Five myths about Pearl Harbor

Dec 07, 2011

December 7, 2011 marks the 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor. Chat with Craig Shirley as he separates Pearl Harbor fact from fiction.

Read: Five myths about Pearl Harbor

I am the author of the new book December 1941: 31 Days That Changed America and saved the World

What didn't make the cut into the top 5 myths? If you had to come up with 10, what would have been myths 6 through 10?

There are so many, I can't begin to rattle them off.

Do you have some suggestions?

Thanks for the interesting article. My boyfriend lived in Tokyo a few years ago and went to see Pearl Harbor in the theater with a few Japanese friends from his university. Afterwards his friends claimed the movie wasn't historically accurate. My boyfriend was shocked that they were debating basic facts about the events surrounding Pearl Harbor. What are your thoughts on Japan's perception of Pearl Harbor and how it is taught in schools?

As an historian, I think it is imperative that we stick to all the facts, the good, the bad and the ugly when teaching history. Clearly, soem Japanese see the attack differently than Americans but there is no doubt that Japan was the agressor in attacking the Americans and the British on December 7th.

Did Japan's Supreme Admiral think the attack was a bad idea because he thought America could be kept out of the war indefinitely; or just that Japan could strengthen its position if the USA stayed out longer?

The goal was a massive decpaitaiton of American and British military forces in the Central and Western Pacific in the hopes they would sue for peace, leaving that region to the Japanese Empire for futhrur conquest.

Did naval personnel like being stationed at Pearl Harbor, or was it considered undesirable wilderness at the time?

It was a great assigment. A tropical paradise and plenty of ways for young men to entertain themselves.

Why do our "great" presidents get away with so much racism? Rounding up thousands and thousand of Asian Americans because they don't "look American" has to be one of the most ignored injustices ever. FDR was so hostile to native born AMERICANS that just happened to have ancestry from Asia. And then you minimize it. Congratulations.

FDR and his government knew of large scale Japanese espionage in the United States but even so, most Japanese Americans were not rounded up. I reject the mistake of "presentism" in which one generation passes judgments on most of the morals and actions of previous generaiton. Roosevelt did what he thought he had to do to protect America.

How far in advance of the attack on Pearl Harbor did our military leaders receive intelligence about it? I have heard that the Justice Department had a Telex about it hours before the event.

No, it came as a complete shock. There were straws in the wind but no one knew of the impending attack. FDR was truly surprised. One would have to think he was a truly bad man to allow the attakc to happen and he was not a bad man, but in fact a very good man.

Did we violate an agreement with Japan following the first world war? I read at a museum that this was a primary motivation for the Japanese to bomb us, as we had broken a past promise.

In the 1920's the congress had passed more restrictive laws making it more difficult for the Japanese to become American citizens, but since the 1850's there had been a good and warm relationship between the two countries.

What was the military significance of Saipan during World War II, which we now have made the Northern Mariana Islands territory?

Every island in the Central ans Western Pacific had military significance which is why the Japanese tried to and did capture many and the Allies fought to take them back.

In the late 1980's I worked for a Japanese company, and traveled to Japan for meetings regularly. In the late 80's I remember their Diet (Parliament not menu) passing a resolution to strike any mention of the attack on Pearl Harbor from their history books. Of course, as an American I was shocked and outraged. Later outside company meetings we held an impromptu debate where the "Japanese Perspective" was they were only defending themselves. What is the official Japanese stance today? Is Pearl Harbor mentioned and taught in Japanese history books?

I can't speak to that, I do know some revisionist history here in the United States had tried to suggest we provoked the Japanese because of some sort of racism which is nonsense.

I remember learning about the concept of cognitive dissonance in a college psychology class. One of the examples used to illustrate the concept was Pearl Harbor. I can't recall the source, but there was a lengthy discussion about mounting evidence discovered in the days before the bombing. From that article, it seemed we had much more information about the attack than you discussed. Are you familiar with this argument?

Yes. We had some information, some accurate, some less so but not all the pieces to the puzzle.

Don't forget that on Dec 7 the Japanese also attacked Midway, Guam, Wake Island, the Phillippines, Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong. the British were as stunned as we were.

The scene in Tora Tora Tora, about the Japanese embassy employee typing with one finger, and delivering the suspension of diplomatic relations AFTER the White House had learned of the attack?

David Brinkley wrote in his book, Washington Goes to War that the Japanese at the Embassy in Washington got drunk the night before and this is way they were late for their meeting with Cordell Hull to deliver their ultimatum. Even so, the ultimatum wsas not a declaration of war.

Adm Halsey had the Enterprise out during the attack. Where exactly were the other carriers?

Another was making a delivery of planes as I recall and the third was on its way back to San Diego for repairs.

Thank you for the chat. I have often wondered why we executed top Germans as war criminals but left Japan's emperor alone. Did he know of the attack? Why wasn't he proscuted by the Allies if so?

As far as I can tell, he was unaware of the attack. Hiriohoto was a beloved and worshiped figurehead with little exacutive authority. Executing him would have, the government believed, probably unnecessarily antagonied the Japanese people after august of 1945.

Are you aware of Ronald Reagan ever specifically mentioned Pearl Harbor, such as where he was when he heard the news, and how the news affected him?

I should know that but I will look it up and get back to you. He did tried to get into active duty three times but was turned away because his eyesight was so poor. So bad, he had to be less than seven feet from a tank to be able to distinguish it.

Remember as Faulknes said, history is now was, history is.

Best, Craig Shirley

In This Chat
Craig Shirley
Craig Shirley is a presidential biographer, historian and author of the new book December 1941: 31 Days that Changed America and Saved the World. Shirley is also the author of two critically praised bestselling books on President Reagan: Rendezvous with Destiny: Ronald Reagan and the Campaign that Changed America and Reagan's Revolution: The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started It All. He is the president of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, was chosen in 2005 by Springfield College as their Outstanding Alumnus and has been named the First Reagan Scholar at Eureka College, Ronald Reagan's alma mater.

Shirley has written extensively for the Washington Post, the Washington Examiner, the Washington Times, the Los Angeles Times, Town Hall, the Weekly Standard and many other publications.
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