths of war” I believe it revises history by ignoring relevant information. Therefore, I provide more than a standard review of this book and include my in depth analysis of this crucial period of history.
Furthermore, I believe the posting of my article on December 7, 2009, the 68th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack most appropriate. The military disaster at Pearl Harbor and subsequent defeat in the Philippines proved that our nation must remain prepared for war. Unfortunately it seems that the American public, and the leadership responsible for protecting them, always ignore these lessons. Throughout our history we repeat these mistakes, often resulting in disaster, requiring an enormous cost in blood and treasure for achieving victory. While most libraries contain volumes explaining in detail the lessons of Pearl Harbor and Bataan few people read them today. Worse still, most academics do not teach these lessons; instead they revise them for advancing a certain political agenda.
During the early 1930’s Germany, Italy and Japan represented the “rogue nations” of the day who violated the “standards” of the “international community.” The “superpowers” of the day, France and the United Kingdom (UK), abrogated their responsibility for squashing these problems. Instead they hid behind the cover of “resolutions” passed by the impotent League of Nations “condemning” the violations. Ignoring bad behavior only encourages worse behavior; the “rogue nations” united into the Axis Powers and the “superpowers” almost lost World War Two.
For my document I consulted several sources that I possess: At Dawn We Slept, by Gordon Prange; The Mighty Endeavor by Charles MacDonald; The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang; Day of Deceit by Robert B. Stinnett and The New Dealers War by Thomas Fleming. Additionally I consulted the works of US Army historian Louis Morton and US Navy historian Samuel Eliot Morison regarding World War II. Furthermore, I researched the websites of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor (ADBC), now called the Descendents Group, an auxiliary of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor (DG-ADBC), at www.west-point.org/family/adbc; the Philippine Scouts Heritage Society (PSHS) at www.philippine-scouts.org; the 31st US Infantry Regiment Association at www.31infantry.org and 26th US Cavalry Regiment (Philippine Scouts) veteran Colonel Edwin P. Ramsey, US Army (Retired), at www.edwinpriceramsey.com. Furthermore, my Army career provided access to vast sources of unit histories and a tour of duty at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. The events of December 7, 1941 figure significantly in the history of Schofield Barracks, and the unit in which I served. While some of these sources cover the Philippine defeat, most cover the “big picture” of overall American strategy. They further cover the overriding political considerations of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) that effected his decisions both at home and abroad.
First let me discuss what I liked about the book, and the book did provide several perspectives on the Philippine campaign. As previously stated, it provides an alternate view of the Philippine campaign from the Japanese perspective. Even the title “Tears in the Darkness” derives from the Japanese word anrui. The book provides an overview of the Japanese political and military strategy, including the propaganda used by Japanese “patriotic groups.” Military intelligence doctrine demands that we “know our enemy;” however, today most Americans hardly consider this concept. This work details how these groups revised the bushido “code of the warrior” for their own purposes and incited ethnic hatred. Every Japanese, military and civilian, learned that a “true warrior” never surrendered because surrender meant disgrace. Furthermore, it describes the inherent brutality of living in the Japanese “police state,” and the brutality of Japanese military training.
I commend the authors for exposing the Japanese myth of Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun. This myth of the Japanese as a “master race” directly descended from divine parentage preceded Adolph Hitler by centuries. It stems from the Shinto religion, the religion of the majority of Japanese and later sanctioned by the government. Supposedly the first manuscripts of this myth date from the 7th Century, while Europe endured the “Dark Ages.” During the Meiji Restoration of the late 19th Century, when Japan began developing as an industrial power, it resurrected this myth for obtaining resources. Japan, an island nation, lacked the “living space” for housing and feeding its expanding population. Furthermore, it lacked the natural resources for becoming a modern industrial and military power without foreign sources. Japanese officials reasoned that obtaining these resources through commerce made them dependent on the West, and vulnerable. However, if they obtained them from conquered territory this ensured them a continuous source.
Ultra-nationalist propagandists proclaimed it Japan’s duty for protecting the “inferior Orientals,” particularly from the hated “white man.” I learned this term from a History Channel program I watched several years ago about the Japanese invasion of China. Unfortunately I forgot the name of the program for I watched it purely for educational purposes. The most powerful voice among them, Kokuryukai (Black Dragon Society), secretly included many high-ranking Japanese officials and military officers. Unfortunately the authors never mention this group and its well-funded campaigns of espionage, subversion, assassination and bribing of local officials in target nations.
The Normans revealed the conflicts the political and cultural policies of Japan created within Japanese soldiers themselves. They stated the doubts of the Japanese commander in the Philippines, Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma, who like many high-ranking Japanese officers, studied extensively in the West. Many believed privately that Japan faced eventual defeat against the Americans and British; however, like all soldiers, their duties required they execute their orders. Even the lowest-ranking Japanese soldiers, as revealed by the authors, experienced the fear common of all soldiers facing combat. Some further experienced doubt in the official policies of executing and torturing prisoners of war (POW) because a “warrior” never surrendered.
Regarding the American and Filipino side of the battle, the book goes into great detail highlighting the atrocities suffered by the American POW’s. It provides insight into the almost constant brutal torture suffered by the POW’s from their surrender beginning with the denial of food, water and medical treatment. The authors graphically detail the random beatings and executions, the overcrowded conditions both in camps and during transportation and the forced labor both in the Philippines and in Japan. The latter experience covers the overcrowded “hell ships” that transported these POW’s throughout the Japanese Empire for forced labor. Additionally, I learned of the Pantingan River massacre of Filipino POW’s, as described by a POW who miraculously survived. This event, and probably many others, gets lost in the overall massive atrocities committed by the Japanese.
Now let me discuss where I believe the authors missed many opportunities for providing a better account of the Bataan campaign. Regarding the overall strategy in the Pacific, which brought the war into the Philippine Islands they miss several crucial points. It states that Japanese aggression began with its invasion of China in 1931, resulting in the conquest of Manchuria. Unfortunately they miss the timeline by about forty years. Japan embarked upon its quest for a colonial empire with the First Sino-Japanese War in 1894 for control of Korea. The Korean Peninsula, then a vassal state of the weakened Empire of China, provided a “stepping stone” onto the Asian mainland. Years before the war Japanese agents conducted a campaign of subversion in Korea, even gaining influence in the Korean royal family. The modern Japanese war machine easily defeated Chinese troops and forced concessions of territory and trade agreements on China. After the war Japanese agents assassinated the Korean empress, known as Queen Min, because she opposed Japanese annexation. Few expressed alarm over this since the European nations treated China in similar fashion for almost one century.
The book does mention the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), in which Japan solidified its possession of Korea. This defeat of a Western (white) power by an Asian power inspired Japan for further aggression; something not mentioned in the book. Also not mentioned, this victory brought Japan increased influence among the Asian people living under Western rule. Something the Kokuryukai exploited by funding and training “independence” groups that served as Japanese puppets.
Initially the British and Americans delighted in the defeat of Russia, since both regarded Russia’s expansion in Asia as a threat. The British and Russians competed in the “Great Game” for dominance in Asia since early in the 19th Century. However, they soon feared the growing influence of Japan among their Asian colonial subjects. The Americans, who first opened Japan for commerce, viewed the Japanese as their “prodigies,” and lauded Japan’s victory. But when this victory merely whetted Japan’s appetite for more conquests, the Americans grew increasingly fearful.
Japan began projecting its power before the First Sino-Japanese War by sending its powerful cruiser Naniwa to Honolulu twice in 1893. The first “visit” coincided with labor unrest between the American-owned sugar and pineapple industries and the mostly Japanese laborers. The second demonstrated Japanese “concerns” when the American colonists overthrew the Hawaiian royal family with the assistance of the US Navy. Naniwa again spent several months in 1897 “visiting” Honolulu when the Republic of Hawaii banned Japanese immigration. This alarmed the American colonists governing Hawaii, who began petitioning Washington for annexation.
Ironically, Japan’s expansion coincided with that of its future Axis partner, Germany, and their future enemy, the United States of America. When the US Navy defeated the Spanish forces in Manila during the Spanish-American War naval squadrons of several nations observed this battle. This included both Germany and Japan, with Germany almost provoking a war with the US. Despite the American victory, the Navy lacked the ground forces for exploiting it and must await their arrival from San Francisco. Despite the widely accepted myth today the Philippine revolutionary forces did not present a united front. While the US negotiated with the rebels besieging Manila, the Germans and Japanese negotiated with other factions. This represents the first official knowledge of Japanese interest in colonizing the Philippines, but not the last.
The following two paragraphs do not discuss the growing rift in US-Japanese relations; however they discuss the relevant American Pacific strategy. Following the Spanish-American War the US annexed Hawaii and maintained the territories it conquered, Guam and the Philippines. However, Germany purchased the remaining Spanish possessions in the Pacific Ocean, giving it virtual control of the Pacific between Hawaii and the Philippines. The US and Germany existed in an adversarial relationship since the 1880’s concerning a disputed coaling station in Samoa.
Hawaii’s geographic position in the middle of the Pacific Ocean made it a strategic prize for whoever occupied it first. Since the Americans overthrew the Hawaiian royal family what prevented Japan or Germany from overthrowing the Americans? Japan already demonstrated its ability at reaching Hawaii with one warship and the next time might send more, and occupying troops. Hawaii already possessed a large Japanese population, making them willing subjects of a Japanese-installed government. Germany, already in an antagonistic relationship with the US, now owned Hawaii’s nearest neighboring island chains. The aggressive Germans certainly viewed the vulnerable Hawaiian Republic as a “ripe plum for picking.” Since Americans already governed Hawaii and controlled most commercial interests annexing the islands seemed the next logical step.
Unfortunately the US soon regarded the Philippine Islands as a burden, despite Manila Bay representing the best natural harbor in Southeast Asia. A robust international commerce in those days required secure harbors as coaling stations for merchant ships. Furthermore, in the competitive atmosphere of the time, protecting commercial interests required a strong navy; which also needed coaling stations. Since America’s major competitors, the Europeans, controlled the other strategic ports, possession of Manila Bay seemed an advantage.
However, the strategic and commercial benefits did not outweigh the expense and distance for maintaining possession. Between 1898 and 1913 the US waged a series of bloody guerrilla wars with Filipino revolutionaries and Moro (Muslim) rebels. These wars cost the US significantly in blood, treasure and prestige both at home and abroad. Allegedly Germany and Japan covertly supported different Filipino factions; given both countries’ imperial ambitions the charges seem believable. However, American withdrawal left the islands open for German or Japanese occupation; something modern historians ignore.
Unfortunately doing nothing defensively also left the islands vulnerable for whoever wanted possession of them. Despite a decade of overt Japanese aggression in Asia the Commonwealth of the Philippines lacked an army. Commonwealth president, Manuel Quezon, lacked the funding for building adequate armed forces in his poor nation. The American government, at the time responsible for the defense of the Philippines, provided almost no funding for defending the islands. Most of this neglect came from the 1934 passage of the Tydings-McDuffie Law by the US Congress. This granted the Philippine Islands independence after ten years of transition as a commonwealth, and ended US responsibility for the islands. Another part of the lack of Philippine defenses stemmed from the arms and naval reduction treaties enacted following World War One for preventing “future aggression.” Unfortunately the book does not mention these treaties, or the Japanese violations of them.
As revealed in the book, the US strategy, known as War Plan ORANGE, called for abandoning the distant commonwealth. The book further reveals that, with the exception of the 31st US Infantry Regiment, the American ground troops consisted of Filipino soldiers enlisted in the US Army, known as Philippine Scouts (PS). However these men, enlisted in the US Regular Army, proved excellent soldiers as the records of their units state.
The book further names Benjamin Steele, a young private in the US Army Air Corps, as the “protagonist,” or main character. While we learn in great detail about Steele’s life before he entered the Army and his post-war life we learn very little about his military experience. The authors provide an overview of his basic training while delving deeply into the basic training of individual Japanese soldiers. However, we learn little regarding Steele’s military experience except as a member of a larger cast of Americans and Japanese. For example we never learn of his combat experience as a member of the “Flying Infantry.” I fully understand the reluctance of combat veterans in discussing their experiences; however the uniqueness of this “Flying Infantry” requires a history. The “flashbacks” into Steele’s pre-war civilian life, interspersed throughout the book, I found distracting. A better organization, and easier read, of the book would have concentrated his pre-war life in the beginning.
We learn very little in this book regarding the American and Filipino combat experience, despite the detailed Japanese experience. In the notes the authors state that they spent years researching American and Filipino veterans; however we only learn of one Filipino soldier. The notes further state that with the ADBC organization the authors selected men who “put aside their hate and bitterness.” This implies that they sought only certain opinions, rendering those other opinions as irrelevant and ultimately distorted history. Mr. Norman, as a journalism professor, should know that “selective journalism” does not report the truth.
Despite the statement in the notes of interviewing Filipino veterans from the PSHS, the book published little about them. For example, in the crucial Battle of the Pockets the authors explicitly covered the Japanese unit engaged. However, it hardly mentioned the mostly Filipino soldiers of the Philippine Army that defeated the Japanese. Instead the book focuses on the defeats of the hastily assembled and mostly untrained Filipino reservists. I remind the authors that American history records several defeats of hastily assembled and untrained militiamen against numerically inferior enemies.
The book describes a cavalry charge made by the 26th US Cavalry (PS) without interviewing one member of the unit. I do not know, and the book does not state, whether this is the Battle of Morong, called the “Last Cavalry Charge of the US Army,” or not. If so, the book’s account, as related by a witness from another unit, contrasts with the official record. Then-Lieutenant Edwin P. Ramsey led this charge and received the Silver Star Medal for this victory. The official history, and Ramsey’s website, state that he led three platoons into the village of Morong. They suddenly encountered Japanese soldiers, equally surprised at the meeting, and Ramsey quickly ordered a charge. The soldiers did not use sabers, as the book states, they used their M-1911 .45 caliber pistols. Unnerved by this sudden charge, the Japanese soldiers fled the village and Ramsey’s men secured the village. It seems that the authors could have interviewed Ramsey, still alive for a magazine article by Steve Shaw in Western Shooting Horse, dated September 4, 2008. Additionally, the artist John Solie painted “The Last Charge” illustrating this charge, showing no sabers.
While the authors delve into great detail regarding the flaws with the American and Filipino troops, someone caused the Japanese casualties. The book states that in early January, 1942 the Japanese suffered several defeats and “horrendous casualties.” This forced a temporary withdrawal of the Japanese from the battlefront and delayed their campaign. The PSHS details the valor of the Philippine Scouts throughout the harsh campaign. It further states that these men received 3 Congressional Medals of Honor (CMH), 34 Distinguished Service Crosses (DSC) and 134 Silver Stars. However, the authors mentioned none of these men and apparently did not interview any of them.
Regarding the 31st US Infantry, the authors seemingly hold nothing but contempt for this unit. Before the war it derides them as lazy and hard-drinking “Sundowners,” a disparaging term. From my Army career I do not doubt the pre-war off-duty “hard-drinking” and carousing of these men. However the official unit history, and other records, state that American commanders frequently used the 31st and their PS brethren for counterattacks and covering withdrawals. The record further states that recommendations for awards included 1 CMH and 29 DSC’s, hardly the record of cowards. Since the entire chain of command of the 31st US Infantry died in Japanese captivity it remains unknown if the men ever received their awards.
Instead the authors focus on the performance of American and Filipino troops after almost three months of starvation. The lack of planning and coordination by the American field commander, General Douglas MacArthur, and his staff left most of the supplies in Manila. Once MacArthur declared Manila an “open city” and withdrew his troops into Bataan his quartermaster officers failed in transferring their supply depots. This included food, medical supplies, ammunition, fuel and all sorts of spare parts necessary for sustaining a combat force. The book mentions one abandoned warehouse containing “fifty million bushels of rice,” capable of feeding the garrison “for years.” While the lack of rations proved the breaking point of the troops on Bataan, a besieged army requires the other necessary supplies for surviving until relieved.
An army might possess extensive supply depots for providing the logistical needs of its troops. However, it needs the service and support assets for getting those supplies into the hands of the troops. While the table of organization and equipment (TOE) for MacArthur’s command show quartermaster and transportation units, I found little regarding their equipment. I do know that MacArthur requested 8,000 motor vehicles for the mobilizing Philippine Army; unfortunately they did not arrive before the war. After the Japanese attack the Army commandeered civilian motor vehicles for transporting supplies; however they proved mostly inadequate for the immense task.
Then we must consider the limited road networks of the Philippines, constantly under Japanese air attack. With Japanese air superiority established early during the campaign they freely interdicted American rear areas, where resupply operations occurred. As the American and Filipino troops withdrew into Bataan the Japanese focused their air operations on this restricted area. Even if the Americans displaced their massive quartermaster stores into Bataan, these depots require large areas. These depots, and the activities they generate, do not escape uncontested aerial observation for long; and subsequent destruction. Therefore, the ability of “holding out” for six months and maintaining combat effectiveness seems questionable. Particularly since the combat power of War Plan ORANGE suffered a disaster at Pearl Harbor, rendering timely relief impossible.
In fairness the book does mention that the besieged troops soon began devouring every available source of meat, including their cavalry mounts. Officially placed on half-rations in early January, 1942 the deteriorating supply situation required further drastic reductions. The 76,000 troops and 26,000 civilian refugees soon stripped the peninsula of meat, and even edible plants and roots. The book graphically reveals what these people ate, and it seems beyond the average person’s comprehension. Malnourished men proved weak and susceptible to malaria and other tropical diseases rampant in the jungles. Although the Japanese suffered from these same diseases they replenished their stores of food and medicine and replaced their combat losses. As American combat readiness and morale deteriorated, Japanese combat readiness and morale increased. The rested Japanese opened their new offensive with a devastating air and artillery barrage that broke American and Filipino troops. During Operation Desert Storm I witnessed the surrender of starving and demoralized Iraqi soldiers after six weeks of constant air attack.
The book mentions a little known fact that MacArthur served as the “field marshal” of the Philippine armed forces since 1935. Retired from the United States Army as chief of staff in 1934, the authors correctly state that the Philippine president requested MacArthur. However, they do not mention his lengthy service in the Philippines that began when his father served there as military governor. This service gave MacArthur a love for the islands and the Filipino people that blinded his judgment regarding the defensive measures needed. Besides, “intelligence” revealed that with Japanese troops heavily engaged in China they lacked the resources for another operation until April, 1942.
When MacArthur assumed his “field marshal” duties he received broad authority from Washington. He took with him a small, but very competent staff, including then-Major Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Philippine national security plan, developed by a special committee from the US War College, provided for a ten-year program. This kept in time with the proposed independence of the commonwealth (1946), and with the Philippine’s limited resources.
This plan envisioned a small regular army of about 10,000; with approximately half of that number the Philippine Constabulary, a national police force. It further called for the gradual training of about 400,000 reservists by 1946, with two training cycles per year. Each training cycle consisted of 20,000 personnel for an almost six month period. For developing an officer corps the Philippines established a military academy; patterned after the US Military Academy at West Point. It expected a graduation rate of about 100 officers per year; after the first four-year class graduated. The plan also called for a small navy of about 36 motor torpedo (PT) boats and an air force of about 100 aircraft.
Unfortunately the reality did not meet the expectations and the Philippine Army lost 1936 in constructing camps and forming training cadre from the Philippine Division. This took officers and noncommissioned officers from the Philippine Division, hindering its training. Therefore, the first reservists did not report for training until January, 1937 in the few training camps in operation. Unfortunately little funding remained for sustainment training of these reservists after they completed their initial training. When the war began about 110,000 officers and men cycled through this training; the navy consisted of 3 boats and the air force possessed 40 aircraft. Despite all these shortcomings, particularly the lack of experienced senior officers, MacArthur remained optimistic regarding his defenses.
MacArthur’s optimism transferred down the chain of command; and the book details the lack of preparations, until too late. After all, if the plan calls for abandonment why place too much time and resources into training and fortifications. Washington approved MacArthur’s plan with less than one year before the Japanese attack; too little time for transforming the Philippines into a defensive bastion. Unfortunately the authors missed some military axioms regarding MacArthur’s plans, which surprised me given Mr. Norman’s experience. The lack of preparation and optimistic attitude among the troops stems from the most basic leadership principle, “lead by example.” The troops follow the example of their leader; and the troops believed in MacArthur’s mistaken view of Japanese capabilities. A related axiom states, “The troops do well what the leader inspects,” which explains itself regarding the inadequate defenses.
Another appropriate axiom states that once you develop a plan it becomes “etched in stone;” meaning no changes. While the book mentions War Plan ORANGE, it misses that this plan existed as one of at least eighteen color-coded plans. Developed by the nation’s highest military leaders during the 1920’s and 1930’s they covered almost every conceivable war contingency. As preposterous as it sounds, the US developed a contingency plan for war with the UK (RED). Variations of this plan, and the color red, included the primary British Commonwealth nations: Canada (CRIMSON), India (RUBY), Australia (SCARLET) and New Zealand (GARNET). BROWN dealt with an uprising in the Philippines; YELLOW and VIOLET both dealt with China and WHITE dealt with a domestic uprising in the US. Therefore, saying that the US military planners focused solely on Japan gives a false impression.
Conceived as staff exercises these plans require vast amounts of time and resources, including field exercises for subordinate units. The military bureaucracy, like all bureaucracies, resists change because it involves more time, more resources and more exercises. Unfortunately, those inconsiderate Germans and Japanese forced a change; particularly the Germans for defeating France and rendering the UK almost irrelevant. This left the militarily unprepared, and neutral, US as the only nation capable of defeating the Axis Powers.
Again the book highlights the rising power of Japan, and the jingoistic propaganda that propelled the Japanese into war with the United States. However, it misses a significant event that these ultra-nationalist propagandists used for inflaming the desire for war. Japan, one of the Allies during World War One, emerged from that war in a stronger position than the other Allies. For a relatively small cost in lives and money Japan received a vast increase in territory and prestige. They easily conquered all of the former German Empire’s largely undefended Asian and Pacific territories north of the Equator. This left them in possession of almost all of the Pacific Ocean area between Hawaii and the Philippines.
Based on this situation, abandonment of the Philippine Islands by the US made sense. At least until the Americans assembled sufficient forces for fighting their way across the Pacific Ocean. Officially the plan required that the Pacific Fleet, then based near Los Angeles, California, “fight its way” across the Pacific Ocean. It further escorted the relieving ground forces to the Philippines and expelled the invader within six months. However, unofficially most military planners believed that American military weakness changed this to two years. Something else the authors missed, the Japanese plan for defeating the Americans closely mirrored War Plan ORANGE. However, since they controlled the island chains west of Hawaii, Japanese submarines would cause drastic losses among the advancing Americans. The well-rested Japanese surface fleet would then defeat the worn-down Americans. I do not know if the American high command knew of this plan before the war, and none of my sources mention it.
However I discovered the website http://corregidor.org/chs_japan/japanwin.htm from the United States Coast Artillery of Manila and Subic Bay, 1941. On this site I discovered a book entitled, How Japan Plans to Win, written by Kinaoki Matsuo of Japanese Naval Intelligence. Matsuo served as the intelligence liaison for the Japanese Foreign Office and Admiralty, and also the publicity chief of Kokuryukai. This book, first published in Tokyo in October, 1940, details a plan for conquering both the Philippines and Guam. Although the book contains some inaccuracies, it provides an alarming knowledge of American defenses in both places. George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd. of London translated it into English in 1941 after receiving it from an agent of the Sino-Korean People’s League, an anti-Japanese organization. Certainly Washington received this information; the question remains how did they react with it?
Hindsight tells us how Washington should have reacted; however before the war the “dots” did not “connect” as clearly. Besides, with eighteen color-coded contingency war plans of their own, did Matsuo’s report merely reflect one of Japan’s contingency plans? Remember, the American War Plan RED planned for a war with the UK, with variations for British Commonwealth nations. As preposterous as these plans seem today, the isolationist US kept updating them well into the 1930’s. Therefore, why assume that Japan lacked preposterous plans of its own; purely as hypothetical command and staff exercises.
The authors describe the “big picture” for the United States before the Pearl Harbor attack; however it needed more detail. For example, although the US military planners possessed these eighteen color-coded plans, they lacked the men and materiel for carrying them out. The American public embraced the ideology of isolationism; falsely believing themselves protected from global events by two vast oceans. Pacifism increased because of the heavy casualties suffered during World War One, both from combat and disease, and rendered military readiness as evil. Besides, the effects of the “Great Depression” focused most Americans on their economic plight, not on “unnecessary” military expenditures.
With American territories in the Pacific Ocean area one wonders why the focus on defeating Germany first. Perhaps the authors did not feel this point relevant, but it explains the lack of military readiness in the Pacific. Fleming explains the deep hatred that FDR felt for the Germans based on his previous experience. FDR served as an assistant secretary of the navy under President Woodrow Wilson and greatly admired him. He blamed the intransigence of the German negotiators at Versailles in 1919 for destroying Wilson’s health, and his presidency.
MacDonald goes into greater detail regarding the overall lack of American military readiness, something not covered by the authors. With the defeat of the “superpower” France and the rout of the “superpower” UK from the European continent the US stirred from its illusion. However, it lacked the time for overcoming the previous twenty years of neglect of its armed forces. Most of us “history buffs” remember media footage from this time of new recruits training with broomstick “rifles,” stovepipe “machine guns” and “antitank weapons” and driving trucks bearing a “TANK” sign. MacDonald cites the phrase of then-Army Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall, at the time of the US as a “third-rate military power.”
American military planners, who MacDonald states met secretly with British and Canadian planners before Pearl Harbor, decided on defeating Germany for national survival. A British defeat removed the UK as a base for future operations against the German-controlled European continent. A British defeat further gave Germany and Italy control of the Mediterranean Sea, the strategic Suez Canal and most of Africa. It also removed the buffer of the British armed forces for buying the time for building American military power. Defeat of the British nation also removed its Empire from the fight, which included Canada, Australia, New Zealand and India, the latter three of significant importance in Asia. For keeping the UK in the fight FDR authorized an undeclared war against Germany in the Atlantic, as documented by MacDonald.
Another lesson that goes largely ignored, and the book does not mention it, the impotence of passing resolutions by international agencies. The League of Nations passed a resolution condemning Japan and demanding they withdraw from China. Japan ignored the resolution and in 1934 walked out and the “global community” did nothing. The “superpowers” of the day lacked the courage and military power for punishing a “rogue nation” and paid a high price for it.
The book states that the Philippine Islands became a “military priority” in early 1941; however this proves a misleading statement. From the defeat of France (June, 1940) until the Pearl Harbor attack (December, 1941) the US franticly tried building its military power. MacDonald describes this organized chaos and the mistakes in this early stage of national mobilization. He further cites the difficulty of transforming American industrial production into the vaunted “Arsenal of Democracy,” which did not exist in 1941. Therefore, implying that men and materiel poured into the Philippines provides a misleading image.
The Philippines became the priority in the Pacific; however, they still ranked behind the needs of stateside-based American units. Furthermore, they competed with the “lend-lease” needs of the British (which included the Free French), Chinese, Soviets (after Germany invaded) and several Latin American allies. Behind the Philippine Islands came the Hawaiian Islands, documented by Prange, the key for any American Pacific offensive. Prange further cites that the American commanders in Hawaii lacked the assets for maintaining the adequate patrols called for in the strategy. This became even more strained when FDR transferred about one-fourth of the Pacific Fleet into the Atlantic.
While justly criticizing MacArthur for his lack of preparations in the Philippines, the authors seemingly exonerate FDR and the military chiefs in Washington. Prange states that FDR, with minimal prior planning, ordered that the Pacific Fleet remain in Pearl Harbor following a major training exercise. This occurred in May, 1940 as a deterrent against continued Japanese aggression in China, and future aggression. At the time Pearl Harbor lacked the facilities for supporting such a large force; requiring time and resources for constructing them. Furthermore, as cited by Prange, Hawaii must import from the mainland all petroleum and other logistical support. This severely hindered operations by both the Army and Navy forces stationed in Hawaii.
Stinnett cites that FDR then ordered that the Pacific Fleet, from Pearl Harbor, execute “pop-up” cruises for intimidating the Japanese. This entailed one or two American cruisers, with relevant support ships, suddenly appearing in Japanese-controlled ports without prior consultation. Supposedly this tactic intimidated Japan while the US focused on defeating Germany; or possibly provoked them into attacking us. Stinnett cites, as does Prange, that FDR desired that in case of war Japan must “fire the first shot.” Furthermore, Stinnett contends that FDR used these cruisers as “bait,” an “acceptable loss,” for provoking Japan into combat.
Many of Stinnett’s contentions conform with the many “conspiracy theories” that surrounded the Pearl Harbor disaster and defeat in the Philippines. While these “theories” strongly influence Stinnett’s conclusions, most of his facts prove correct from other sources. They also support the views of many modern historical revisionists that the “evil” US “forced” the “innocent” Japanese into attacking.
As the authors state in the book Japan began the latest aggression by attacking China in 1931 and creating a puppet state in Manchuria, called Manchukuo. On the surface China possessed more manpower and natural resources than Japan; however it lacked national unity, industrial output and a modern war machine. China sought redress for its grievances in the League of Nations, the vaunted “international community” of its day. Despite “condemnation” from the “international community” Japan left the League of Nations in 1934, as previously mentioned. Japan continued intermittent war with China, defeating them each time and expanding their control over northern China. My alma mater contains the volumes of State Department records of this time, and the impotence of the “international community.” Suffering no ill effects from what it gained, Japan saw only advantage from its aggression. For the record, Japan’s aggression occurred before either of its future Axis partners began theirs.
Japan next launched a full-scale invasion of China in 1937, again despite the “condemnation” of the “international community.” Chang carefully details the history of this war and the brutality exhibited on these “inferior Orientals” as Japanese troops “protected” them. The most public, and outrageous, atrocity began in December, 1937 when the Chinese capital, Nanking, surrendered. Under the command of Emperor Hirohito’s uncle, Prince (Army Lieutenant General) Asaka Yasuhiko, Japanese troops murdered over 300,000 Chinese. This figure does not include an unknown number of those tortured, raped, etc. that survived their ordeals. Chang further published the graphic photographs of the grisly acts, including a Japanese media article about a “beheading contest.” Since this massacre occurred in the Chinese capital it occurred under the eyes of the foreign legations. Many Chinese sought sanctuary in these declared “safety zones;” however, Japanese soldiers violated these sanctuaries and removed the Chinese refugees. Japanese aircraft sank the American gunboat, USS Panay, as it evacuated foreign nationals and Chinese civilians.
Chang cites that Japanese brutality shocked even its future Axis partner, Germany, who joined the “international community” in “condemnation.” However, the “international community” did nothing and FDR buried the attack on the USS Panay. Japan, “rewarded” for its “unacceptable behavior” continued its war in China, and atrocities against the Chinese people. The Western Powers, although not at war with Japan, began covertly supplying the Chinese with military and economic aid. British authorities commissioned 200,000 Chinese laborers for constructing the famous Burma Road and the French sent supplies on the existing Yunan-Viet Nam Railway. The Americans established several nongovernmental agencies for supplying China and used both these routes after Japan captured most Chinese seaports.
Japan’s war in China widened the breach between it and its World War One allies and increased hardship on its people. Japanese propaganda justified the conquest of China, as well as the colonial empires of the “white” imperial powers. The massive manpower of China, and its vast territory, began taxing Japan’s manpower and treasure. As the Western powers applied economic pressure, especially Japan’s major trading partner, the US, it taxed Japan even more.
From the Japanese perspective, with a censored media, it appeared that the “white man” provoked the war. The foreign press broadcast Japanese atrocities; the threat of economic sanctions; Western support of China and rising Japanese casualties threatened Japanese victory. As the European imperial powers prepared for war in Europe they continued weakening their defenses in their Asian colonies. Although the US remained unprepared for war it now began building military power and if unchecked possessed big advantages in manpower and industrial capacity. Japan must keep the US off balance through negotiations while it awaited its opportunity for striking a decisive blow.
The book briefly mentions the diplomacy between the US and Japan before the war; however it presents a misleading image. It states that while FDR “withheld the carrot” he showed Japan “the stick” during the winter of 1940. Unfortunately, Japan, World War One ally, made itself a pariah in the “international community” since it first invaded China in 1931. Japan, conversely, saw itself as merely imitating the imperial ambitions of the Europeans during the previous century.
Japan’s previously mentioned atrocities in Nanking again provoked negotiations between the US and Japan. In 1938 FDR declared the Moral Embargo, which denied Japan vital war materials, except petroleum. Prange highlights continued Japanese aggression in China as the main controversy between the two nations. With no territorial concessions of its own, the US relied on commerce through Chinese ports; increasingly falling under Japanese conquest. In January, 1940 the US did not renew its Treaty of Commerce and Navigation with Japan. It further placed all exports of aviation fuel and scrap iron under federal license beginning in July, 1940. Therefore, this “stick” of the oil embargo did not suddenly appear; it developed over three years as a result of Japanese aggression.
Not mentioned in the book, Japan further “withheld” its “carrot” and “showed” its “stick,” as it negotiated with the US. Japan, through its widespread espionage, knew that in the Pacific region it possessed military superiority over its future enemies. Even before war started in Europe the European imperial powers, and the US, left their Asian colonies largely undefended. As the “war clouds” gathered in Europe, the imperial powers withdrew significant forces from these colonies for defending the “mother country.” I already explained the American War Plan ORANGE for abandoning the Philippines and the overall military weakness of the US. Any counteroffensive by the colonial powers required substantial time and resources; made even more difficult by German victories in Europe.
Japan saw no need for extending a “carrot” when everything it desired lay undefended from its “stick.” Prange states that in September, 1940 Japan officially became an Axis Power and forced its way into French Indochina. Japan demanded that the US accept Japanese troops in both China and French Indochina and end the oil embargo. It further stipulated that any peace negotiations between Japan and China allow the presence of Japanese troops in China for 25 years. A second proposal called for an agreement forbidding any “armed advance” by either the US or Japan into Southeast Asia and the South Pacific area, except French Indochina. It further demanded the restoration of normal trade relations, ending the freeze on Japanese assets and assistance for procuring the “necessary materials” from the Dutch East Indies. I see no “carrot” in any of these demands for the US, only a “stick,” that grows bigger through acquiring the resources for its war machine.
Despite these fruitless negotiations Prange reveals that no one in the US wanted war with Japan. American economic “experts” believed that Japan’s survival depended on good relations with the US, its major trading partner. The focus of the American military build up remained on defeating Germany first, and that strategy accepted a weakness in the Pacific. However, the “inferior” Japanese lacked the capabilities for exploiting it, and we must deter them through embargoes and military bluff. Therefore, a war with Japan must clearly indicate that Japan “fire the first shot,” without any appearance of US provocation.
The “fire the first shot” scenario becomes of significant importance when considering the actions taken both in Hawaii and the Philippines. The authors mention the “war warning” issued by Washington on November 27, 1941 that should have galvanized military preparedness. However, they do not mention the series of messages that preceded it, which often confused the commanders on the scene. Prange discusses these messages, often issued separately by the Army and Navy for their respective commanders. He further mentions the close relationship between the Army and Navy commanders in Hawaii and how they shared messages. Unfortunately, although they worked well together, and exchanged liaison officers, neither knew of the shortcomings in men and materiel of the other. The differences in the wordings of these messages sometimes left the intentions of “Washington” unclear. With so many “war warnings” issued it became almost like the story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” This does not excuse the lack of preparations by the commanders; however, the “fog” between peacetime and wartime created doubt. When the warnings contain the phrase “not unduly alarm the civilian population” it detracts from the seriousness of the message.
While executing the proper alert levels without alarming the civilian population seems simple in Washington, the reality in the field proves different. Anyone who ever served in Hawaii knows the congestion of Oahu, the location of most American military installations. Pearl Harbor lies at the base of a “fishbowl,” surrounded by the civilian population. Likewise then-Hickam Army Air Field (AAF), Schofield Barracks and smaller installations all with adjoining civilian communities. These civilians, aware of deteriorating relations with Japan, would notice any large-scale movement of men, aircraft and ships. The Honolulu Advertiser and Star-Bulletin both regularly reported on military matters and would certainly raise an alarm over these movements. How do local commanders execute both orders simultaneously in this environment and not suffer dire consequences if either objective fails?
Prange reveals that the commanding general of the US 25th Infantry Division, Major General (MG) Maxwell Murray, violated “peacetime” safety regulations. On December 6, 1941 he ordered that his troops move much of their small arms ammunition from the Schofield Barracks ammunition holding area and into their barracks. When the Japanese attacked these soldiers, as depicted in the movie “From Here to Eternity,” engaged Japanese aircraft from their barracks. James Jones, who wrote the novel of the same name, served in the 25th Infantry Division and based the novel on his experiences. He reveals a “hard-drinking,” carousing group of flawed soldiers that when required courageously performed their duty. Soldiers, caught unprepared on a Sunday morning, defiantly engaged Japanese fighters with bolt-action Springfield rifles and light machineguns. I believe these men of the same caliber as the “Sundowners” of the 31st Infantry, often disparaged by the Normans. Ironically, had the Japanese not attacked, Murray could have been court-martialed for “recklessly endangering his troops.”
Another example mentioned by Prange concerned the establishment of a radar station in Hawaii in early 1941. The Army requested the construction of this “new technology” on Haleakala, one of the highest mountains in the Hawaiian Islands. The National Park Service, who controlled the mountain, denied this request because a radar site altered “the natural appearance of the reservation.” Since FDR did not override this veto, it appeared that Washington regarded the view from a mountain more important than defending Hawaii. How do local commanders react when receiving this message among others stressing readiness?
The key for all strategy in the Pacific rested with the US Pacific Fleet, now based in Pearl Harbor. As stated previously, the geography of Hawaii required that the Army and Navy import all logistical support from the American mainland. Prange states that the commander of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, constantly informed Washington of his shortages. Maintaining the adequate air and naval patrols around the islands required massive amounts of petroleum and spare parts. Anyone familiar with operating military equipment knows that you spend more time maintaining this equipment than actually operating it. Prange details the realities in Hawaii between the number of patrol craft “assigned” versus the number actually “operational.” With the Japanese-controlled Marshall Islands less than 2,000 miles southwest of Hawaii, the Americans focused their patrols here.
Prioritizing the Philippines also hindered defensive measures in Hawaii, particularly regarding long-range aircraft. MacArthur long lobbied for scrapping the War Plan ORANGE, as stated by the authors, and succeeded in April, 1941. This occurred largely because of the defeat and surrender of the “superpower” France, who controlled French Indochina (modern Cambodia, Laos and Viet Nam). Germany forced the collaborationist Vichy government into conceding the Japanese use of French air and naval bases in Indochina. Control of this strategic region placed Japanese forces within striking distance of the oil-rich Dutch East Indies (modern Indonesia). It further placed them within striking distance of the strategic British naval base at Singapore. This “Gibraltar of the East” controlled access through the strategically important Straits of Malacca. It further cut the major supply route for the Nationalist Chinese by railroad from the port of Haiphong into Yunan province.
The book only mentions Indochina once, as if its control by Japan proved of little consequence. This surprises me given Mr. Norman’s service there as a US Marine. It further requires more than passing comment since this proved the event which triggered FDR’s oil embargo against Japan. Today academics and other “experts” dismiss the Viet Nam War as not in “America’s strategic interest” during the Cold War. Opinions differ, both among veterans and non-veterans alike, regarding the Viet Nam War; however in September, 1940 “America’s strategic interest” regarding Indochina seemed clear.
The Netherlands too suffered defeat against Germany; however its government escaped and formed a government-in-exile in the UK. This government with no national resources lacked the ability for adequately defending its faraway colony, the oil-rich Dutch East Indies. Facing the US oil embargo the Japanese sought concessions from the disadvantaged Dutch; who refused on the advice of the Americans. Deprived of oil Japanese planners established a timetable and based their future actions on their dwindling oil supply.
With the French and Dutch defeated and the British fighting for their survival their Asian colonial empires seemed undefended. The only serious threat the Japanese faced with their expansion rested with the US Pacific Fleet, now in Hawaii. Japanese planners believed that if they struck into British and Dutch colonies they exposed themselves for an American flanking attack. However, as previously stated, the US lacked the adequate troops and modern warfare technology for deterring Japan. Nevertheless, the national military command in Washington accepted MacArthur’s plan for defending the Philippine Islands.
Despite the scathing coverage of MacArthur in the book, at the time he seemed the quintessential American hero, and ideal commander. The son of an Army officer and winner of the CMH, MacArthur possessed an excellent record. Born on an Army post, he graduated first in his class at West Point in 1903. MacArthur served his first tour of duty in the Philippines, where his father served as military governor. In 1914 he served on the Vera Cruz Expedition, where his bravery earned him a recommendation for the CMH. However, the award was denied since his actions “exceeded the scope of his orders.” During World War One he rose in rank from major to brigadier general, ending the war as commanding general of the 42nd “Rainbow” Division. He received 2 DSC’s, 7 Silver Stars and 2 Purple Hearts, making him the second most decorated officer of the war. What happened in these early days in the Philippines remains a mystery, given his propensity for “leading from the front” during World War One.
Let me emphasize, I hold no love for MacArthur for his failures in the Philippines or Korea. However, given Prange’s coverage of the conflicting “war warnings” sent to Hawaii, what did Washington send MacArthur. Regarding logistics, the book states that quartermaster stores abandoned in the withdrawal possessed enough food for feeding the troops “for years.” However, it does not mention petroleum, particularly aviation fuel for maintaining a pre-war combat air patrol (CAP). Did the Philippines suffer the same geographic disadvantages as Hawaii; receiving all of its supplies from the faraway US mainland?
The main “build up” of American power in the Philippines centered on the B-17 “Flying Fortress” strategic bomber, the “wonder weapon” of its day. It proved great at its primary mission, bombing strategic targets; however, it proved inadequate for almost everything else “experts” required of it. For example, it failed as a naval bomber, as demonstrated during attacks on the early Japanese landing forces on northern Luzon. While the B-17 adequately defended itself from enemy fighter aircraft, it failed as an interceptor against incoming enemy fighters. It’s long range made it acceptable in a reconnaissance role; however, it consumed a lot of fuel. Besides a strategic bomber on a reconnaissance mission reduces the number available for a bombing mission.
Unfortunately most Army and Navy “flag officers” disregarded airpower in favor of the more “traditional” forms of warfare. Most of them received their commissions early in the 20th Century; when the Wright Brothers first executed manned, controlled flight. For example, Prange states that the Army commanding general in Hawaii, Lieutenant General Walter C. Short, anticipated using his “excess” Air Corps personnel as infantry “fillers.” Short’s defense plan called for aerial patrols and properly alerted aircraft intercepting attacking Japanese aircraft. He understood that a surprise attack might destroy his air force; however he seemingly embraced this for obtaining these “fillers.” Did MacArthur, who dismissed the capabilities of the Japanese, regard his newly arriving Air Corps units as “excess?”
Like almost everything else with the revised plans for the Philippine defenses, the Air Corps arrived too little, too late. Before adopting MacArthur’s plan the air force in the Philippines consisted of 210 mostly obsolete aircraft, with only 31 modern P-40B fighters. Major General Lewis H. Brereton assumed command of the newly activated Far East Air Force (FEAF) in September, 1941. Unfortunately, as stated in the book, most of his personnel and equipment remained enroute from the US. The book states that Steele’s unit arrived in Manila in late October, 1941; less than two months before the Japanese attack. Most of the 35 B-17’s arrived in late November, 1941, with their airfields made operational on December 5, 1941. When war commenced the base possessed one operational radio and no maintenance facilities. Of the seven available radar sets, only two were in operation before the Japanese struck. Only one 200-man company of the 557th Air Warning Battalion was in position; the remainder departed San Francisco on December 6, 1941. Like soldiers everywhere, they improvised a system of civilian watchers, mostly postmasters, who would inform the Air Corps by telephone or telegraph. Did these inexperienced civilians create more problems through false reporting and disrupt American air interdiction?
In October, 1941 the FEAF received its first shipment of its increased airpower, still packed in crates. These P-40 aircraft lacked the range and fuel capacity for flying across the Pacific Ocean and required assembly upon arrival in Manila. By the time of the attack FEAF received 107 P-40’s; however only 72 were operational. Washington planned on a force of 250 modern fighter aircraft in the Philippines; unfortunately the Japanese did not wait.
Despite the need for haste in the Philippines Washington slowly executed its revised war plan, now known as RAINBOW 5. As stated previously, this plan called for defeating Germany first and deterring war with Japan until we built adequate forces. Subsequently American ground forces, both in the Philippines and Hawaii, remained armed and equipped with World War One equipment. In July, 1941 the War Department recalled MacArthur to active duty as the commander of the newly activated US Army Forces Far East (USAFFE). Between August and November of 1941 MacArthur received about 8,500 reinforcements from the US, mostly Air Corps. They authorized the mobilization of the ten divisions (75,000 personnel) of Philippine Army reservists on September 1, 1941. Given the limitations of funding, training facilities and other problems a timetable incrementally spread this mobilization through December 15, 1941. The book adequately describes the difficulties with creating the Philippine Army; however, Morton describes it in great detail in his work. If things went right, MacArthur established April, 1942, the same month that Bataan surrendered, as the date of his command’s readiness.
The Navy too waited too late for preparing a defensive plan in the Philippines, transferring from Shanghai, China in July, 1941. Under Admiral Thomas C. Hart, the Asiatic Fleet previously enforced the Open Door Policy in China. It further participated in the Yangtze River patrols with the other nations (including Japan) that suppressed the Boxer Rebellion. At the time the Asiatic Fleet concentrated on the chaotic situation in China; defending American citizens and property from lawless bandits and communist rebels. It only conducted routine patrols and training in the Philippine Islands and “ports of call” in Manila. Hart gradually reduced the forces in China; however the Japanese captured those remaining in China on December 8, 1941. The 4th Marine Regiment began transferring on November 27, 1941 with those remaining in China also captured.
Since I previously mentioned MacArthur’s combat experience, let me briefly mention Hart’s combat experience. Hart’s first combat experience occurred in the Battle of Santiago as a junior officer during the Spanish-American War. During World War One he served in submarines on patrol around the British Isles and the Azores. Following the war he continued serving with submarines, eventually commanding the Atlantic Fleet Submarine Division. He championed the Navy’s submarine program and understood their capabilities; therefore, why did his submarines remain in port after war began?
Unlike their counterparts in Hawaii, MacArthur and Hart did not regularly communicate, or establish a joint plan of defense. Perhaps this occurred because Hart only recently transferred his headquarters from Shanghai; perhaps it resulted from documented “personality conflicts.” Unfortunately, their service chiefs in Washington did not require they establish a plan, even with war rapidly approaching. The Navy authorized Hart to withdraw into the Indian Ocean in the event of war, abandoning the Philippines. He moved some of his ships into the Dutch East Indies upon receiving the “war warning” for “awaiting developments.” Although the Fleet’s 2 cruisers and 13 World War One-era destroyers posed little threat; the 23 modern submarines might have hindered Japanese landings. Better that the Asiatic Fleet suffer defeat supporting MacArthur than the defeat it suffered in the Dutch East Indies.
Historical sources indicate that MacArthur received the same “not unduly alarm the civilian population” instructions as the commanders in Hawaii. However, this seems ludicrous given the call-up of Filipino reservists, the build-up of American airpower and the increased defense-related construction. The Japanese certainly knew of this build-up since American reinforcements must negotiate airspace and sea lanes controlled by Japan. Furthermore, Manila possessed a Japanese consulate and 30,000 ethnic Japanese lived in the Philippines for camouflaging any espionage. We know that the oil embargo established the timetable for Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. Certainly this concentration of American power in the Philippines affected that timetable as well.
The book contends, as do other sources, that Washington knew of the indefensibility of the Philippines. Then why this concentration of American power, particularly the priceless B-17’s, and why accept MacArthur’s revised strategy? Prange cites several sources who believe the B-17’s would have been better used in Hawaii. Washington gambled that the build-up in the Philippines and the Pacific Fleet in Hawaii would deter Japanese aggression. Instead, it seems, that it merely placed American power within reach of Japanese air and naval forces.
The book states that American history inaccurately describes the Japanese attack as a “sneak attack.” In part this proves an accurate statement given the decade of Japanese aggression mentioned in the book, and other sources. Any responsible national leadership would adequately prepare for this aggression, particularly given Japanese disregard for the “international community.” However, the political leadership of the US, and other democratic nations, requires election, and reelection, by the public. Politicians must either embrace the views of the public; or try persuading their constituents of the danger posed by “rogue nations.” Given the dominance of isolationism and pacifism and the effects of the “Great Depression” I doubt the election of any politician stressing military readiness. Fleming describes the polarizing political nature of FDR’s New Deal and how this contentiousness hindered foreign policy decisions. FDR’s opponents viewed his call for a national emergency and increased military expenditures as a grasp for more power. MacDonald highlights that on the eve of the Pearl Harbor attack a majority of Americans favored avoiding the war.
Supporting the book’s debunking of the “sneak attack” would be the US breaking the Japanese diplomatic code. However, for some reason, the authors do not mention this important fact, even though it supports their theory. This code-breaking occurred around August, 1940 after almost two years of intense work by the Army’s Signal Intelligence Service (SIS). Unfortunately the breaking of these diplomatic codes only revealed what the Japanese Foreign Office told its diplomats; no military secrets. Prange details the American code-breaking effort; which at this time did not include breaking naval codes.
The movie “Tora, Tora, Tora” aired on television a few months ago and accurately portrayed the events revealed by Prange. With the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor debacle upon us it will probably air again; I recommend watching it. On the surface, given this knowledge, it seems that the US possessed every opportunity for avoiding a “sneak attack.” Unfortunately determining an enemy’s intentions prove as difficult as predicting the weather; many possibilities but nothing definite. Furthermore, “experts” at the time ruled a surprise carrier-based air attack on Pearl Harbor as impossible. This “expertise” governed Hawaii’s defensive posture despite the US Navy successfully conducting one during a recent naval exercise. Stinnett reveals that during the annual exercise in 1938 then-Vice Admiral Ernest J. King (commander of the Atlantic Fleet in 1941) launched a simulated air attack that almost mirrored the Japanese attack. King took his force into the North Pacific, launched his aircraft in bad weather and surprised the “defenders.” The only difference, King’s attack occurred at midday instead of the early morning, as the Japanese.
Regarding the code-breaking operation, called MAGIC, the US military leadership closely guarded this secret, for obvious reasons. If knowledge leaked out and the Japanese changed this code it negated years of hard work. Therefore, only five people outside the code-breaking units knew of this major triumph, which did not include the commanders in Hawaii or the Philippines. MAGIC used eight decrypting machines in 1941; ironically one of them operated in the Philippines as the “best place to intercept Japanese traffic.” Here historical sources differ, some state that both MacArthur and Hart received these intercepts; others state they did not. However, all sources state that only analysts in Washington interpreted them; questioning their actual usefulness in the Philippines. Because of the secrecy of the operation neither MacArthur nor Hart received any information, unless provided by Washington. Hawaii possessed none of these machines; although Washington approved sending one in July, 1941. Again, given the secrecy of MAGIC, the value for the commanders in Hawaii remains doubtful.
Intelligence-gathering requires more than intercepting diplomatic messages; it requires agents on the ground observing, called human intelligence (HUMINT). At this time the US lacked a dedicated intelligence-gathering agency operating in foreign countries. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), did not form until June, 1942. Before World War Two most Americans regarded espionage as something unworthy of “gentlemen” and “civilized nations.” The Army, Navy, State Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) all conducted separate intelligence operations and seldom coordinated.
Although both the Army and Navy established intelligence divisions during the 1880’s, neither established an intelligence branch. Instead they detailed officers and enlisted staff from other branches as an additional duty. The effectiveness of these people depended on their individual initiative and resourcefulness; and some proved very good. MAGIC and other communications intercept operations (SIGNINT) occurred within the Army’s Signal Corps and the Navy’s Office of Communications. Before the Pearl Harbor attack the combined intelligence divisions in Washington never numbered over two hundred personnel. Additionally each service employed a small staff of civilian cryptologists for decrypting Japanese traffic. The sheer volume of intercepted traffic overwhelmed this small group of people, making difficult any timely analysis.
Inside the continental US (CONUS), Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico the FBI supervised all counterespionage operations. Unfortunately, except for Alaska and Hawaii, most of this effort focused on German espionage and sabotage efforts inside the US. Prange devotes much time and space in explaining the counterintelligence operation mounted in Hawaii. It proves a great example of cooperation between the FBI, Army and Navy; something rarely duplicated elsewhere. For example, the Japanese Consulate in Honolulu employed 234 consular agents, more than any other consulate in American territory. The entire FBI staff in Honolulu numbered 25; therefore, whenever FBI operations affected Army or Navy assets each service assisted.
Outside American territory the US gathered intelligence through the official channels of its embassies and consulates. Embassy officials, largely military and naval attaches, traveled openly in their assigned countries, observed military exercises, observed industrial production, spoke with people and coordinated with other embassies. No secret agents engaged in clandestine operations, no stolen secrets and little advance notice of enemy operations. Prange highlights the problems in the Japanese police state, where the government simply placed large areas “off-limits.” Furthermore, the mostly Caucasian Americans clearly stuck out in the Asian population and Japanese secret police interrogated any Japanese these Americans contacted.
Conversely, Japanese intelligence-gathering netted them valuable information for formulating their attack plans, both in Hawaii and the Philippines. Unlike the Americans, the Japanese possessed trained intelligence operatives within their Army and Navy. These agents blended in with the large Japanese populations on the American West Coast, Hawaii and the Philippines. In Hawaii they labored alongside the mostly Japanese workers in the sugar cane fields around Pearl Harbor. They recruited agents from the 160,000 ethnic Japanese, some of them Kokuryukai ultranationalists and some of them American citizens. MAGIC revealed that these agents rendered Tokyo accurate reports on American troop movements, air and naval patrols and channel depths in Pearl Harbor. Unfortunately, the other Japanese consulates provided the same information, meaning no indication of Pearl Harbor as the objective.
In the Philippine Islands the government employed a large number of migrant Japanese for constructing infrastructure during the 1930’s. Subsequently many of these Japanese remained in the Philippines and Manila, and several other large cities, possessed significant Japanese communities. Japanese agents infiltrated these groups and gathered intelligence on this infrastructure and the military installations it connected. Military pilots routinely flew commercial airliners taking aerial photographs of American military installations. Japanese fishing vessels, with naval intelligence agents among their crews, surveyed the harbors and future landing beaches. Historical archives indicate these agents updated Tokyo regarding the US military build-up through late November, 1941.
Furthermore, MacArthur’s chief of intelligence (G-2), MG Charles Willoughby, proved inept in his duties in the pre-war intelligence environment. Unfortunately so did almost every other G-2 in the field in the pre-war period with limited assets at their disposal. Willoughby focused on the same problem as did his counterparts in Hawaii; sabotage from a well-organized “fifth column.” He coordinated with the Commonwealth secret service in maintaining surveillance on suspected enemy aliens. Morton states that several FBI operatives of Japanese ancestry (Nisei, or second-generation immigrants) came from Hawaii and observed the local Japanese. Once war began no organized “fifth column” conducted operations against the US, much like none operated in Hawaii. Again, once war began the Philippine Constabulary and military police began rounding up Japanese suspected enemy aliens. After Germany and Italy declared war they rounded up their suspected agents as well.
Unfortunately, as Prange explains, the entire American battle plans for the Pacific theater relied on the flawed American intelligence network. Supposedly the US Embassy knew the location of the Japanese fleet and would accurately report its deployment from Japan. Based on this intelligence Washington acted decisively and ordered the deployment of the Pacific Fleet for meeting the Japanese. The Pacific Fleet, duly warned and ready for battle, defeated the Japanese far from Hawaiian waters and rescued the Philippine garrison.
As I progressed in rank and responsibility during my Army career I realized that this type of planning hinders all military operations. Most plans call this period between peace and war the “transition to war” and it (supposedly) provides ample warning time. During the Cold War I participated in these types of exercises in Korea and Germany, and we always “received ample warning.” During my assignment in Germany I served for about eight months as battalion operations (S-3) sergeant. I saw the “transition to war” training schedule that provided two weeks advance warning before war commenced. Again this relied on intelligence-gathering networks who observed troop movements, obstacle removal along the borders and other actions. Significant in all of these plans; the “transition to war” allowed for the massive deployment of troops into their “battle positions.” They further allowed for the rapid deployment of reinforcements from the US before hostilities began. It almost seemed as if the proposed enemy received their copy and must follow it. No contingency existed in case enemy agents monitored our alert, informed their nations, who then accelerated their attack plans. Furthermore, I knew of no contingency if these enemy agents conducted sabotage or guerrilla warfare for hindering our efforts.
After Operation Desert Storm similar plans existed for defending Kuwait; always assuming we received ample warning for adequately deploying our forces. Since Saddam Hussein no longer exists as a threat let me explain this contingency plan, and how ludicrous it seemed. Anyone who ever served in South West Asia knows that the no obstacle prevented Saddam’s forces from invading Kuwait. The desert sands in Iraq look amazingly like the desert sands in Kuwait. In some places a high berm of mounded sand marks the international boundary; however, competent military engineers may breach this within hours. Supposedly our intelligence assets discovered Saddam moving his forces toward Kuwait in a “threatening manner.” The US and its allies, mainly the UK, possessed adequate time for deploying large numbers of forces from both the US and Europe into battle positions. We accomplished all of this before Saddam moved sufficient logistical support into position for launching his offensive. Ironic how our intelligence always gathers this information in such a timely manner; however our enemy lacks the capability for changing their plan.
Our pre-World War II plan also failed since the Japanese closely guarded the secrets regarding Pearl Harbor as diligently as we guarded MAGIC. Our embassy “lost” the Japanese Fleet, which sailed through the largely empty northern Pacific instead of the expected Japanese-controlled island chains. Deceptive radio traffic and the naval forces sailing for Southeast Asia led our intelligence away from Hawaii.
This does not mean that “leaks” in the Japanese plan did not occur providing some warning. As plans develop they include more people, more resources and more coordination as units train for this ambitious operation. Prange states that the first warning came from the cook of Peru’s ambassador in Tokyo, and Peru’s ambassador immediately informed the US embassy. The US ambassador, Joseph Grew, sent the State Department this information on January 27, 1941. However, Grew did not investigate the source of this story, considered it “fantastic” and it soon died because Washington “dismissed it.”
As the date of the Japanese attack grew closer, American code-breakers achieved some success breaking naval codes. This included the ship movement (SM) code, which informed the US of the recall of air and naval units from China in early September, 1941. It also included what code-breakers called the “5-Num” code that revealed the identification of Japanese warships. Throughout October, 1941 SIGINT intercepts revealed these units preparing for a new offensive, somewhere, and duly informed Washington. Before that, Japan began withdrawing its merchant fleet and halting its worldwide trading operations, seen as a prelude to war. During times of war most nations convert their merchant shipping into troop transports or transporting military cargo. Under peacetime conditions Japan communicated with these ships using radio procedures established by the International Radio Tribunal in Switzerland; no need for code-breaking. By mid-November the Japanese Navy assumed control over Japanese civilian broadcast operations and their high-powered transmissions disrupted US Navy transmissions on the West Coast.
Unfortunately none of these indicators specified Hawaii as the target, or any other Allied destination. Prange indicates that once the Japanese attack force departed for Hawaii, November 25, 1941, it maintained radio silence. During the post-war investigations all Japanese senior officer participants confirmed this, and state that all transmitter keys were disabled. However, Stinnett reveals that the attack force broke radio silence on several occasions, informing American interceptors of their location.
First, Tokyo must communicate with the attack force in case negotiations, discussed in the next paragraph, succeeded for aborting the attack. American operators noted that Tokyo beamed strong broadcasts primarily at the North and Central Pacific, where the attack force sailed. Second, controlling such a large attack force without using radio communication proved impractical, and each subordinate commander relayed Tokyo’s orders. American radio direction finding (RDF) operators between Alaska and California plotted these broadcasts across the North Pacific. Even the operator of the civilian liner, the SS Lurline, steaming toward Honolulu plotted “Japanese transmissions” and informed Naval Intelligence on December 3, 1941. What happened with this information remains a mystery, as does the overall failure of American defensive operations.
Our defensive plans also failed because Japanese negotiators in Washington worked diplomatically for solving the tensions between Japan and the US. Prange believes these negotiators knew nothing regarding the Pearl Harbor attack, and I found nothing that contradicts this theory. Again, the Japanese planners involved in the attack closely guarded this secret, particularly from Foreign Office diplomats. The “sneak attack” scenario derives from the delay in the Japanese embassy between the attack, deciphering the “war message” and delivery to the State Department.
Despite the “sneak attack” while “America slept” historical stereotype; many Americans sought information regarding Japanese intentions. With all the gathered SIGINT regarding Japanese movement of air and naval assets Grew tried obtaining intelligence in Japan in early November, 1941. Under the cover of a vacation, the US naval attaché and his wife went sight-seeing along the Inland Sea. Their trip took them through the major training areas of the Japanese Navy, particularly the Kure Naval Base, noted as a “beehive of activity.” On November 17, 1941 Grew sent Washington his strongest warning of “sudden military or naval action by Japan’s armed forces.” He further emphasized these operations in areas other than China and used the phrase “surprise attack.”
In Hawaii the Navy established a monitoring station called Station HYPO for intercepting Japanese communications. This station not only intercepted the communications, but also identified Japanese warships by their radio call signs. HYPO discovered in late October, 1941 a new Japanese operation focused on the Kurile Islands and extending eastward into the North and Central Pacific Ocean. Kimmel received this report, as did Washington, yet Washington seemingly prevented any preemptive action for preventing the Pearl Harbor attack.
The Navy declared the North Pacific Ocean a “Vacant Sea” and rerouted all US and Allied shipping. Stinnett reveals the explanation for this as that Washington believed “war imminent” and wanted to avoid a confrontation with the Japanese Navy. He emphasizes this avoidance of contact with Japanese ships as part of FDR’s “conspiracy;” however a logical explanation contradicts the “conspiracy.” Using a route through the South Pacific makes sense in this case since the new route avoids traversing the Japanese controlled waters west of Hawaii.
Stinnett further cites the fears experienced by Kimmel regarding the North Pacific and a little-known naval exercise. Based on the previously stated 1938 naval exercise that successfully “attacked” Pearl Harbor, Kimmel moved the Pacific Fleet into the North Pacific from November 21 – 25, 1941. Prange reveals that “intelligence experts” predicted that the Japanese would attack this weekend, and Kimmel reacted accordingly. Not wanting his fleet caught in port during an attack he scheduled a training exercise and duly informed Washington. Called Exercise 191, his orders specified that the Pacific Fleet elements, both in Hawaii and the West Coast, deploy on a wartime footing. He warned of the potential discovery of “hostile warships…at any moment.” As a precaution Kimmel dispatched 12 PBY Catalina long-range patrol aircraft for locating any approaching enemy. Ironically, they searched the area used by the Japanese for launching their aircraft two weeks later.
Early on November 24, 1941 Washington cancelled Exercise 191 and gave Kimmel specific action orders. These orders alerted Kimmel “to expect a surprise aggressive movement by Japan in any direction.” However, they warned him “not to place the Pacific Fleet in a position that would precipitate Japanese action.” Kimmel remembered a directive he received in September, 1941 that specified FDR only issued “shooting orders” for the Atlantic Ocean and the Southwest Pacific sub-area. Since Kimmel’s exercise ended when the Japanese attack force departed Japan he would not have discovered its presence.
Did Washington’s cancellation of Exercise 191 admonish Kimmel for seeming overly aggressive? Furthermore, did he remember the “shooting orders” directive on his own, or did Washington “refresh” his memory. US Navy history indicates that earlier in the year, as relations with Japan worsened, the Navy declared the Hawaiian Naval Coastal Defense Area. This included not only the Hawaiian Islands, but the outlying islands of Midway, Johnston, Baker and Palmyra as well. Rules of engagement allowed for shooting down any unidentified aircraft within this zone and stopping unauthorized ships by “firing across their bows.”
Regarding the “shooting orders” for the Southwest Pacific sub-area, all operational maps of the period place the Philippines in this area. Perhaps I viewed inaccurate maps, or maps of changed operational areas following the attacks; however I found nothing that revealed conflicting pre-war boundaries. Unfortunately, with the historical focus on the Pearl Harbor debacle the lack of adequate air and naval patrols in the Philippines receives little attention. With major Japanese bases on Formosa 700 miles away and the major Japanese base at Truk 2,100 miles away, what were the rules of engagement for the Philippines? Since “shooting orders” supposedly already existed, why did Hart, a submariner, not aggressively patrol the hostile seas?
I must speculate that Washington altered MacArthur’s and Hart’s “shooting orders” for ensuring that Japan “commit the first overt act.” The “shooting orders” for the Atlantic Ocean produced no change in public opinion for entering the war, despite US losses. MacDonald covers the bloodiest of these battles, the sinking of the destroyer, USS Reuben James, another forgotten part of US history. The Reuben James escorted a supply convoy bound for the UK near Iceland when it encountered German U-boats on October 31, 1941. It took a torpedo in its forward magazine that split the ship in half, killing 115 of 160 sailors. Following this incident Congress repealed most of the existing Neutrality Acts and extended selective service, the draft, for another year. However, the only outcry came from the vocal isolationists, who blamed FDR for placing American forces in this danger.
With so much focus on Germany, both by FDR and in the media, this toleration of the sinking of an American warship probably shocked FDR. Since I lack a historical record of this I may only speculate on FDR’s thoughts regarding the lack of American “outrage.” Subsequently, the American public would probably not express “outrage” against Japan over an engagement in the faraway Philippine Islands. After all, given the tensions between the two nations, and the adjoining boundaries of territorial waters, one must expect such incidents. A preemptive engagement by the US might disrupt the devastating attacks that occurred; however it might distort the image of Japan as the aggressor. I found no evidence that supports my theory; however, the lack of information regarding pre-war aerial and naval patrols in the Philippines baffles me.
Again, I do not know why with the warning of November 27, 1941, and the movement of a “southern operation” MacArthur failed in establishing a CAP. His intelligence, based on who knows what information, predicted the Japanese incapable of attacking until April, 1942. Did MacArthur disregard the warning, was the warning unclear (as were those received in Hawaii) or did the late arrival of the Air Corps forces prevent proper planning?
The book states, and most historical sources confirm, the US deployed the B-17’s more as a deterrent for bluffing the Japanese. Brereton received orders from Washington for bombing Japanese bases on nearby Formosa (Taiwan); however did MacArthur know of these orders? Did USAFFE possess accurate intelligence regarding Japanese military installations on Formosa for launching a successful attack? Both the book and other sources cite the confusion and delay between MacArthur’s staff and Brereton, which delayed the bombing mission. The Japanese attackers then caught these bombers on the ground, as well as the refueling fighters. For this, MacArthur and his staff seemingly deserve the blame in delaying this bombing mission. If they lacked accurate intelligence regarding Japanese installations, attack the harbors and airfields; certainly Japanese air and naval units operated there.
However, with only 35 B-17’s in the Philippines, did such an attack into the numerically superior Japanese aircraft on Formosa make sense? The book states that on the day of the attack only 19 of these B-17’s proved operational. This reveals the futility of such an attack on Formosa and a useless sacrifice of men. These B-17’s flew from California to Hawaii stripped of all defensive armaments for carrying more fuel. Furthermore, they carried a skeleton crew of pilot, copilot, navigator, engineer and radio operator (no bombardiers or gunners) for lightening the load. These aircraft then island-hopped across the Pacific on small American bastions until they arrived in the Philippines. The remaining crew members and their defensive machineguns, still packed in Cosmoline, traveled by ship. Therefore, did these “Flying Fortresses” lack the crew and defensive weaponry for launching such an attack?
Given the war warning of November 27, 1941 I do not understand the delay in believing the Pearl Harbor attack. Of course, no one expected such an “impossible” attack and it did not follow the established plans. The book and other historical sources state that once confirmed, the Air Corps launched all of its fighters for locating any approaching enemy. Official Air Force history states that within 30 minutes of notification of the Pearl Harbor attack the FEAF launched all of its fighters. It further states that FEAF launched all of its B-17’s, either dispersing them to Mindanao or getting them airborne for avoiding destruction. Furthermore, they received at least two possibly false reports in which the fighters “scrambled” for meeting them. However, Military History Online states that perhaps the P-40’s, flying at their optimum altitude of about 15,000 feet missed the bombers, flying at about 20,000 feet.
As stated in the book, and confirmed by other historical sources, bad weather delayed the Japanese air attack until about 1130 on December 8, 1941. Unfortunately this occurred at about the same time as the previously mentioned airborne B-17’s and “scrambled” fighters returned for refueling. Air Force history states that Clark AAF received a report of approaching Japanese aircraft; and “scrambled” fighters from another airfield. However, they did not arrive in time for engaging the Japanese attackers. When the Japanese bombers appeared over the Philippines, they found most American aircraft on the ground refueling. Another Japanese attack the next day reduced the FEAF combat power by half; providing the Japanese air superiority.
I stress again that the key for American victory before the war, as defined in War Plan ORANGE, relied on the Pacific Fleet. Furthermore, I found no definitive plans regarding air and naval operations for resisting an invasion of the Philippines. Again, before July, 1941 the US Asiatic Fleet focused on its mission in China, not on the Philippines. It seems that Hart executed no naval patrolling in the Philippines despite the “war warnings.” Regarding the FEAF, it seems the plan for bombing Formosa the only pre-war plan for using American airpower. As stated previously War Plan ORANGE called for the withdrawal of American forces (of mostly Philippine Scouts and Philippine Army reservists) into Bataan.
The new plan, RAINBOW 5, changed little regarding the priority of the Philippines, despite MacArthur’s lobbying efforts. FDR and his military chiefs kept their eyes on Germany while deterring Japan through various means of embargo and military intimidation. Instead of concentrating his forces on the main island of Luzon MacArthur dispersed thousands of them for defending all the islands. Anyone with minimal military knowledge knows that defending an island, or islands, requires that you plan for defending all possible landing beaches. With Japanese occupied territory on three sides of the Philippines defending these 7,100 islands proved insurmountable. Argentina learned this vulnerability when it tried wresting the Falkland Islands from the UK.
Of greatest consequence, instead of stockpiling his quartermaster stores on Bataan MacArthur established the main depot in Manila. He further placed a significant amount of supplies in forward areas where he expected the Philippine Army to defeat the Japanese. The retreating Filipinos either destroyed these supplies, or they fell into Japanese hands; either way they proved of no use for MacArthur.
Furthermore, everyone between Washington and Manila believed the Japanese “inferior” and incapable of launching such massive attacks. Several sources indicate that between Washington and Manila many American “experts” concluded that Germans, flying Japanese planes, conducted these attacks. MacArthur’s “intelligence” claimed the Japanese incapable of attacking the Philippines until April, 1942. Where did MacArthur receive such intelligence, particularly given the previously stated US intelligence-gathering weakness. The Japanese allowed our formal military and naval attaches to see what they wanted them to see. Therefore, the Japanese knowing the Western attitude toward them, allowed the continuation of the “inferior” deception.
MacArthur, considered the “expert” on Asia at the time, should have known better, given his lengthy service in Asia. During his first tour of duty in the Philippines he visited Japanese troops during the Russo-Japanese War. Unfortunately, with no covert intelligence networks in Japanese-held territory and MAGIC imprecise, the Japanese deception worked.
A possible answer lies in the aforementioned “war warning” of November 27, 1941, repeated on November 28th. Stinnett discloses the exact wording of these two messages and how they did not adequately warn the Pacific commanders. While it specifically warns the Philippine commanders of a possible amphibious landing it directs that they take no offensive action. The message stressed twice that US policy required that “Japan commit the first overt act.” MacArthur replied, “Everything in readiness for the conduct of a successful defense.” Washington’s message did call for “necessary reconnaissance;” however it did not authorize preemptively engaging the Japanese. This message further stressed not unduly alarming the civilian populace, a constant in all messages.
Hart received the same messages as MacArthur; however no one blames him for the lack of readiness of the Asiatic Fleet. Stinnett states that the 23 submarines, that could have rendered such valuable reconnaissance service, remained in port. Furthermore, given the warning of an amphibious landing force submarines could have monitored, and disrupted, such a force. However, given the massive number of defective torpedoes early in the war, they might only provide a futile sacrifice. Additionally the Asiatic Fleet possessed Patrol Wing 10 consisting of 28 PBY Catalina aircraft. However the only information I found regarding pre-war patrols stated that these PBY’s patrolled the southern region, bordering the Dutch East Indies.
This “war warning” message generated a meeting between MacArthur, Hart, Quezon and US High Commissioner to the Philippine Islands, Francis Sayre. Morton reveals the details of this meeting: increased aerial reconnaissance and ground security measures. During the first week of December, 1941 aerial reconnaissance detected heavy Japanese ship movements toward Malaya and even “unidentified aircraft” over Luzon. Supposedly MacArthur ordered aerial night patrols beginning December 4, 1941; however I found no records regarding these missions.
Prange reveals that the Japanese considered their codes unbreakable by the “white man” and did not change them, even after the war began. However, they did change the radio call signs of their ships, normally every six months. This required some time for code-breakers in identifying these ships and their locations, and last occurred on November 1, 1941. On December 1, 1941 the Japanese again changed these call signs, sounding “alarm bells” throughout the intelligence branches. Almost everyone called this a “clear indication of war;” however, since they “lost” the Japanese ships, where?
Simultaneously the Japanese reduced their volume of radio traffic, which further confused the Americans regarding Japanese ship locations. Fortunately, after working intensely, the code-breakers partially identified about 200 Japanese ships within 24 hours; however, this did not include four aircraft carriers. All the intelligence indicated the previously mentioned “southern operation,” which should have spurred action from MacArthur and Hart. Again, nothing clearly indicated Hawaii as a target and neither Kimmel nor Short took any additional precautions.
Prange further states a “bombshell” of intelligence that further went unheeded in Washington, Hawaii and the Philippines. On December 3, 1941 Tokyo ordered its embassies and consulates in Allied nations to destroy all codes, cipher machines and other classified material “at once.” Intelligence chiefs in Washington believed that this “clinched it” regarding war with Japan; however Army intelligence did not inform Short. Kimmel received this information; however he did not inform Short because he believed that the Army informed him. Working in coordination with the FBI, the Navy determined that the Japanese consulate in Honolulu began destroying their codes. Unfortunately, Kimmel attached no importance to this, since he knew that consulates destroyed codes periodically. Again, uncharacteristic of their previous coordination, Kimmel did not inform Short of this destruction. Prange indicates that Hart received this “destruction” message; however I found nothing indicating that he shared this with MacArthur.
Despite MacArthur’s report of “Everything in readiness…” most of his troops remained in their camps. Did MacArthur do this because he believed his still-mobilizing Filipino reservists needed all the training possible? Or did he gamble that the Japanese were incapable of attacking based on his previous “intelligence?” On December 6, 1941 (local time), two days before the Japanese air attack, MacArthur ordered Lieutenant General Jonathan Wainwright, commander of the North Luzon Force “to be ready to move to its assigned positions.” Wainwright stated that around his headquarters “the tension could be cut with a knife.” That same day MacArthur further informed Washington that a “full air alert was in effect and all aircraft dispersed.”
However, as often happens in such situations, the next day, Sunday in the Philippines, everyone relaxed and assumed their normal routine. Everyone expected war “within a few days,” but no one seemed overly concerned. Morton states that evening the 27th Bombardment Group held a gala event in the Manila Hotel for Brereton. In attendance with Brereton, MacArthur’s chief of staff, Brigadier General Richard K. Sutherland and Hart’s chief of staff, Rear Admiral William R. Purnell. While the three men conversed about the war as only “a question of days or perhaps hours until the shooting started,” the party continued. Brereton ordered that his chief of staff “place all air units on combat alert as of Monday morning,” December 8, 1941.
Based on my Army experience I find the timing of this “gala” on a Sunday evening as somewhat curious. I do not charge Brereton with “conspiracy,” merely poor judgment given the nature of such parties. In all of my assignments, both stateside and overseas, unit adjutants scheduled these official parties for either a Friday or Saturday. With the following day a traditional non-duty day, it ensured sufficient “recovery time” for those “over indulging.” Scheduling it with the next day a duty day seems somewhat irresponsible even under routine peacetime conditions. Given the situation at the time I do not understand why the party occurred in the first place.
Unfortunately, for various reasons, the Japanese destroyed MacArthur’s air force on the ground; as well as maintenance facilities and ammunition stores. They further destroyed the Cavite Navy Yard, eliminating most logistical support for the Asiatic Fleet. With air superiority the Japanese virtually landed their troops with no opposition until they encountered the untrained Philippine Army.
An old military axiom states that “soldiers fight the way they are trained;” and another states that “no plan survives the first contact.” Regarding the first axiom, most training consists of performing repetitive tasks under steadily increasing levels of pressure. Supposedly, a soldier facing his first combat will overcome his fear by automatically performing these tasks. This works reasonably well with properly trained troops, particularly “newbies” joining a veteran unit. Unfortunately the mostly Filipino reservists served less than three months, providing little time for training and the crucial small unit cohesion.
Regarding the second axiom stated above, it simply means that the enemy does not follow our established plans. Any competent nation makes war by using their strengths against the enemy’s weaknesses, and the Japanese excelled in this. Primarily they used our openness and constitutional liberties against us and their agents infiltrated the legitimate Japanese-American population. Prange states that the FBI, Army and Navy Intelligence knew the identity of many of these agents, and monitored their activities. However, no pre-war evidence existed that these agents, particularly in Hawaii, violated any American laws. Despite the surveillance these agents succeeded beyond all expectations in providing Japanese military planners with accurate, detailed and timely intelligence.
The Japanese knew that most US military operations halted over the weekends, with aircraft on the ground and ships in the port. Most military personnel enjoyed Sundays off duty and “slept in,” with most senior officers in their family quarters. They further knew that the Americans focused their patrolling activities southwest of Hawaii, between Hawaii and the Marshall Islands. These patrols typically took off at sunrise, returned for lunch, took off again and returned at sunset. Whether part of the plan or not, the Japanese attack in Hawaii occurred at roughly the time when weekend duty personnel changed shift.
In the Philippine Islands, news of the Pearl Harbor attack arrived over a commercial radio broadcast at 2:30 AM, December 8, 1941. The authors describe the actions of the American commanders, and it proves deeply disturbing. It seems that MacArthur and Hart both alerted their commands; however their subordinate commanders did nothing. The book reveals that the officers did not inform their troops until they awoke and ate breakfast. Perhaps the officers felt their commands already alerted, given the positioning of a tank battalion near Clark AAF.
At this point blame for unpreparedness falls squarely on MacArthur and Hart for not exercising command. Based on my Army experience an alert, today called an emergency deployment readiness exercise (EDRE), triggers an alert plan. The unit must subsequently report various “checkpoints” as it achieves successive levels of readiness. Headquarters send staff members among their subordinate commands for monitoring progress and informing their commander of problems. Remember the first two military axioms: “lead by example” and “the troops do well what the leader inspects.”
Furthermore, I believe that since the Japanese attack violated all the previous planning and exercises that it shocked everyone. First, despite the “war warnings” and rumors of war, no one in the Philippines expected an attack before April, 1942. Furthermore, no one expected an attack on Pearl Harbor, which negated every pre-war US plan. After the Pearl Harbor attack Washington did not officially notify the Philippines until 5:30 AM (local time) on December 8, 1941. While this seems irrelevant given the previous “war warnings” and the actions expected of competent field commanders, this oversight seems curious. Field commanders also expect competent decisions from their chiefs in Washington, such as cancellation of “fire the first shot” and “unduly alarm the civilian population” orders. The only known communication with Washington before the Japanese attack on the Philippines occurred between Air Corps Chief of Staff, MG Henry H. Arnold, and Brereton. Arnold warned Brereton of the Hickam AAF disaster, where the Japanese easily destroyed the closely parked aircraft, and told him to disperse his aircraft.
In my mind the knowledge of the Pearl Harbor attack cancelled the “fire the first shot” and “unduly alarm the civilian population” orders. This and the “war warning” of a “southern operation” moving in my direction triggers a full-scale alert. However, for some reason, both MacArthur and Hart failed in properly deploying their forces for meeting the enemy. This indecisiveness seems peculiar for two officers with such distinguished careers, including excellent combat records. With the commanders in Hawaii executing long-range patrols with PBY’s; why not in the Philippines? Did both of these men become impotent because of micro-management from Washington; or did their “personality conflicts” prevent joint action?
Why focus blame on Washington at this time: because in the “transition to war” commanders at all levels need decisive orders. These orders break down the “wall” between peacetime activities, no matter the alert level, and actual execution of war plans. They further remove all doubt among their subordinates regarding conduct of combat operations, preventing what happened in Hawaii. On Sunday, December 7, 1941 the national military command failed in almost every aspect of their duties. For example, with the issue of the November 27, 1941 “war warning” why was so much of the “chain of command” unavailable during the December 6 – 7 timeline? Every new non-commissioned officer in the Army learns that “leadership never takes a day off.” However, the commander-in-chief, the service secretaries and the Army and Navy chiefs of staff all proved unreachable. Stinnett details the hours spent by senior officer “runners” from Army and Navy Intelligence for sounding the alarm, to no avail. Prange confirms this “trail” and the delay in informing the Pacific commanders, including the atmospheric conditions that prevented communications with Hawaii.
MacArthur’s grandiose plan fell apart from the first Japanese air attack that destroyed his air force on the ground. Deprived of air cover the Asiatic Fleet sailed for the Dutch East Indies, leaving only a few submarines and motor torpedo (PT) boats. Although these valiant sailors launched several successful raids, mostly against Japanese transports, they did not disrupt the major Japanese landings. While some Philippine Army units courageously resisted the Japanese landings, many others withdrew after their first contact. Much like the hastily assembled American militia ran before the British Army in 1814, leaving Washington, DC undefended.
For the record, Air Force History states that although out-numbered and out-classed FEAF continued operations from its Bataan airfields into March, 1942. This consisted of mostly fighter aircraft since the B-17’s operated first from airfields on Mindanao and later Australia. The Air Force History at www.airforcehistory.hq.af.mil boasts the heroism of these men, including the record of their first World War Two ace, First Lieutenant Boyd D. Wagner. Ground personnel stranded on Bataan, like Steele, became the “Flying Infantry,” and ultimately POW’s of the Japanese.
I further believe that this failure of MacArthur’s beloved Filipino people proved the “straw” that “broke his back.” This does not excuse his withdrawal into his underground Corregidor headquarters, or his abrogation of his leadership responsibilities. However, did he feel another priority, discussed later, more important than personal leadership? Although the bulk of his forces successfully withdrew into the Bataan Peninsula they abandoned their supplies. It also wore down his best troops, the US Philippine Division, thrown into several counterattacks for retaking lost ground.
The authors correctly criticize the reports from the Philippines that highlight “MacArthur’s troops” and not individual or unit valor. However, the authors make the same error, as previously stated, in ignoring American and Filipino courage. While the enormous ego of MacArthur certainly seems capable of such self-aggrandizement, we must consider other possibilities. Certainly MacArthur’s staff included some sycophants that felt elevating MacArthur elevated them as well, and they probably embellished their reports. During these dark, tragic days American morale definitely needed a boost and most sources call MacArthur our most famous general at the time. Besides, he proved the only commander in battle with the enemy at the time and the quintessential hero, as previously stated. On the “home front” he symbolized resistance against an enemy easily brushing aside opposition and succeeding everywhere else. Did the political-savvy FDR solicit the ego-driven MacArthur for building American resolve for victory? Fleming does not mention anything like this; however he does imply that FDR felt some guilt for the debacle in the Pacific.
The authors vilify MacArthur for deceiving his troops regarding the approach of relief and cite FDR as publicly writing off the Philippines. Unfortunately Morton supports MacArthur on this with his Chapter 9, “Strategy and Logistics” and Chapter 22, “Help is on the Way.” The initial resupply effort focused on a convoy of seven transports, escorted by the heavy cruiser USS Pensacola already bound for Manila. This convoy contained aircraft, air crews, two artillery regiments, ammunition and other supplies desperately needed in the Philippines. Negotiating the South Pacific when the Japanese attacked, Washington diverted it to Suva, Fiji Islands for further orders.
Washington debated for several days regarding the destination of the Pensacola Convoy: reinforcing Hawaii; continuing to Manila or returning to the US. Although the Japanese gained air superiority during this time Japanese troops had not yet landed in the Philippines. However, on December 10, 1941 Japanese troops seized some of the smaller, undefended northern islands and even landed on northern Luzon. On December 12, 1941 Washington ordered the convoy to Brisbane, Australia with its future destination “depending on the situation.” Meanwhile, they informed MacArthur of pending reinforcements on December 13, 1941, who conferred with Hart regarding naval escort.
This convoy arrived in Brisbane on December 22, 1941, the same day that the main Japanese landing occurred on Luzon. Upon arrival Washington tasked the senior Army officer in the convoy, Brigadier General Julian Barnes, with getting this convoy to MacArthur. They placed Barnes under MacArthur’s command and instructed him to deliver these men, aircraft and supplies to MacArthur “as quickly as possible.” Perhaps MacArthur, after losing his air force and supplies in the Philippines, felt obtaining this convoy more important than exercising personal leadership.
Throughout the battle MacArthur remained in contact with Washington, or else how did he know about his evacuation. He received orders to delay the enemy as long as possible for providing time for building Allied forces. In conjunction with this Marshall told MacArthur to request what he needed regarding reinforcement and resupply. At the request of Brereton he requested 300 pursuit and 250 dive bomber aircraft, some already on board the convoy. With the Japanese dominating the air, Brereton moved his remaining B-17’s, adequate personnel for these aircraft and his FEAF headquarters to Australia in late December, 1941. As the situation deteriorated in early January, 1942 MacArthur apprised Washington of his critical need for supplies, particularly food.
Unfortunately the assets in Australia and the Dutch East Indies did not meet the needs of the large force in the Philippines. When the war began the US did not possess a supply depot in Australia, nor did any convoys regularly move between Australia and the Philippines. Washington provided vast amounts of money for chartering available shipping, incentive for reluctant civilian crews and purchasing scarce stores of supplies. Furthermore, the Japanese tide of conquest moved too fast, particularly in the Dutch East Indies, where supplies eventually stockpiled. Nevertheless, some ships succeeded in running the Japanese blockade and delivered small amounts of supplies into the Philippines.
Additionally, no Allied command and control existed in the Pacific before the war, even though the Americans, British and Dutch discussed joint efforts in April, 1941. The massive Japanese attacks forced the formation of the ill-fated American, British, Dutch and Australian Command (ABDACOM). Like all allied military commands it endured a certain, and in this case fatal, amount of bureaucratic delay. The Allies did not agree on a supreme commander, British General Sir Archibald Wavell, then in India, until January 1, 1942. Wavell established his headquarters on Java on January 15, 1942 and “assumed command;” however, he must create a staff, establish a chain of command and develop a strategy.
The strategy focused on defending the “Malay Barrier” with the few forces available, south of the Philippines. In Washington FDR and his military chiefs agreed with this strategy; however they did not inform MacArthur. Marshall reiterated his promise of “all possible aid” for MacArthur and that holding the Philippines delayed the Japanese. FDR agreed with Marshall based partially on the political ramifications posed by abandoning the Philippines. First and foremost he looked at the effect on “home front” morale, discussed later, and on its effect for the Filipino people. After all, Filipino soldiers, loyally fighting and dying for the US, might feel betrayed if abandoned without any relief attempt.
Marshall tasked then-Brigadier General Dwight D. Eisenhower with developing a plan for transporting supplies for MacArthur. As previously stated Eisenhower served a tour of duty in the Philippines under MacArthur and this knowledge supposedly made planning easier. Marshall moved several senior officers from other posts in Asia for executing this plan; however it possessed one major flaw. Transporting these supplies depended on the US Navy and most of the Navy’s power rested at the bottom of Pearl Harbor. In the Philippines, Hart proved only lukewarm at best in supporting this plan, and his fleet lacked the ships. Besides, in late December, 1941 Hart moved the remainder of his fleet, except for a few submarines and PT boats, to the Dutch East Indies.
Furthermore, Hart’s Asiatic Fleet served under the ABDACOM, more focused on defending the Malay Barrier and Dutch East Indies. Unfortunately Dutch political pressure forced the recall of Hart in February, 1942 and disbandment of the Asiatic Fleet. This placed the shrinking numbers of American warships under Dutch command, with resupplying the Philippines a low priority.
Nevertheless, the Americans tried resupplying MacArthur, and the British, Dutch and Australians provided support from steadily decreasing assets. With Japanese air and naval superiority any convoy must travel by night, a difficult operation during this stage of the war, and hide during the day. Often during these operations the civilian crews of the transport ships deserted, leaving the ships and their precious cargoes abandoned. As the Japanese tide of conquest continued it cut several routes into the Philippines, and destroyed Allied naval forces. However, several convoys braved the odds and transported supplies into the Philippines; although not in sufficient amounts for MacArthur’s forces.
Most of these supplies collected on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, even arriving after the surrender of Corregidor. Supplies also arrived on cargo aircraft, bombers and submarine; however Hart opposed using submarines. On Mindanao smaller inter-island motor boats gathered these supplies and tried running them into Corregidor and Bataan. However, the amount of supplies proved almost negligible and provided no relief for the starving troops. The fact that Marshall communicated relief efforts with MacArthur’s successor, Wainwright, confirm the duration of this relief effort. Therefore, did MacArthur deceive his starving troops, or did Washington deceive him regarding their efforts at delivering supplies?
FDR ordered MacArthur from the Philippine trap for several reasons, some of them clear, some of them pure speculation. First, maintaining American morale required that the “most famous” general not suffer death or capture. As the US suffered devastating losses in manpower, ships, aircraft and territory the American public must believe in ultimate victory. After building him into the “greatest general since (Ulysses S.) Grant,” his loss, and use by the Japanese, might ignite a cry for negotiations. Second, at this stage of the war the US lacked experienced senior generals for leading a Pacific counteroffensive. As the Armed Forces expanded in size these new units required senior officers and many (such as Eisenhower) received temporary promotion into significantly higher ranks. These new generals, their staffs and subordinate commanders needed time for learning their new duties. Third, in Washington it seemed easier for moving MacArthur to Australia than someone from the US mainland. It takes time for traveling from the mainland US across the South Pacific into Australia; time the US and its allies lacked. Moving a general and sufficient staff from the US would hardly go unnoticed and alert Japanese intelligence. If the Japanese penetrated Pearl Harbor, what prevented their penetration of the undefended ocean for such a vital target?
This next point remains pure speculation based on the political machinations of FDR implied by Fleming and other sources. When MacArthur arrived in Australia he expected the presence of an American force capable of relieving the Philippines. Instead he found that his new command, the Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA) held a low priority for resources. What did Washington tell MacArthur regarding his command in Australia before he arrived that so shocked him upon arrival?
I get the impression from the book that if MacArthur followed the original War Plan ORANGE that conditions in the Philippines would have been better. While they accuse MacArthur of abandoning his troops; War Plan ORANGE abandoned MacArthur and the Philippines. I know of no “what-if” scenario publicized that presents such a theory, so let me portray one. The abandonment strategy does not give the Philippines the 1941 “priority” in men, materiel and funding for defensive preparations. No mobilization of the Philippine Army, no modernization and reinforcement of FEAF and no improvement of fortifications. The only “positives” from this strategy I see reduces the number of American POW’s; prevents the loss of two American tank battalions and limits the loss of modern American combat aircraft.
Without this “priority” I question the ability of the American troops in the Philippines at “holding out for six months.” With the Pearl Harbor debacle War Plan ORANGE became a moot point, removing the US Pacific Fleet as a viable force. The US lacked the forces and logistical support for liberating the Philippines until October, 1944, significantly longer than six months. Without the “priority” the US ground forces consisted of the US Philippine Division and the one regular army division of the Philippine Army. The effectiveness of the Philippine Army reservists remains questionable without the “priority” of an influx of American and PS officers. Without even the limited funding it received for mobilization, equipment and training its capability of delaying the Japanese invasion seems doubtful.
Again, War Plan ORANGE placed almost all of the American and Filipino troops in the limited space of the Bataan Peninsula. It further placed the supposedly enormous amount of supplies in depots located in the Bataan Peninsula. This provides the superior Japanese air and naval forces a mass “target of opportunity” for destroying both troops and logistical support. Given the authorized withdrawal of the mostly obsolete Asiatic Fleet, the Japanese controlled the Philippine Islands’ inland seas. Even with prior warning the mostly obsolete Army aircraft present before the “priority” stood little chance against modern Japanese “Zero” fighters. Despite its ambitious strategy, War Plan ORANGE, if strictly followed, meant no heroic delaying action in the Philippines. It further meant no heroes for “home front” morale, the possible capture of the highest ranking general ever (MacArthur) and no time for building forces in Australia.
Regarding the contention of the delaying action in the Philippines “upsetting the Japanese timetable,” it depends on one’s views. It did upset the timetable for Japan’s conquest of the Philippines from fifty days to six months. First we must understand that the small, resource-disadvantaged nation of Japan possessed the resources for simultaneously attacking the Americans in Hawaii and the Philippines; the British in Hong Kong and Malaya and the Dutch East Indies. At the same time they maintained sufficient forces in China for holding them at bay; hardly the achievements of an “inferior” nation. While bogged down in the Philippines Japan conquered the British in Singapore in February and the Dutch in March of 1942.
However, the Japanese offensive bogged down in the Philippines against this rag-tag army of mostly Filipino reservists, “inferior Orientals.” With Bataan and Corregidor holding out on Luzon the Japanese made only minor incursions in the southern islands. On Mindanao a Japanese brigade captured the major city of Davao; however they held it only because of air and artillery superiority. Unfortunately the Filipino reservists holding Mindanao proved even more poorly trained than those on Luzon. Few ever fired their weapons during training; the command lacked artillery and communication proved difficult for moving troops and supplies.
Even after Bataan surrendered Homma must eliminate Corregidor and other island fortresses in Manila Bay. Certainly, after this his exhausted troops must rest and refit before invading the remaining islands, probably requiring at least one month. Already in disfavor with the Japanese high command, he certainly felt added pressure because of the conquests of Singapore and the Dutch East Indies. With the American media broadcasting the continued resistance in the Philippines, the Japanese “lost face” and must end this resistance. Therefore, before planning and executing further operations the Japanese must end this resistance and prove their dominance in Asia. Morton reveals that in March, 1942 the Japanese high command transferred large detachments from both Borneo and Malaya for reinforcing the Philippines. These reinforcements arrived in early April, 1942 destined for operations on the defended southern islands. Did this detachment of forces by the Japanese prevent the invasion of India in 1942 and allow the British some breathing space? Did the resistance in the Philippines delay Japanese operations in New Guinea and allow more time for the defending Australians?
Unfortunately Homma received aid from an unexpected source, Wainwright, the new commander of US Forces in the Philippines (USFIP). When Japanese troops gained a foothold on Corregidor Wainwright tried transferring command on the next-ranking senior American officer, Brigadier General William F. Sharp, on Mindanao. When Wainwright surrendered Corregidor he tried only surrendering those troops immediately under his command and not those on the other islands. Unfortunately as Wainwright negotiated with the Japanese regarding his surrender he ordered that his troops destroy their weapons and ammunition. Furthermore, Homma intercepted radio messages between Corregidor and the other islands and knew of Wainwright’s plan. He then offered Wainwright a bitter choice; either surrender all the forces in the Philippines, or face a renewed offensive. A renewed offensive left Wainwright’s unarmed troops helpless and possibly massacred, something Sharp and the other American commanders clearly understood. Sharp officially surrendered his remaining forces on May 10, 1942, four days after Wainwright surrendered Corregidor. The remaining island commanders surrendered by June 9, 1942, six months and one day after the first attack. Coincidentally, this occurred two days after the official end of the decisive Battle of Midway (June 7, 1942), which proved the turning point in the Pacific theater. Did the resistance in the Philippines assist the Midway victory by tying down Japanese forces?
Even without the threat against American and Filipino POW’s, resistance in the other islands seemed waning. On Mindanao Sharp’s forces, although still intact, continued withdrawing in the face of Japanese air, artillery and naval superiority. Here and on the other islands the US commanders planned on deploying their Filipino troops into smaller guerrilla groups. While most of the Filipino troops dispersed into the mountains and conducted guerrilla war, most of their American and Filipino senior officers surrendered. It remains purely speculative how much more effective these guerrilla operations might have been under the leadership of these officers.
Ultimately Homma paid the highest price for his victory in the Philippines, which Tokyo viewed as a failure. Relieved of his command soon after the campaign ended he spent the rest of the war in Tokyo as a reserve officer. He might have remained here in obscurity if not for the stories of brutality told by the Bataan Death March survivors. Arrested as a “Class C” war criminal, he returned to the Philippines, still a US territory, for his trial. “Class C” meant that he was responsible for crimes committed in the field and should be tried in the country where the crimes occurred. Dubbed the “Beast of Bataan” by the Americans and with the bloody Pacific war still fresh in memory a fair trial seemed extremely doubtful. Unfortunately I found no wartime media sources that used the phrase “Beast of Bataan” when mentioning Homma. The only sources I found using this phrase discussed a proposed movie about Homma’s trial.
The book and several other sources paint a sympathetic portrait of Homma, and perhaps he deserves one. An article in the February/March, 2007 American Heritage.com by Hampton Sides interviews the same defense attorney for Homma as the Normans, then-Lieutenant Robert Pelz. At the time of the interview Pelz remained the sole surviving defense attorney and this interview restated his interview for the book. Pelz stated that the story of the “Beast of Bataan — it was all over the newspapers,” and recalled the “charged atmosphere in Manila.”
However, although Homma’s biography proves him pro-Western in his thought and manners we must look at his actions. While the book and other sources criticize MacArthur’s leadership during the Philippine campaign they do not criticize Homma’s. Although he eventually defeated the American forces his 14th Army suffered horrendous casualties, both from combat and sickness. Both he and his superiors underestimated the tenacity of American and Filipino resistance, which upset their timetable.
Within his command Homma endured insubordination from his staff and major subordinate commanders, and seemingly ignored it. Trial records state that he testified that he lacked the authority for choosing his staff and relieving subordinates that disobeyed his orders. One of his subordinates, Colonel Tsuji Masanoba, seemingly organized this subversion; however I found nothing naming his position in the 14th Army. While one source credits Homma with ordering leniency for Filipinos, the Pantingan River massacre discredits this order. Like MacArthur, Homma did not inspect his troops and atrocities this widespread must reach the general through rumors. After all, as mentioned in the book, the chain of command organized these atrocities and the troops committed them openly. Even Pelz, sympathetic toward Homma, stated that as commander he should have known.
Unless Homma lived in a vacuum he clearly understood the nature of Japanese warfare as practiced in China. He commanded the Japanese 27th Division in China during 1938 – 1940 and clearly knew of the atrocities in Nanking. Although Chang does not mention Homma as part of the Japanese command, he served in China during this time. Did troops under his command commit atrocities in China and did he prosecute those involved, or did he condone them?
Sides’ article states that during his time as commander of the 14th Army Homma carried out about 100 courts-martial against Japanese troops. The charges included looting, abuse and rape; he particularly prosecuted rape and sent the records of these trials to the convicted soldiers’ families. However, this number of prosecutions pales when considered against the deaths of about 21,000 POW’s in two months. The bottom line, for all of his personal morality and honor Homma lost control of his army. His staff and major subordinate commanders subverted his orders and he either did not know, or tolerated it.
Something about the book and the Sides’ article deeply disturbs me; the transformation of Homma into a hero and the POW’s into villains. Again, perhaps given what we know about Homma he did not deserve his fate; however, he commanded in an army widely known for atrocities. Some sources state that Japan signed the 1929 Geneva Convention, some say they did not; however, Japan did not ratify the treaty. Japanese forces committed widespread atrocities in China long before the invasion of the Philippines, and Homma served Japan as a general officer. “Following orders” did not excuse the German officers tried in Nuremberg, even those of much lesser rank than Homma. For example, Deputy Fuhrer Rudolf Hess received a life sentence for flying to Scotland in May, 1941 and offering the UK peace terms. He died in Spandau Prison during my tour of duty in Germany largely because the Soviet Union did not want him released.
Both the book and Sides question the honesty of many of the POW’s that testified against Homma, particularly then-Master Sergeant James Baldassarre. Baldassarre identified Homma as stopping his staff car, getting out and observing the atrocities; in particular a road strewn with dead POW’s. Perhaps as the book and Sides contend Baldassarre did not know Homma on sight; however harsh experiences stick in one’s mind. The “top brass” of most armies travel in clearly marked vehicles as part of an entourage and attended by platoons of orderlies. If Baldassarre saw such a “display” he probably asked questions and received answers from either other POW’s, or perhaps Japanese guards. The book states that Baldassarre marched at least part of the way with two American colonels, both murdered; perhaps one of these colonels identified Homma. Disparaging Baldassarre’s service as “rear echelon” and “knowing what was expected of him” seems spiteful given what he survived. Somehow Baldassarre’s long Army career disqualifies him as a credible witness, and he conspired with MacArthur. After all, during cross-examination the defense counsels did not shake his testimony.
Sides compares Homma’s trial with charging US Army General Tommy Franks with the abuses committed at Abu Ghraib and about 30 detainee “homicides.” This comparison seems ridiculous given the disparity of both the extent and deaths in each case. First, no records indicate that any Abu Ghraib detainees died from this abuse; which does not excuse the abuse. Second, the “reportedly occurred” 30 detainee “homicides” include all those captured in both Afghanistan and Iraq over the years of the current war. From most sources at the time the media learned of the Abu Ghraib abuses from an ongoing Army investigation. Once the Army finished its investigation it prosecuted those involved, including the prison commandant. Conversely, 21,000 POW’s died during “Homma’s watch” and those captured by the Japanese died at a rate above 30 percent.
The book and several other sources criticize Homma’s trial by a military tribunal; as opposed to trial under the International Allied War Crimes Commission. I get the impression that this swipe at military tribunals really relates with today’s proposed tribunals against suspected terrorists. However, let me state that many Americans believe that the term “international” or “allied” somehow makes something totally honest. I remind those Americans that the United Nations (UN) proved totally corrupt during Saddam Hussein’s “Oil for Food” program. Many of our European “allies” participated in that corruption and assisted Saddam with his weapons of mass destruction (WMD) development.
After the surrender the International Allied War Crimes Commission established the International Military Tribunal (IMT)for prosecuting war criminals. In Germany the more famous Nuremberg Trials, or Nuremberg Military Tribunals, tried over 200 Germans. In Asia the IMT established the International Military Tribunals for the Far East (IMTFE). Everywhere the Japanese set foot they committed atrocities against those they conquered and trials occurred in each country. From information gathered about the IMTFE in each country the judge, jury, prosecution, defense counsel and executioner came from its armed forces. Each of these nations suffered defeat at the hands of the Japanese and suffered unspeakable atrocities from official Japanese policies. The IMTFE tried 5,700 Japanese as Class B and Class C war criminals: 984 received the death sentence, 475 received life sentences and 2,944 received prison terms. Did revenge prove an issue in these trials; given Japan’s record of atrocities I believe it did. However, given the scope of World War II and the cost in lives where do you “change venue” for ensuring an impartial jury?
Since both the book and Sides question the authority placed in MacArthur, the “defeated general,” in executing justice, what about the Allies in general? As stated in the previous paragraph each of the Allied nations suffered defeat and atrocities at the hands of the Japanese. Did neutral nations, such as Sweden and Switzerland, possess the administrative and logistical abilities for conducting such massive trials? They remained about the only nations of the “international community” not involved in the war on one side or another.
Supposedly, MacArthur “hand-picked” the panel of judges/jury members for influencing the outcome of Homma’s trial. Given what we know about MacArthur’s ego, the possibility exists; however, as supreme commander of the allied powers (SCAP) he held this authority. As SCAP MacArthur appointed a total of 11 judges for the IMTFE, 8 of them civilians. From my experience with the Army’s judge advocate general (JAG) corps I found the majority of them competent and honorable. JAG officers remain outside the unit chain of command, outside the commander’s rating system and outside the commander’s influence. Since Pelz and his fellow defense counsels challenged MacArthur’s position without removal from the case speaks volumes regarding American military jurisprudence.
The book states the experience of a Japanese soldier, Kiyoshi Kinoshita, captured by the victorious Filipinos after the Battle of the Pockets. Captured while unconscious, any vengeful Filipino soldier might have killed Kinoshita; however, Kinoshita awoke in a hospital. Although short of medical supplies for their own troops an American doctor treated his wounds. Security proved so lax that Kinoshita and another Japanese soldier escaped during one night. Kinoshita felt shame at his capture; shame for his family, and that he betrayed his country. After rejoining the Japanese forces the military police questioned him like a criminal and he feared execution for becoming a POW. That speaks volumes regarding the treatment of Japanese captured by the defeated Americans versus that provided by the victorious Japanese.
Many Americans believe that the term “civilian” somehow makes legal professionals more competent and the proceedings more just. However, one needs only look toward the famous, or infamous, “OJ trial” and the circus it transformed into for an example. Today we debate the “judicial activism” of judges “legislating from the bench” and “litmus tests” tendered by political leaders appointing them. Lawyers, in general, do not possess a high level of trust from the average American.
The book states that during Homma’s trial the US Supreme Court rejected the appeal of the execution of General Tomoyuki Yamashita. Yamashita commanded Japanese troops in the Philippines during the liberation by the Americans. His troops in their delaying actions committed atrocities against thousands of Filipino civilians while Yamashita supposedly knew nothing about it. In a 6 – 2 ruling the Supreme Court validated the military tribunal of Yamashita and upheld his order for execution. Since Homma’s defense team hoped for a similar appeal the Supreme Court’s ruling established precedent and negated their appeal.
While discussing the term “civilian” one must never overlook the public outcry in the nations affected by the war with Japan. Most of the Allied nations enjoyed a democratic government, even in their colonial empires. While one might call this “mob rule,” as stated previously the political leaders serve at the will of their constituents. Even in totalitarian regimes, such as the Soviet Union, the leaders must mollify their people regarding atrocities for preventing revolts. The “mother country” does not ensure peace and tranquility among the “colonial subjects” by ignoring their cries for justice (or revenge). During my Army career I served several years in Asia and found the Japanese the most hated among their “fellow Asians.”
Since the book and other sources seem concerned with Homma’s trial, how do they feel about the trial of George Dasch? Never heard of him? I found this information on the US Navy’s Naval Historical Center website. In June, 1942 Dasch led four German saboteurs ashore on Long Island. All the saboteurs previously lived in the US, possessed extensive knowledge of America and spoke with an American accent. Two of them possessed US citizenship and Dasch even received an honorable discharge from the US Army during the 1920’s. Of the total of eight saboteurs landed, four others landed in Florida, they conducted no sabotage nor did they kill anybody. Dasch spared a lone, unarmed Coast Guardsman who discovered their nighttime landing while on patrol. He and his three compatriots might easily have murdered this man, buried him in the sand and gone undetected. However, they made some excuse for their presence on the beach and offered him a bribe.
The saboteurs might have succeeded except that Dasch got cold feet and called the New York FBI office. Based on Dasch’s testimony the FBI captured all eight within two weeks, two of them in Chicago. All eight received a military tribunal of seven US Army officers appointed by FDR held in the Department of Justice Building in Washington, DC. The trial lasted less than one month and all eight received the death sentence. After an appeal to FDR, he reduced Dasch’s sentence and one other to 30 years in the federal penitentiary. However, the remaining six were executed at the District of Columbia Jail August 8, 1942; within four days of their conviction. I fully understand that “two wrongs do not make a right;” however where is the outrage at FDR? Furthermore, I understand that the book focuses on the events in the Philippines; however why chastise MacArthur for following FDR’s example?
Furthermore, why do so many Americans today enjoy the self-flagellation of demonizing their own country while ignoring worse conduct from our enemies? I believe that part of this occurs because the majority of Americans, born after World War Two, do not understand the sacrifices required during that war. The book focuses on the brutal suffering of the American and Filipino POW’s, and I do not fault them for that focus. Those POW’s endured over three years of brutality, in the Philippines and throughout the Japanese Empire. Since the book largely overlooks the harsh, bloody years that ended with the liberation of the POW’s I discuss them now.
The Japanese attacks forced us into a war for our national survival, and we entered the war on the losing side. While most “experts” state that the Axis Powers stood no chance of invading or conquering our homeland, they might break our national will. Germany conquered and occupied most of Western Europe and the UK fought for its survival against an expected invasion. The collaborationist Vichy France government controlled the remaining French colonies, particularly in Africa, the Caribbean Sea and French Indochina. German and Italian forces seemed on the verge of capturing the Suez Canal, cutting the UK from its empire in Asia. In the Soviet Union Germany, supported by its allies: Bulgaria, Finland, Italy, Hungary and Romania; plunged deep into Soviet territory. In December, 1941 the Germans and Soviets fought in the suburbs of Moscow.
Japanese troops occupied most of China’s coastal regions; effectively cutting them off as sources of supplies. Its occupation of French Indochina cut off the Yunan-Viet Nam railway, leaving only the problematic Burma Road open. Although China possessed a numerically large army, it lacked the arms, equipment and supplies necessary for sustained combat. Sensing the rising tide of Japanese fortunes, Thailand allied itself with Japan and opened its borders for Japanese troops. Japanese troops now controlled the Straits of Malacca, advanced into Burma, cutting the Burma Road, and routinely bombed northern Australia. With the Burma Road cut the Chinese forces depended on cargo aircraft flying “over the hump” of the Himalaya Mountains. Only a mixed force of 1,400 Australians and the nearly impassable Owen Stanley Ranges kept the Japanese from taking Port Moresby.
After Pearl Harbor American territory in the Pacific rapidly fell as Japanese troops invaded these inadequately defended islands. This territory included the Aleutian Islands of Attu and Kiska, from where Japanese aircraft bombed the US Navy base at Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Japanese submarines off the West Coast surfaced and shelled oil storage facilities in California and an Army post in Oregon. German submarines sank American ships off the East Coast, using the lights from US cities for silhouetting these ships. Wreckage from these attacks washed up on the beaches near these cities; graphic images of the close proximity of war. A war for which the US remained grossly unprepared; militarily, industrially and psychologically. Facing these circumstances the American public might view victory as too costly and demand peace negotiations, leaving us vulnerable for future Axis “adventures.”
Today’s Americans do not understand that victory in World War Two required a national mobilization; not just those “volunteers,” but even the “unwilling.” Victory required the induction of about 16 million personnel (one-third rejected for various reasons) into the Armed Forces. On the “home front” every family became a “military family” as their sons, and in many cases their daughters, served. Furthermore, the “home front” experienced rationing of food, gasoline, cloth and numerous other things for the war effort. American industry transformed into the “Arsenal of Democracy” and no longer produced civilian automobiles or consumer goods. With the mass mobilization of men running the “Arsenal” required the massive employment of women in these industries. The American media complied with censorship rules because “loose lips sink ships” and harmed “our boys.” Victory cost American families the lives of over 400,000 of their loved ones over almost four years of war. That averages out at over 100,000 per year; affecting every town, every neighborhood and every family.
These massive sacrifices affected the American people in a way that no subsequent generation understands. Although the European theater received the priority of manpower and materiel, the Pacific theater proved more brutal. Part of this arises from the island-hopping campaign that strained logistical resources across the vast ocean. Each campaign required a beach landing, and heavy casualties, and ground fighting in jungles and other inhospitable terrain. As stated previously the Japanese soldier viewed surrender as a dishonor, and most fought until killed by the Americans. When defeat became apparent the Japanese fought even more fanatically, if possible, introducing the kamikaze during the liberation of the Philippines. These “suicide bombers” wreaked havoc on the Navy particularly during the Okinawa campaign. American casualty rates for the last two ground operations, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, averaged about thirty per cent. Did Americans, and our allies who suffered longer, demand retribution for these sacrifices; yes, and the brutality of our enemies engendered little sympathy.
The book does not delve too deeply into the pre-war isolationism and lack of military readiness of the US. I explained this in detail for exposing the ludicrousness of ignoring threats from “rogue nations” as they grow in capabilities. During the early 1930’s the “international community,” led by the “superpowers,” hid behind the cover of “resolutions” and bureaucratic process. Although not a member of the League of Nations, the US maintained an observer in Geneva and often supported the organization. The US further participated in the interwar military and naval treaties for prohibiting an “arms race” and future wars. Even as the behavior of these “rogue nations” worsened and the need for military confrontation seemed obvious, the “international community” obfuscated.
I believe, based on the vast sources I read and the actions of then-British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, that the “international community” feared war more than the threat. The “superpowers,” confident in their military superiority, felt that no “rational” nation seemed capable of challenging them. They took Hitler at his word and sacrificed Czechoslovakia for “peace in our time,” and reaped the bloodiest war in history.
As the UK and France belatedly prepared for war in Europe they rendered their Asian colonies almost indefensible. In the US “experts” convinced themselves, and others, of the probability of avoiding war in Europe and Asia because of our two-ocean barriers. The book describes Japan’s open aggression since 1931 and I detail Japan’s overt aggression before that. When Japan walked out of the League of Nations in 1934 bold action by the “superpowers,” leading the “international community,” might have squelched Japanese aggression. However, no guarantee exists that bold action would have stopped Japan at that time. But we do know what happened by ignoring them and allowing their continued aggression, and increased military capabilities.
Bold action following the Nanking massacre might have ended Japanese aggression, before it allied itself with Germany and Italy. Japanese troops entering foreign embassy grounds constituted an act of war under other circumstances; however the “international community” acted weak. Public outrage by FDR at the sinking of the USS Panay and killing of American sailors might have generated support for increased military readiness. Unfortunately, as documented by Chang, FDR censored media footage that showed the deliberate nature of Japan’s attack. Again, no guarantee exists that bold action would have forced Japanese capitulation; and again we know what resulted from weakness.
The book revealed the expanding aggression of Japan against its weaker neighbors, such as China. Not mentioned in the book, and mostly ignored in history, Japan tried invading Mongolia in 1939. Mongolia, a puppet of the Soviet Union, received military support from the Soviets and Soviet forces defeated the Japanese. Japan, deeply committed in China, sued for peace and ended its aggression in Mongolia and signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union. Based on this history it seems reasonable that similar military action by the “superpowers” and the US might likewise defeat Japan in China.
Arrogance and complacency on the part of the then-“superpowers” convinced the “rogue nations” of their invincibility against all threats. Their tolerance for this “unacceptable behavior” convinced these nations of their exemption from “international standards.” The US not only suffered from arrogance and complacency but a dangerous, naïve obsession with isolationism as well. As war raged in Asia and began in Europe in September, 1939 the US did little for defending itself. Unfortunately young Americans, like Steele, painfully learned the lesson that maintaining peace requires eternal vigilance, and readiness for war.
However, military readiness and eternal vigilance does not guarantee victory; a nation must possess the political will for using military force. As stated previously the democratic nations that became the Allies lacked that will, and their leaders did not try building it. A big part of this stemmed from the hardships of the Great Depression and the focus on social programs. I also previously stated that the political leaders of democratic nations require election and reelection by their constituents. In William Manchester’s The Last Lion only an eccentric, and unpopular, Member of Parliament, Winston Churchill, spoke for military readiness. Manchester further cites Churchill’s disappointment with the “younger generation” of members of Parliament unwillingness to defend the Empire.
The rising dictatorships: Germany, Italy, Japan and the Soviet Union; all suffered from the Great Depression as well. However, they dealt with it differently than the democratic nations; they blamed these democratic nations for their plight, with some justification in certain cases. They manipulated their people through state media control and propaganda, brutally suppressed dissension and vowed revenge on their “enemies.” That revenge required the violation of existing international arms treaties and the buildup of their armed forces. This buildup created jobs among their civilian populace in building the machinery necessary for their war machines.
Please do not think that I champion dictatorships or the indiscriminate use of military force in solving international problems. At the age of eighteen I pledged my life “to support and defend the Constitution,” and as an Army retiree that oath still binds me. I fully support the individual rights that the Constitution provides for all citizens and the limited power of government at all levels. However, we must learn from the mistakes of our past, including the impotency of our nation in preparing for World War Two. Furthermore, we must learn the political machinations of our enemies and how ignoring these machinations ultimately harm us.
As a combat veteran I fully understand the cost of war and believe we must use it as a last resort. However, diplomacy without a credible military threat only encourages the bad behavior of “rogue nations,” and an increased cost when diplomacy fails. Endless diplomacy when it becomes obvious that the “rogues” lack the desire for peace intimates weakness, and emboldens their aggression. Ignoring this aggression and remaining militarily weak, under any delusion of security and strength, increases the chances for a more costly war. A more costly war means more costly in the lives of our sons and daughters, our most precious commodity.
Depending on an international organization, like the League of Nations, provided a convenience for taking no action. Despite the UN’s ambitious goals of stopping wars and “nipping” future aggressors “in the bud,” it devolved into an impotent, and often corrupt, international bureaucracy. Today the US, as the “sole remaining superpower,” must learn from the defeats of France and the UK that this role requires leadership and military readiness.
Now with my “thesis” regarding the mistakes of the early days of World War Two complete I refocus on the book. I stated what I liked about the book, particularly its focus on the Japanese side and why they fought. We must understand why our enemies feel aggression justified for achieving their national goals; whether we agree with them or not. This includes their cultural beliefs (such as Amaterasu) and the ultranationalists (such as the Kokuryukai) that exploit them. The book further revealed the inner conflicts of the Japanese soldiers, from generals to conscripted privates, as they executed their duties. Furthermore, the book described, often in graphic detail, that despite these inner conflicts the Japanese committed massive atrocities. They committed these atrocities with the full knowledge, and often supervision, of the Japanese chain of command.
I liked the exposure of command weakness in the Philippine Islands by MacArthur; who overestimated his abilities and underestimated the Japanese. Despite contrary evidence, and that Japanese territory surrounded his command, MacArthur, his subordinates and his superiors remained confident of their victory. MacArthur and his subordinates made many mistakes in this first ground campaign of the war; as did everyone between Washington and Manila. Even under their besieged conditions the American and Filipino troops often performed courageously and inflicted several defeats on the Japanese.
The virtual disregard for this American and Filipino courage by the authors highlights what I disliked about the book. It disparages the pre-war “carousing” of the American soldiers; something done by all soldiers stationed far from home. When the war began these men and their Filipino “brothers-in-arms” mostly performed their duties, and official records state this. They did not surrender until after over two months of starvation, disease and lack of supplies sapped their combat effectiveness.
While I stated that I liked the Japanese perspective of the campaign; I disliked transforming them into heroes. Yes, they performed their duties, like all soldiers, serving their country and yearning for their families. However, the authors’ view of the Japanese campaign read almost like a Japanese history course. As stated above, the Japanese perspective came largely at the expense of the record of “our boys,” including the main character, Ben Steele.
MacArthur made many mistakes in planning and executing his campaign; however, so did his superiors in Washington. The book gives the impression of a United States, fully prepared for war everywhere, except in the Philippines. Here an egotistical, and deceitful, MacArthur squandered the vast amount of men and materiel “pouring into” the Philippines. Before Washington accepted MacArthur’s revised plan for defending the Philippines, send a team for assessing MacArthur’s capabilities. After all, Washington accepted this plan in April, 1941, eight months before the Japanese attack, plenty of time for an accurate assessment. With the war against Germany the priority, and resources so limited, why emphasize defending the faraway, vulnerable island commonwealth?
The book further exonerates MacArthur’s Navy counterpart, Admiral Hart, from any blame for the Philippine debacle. Although the Navy authorized Hart’s withdrawal from the Philippines before hostilities started; it seems that Hart neither aggressively patrolled before, nor after, Pearl Harbor. It further seems that the Asiatic Fleet conducted minimal operations for opposing the Japanese landings in the Philippines.
Furthermore, the book portrays an aggressive FEAF commander, General Brereton, calling for bombing raids on Formosa. Again, the villainous MacArthur stymied Brereton’s plans, and allowed the destruction of most FEAF aircraft on the ground. While the book does state that Brereton possessed only 19 operational B-17 bombers, it does not mention the air defenses of Formosa. As I stated, most of these B-17’s only recently arrived in the Philippines, without their defensive armaments, bombardiers and gunners. Where was this aggressive Brereton before the war, particularly given the November 27, 1941 “war warning,” demanding a robust CAP?
Ironically, while criticizing MacArthur, the Normans transform the Japanese commander, General Homma, into a hero. I state again, maybe he did not deserve the title “Beast of Bataan,” however, I discussed his service in an army known for its atrocities. Although considered “Westernized,” he did little for “professionally developing” his subordinates with his principles. Any competent, engaged commander should have known of atrocities committed on this massive scale, from rumors if nothing else. Furthermore, during his negotiations with Wainwright he allegedly hinted at atrocities if Wainwright did not comply with his surrender demands.
Simultaneously, the book transforms the survivors of the “Bataan Death March,” who suffered unspeakable atrocities, into vindictive villains. Particularly the testimony of Master Sergeant Baldassarre, disparaged as a “rear echelon” and “career soldier” who conspired with MacArthur. Remember, Baldassarre witnessed the murder of two American colonels, and who knows what else during his captivity. The book further details the atrocities suffered by other American and Filipino POW’s, which lasted over three years. Did vindictiveness enter into their testimonies against Homma; I certainly believe so, however defense counsel did not discredit them.
If this book exposes the “myths” of the Bataan campaign it does so at the cost of the actual history. While it reveals many of the flaws in the American planning and execution of the Philippine campaign, it ignores the larger mistakes of the American “big picture.” All of these mistakes provide valuable “lessons learned” for all subsequent American political and military leaders. Unfortunately, as post-World War Two history reveals, our leaders consistently repeat these mistakes regarding military readiness and the threats posed by “rogue nations.” These leaders receive support in this misjudgment from academia, the media and countless over-educated “experts” (with little practical experience) in Washington-based “think tanks.” While these leaders and the “experts” pontificate regarding official policy thousands of ordinary Americans pay the ultimate price for their mistakes.
While I recommend the reading of this book I further recommend that one read it with the same skepticism that the authors regard history. The book reveals that during World War Two we faced a brutal enemy with different cultural values than us. Learning this, and developing a strategy for defeating that enemy, cost the lives of thousands of young Americans. We further learned that defeating our enemies required national mobilization and the priority of our government. The book, in its focus on the atrocities suffered by the POW’s, does not mention this immense national sacrifice.
With the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor “Day of Infamy” upon us, we must remember that massive national effort. Steele and his comrades suffered unspeakable atrocities that affected them long after the war ended, as mentioned in the book. This occurred because of the failure of the political leadership of the US and its then-more powerful allies in understanding the threat. It further occurred because, as the threat increased, these nations deluded themselves into believing themselves immune from it. Again, no guarantee existed that confronting these threats in their beginnings ended them satisfactorily, or at less cost. However, we do know what happened when the “global community” forestalled defensive preparations and believed the pledges of dictators.
As the leader of the Allied Powers, the US, waged total war against the Axis Powers. Our allies too, in the war longer than the US, also waged total war against these enemies. This total war resulted in victory over these totalitarian regimes, bent on global domination, and transforming their cultures through “nation building.” By introducing democratic ideals, and in some cases reawakening them, these defeated nations became stalwart allies.
Unfortunately, most Americans do not learn this valuable lesson in their history lessons today. That the “projection of American power” through a rather “large footprint” defeated the aggression of “rogue nations” and removed them as “future threats.” Instead they learn that any “projection of American power” proves “inherently evil” and does not conform with the consensus of the “international community.” When the US entered World War Two most of the “international community” lived under Axis occupation. The end result of their previous appeasing these “rogue nations,” instead of confronting their growing aggression.
Likewise, most Americans today do not understand that many nations do not possess our system of constitutional liberties and media freedom. They do not understand the historical, cultural, political and religious values of some people that create kamikazes and other “suicide bombers.” Furthermore, they do not learn that these “rogue nations” grow into regional “bullies” that threaten their weaker neighbors. These weaker neighbors often rely on the protection of “superpowers;” the UK and France during the 1930’s and now the US. Instead, they learn that we Americans somehow caused these “suicide bombers” through our national policies. Just as many in France and the UK believed that the harshness of the Versailles Treaty caused German aggression.
I further recommend that those reading this book also read the sources I used in my review/thesis for determining the “myths” that need exposing. Before Pearl Harbor the US erroneously believed itself isolated from global events by the vastness of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. With the majority of the American public focused on their economic problems, and the continued effects of the Great Depression, war seemed a distant problem. The pre-war political divisions proved every bit as contentious as during any other crisis in our history. American political leaders proved every bit as irresponsible regarding the threat from the “rogue nations” as during other similar threats. FDR proved every bit as polarizing before the war as any other American president; and Congress proved every bit as partisan. Subsequently, the American leadership, both civilian and military, failed in their primary responsibility, protecting the American public from foreign threats. As a result, thousands of American and Filipino soldiers endured horrific conditions; conditions that still affect the survivors.
I often hear that the major lesson from Pearl Harbor and the defeat in the Philippines is “Never again.” “Never again” will America grow so weak that we suffer such devastating defeat and unspeakable treatment of our military personnel. “Never again” will America grow so complacent that we blind ourselves regarding the threats of “rogue nations.” “Never again” must this weakness and complacency require the immense blood, sweat and sacrifice for achieving victory and ensuring our national survival. I say “Never again” must we revise history creating “myths” that disparages American troops and makes our enemies sympathetic. Ben Steele, his comrades and everyone else who bled and sacrificed during World War Two deserve better from us.