Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor, on the island of Oahu, had been used by the US Navy since the early part of the twentieth century. In April, 1940, the US Fleet had been sent to Pearl Harbor to deter aggressive moves by Japan in the Pacific.

Tensions increased when in September, 1940, Japan and Germany signed the German-Japanese Pact. Allied secret services soon discovered that Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German foreign minister, had sent a telegram to Vyacheslav Molotov, the Soviet foreign minister, where he pointed out that the alliance was to be directed towards the United States and not the Soviet Union. "Its exclusive purpose is to bring the elements pressing for America's entry into the war to their senses by conclusively demonstrating to them if they enter the present struggle they will automatically have to deal with the three great powers as adversaries."

In January 1941, the Commander in Chief of the Japanese Combined Fleet, Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto began planning for a surprise attack on the US Navy at Pearl Harbor. Yamamoto feared that he did not have the resources to win a long war against the United States. He therefore advocated a surprise attack that would destroy the US Fleet in one crushing blow. Yamamoto's plan was eventually agreed by the Japanese Imperial Staff in the autumn and the strike force under the command of Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo sailed from the Kurile Islands on 26th November, 1941.

Richard Sorge, a German journalist working as a Soviet agent in Tokyo, discovered details of the plan for the attack on Pearl Harbor. However, this information does not seem to have been passed onto the United States. US Army intelligence. Harold Stark, Chief of Naval Operations, feared a Japanese attack on the US Fleet at Pearl Harbor but by the end of 1941 became convinced that the initial attack on the US Navy would come in the Far East.

Military intelligence did intercept two cipher messages from Tokyo to Kichisaburo Normura, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States, that suggested an imminent attack, but Richmond Turner, in charge of evaluating and dissemination, did not pass on warnings of the proposed attack to Admiral Husband Kimmel.

Nagumo's fleet was positioned 275 miles north of Oahu. On Sunday, 7th December, 1941, 105 high-level bombers, 135 dive-bombers and 81 fighter aircraft attacked the the US Fleet at Pearl Harbor. In their first attack the Japanese sunk the Arizona, Oklahoma, West Virginia and California. The second attack, launched 45 minutes later, hampered by smoke, created less damage. In two hours 18 warships, 188 aircraft and 2,403 servicemen were lost in the attack. Luckily, the navy's three aircraft carriers, Enterprise, Lexington and Saratoga, were all at sea at the time. The following day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and a united US Congress declared war on Japan.

Robert Jackson, the Attorney General, has argued that the Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, had assured President Roosevelt that after the United States entered the war, the US Navy would "knock Japan out of the water" in no time. "When questions had arisen such as stockpiling rubber, Knox, with great assurance, had said that our naval forces in the Pacific were so superior to those of Japan that we would have a very brief interruption of our rubber supply. Of course at Pearl Harbor the losses were very serious, much more than the public realized. The naval force was very much reduced. But even so, I was surprised that we were faced with such a serious problem in the Pacific."

Primary Sources

(1) Joachim von Ribbentrop sent this telegram to Molotov about the proposed German-Japanese Pact on 25th September, 1940.

This alliance is directed exclusively against American warmongers. To be sure that is, as usual, not expressly stated in the treaty, but can be unmistakably inferred from its terms. Its exclusive purpose is to bring the elements pressing for America's entry into the war to their senses by conclusively demonstrating to them if they enter the present struggle they will automatically have to deal with the three great powers as adversaries.

(2) In his memoirs Cordell Hull wrote about negotiations that took place between the United States and Japan just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

The President now had before him two draft messages, which I had sent him during his absence. One was a message to Congress, which Secretaries Stimson and Knox had helped me prepare, advising it of the imminent dangers in the situation. The other was a message to Emperor Hirohito of Japan, appealing for peace.

This second message had been under discussion since October among those of us concerned with the Far East. In my memorandum to the President accompanying these drafts, I suggested: "If you should send this message to the Emperor it would be advisable to defer your message to Congress until we see whether the message to the Emperor effects any improvement in the situation. I think we agree that you will not send the message to Congress until the last stage of our relations, relating to actual hostility, has been reached."

I had two reasons for this last comment. One was that the message to Congress could contain very little that was new without giving the Japanese leaders material with which to arouse their people against us all the more. The other was that the powerful isolationist groups still existing in Congress and in the United States might use it to renew their oft repeated charges of "warmongering" and "dragging the nation into foreign wars." The Japanese military could then have played up the situation as evidencing disunity in the United States, thus encouraging the Japanese to support their plans for plunging ahead into war.

I also was not in favor of the message to the Emperor, except as a last-minute resort, and I so informed the President. I felt that the Emperor, in any event, was a figurehead under the control of the military Cabinet. A message direct to him would cause Tojo's Cabinet to feel that they were being short-circuited and would anger them. Besides, I knew that the Japanese themselves did not make use of such means as a direct Presidential message. Normally they did not shift from a bold front to one of pleading until the situation with them was desperate. They would therefore regard the message as our last recourse and a sign of weakness.

(3) In his prison diary Hideki Tojo explained why Japan decided to attack Pearl Harbor on 7th December 1941.

The main American naval forces were shifted to the Pacific region and an American admiral made a strong declaration to the effect that if war were to break out between Japan and the United States, the Japanese navy could be sunk in a matter of weeks. Further, the British Prime Minister (Churchill) strongly declared his nation's intention to join the fight on the side of the United States within 24 hours should war break out between Japan and the United States. Japan therefore faced considerable military threats as well.

Japan attempted to circumvent these dangerous circumstances by diplomatic negotiation, and though Japan heaped concession upon concession, in the hope of finding a solution through mutual compromise, there was no progress because the United States would not retreat from its original position. Finally, in the end, the United States repeated demands that, under the circumstances, Japan could not accept: complete withdrawal of troops from China, repudiation of the Nanking government, withdrawal from the Tripartite Pact (signed by Germany, Italy and Japan on September 27, 1940). At this point, Japan lost all hope of reaching a resolution through diplomatic negotiation.

Since events had progressed as they had, it became clear that to continue in this manner was to lead the nation to disaster. With options thus foreclosed, in order to protect and defend the nation and clear the obstacles that stood in its path, a decisive appeal to arms was made.

War was decided upon at the Imperial Conference on December 1, 1941, and the shift to real operations was made at this point. However, even during the preparations for action, we laid our plans in such a manner that should there be progress through diplomatic negotiation, we would be well prepared to cancel operations at the latest moment that communication technology would have permitted.

(4) While he was at a Mansion House luncheon Winston Churchill heard a rumour that Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor. He immediately telephoned President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

In two or three minutes Mr. Roosevelt came through. "Mr. President, what's this about Japan? "It's quite true," he replied. "They have attacked us at Pearl Harbor. We are all in the same boat now."

No American will think it wrong of me if I proclaim that to have the United States at our side was to me the greatest joy. I could not foretell the course of events. I do not pretend to have measured accurately the martial might of Japan, but now at this very moment I knew the United States was in the war, up to the neck and in to the death. So we had won after all!

Yes, after Dunkirk; after the fall of France; after the horrible episode of Oran; after the threat of invasion, when, apart from the Air and the Navy, we were an almost unarmed people; after the deadly struggle of the U-boat war - the first Battle of the Atlantic, gained by a hand's-breath; after seventeen months of lonely fighting and nineteen months of my responsibility in dire stress. We had won the war. England would live; Britain would live; the Commonwealth of Nations and the Empire would live.

How long the war would last or in what fashion it would end no man could tell, nor did I at this moment care. Once again in our long Island history we should emerge, however mauled or mutilated, safe and victorious. We should not be wiped out. Our history would not come to an end. We might not even have to die as individuals. Hitler's fate was sealed. Mussolini's fate was sealed. As for the Japanese, they would be ground to powder.

(5) The Manchester Guardian (8th December, 1941)

The Japanese, without any warning, yesterday afternoon began war on the United States with air attacks on the naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and the adjacent city of Honolulu. Imperial Headquarters in Tokyo later announced that Japan had entered into a state of war with Britain and the United States in the Western Pacific from 6 a.m. today.

President Roosevelt has mobilized the Army and ordered all the armed forces to take up their war stations and imposed a censorship.

As more than 150 planes took part in the attacks on Pearl Harbor and Honolulu, it is thought that there must be at least three Japanese aircraft-carriers, and probably more, engaged. Several planes were shot down.

Considerable damage was done at Pearl Harbour and there were numerous casualties. It is officially announced that the Army casualties were 104 killed and 300 wounded. It is thought that these occurred when the airfield was hit. The civilian casualties are unknown.

(6) Zenji Abe, was a Japanese pilot who managed to score a direct hit on the Arizona. He was interviewed about his experiences in August 2001.

When we took off from our carrier, the planes looked so beautiful, like fireflies in the dark before dawn. When I was diving on the Arizona, I felt as if I was drowning with the pressure of gravity. All I could see was that target through my scope.

I remember our mixed feelings when we pilots landed back on our aircraft carrier, Akagi, from Pearl Harbor. Okay, a few of the men were shouting "banzai" but some were very subdued. I doubted I'd done my best. we'd lost a few planes. Some of the pilots were very subdued.

(7) William Leahy, ambassador to Vichy government, wrote about Pearl Harbor in his autobiography, I Was There (1950)

At 6.30 p.m. (Vichy time) of December 8, the National Broadcasting Company short-wave station reported President Roosevelt's request that the Congress declare war on Japan. The voice and words of the President formed a dramatic picture of the most powerful nation of the world embarking on an all-out war to destroy the bandit nation of the Orient.

The war formally declared that day would in my certain opinion result in the destruction of Japan as a first-class sea power, regardless of how much time and treasure might be required to accomplish that end. I knew that the President was thoroughly familiar with the Navy's plans to defeat Japan.

Later in the evening of December 8, the radio reported that casualties at Pearl Harbor probably numbered 3,000. This created anxiety for our relatives and friends stationed there, but we later learned that most of them came out of it all right. Later, when the details were available, I found that there were four ships seriously damaged upon which I had served. They were the Nevada (executive officer, 1917), the ancient Oglala (flagship when I commanded Mine Squadron One, 1921), the cruiser Raleigh (flagship when I was Commander of Destroyers, U.S. Fleet, 1931), and the battleship California.

I think now, in retrospect, that we overestimated the power of the Japanese Navy and Air forces. We had pretty good information while I was Chief of Naval Operations (1937-39) that the Japanese were comparatively inefficient in gunnery However they had good ships, good guns and a lot of air. The whole world in those days was afraid of the air. There was a fear that if we sent our ships near enough to Japan to be attacked by land-based air, it would be very bad for us. It turned out that when we did go there, we took our excellent Naval Air Force with us, and that was bad for the Japs.

The wrecking of our fleet in this unanticipated attack gave the Japanese a terrific advantage they did not have before, but their campaign developed pretty much along expected lines. We thought they would strike down the coast of China and the Dutch East Indies to get oil and rubber, which they had to have to win the war. When we were able to stop that, Japan started to lose the war.

(8) Studs Terkel interviewed Admiral Gene Larocque about his experiences during the Second World War for his book, The Good War (1985)

In the summer of 1941 I asked to be sent to Pearl Harbor. The Pacific fleet was there and it sounded romantic. I was attached to the U.S.S. MacDonough when the Japanese attacked. We got under way about ten o'clock looking for the Japanese fleet. It's lucky we didn't find them; they would probably have sunk us. I spent the whole war in the Pacific, four years.

At first I thought the U.S. Army Air Corps was accidentally bombing us. We were so proud, so vain, and so ignorant of Japanese capability. It never entered our consciousness that they'd have the temerity to attack us. We knew the Japanese didn't see well, especially at night - we knew this as a matter of fact. We knew they couldn't build good weapons, they made junky equipment, they just imitated us. All we had to do was get out there and sink them. It turns out they could see better than we could and their torpedoes, unlike ours, worked.

(9) Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States (1980)

It was not Hitler's attacks on the Jews that brought the United States into World War II, any more than the enslavement of 4 million blacks brought Civil War in 1861. Italy's attack on Ethiopia, Hitler's invasion of Austria, his takeover of Czechoslovakia, his attack on Poland - none of those events caused the United States to enter the war, although Roosevelt did begin to give important aid to England. What brought the United States fully into the war was the Japanese attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. Surely it was not the humane concern for Japan's bombing of civilians that led to Roosevelt's outraged call for war - Japan's attack on China in 1937, her bombing of civilians at Nanking, had not provoked the United States to war. It was the Japanese attack on a link in the American Pacific Empire that did it.

In one of its policies, the United States came close to direct duplication of Fascism. This was in its treatment of the Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast. After the Pearl Harbor attack, anti-Japanese hysteria spread in the government. One Congressman said: "I'm for catching every Japanese in America, Alaska and Hawaii now and putting them in concentration camps. Damn them! Let's get rid of them!"

Franklin D. Roosevelt did not share this frenzy, but he calmly signed Executive Order 9066, in February 1942, giving the army the power, without warrants or indictments or hearings, to arrest every Japanese-American on the West Coast - 110,000 men, women, and children - to take them from their homes, transport them to camps far into the interior, and keep them there under prison conditions. Three-fourths of these were Nisei - children born in the United States of Japanese parents and therefore American citizens. The other fourth - the Issei, born in Japan - were barred by law from becoming citizens. In 1944 the Supreme Court upheld the forced evacuation on the grounds of military necessity. The Japanese remained in those camps for over three years.

(10) Joseph E. Persico, Roosevelt's Secret War (2001)

The Japanese diplomats had been instructed to deliver the Final Memorandum at 1 P.M., but it was not brought to Secretary of State Hull until 2:20 P.M., with the attack well under way. The delay would later enable Japanese officials, wanting to escape the dishonor of making a sneak attack, to blame the tardy delivery on administrative bungling and on time spent decoding garbles. Subsequent research in the Japanese foreign ministry archives, however, makes manifest that the Japanese never intended a proper declaration of war. An entry in the Japanese war diary dated December 7 reads: "Our deceptive diplomacy is steadily proceeding toward success." On an idyllic Sunday morning, on an island demi-paradise, American blood was copiously spilled, the nation's pride wounded, and anger aroused until retribution became the only tenable response. "No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion," the President told Congress the next day in asking for a declaration of war, "the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory."

That same day Britain declared war on Japan. On December 11, Hitler kept his word to the Japanese and declared war on the United States. Senator Wheeler's leak of Rainbow Five appears to have figured into his decisions since, Hitler said, "... there has now been revealed in America President Roosevelt's plan by which, at the latest in 1943, Germany and Italy are to be attacked in Europe.... Germany and Italy have been finally compelled in view of this and in loyalty to the Tripartite Pact, to carry on the struggle against the United States and England jointly and side by side with Japan for the defense, and thus for the maintenance, of liberty and independence of their nations and empires." A leak engineered by isolationists to keep America out of war had helped produce the opposite effect.

Hitler had detailed knowledge of what had been said in the White House on the day of Pearl Harbor. The chain was long, but effective, and the first link was located astonishingly close to the President. The Swiss minister to the United States, fifty-two-year-old Dr. Charles Bruggmann, had previously served in Washington eighteen years before, when he had met and married Mary Wallace, the sister of FDR's vice president. Through the years, Henry Wallace developed a deep affection for his brother-in-law. They met often, and talked on the phone almost daily. Wallace felt safe in confiding to Bruggmann the most intimate secrets to which his position made him privy. Months before Pearl Harbor, on August 17, 1941, Wallace told Bruggmann about the briefing the President had given the cabinet regarding FDR's meeting on the Atlantic with Churchill. Soon after Pearl Harbor, Wallace told Bruggmann what he had heard and seen on the day of the attack as he sat among those summoned by the President. Whatever his family ties to the Vice President, Bruggmann was first of all a professional diplomat. What Wallace confided to him he cabled back to the Swiss foreign ministry in Bern. What Bruggmann did not know was that a German agent, code-named Habakuk, had penetrated the Swiss foreign ministry and read all of his reports. Thus, soon after Pearl Harbor, Habakuk was able to send a message to Berlin of "precise and reliable information" that Bruggmann had heard "in strictest confidence" from Vice President Wallace. He told his superiors, almost word for word, how FDR had characterized the first gathering as: "The most serious Cabinet session since Lincoln met with the Cabinet at the outbreak of the Civil War." The spy was further able to report the President's revelations of the losses the Japanese had inflicted at Pearl Harbor.

The blame for Pearl Harbor has been the assiduous study of eight official investigations, the most thoroughgoing of which, conducted by Congress after the war, ran to fifteen thousand pages of testimony. With the mass of intelligence available to President Roosevelt, with his capacity to read Japan's most secret communications at almost the same time that Japanese diplomats read them, with the pointed Japanese inquiries about Pearl Harbor's layout, known to American cryptanalysts, with his own admission that the Japanese Final Memorandum "means war," how could the President not have known, almost down to the hour, that Pearl Harbor would be attacked?

His seeming ignorance of the strike must be examined against three possible explanations. One, FDR genuinely did not know that Pearl Harbor was targeted. Two, he knew and deliberately did not act in order, as revisionist historians have claimed, to force America into a war that he believed was just but that most Americans did not want. Three, Prime Minister Churchill possessed intelligence, as again has been argued by revisionists, revealing the Japanese attack, but deliberately withheld it in order to see the United States drawn into war on Britain's side.

Choosing the correct one of these three explanations must be prefaced by an overarching question: Why did Japan choose to attack Pearl Harbor in the first place? The strike was intended not to entangle Japan in a protracted war against the United States, but as a knockout punch. It was supposed to eliminate America's floating fortress, the Pacific Fleet, and thus force the United States to withdraw from Southeast Asia and leave Japan free there to work its will. The blow was analogous to having one member of a gang take out the guard so that the rest can then rob the bank unimpeded. The Japanese were well aware that the United States had its attention focused on the war in Europe and that its president wanted to join that fight. They could not imagine that the Americans would undertake two prolonged wars, one across the Atlantic and one in the Pacific.

Against this backdrop, the question arises again, given the wealth of intelligence available to him, how could President Roosevelt not have divined that Pearl Harbor was the target? In retrospect, the clues seem to lead to that conclusion like lights on a well-marked runway. The truth, however, is that not one of the 239 messages intercepted between Tokyo and the Japanese envoys in Washington in the six months before December 7 ever mentioned Pearl Harbor. So closely held was the secret that even Nomura and Kurusu were left in the dark that the American base was to be attacked. Though told to wrap up their negotiations by November 25, a deadline extended to the 29th, and though told, "After that things are automatically going to change," the two envoys were never informed precisely of what these "things" were. After the war, Nomura told an interviewer that he had been "the worst-informed ambassador in history."

Based on the information FDR had in hand on the eve of Pearl Harbor, if asked if Japan was going to attack the United States, he would certainly have answered "Yes." He made clear this conviction in the War Council meeting of November 25 where, according to Stimson's diary, FDR stated, "We were likely to be attacked perhaps next Monday. ..." If asked if he knew with certainty where the Japanese would strike, he would have to have answered "No." Given the targets suggested in the Japanese intercepts, if asked if Pearl Harbor was in danger, he likely would have answered, "Probably not." Never in any report or intelligence, whether from agents or broken codes, did FDR ever receive a warning that said Pearl Harbor will be attacked. General Marshall told FDR that the harbor was invincible and a most unlikely target. It was, the general said, "... the strongest fortress in the world.... Enemy carriers, naval escorts and transports will begin to come under air attack at a distance of approximately 750 miles. This attack will increase in intensity until within 200 miles of the objective, the enemy forces will be subject to all types of bombardment closely supported by our most modern pursuit."

Undeniably, Roosevelt wanted to enter the war, but the war in Europe, which he had all but done in the Atlantic, lacking only a formal declaration. Yet, none of his speeches, warning of Nazi machinations in South America, threats to the Panama Canal, or the alleged unpremeditated U-boat attack against the destroyer Greer; had aroused sufficient public ire to lead the nation into that war. If then, a president wants war with Germany, why does he invite an attack on Japan'? Put another way, if Tom is itching to fight Dick, why provoke a fight with Harry'? Does the intelligence available to the President and his inner circle support the thesis that FDR invited the blow at Pearl Harbor to propel the country into the war?

(11) Joseph E. Persico, Roosevelt's Secret War (2001)

The final conspiracy theory to be dealt with from the intelligence standpoint is whether or not Prime Minister Churchill had knowledge of the impending attack on Pearl Harbor from his own sources, and deliberately withheld this information from Roosevelt so that the Japanese would succeed in their attack and thus plunge the United States into the war. As James Rusbridger claims in Betrayal at Pearl Harbor, "Churchill was aware that a task force had sailed from northern Japan in late November 194 1, and that one of its likely targets was Pearl Harbor." Rusbridger goes on to say that "Churchill deliberately kept this vital information from Roosevelt, because he realized an attack of this nature, whether on the U.S. Pacific Fleet or the Philippines, was a means of fulfilling his publicly proclaimed desire to get America into the war at any cost." It must be asked whether drawing the United States into a war with Japan was a logical way for Churchill to get FDR into the war in Europe. Churchill was certainly capable of manipulating intelligence to serve his country's ends. He had no qualms about Stephenson's BSC manufacturing stories to feed to Roosevelt that the Nazis were conspiring to invade South America and threaten the Panama Canal. He allowed Roosevelt to continue thinking that Hitler would invade Britain when his own Ultra interceptions made clear that this danger had passed. However, an attack that would have brought America into a war with the Japanese was a risky bet for Churchill. How he viewed his best interests is clear from a five-page report written on November 12, 1941, less than a month before Pearl Harbor, by the American ambassador to Britain, John Winant. Winant had spent three days with Churchill in the country. According to Winant's notes, forwarded to FDR, Churchill set out three positions in which Britain might find itself. The worst-case scenario, which Churchill considered unthinkable, was that Japan would come into the war against Britain and that America would stay out. The next best outcome would be for neither Japan nor America to enter the war. But Churchill's preference, the PM told Winant, was that "the United States enter the war without Japan." With this as his first choice, it hardly seems that Churchill would deliberately enable a Japanese attack on America by withholding intelligence from Roosevelt.

Finally, Churchill possessed no sources of signal intelligence in the Pacific that were not already available to FDR. What the Prime Minister concluded, as late as November 25, was that Japan was irrevocably committed to attack Thailand.

(12) Waldo Heinrichs, Threshold of War: Franklin D. Roosevelt & American Entry Into World War II (1988)

On December 3, this time with Welles present, Roosevelt assured Halifax he meant armed support and assented to the British plan for a preventive occupation of the Kra area. The British government now authorized its Malaya command to initiate this plan, called MATADOR, to forestall a Japanese landing on that shore or as a response to any Japanese incursion into Thailand. It now also gave the Dutch a formal guarantee of armed support. Admiral Phillips, his capital ships having arrived in Singapore, flew to Manila to coordinate naval action with the Americans. Admiral Hart ordered Destroyer Division 57 at Balikpapan in Borneo to sail for Singapore. Thus ABDA seemed finally locked together.

This new solidarity was reactive not preventive, however. The British still hoped for an Anglo-American warning to Japan. Stimson urged the president to draw a line, transgression of which would lead the United States to fight. Roosevelt consistently resisted, sensitive to the Constitutional limitations he had already exceeded by his promise to Halifax, but above all ever-cautious, unwilling to confront the public and Congress until he knew which eventuality he faced. He intended to make an appeal for peace to the Emperor of Japan, but apparently only at the last minute when reconnaissance showed an attack coming. His main object probably was to establish a formal interest in protecting Thailand, Malaya, and the Dutch East Indies in case he needed to ask Congress for a declaration of war. As the first week of December wore on, with American policy settling into this passive vein and the South China Sea still largely empty, an eerie stillness overhung the Pacific and East Asia.

From another part of the world came decisive and welcome news. By December the German campaign against Moscow was finally petering out from exhaustion and icy cold. On December 1, word arrived that the Soviets had retaken Rostov, saving the Caucasus. On the night of December 4 the Red Army, stiffened by its Siberian divisions, launched a counteroffensive on the Moscow front, and BARBAROSSA went into winter quarters.

On December 1, Tokyo time, the Japanese government in Imperial Conference confirmed the decision for war. Only some positive outcome of the Hull-Nomura negotiations could have possibly forestalled that decision. The Hull note of November 26 made it apparent that further negotiation was hopeless. The attack on Pearl Harbor by six carriers, the heart of the Imperial Navy's air arm, would go forward. On December 3 this Pearl Harbor Striking Force, which had sortied from the Kurile Islands on November 26, crossed the International Date Line south of the Aleutians in its passage across the barren, stormy North Pacific toward Hawaii. On December 4 (Tokyo time) nineteen Japanese transports departed from Hainan and gathering contingents from Cam Ranh Bay and Saigon and covering forces from Mako in the Pescadores headed southwest into the South China Sea. On December 6, British reconnaissance aircraft sighted these convoys as they rounded the southernmost tip of Indochina into the Gulf of Siam. Before the RAF could find out whether they were headed for the Kra coast and Malaya or Bangkok, they were lost in monsoon clouds. When Roosevelt learned of the report the following day, December 6 (Washington time), he sent his plea for peace to Emperor Hirohito.

Around midnight December 7/8 (Singapore time), Japanese transports arrived at Kota Bharu in the northeast corner of Malaya and Patani and Singora on the Kra isthmus and began landing troops. At approximately the same time, dawn December 7, 275 miles north of Hawaii, the Striking Force launched more than two hundred planes against the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor and an hour later sent off 170 more. In the following hours occurred air raids on Singapore, the Philippines, Guam, and Wake and an assault on Hong Kong. Japanese air power, whether aboard the Striking Force, situated on Formosa and the southern Indochina coast, or quickly landed in Malaya and the Philippines, devastated British and American defenses.

At Hawaii surprise was complete. The Japanese immediately attacked -he airfields at Pearl Harbor and nearby, gutting hangars and aircraft neatly lined up on taxiways for better security against sabotage. They left seventy-nine usable army airplanes out of the original 231. At Pearl Harbor, high-level bombers, dive bombers, and torpedo planes concentrated on Battleship Row, where, singly and in pairs, the pride of the Pacific Fleet was moored. They sank five. Bombs ignited the forward magazine of Arizona, shattering the battleship. Oklahoma capsized, trapping hundreds of seamen inside. West Virginia and California settled in the mud upright. Nevada, attempting to escape the harbor, was beached in flames. Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Maryland suffered damage but remained afloat. Colorado, undergoing modernization on the West Coast, escaped altogether.

(13) Jeff Dawson, The Sunday Times, review of the film Pearl Harbor (27th May, 2001)

In an age of political correctness, President Roosevelt is a wheel-chair-bound saint who strides, Forest Gump-like, on his calipers to triumph over adversity. And, most tellingly, the Japanese warlords, butchers of Nanking, are portrayed as reluctant warriors; Admiral Yamamoto, architect of the naval attack, is a sort of Dr No turned peacenik. But this isn't so surprising. These days, an average 30% of a Hollywood studio's box-office gross comes from Japan.

As you look at this picture-perfect palm tree paradise, it is hard to imagine how death just dropped out of the blue that December morning. In the attack, 2,403 people died, 188 planes were destroyed and the US Pacific Fleet had 12 large ships sunk or beached, including the battleships Arizona, West Virginia and California. FDR convinced the isolationists war was the only war, Churchill breathed a sigh of relief, and within days, under the terms of the tripartite pact, Germany declared war on America, Britain was no longer alone - a watershed moment in modern history.

Standing at the Arizona memorial is a truly moving experience. The ship, at rest in the shallows, is now preserved as a war grave. More than 1,102 souls are still at rest in its rusting hull, killed when the ship's magazine blew, an explosion so huge that the jolt lifted the entire battleship 10 feet out of the water and knocked people on the ground two miles away. The woman at the admissions desk does not think much of this Hollywood invasion: "It's a shame you guys couldn't show more interest in the reason behind it all rather than some movie," she snaps.

(13) Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, review of the film Pearl Harbor (1st June, 2001)

Never at any time does director Michael Bay give any hint of the real human cost of war. At least Saving Private Ryan made an honourable attempt to show the ugliness of violence; the sweat, the pain - and the fear and hatred of the enemy.

As for the Japanese themselves, the film smoothes away both America's "yellow peril" racist invective and the realities of Japanese nationalist aggression: a kind of bogus two-way political correctness, somehow as insidiously offensive as anything else.