Quite simply, they thought we’d crumble

So, in yesterday’s post about the Pearl Harbor attack, I asked why the Japanese might have built a war plan based on dealing the United States such a crushing blow that it would fold in the face of Japan’s united might and will.

When Japan’s militaristic adherents of “the Imperial Way” looked across the Pacific through the 1930s and analyzed their potential enemy they saw a fractious, argumentative democracy, full of political factions always at each other’s throats, a nation wracked by breadlines, Hoovervilles, and labor turmoil, and one whose Congress, beginning in 1935, passed a series of “Neutrality Acts” designed to ensure that the country wouldn’t get involved in any foreign conflicts.

Coming from a nation and culture that valued harmony so highly, and one whose “united hundred million” they considered  Japan’s greatest asset, they weren’t equipped to perceive our ability to peacefully disagree as a cultural strength and didn’t understand that the hammer blow of Pearl Harbor would unite America behind a common cause — the destruction of Japan.

I’m currently reading Ian Toll’s new book Pacific Crucible, about the first six months of the U.S. Navy’s war in the Pacific, and he has an telling paragraph describing the effects of Pearl Harbor on the United States (p61-2):

Before December 7, 1941, the American industrial economy, lying completely beyond the reach of Axis bombers or armies, had been the single best hope of the embattled Allies. Only by militarizing that economy, harnessing it entirely to war production, could the power of the Axis be destroyed. But the sprawling republic would never be mobilized or militarized without the consent of the American people. “There was just one thing that they [the Japanese] could do to get Roosevelt completely off the horns of the dilemma, wrote the presidential speechwriter Bob Sherwood, “and that is precisely what they did, at one stroke, in a manner so challenging, so insulting and enraging, that the divided and confused American people were instantly rendered unanimous and certain.”

(Toll is quoting from Robert Sherwood’s book Roosevelt and Hopkins.)

I read the first three chapters of Toll’s book last night, and although I’m a long way from finished, I think it’s a book I’m going to be recommending a lot.

Here’s a link to Toll’s website

and here’s one to Pacific Crucible on Amazon



  1. Cultural bias is a *HUGE* problem for the long-term success of a nation. This is what frightens me about the US and the EU these days. There are many who fall prey to confirmation bias and simply advocate for what is little more than a short-term profit at the cost of long-term stability national benefit.

    Thanks for your reminder of how well this played out back in 1940.

    1. You’re welcome, Steve… the 1930s and 40s hold many lessons for us, as you well know. The 1937/38 “recession within a depression” strikes me as one our politicians ought to be paying a lot of attention to these days.

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