It's that time of year again.
December 7, 2004 8:19 AM   Subscribe

It's that time of year again. I don't think Pearl Harbor Day is that important to most people anymore, but it was always an important part of December in my family.
posted by Captaintripps (38 comments total)
> it was always an important part of December in my family

Like, as in a holiday? I picture "Pearl Harbor Poundcake" and "Treachery Casserole" and sing alongs...
posted by spincycle at 8:31 AM on December 7, 2004

I'll never forgive those suicide bombers for forcing that horrific ben affleck movie onto the unsuspecting public.
posted by zerolives at 8:32 AM on December 7, 2004

Did you know that the theatrical trailer of "Pearl Harbor" synchronizes very nicely with Styx's "Mr. Roboto?"
posted by Captaintripps at 8:39 AM on December 7, 2004

Best of the web? I doubt that article is even the best of the Kansas City Star today, but I'll never know because it wants me to register.

Better Pearl Harbor links:

Stories of survivors. Also, Alan Lomax recorded "man in the street" reactions to the attack in the days following.

On preview: Jeez, captaintrips, crapping your own thread? I was trying to do you a favor.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:42 AM on December 7, 2004

Interesting piece on NPR this morning about those held responsible for lapses in intelligence surrounding the attack. (Sound familiar?)
posted by trey at 8:45 AM on December 7, 2004

Crapping my own thread? Uh, that's actually true. We used to get a DVD of trailers every months and we'd spend some time here and there trying to match up different songs with them. "Mr. Robot" works with the film mentioned before that post.

Thanks for finding better links. I wanted to cover what some people were doing now.
posted by Captaintripps at 8:52 AM on December 7, 2004

It actually doesn't sound familiar, itrey, it sounds very strange and quaint. So you're saying the President at the time not only admitted a failing on his watch, but that people were held accountable for it?

We're lucky the country survived that kind of self-defeating, America-hating "leadership."
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:53 AM on December 7, 2004

My intimation was not that the results of the inquiries were the same. After the Pearl Harbor attacks, America was left wondering "How could this have happened?!"

Sixty years later, we're asking ourselves the same question. It speaks more to the American sense of invulnerability than to any parallels between administrations (of which there are few). I won't get into a debate about the merits of FDR vs. the merits of W.
posted by trey at 9:00 AM on December 7, 2004

The day that will live in infamy is also my wife's birthday.
posted by trbrts at 9:08 AM on December 7, 2004

this post is fucking bizarre.
posted by quonsar at 9:13 AM on December 7, 2004

i heard that the americans new that the japanese were coming to bomb the harbor but let it happen so they could have an excuse to join the war, and that decades later it was admitted that they knew about it. is that true? (please no 'you stupid poo head', i just read that somewhere and am wondering if its true, thx) (and no, i dont remember where i read it)
posted by GleepGlop at 9:16 AM on December 7, 2004

The NPR link mentioned the espionage conducted in Honolulu by the Japanese, which led me back to Takeo Yoshikawa, the man who did all of that spying. Reading about what he did and how he did it in John Toland's The Rising Sun is fascinating.

He died, bitter, poor and unrecognized by his nation.
posted by Captaintripps at 9:17 AM on December 7, 2004

GleepGlop: No.
posted by Captaintripps at 9:18 AM on December 7, 2004

how do i really know that thats really the straight dope? how do i know that you are really real? did cohagen sent you? i could kill you right now and it wouldnt even be real!!

... ok, well i think its irellevent whether or not it happened. it -could- happen. truth is stranger than fiction. i think in the west we are all lazy cattle too busy munching on our hay to overthrow our masters. i think you have to be in abject poverty with nothing to lose in order to revolt.

- so is someone going to tell me now that hitler didnt burn down the reischtag in order to convince the german people that their country was in chaos and the only option was for them to give up their freedoms to his party for their own good?

mmm hmm hmm, yes, burn...
posted by GleepGlop at 9:27 AM on December 7, 2004

It's also my sister's birthday. Must remind myself to call her.
posted by gyc at 9:29 AM on December 7, 2004

Some more before, during, and after (all b&W) ariel and ground photos from Dec 7, 1941. Also there's this article for the conspiracy minded. (I'd rather believe Unca Cec' though).
posted by Cedric at 9:34 AM on December 7, 2004

Captaintripps: Fantastic link to the straight dope, thanks for that. A few people around here may remember a lovely little pissing match I (*ahem*) was unfortunately a party to a few years ago, wherein I attempted to make many of the same points; your link did it much more concisely (and politely) than I did, and should be required reading for Pearl Harbor conspiracy theorists.

I've noticed that commemoration of Pearl Harbor day has waned in the past few years, but I think it would be hard to determine if that's because of the passage of time, or a result of the things that have been going on in our country as of late. Probably a combination of both. I tend to reflect on it, but that may be only because of my educational choices and current job.

In any case, thanks for the reminder.

On preview: gyc, call your sister.
posted by jennaratrix at 9:34 AM on December 7, 2004

The further away we get from a major event, the easier it is to belittle it or make fun of it or simply laugh it off...that said, it might be noted that theat entry into war left America with bases in Japan, Italy, Germany etc and may well mark our beginning of a world-wide empire building (we now have some 750 bases world-wide)...till then, we were isolationists. And we continue to spread, ie, Iraq and Afghanistan and......
posted by Postroad at 9:37 AM on December 7, 2004

of course, we won't forget pearl harbor, but like any other day it's also a day that will live in miscellancy: many other historic things happened on december 7, too. yeah, it's my birthday too.

those back up links are great. here's one more: pearl harbor oral histories.
posted by moonbird at 9:54 AM on December 7, 2004

Actually, Gleepglop, yes it's true. We just had a long discussion about it yesterday in my global security policy seminar, but my father (a retired naval officer and historian) has been telling that story for years. It was a matter of strategic entry into the war. A sacrifice that in the long run, saved us million of men.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 9:57 AM on December 7, 2004

The day that will live in infamy is also my wife's birthday.

Also mine. Happy birthday to us!
posted by ChasFile at 10:09 AM on December 7, 2004

The Golden One, do you have have a reference for that other than your father telling the story? (No disrespect intended for your father, of course.)
posted by yankeefog at 10:25 AM on December 7, 2004

I am curious about your response, One of Gold, do you have any links or references besides your anecdotal?
posted by cavalier at 10:26 AM on December 7, 2004

Romancing the deaths of people killed in the military is all about persuading people that dying for the government is actually a good choice, instead of the stupid waste of human life it really is. Obviously Pearl Harbor is the worst possible example for me to use to make this case. It was a sneak attack from a fascist imperial power that was very much on the move, and the people who died there were victims of naked aggression. But compare that naked aggression with the implied, yet never substatiated "threat" of a WMD-armed Iraq, and you just have to shake your head over how low we've sunk.

As we trot out our flags this year, let's not confuse the heroes of WW2 with all the people who have died since then, bringing American-style colonialism to the world. There are a lot of young people being recruited right now to do *our* imperial dirty work around the globe, and those kids are comforted by the fact that if they get killed doing it, they'll be given the same kind of posthumous honor we see on Dec. 7. That's a culture of lies that sells them out body and soul, and dishonors the vets of WW2.
posted by scarabic at 10:36 AM on December 7, 2004

i heard that the americans new that the japanese were coming to bomb the harbor but let it happen so they could have an excuse to join the war

It will always be a fashionable theory to toss around because it's so much juicier than the truth, not unlike the current OMFGbu$hKnEw stories that suggest Bush desired for the Sept 11th attacks.

Ignoring warning signs != Conspiracy to consciously allow disaster
posted by dhoyt at 10:37 AM on December 7, 2004

^As usual, scarabic put it nicely.
posted by dhoyt at 10:38 AM on December 7, 2004

zerolives - there were no suicide bombers during Pearl Harbour - that was much later in the war. Apologies.

Celebrating this seems somewhat bizarre - I was tempted to draw a parallel between this and Guy Fawkes day in the UK but it's not really appropriate. Does anybody else celebrate massive cockups like this?
posted by longbaugh at 10:45 AM on December 7, 2004

I just received from MeFi lurker Lizard King. He doesn't doesn't have a MetaFilter account and so can't post in the thread, but he has the following argument & links in favor of the notion that FDR knew in advance about Pearl Harbor.

He writes, "FOIA documents prove that the Japanese codes were broken... I'd say that evidence of foreknowledge trumps anything those trying to argue the other side can offer." In support of this, he points to three links: here, here, and here.
posted by yankeefog at 10:53 AM on December 7, 2004

And I would say to Lizard King that knowing the code proves nothing. After you break the code, you have to keep up when it gets changed periodically.

Once you've decoded an intercept in Japanese, you have to translate it into English.

Once you translate it, someone has to analyze it.

It's clear from those documents and the myriad books on the subject that step 1: decode happened. But most of the "incrimating" documents were found in stacks of unimportant intercepts, waiting for analysis that would prove their importance.

Cecil covered it nicely.
posted by Captaintripps at 11:05 AM on December 7, 2004

As we trot out our flags this year, let's not confuse the heroes of WW2 with all the people who have died since then, bringing American-style colonialism to the world.

interesting comment scarabic. in my view, the "morality" of a war has little to do with the sacrifice individual soldiers make. yours seems to be the mentality that makes ww2 vets heroes and vietnam vets something less so. in my book, the soldiers are always heroes, it's the commander in chief who is not always so.

It was a matter of strategic entry into the war.

thus the golden one. may i remind you that in europe austria was annexed, the rhine valley was re-occupied, czechoslovakia was invaded, poland, denmark, norway, holland, belgium and france were invaded and occupied by the nazis while america did nothing. the soviets brutally invaded finland and america did nothing. in the pacific, save for the heroic actions of some american air corps veterans, china, korea, and a large part of southeast asia was invaded and occupied by the japanese - while america did nothing.

it seems a bit of revisionist history - if not pure invention - to say that allowing oneself to be attacked by japan on dec. 7th and being on the receiving end of a declaration of war from germany on dec. 8th was a "strategic" entry.

my reading of history seems to suggest that ww2 was forced on an america that desperately wanted nothing to do with it, but when given no other choice, she rose magnificently to meet the challenge.
posted by three blind mice at 11:26 AM on December 7, 2004

re: we knew about Pearl Harbor before it was going to happen

define "we" and define "knew"
If you mean that somewhere in a military intelligence bunker there existed evidence that the Japanese were planning a surprise attack, then probably yes. If you mean that senior-level officials both knew of this attack and intentionally let it happen, I tend to doubt it.

Remember that the reason the attack came as such a shock is that it was fundamentally and completely inconcievable to many if not all American naval commanders at the time. In this sense, the comparison to 9/11 is apt: the attack was so completely devestating not only because it came as a complete surprise, but because it came as a complete surprise and suddenly made us realize that military tactics had undergone a massive revolution that we were completely ill-equipped to cope with and therefore we had no way to stop it from happening again.

At the time the attacks came, the American Navy, like most military forces at the starts of wars, was still fighting the last war, World War I - a naval conflict characterized by huge battleships standing miles off from each other and blasting away with 18" guns. The American Navy in the early 1940s was still very much a navy designed to fight that battle.

What the Japanese did - not only attack but actually sink huge ships with only a torpedo or two - was not even on the strategic radar screen, even if an attack of some kind was in the intelligence. The fact that the exact same fate had befalen the Italian Navy about a year before - with no change in American Naval shipbuilding schedules or fleet defense systems - is testament, in this case, to intransigent faith America had in its battleships.

Many have pointed out that the attack was a blessing in disguise for various reasons, and one of the most important is that the destruction of much of the battleship fleet cleared the nescessary personel and resources to build and man what America would really need to win the war in the Pacific - aircraft carriers.

So my point is this: if American commanders not only knew that the Japanese planned an air attack (maybe maybe not, and inconsequential) but also believed that it could succeed (and this is the point that I believe really matters - nobody believed that aircraft posed any threat at all to large ships, especially while in port [WWII-era airborne torpedos require fairly deep water and a fairly long run-up to be at all accurate or effective]) why did they not begin the aggressive constrution of aircraft carriers until after the attak? Oh, right, cause that would have seemed suspicious.
posted by ChasFile at 11:35 AM on December 7, 2004

There's no need for this much conjecture. Any reputable history of the era or the Roosevelt presidency will present this:

Roosevelt knew we would eventually get into the war, but up until December 7 was saddled with strong isolationist feeling in the US, and thus had limited our involvement to the Lend-Lease program.

We had received threats from the Japanese about an immanent attack, but time and location were non-specific, and intelligence indicated targets in the Phillippines rather than in Hawaii.

During the few days leading up to Dec. 7, Roosevelt and his cabinet were conducting intense secret negotiations with diplomats from Japan. Due to a series of delayed or boggled communications, even the Japanese diplomats in Washington were unaware that the attack occurred and were still awaiting instructions via telegraph on the negotiations when the news of the PH attack came down.

I'd say the Roosevelt administration "knew" as much about the impending Pearl Harbor attack as the US "knew" about 9/11 in advance; that is, there was some information, and reason to be concerned, but at the same time there was a much stronger belief that an attack could be forestalled. In any case, had the troops known about and prepared, they wouldn't have been preparing in Hawaii.

It is a favorite conspiracy of many that Roosevelt knew all the details of the plan and 'let it happen'. But it does not stand to reason and is not supported by documentary evidence. Think about it. Why would a leader, knowing we were about to become embroiled in war, allow the destruction of a key strategic port and tons of heavy metal and artillery, not to mention peacetime-trained soldiers and officers? Too great a sacrifice. Roosevelt was negotiating with Japanese ambassadors to avoid, not permit, this attack.
posted by Miko at 12:10 PM on December 7, 2004

the destruction of much of the battleship fleet cleared the nescessary personel and resources to build and man what America would really need to win the war in the Pacific - aircraft carriers.

Yes...that is the thinking. And it is a silly argument also because the attack freed up nothing in terms of resources. It was a drain, requiring the rebuilding of a major port. New recruits and draftees had nowhere near the knowledge or skill of the peacetime-trained officers lost. And in a war in which even the inter-island packet boats became strategic, no ships of any kind could be considered expendable.
posted by Miko at 12:19 PM on December 7, 2004

Wow, this thread blew up a bit as I slept... but then I suppose that was to be expected.

I suppose I should clear things up from my end: Having been long a student of history, I always took everything at face value- that is until I became a student of anthropology and came to the conclusion that we'll never really know what happened if we weren't there. We can reconstruct it using the evidence 'til the cows come home, and it might come close to approaching fact, but there is no such thing as historical fact as far as I'm concerned. Hell, even if you were at some historical event, even if you mastermind one, you're not going to know every nuance of the situation.
Now, when I say something is absolute, it's a safe bet I'm being a cheeky little monkey. I should lay that out for future reference. Anyhow, nah, I don't know if there was a grand conspiracy, if the attack was a complete surprise, or if the truth lies somewhere in between (which I usually suspect that it does).
My father is convinced it was far from a sneak attack, my brilliant security policy professor is convinced that it was a carefully orchestrated strategic entrance into war and the truth isn't too popular, but me? Well, I'm not likely to ever be convinced of anything, but it sure is a neat story.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 1:54 PM on December 7, 2004

Lots of interesting discussion; I just want to add another birthday (mine).
posted by TedW at 2:35 PM on December 7, 2004

Like others, some of the comments in this thread make me feel both very sad and very old.

For people like my parents, the WWII generation in the U.S., Dec. 7th is their Sept. 11th. They all remember where they were when they got the news about the attack. If you were a young guy, like my father (at that time in his last year of college), there was the added frisson of fear, knowing you were going to be in the army very soon.

The whole wacko theory about letting the attack happen to get the U.S. into the war has been better commented on by Captaintripps, Miko, three blind mice, etc. than I can - bravo. I will say that my father worked with Signal Intelligence in India (with some of the guys breaking Japanese code) later in the war and he says this is hogwash.

(TheGoldenOne, I have an Anthropology degree and that has not made me doubt the utility of consulting primary sources to get at some form of historical fact, by the way.)
posted by gudrun at 4:35 PM on December 7, 2004

in my view, the "morality" of a war has little to do with the sacrifice individual soldiers make.

Debatable, I suppose, but ask a serviceperson whether they want their service and/or death to be for a necessary, just cause and I think they'll say yes. Soldiers don't carry all the responsibility for the morality of the war, since they don't call the shots, but they have the utmost personal investment in the moral integrity of the war.
posted by scarabic at 10:43 PM on December 7, 2004

Longbaugh, the anniversary of Pearl Harbor isn't so much celebrated in the US as commemorated. To put it another way, it's not so much like Guy Fawkes Day as Remembrance Day. The analogy isn't exactly perfect, since Remembrance Day is widely observed in the UK, and, as CaptainTripp said, Pearl Harbor day is often ignored by Americans--but when it is observed, it is with the same spirit of sadness and respect for the sacrifices made by soldiers.
posted by yankeefog at 1:41 AM on December 8, 2004

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