Tomorrow, December 7, 2010, Americans are supposed to remember the Battle of Pearl Harbor. The following day, December 8, 1941, the United States Congress declared war on Japan, thus officially entering what came to be called World War II.
We are supposed to remember it was what Franklin Delano Roosevelt called a "Day of Infamy" because the Japanese military attacked the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, without having declared war first. Actually, the Japanese had declared war first, and if they had declared war the previous day, or the previous week, it would not have mattered. The American Navy was looking for an attack on Hawaii from the southwest. The Japanese attack was a surprise because it came from the northwest. The idiot in command of Hawaii had not bothered to send out submarines, surface ships, or even scout planes to warn of an attack from the northwest. Look at a map of the Pacific, look at the relative positions of Japan and Hawaii, and think about how stupid this guy [Husband Edward Kimmel] was.
There are larger issues involved in the Asian-American war that we should remember. They are far more important to remember than the specifics of one particular battle. They address the question: what causes wars? Another larger issue is, if the Japanese attack without declaring war was so bad, why has the U.S. fought so many undeclared wars?
The Japanese attacked the U.S. armada at Pearl Harbor because the two nations were already at war. In addition, President Roosevelt had previously sent orders to General MacArthur in the U.S. slave colony of the Philippines giving him further permission to attack the Japanese, without waiting for Congress to declare war. MacArthur was a fine general, but he wanted more planes and ships at his disposal before making his attack. In addition to the invasion fleet at Pearl Harbor, the U.S. had a huge fleet sailing for the Philippines on December 7, and an even larger fleet under construction. The U.S. in 1940 had ten times the industrial capacity of Japan, and Roosevelt was hell bent on conquering the world with it, which he did. You don't conquer the world by accident.
Japan and the U.S. were already fighting a proxy war in China. The Japanese intervention in China, I believe, was wrong, but Japan was not doing anything the U.S., Great Britain, France, and the Netherlands had not done in China or East Asia. If Japan was wrong, they were all wrong. And the Japanese argument for intervention, while self-serving, was really quite strong. China had been misgoverned for over a century. Japan had, everyone admitted, largely caught up with the White racist powers because she was well-governed (and was, in fact, about as much of a Democracy as any of the other great powers). Japan's leadership sought to bring good governance to China, but instead their crazed military had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The U.S.A. was also deeply involved in using military force, and crimes against humanity, to gain control of China. While Chiang Kai-shek had been a courageous fighter for the independence of China in his youth, by 1940 he and his Kuomintang Party were corrupt puppets of the United States, with little or no actual support from the Chinese people. Chiang was sustained by American money and American armaments. He always had an excuse for not holding elections and for backing up his war-lord partners in crime. In the summer of 1941, long before Pearl Harbor, Claire Chennault began leading "volunteer" American pilots, flying American-made fighters, in attacks on the Japanese and their Chinese allies. This force, the Flying Tigers, was formally incorporated into the U.S. Air Force in 1942. That is war, if by deception.
The Japanese declaration of war accurately describes the reasons for its campaign to liberate East Asia from the colonial powers, including the United States:
Although there has been reestablished the National Government of China, with which Japan had effected neighborly intercourse and cooperation, the regime which has survived in Chungking, relying upon American and British protection, still continues its fratricidal opposition. Eager for the realization of their inordinate ambition to dominate the Orient, both America and Britain, giving support to the Chungking regime, have aggravated the disturbances in East Asia. Moreover these two Powers, inducing other countries to follow suit, increased military preparations on all sides of Our Empire to challenge Us. They have obstructed by every means Our peaceful commerce and finally resorted to a direct severance of economic relations, menacing gravely the existence of Our Empire. Patiently have We waited and long have We endured, in the hope that Our government might retrieve the situation in peace. But Our adversaries, showing not the least spirit of conciliation, have unduly delayed a settlement; and in the meantime they have intensified the economic and political pressure to compel thereby Our Empire to submission. This trend of affairs, would, if left unchecked, not only nullify Our Empire’s efforts of many years for the sake of the stabilization of East Asia, but also endanger the very existence of Our nation. The situation being such as it is, Our Empire, for its existence and self-defense has no other recourse but to appeal to arms and to crush every obstacle in its path.
How does that compare to declarations of war by the United States of America? Even excluding wars to exterminate native American Indians and seize their private property, the U.S.A. has fought in well over 50 wars (defining wars as American soldiers fighting on foreign soil) during our brief history.
The Congress of the United States of America (the Constitution does not allow the President to declare war) has declared war precisely five times. Admittedly, these were the big wars of U.S. conquest:
War of 1812 (Our attempt to conquer Canada; we got Florida instead)
Mexican-American War (We grabbed New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California)
Spanish American War (We grabbed the Philippines and Puerto Rico, but gave back Cuba)
World War I (We charged interest on loans to our allies and became the worlds leading industrial power)
World War II (We grabbed South Korea and Japan and world economic control since everyone else's factories were destroyed)
How does the Japanese declaration of war against the United States stack up? On the whole it is in the same ballpark. In the War of 1812 we had similar complaints about embargos by Britain and France, as well as Native Americans not obeying white men, much as some Chinese were not keen on obeying the Japanese, even discounting the American puppet government of Chiang Kai-shek.
Bringing us back to the present, I don't think very many Americans want to hate the Japanese any more. In that sense we should forget Pearl Harbor. But I don't think the current agreement of the U.S. and Japan to pretend that Japan is not a colony of the U.S. can last too much longer. General MacArthur, by almost anyone's reasonable standards (Stalinists excluded) did a very good job as American viceroy after World War II. The quasi-independent status of Japan has even had some real benefits for the Japanese, as they have been able to focus their economy on production. As the U.S. spins into the whirlpool of war-related debt, if I were Japanese I'd be thinking of cutting loose at the first opportunity. Getting the offensive U.S. military bases off Okinawa would be a good start towards true independence.