When the Empire of Japan attacked the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Japanese thought that they had scored a great victory. In truth, the Japanese had sealed their fate and assured their defeat by not completing the job of destroying the Pacific Fleet. While it is true and undeniable that the Japanese did deal the Pacific Fleet a hard blow, that blow was hardly decisive. The Japanese aviators that attacked Pearl Harbor that morning left the job unfinished. While the battleships lay smoking and sinking in the shallow waters of Pearl Harbor, the American aircraft carriers were either at sea ferrying aircraft to far flung Pacific bases, or back home, safe in the continental forty-eight. The failure of the Japanese to eliminate the threat of American aircraft carriers would come back to haunt them 6 months later off Midway Island.
The Japanese Plan of Attack
Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto knew that in order for Japan to have a free hand in the Pacific, what was left of the American Pacific Fleet, especially its aircraft carriers must be destroyed. Yamamoto first hatched his Midway plan in March. His plan was to lure the American aircraft carriers out of Pearl Harbor so that the Japanese carrier strike force could destroy them in one final decisive battle on the high seas. Yamamoto decided that the Japanese objective should be a place that put Hawaii in imminent danger. Surely, the Americans would come to the defense of an island that put their most precious remaining base in jeopardy. Yamamoto settled on the island of Midway as the objective of his attack.
Admiral Yamamoto devised that the Japanese carrier strike force would eliminate Midway’s island-based air power, allowing his army to invade and occupy the island rapidly. Once word of the attack on Midway reached Hawaii, the island would already have been captured and the Japanese carriers would be waiting for the American carriers to come to Midway’s rescue. In the ensuing battle, the Japanese carriers would destroy what was left of the Pacific Fleet. On May 27, 1942 the Japanese first carrier strike force, known as Kido Butai, weighed anchor at Hashirajima Harbor and set off for what they thought would be the deciding victory in their war with the United States.
The decision to intern American citizens of Japanese descent in early 1942 is today regretted as one of the most disreputable civil rights abuses in American history. It is an event which seems almost unthinkable for contemporary American society, and as such is a poignant and necessary reminder of the degree of peace we enjoy in our world today, and how different was the atmosphere of the Second World War.
Before Pearl Harbor, Japanese-Americans living in the United States were generally divided into two groups: the Issei, who were native born Japanese who had emigrated to America and constituted over a third of the total, and the Nisei, who were born of Japanese parents within the United States. However, many amongst the Nisei held dual citizenship in both the United States and Japan due to the differing citizenship laws of the two nations. In Japan, citizenship was conferred until 1916 through familial relations (paternal jus sanguinis); any child born to a Japanese father was considered to be a Japanese citizen. In the United States, any child born upon American soil (jus soli) was considered to be an American citizen. It should be noted that the Japanese government amended their citizenship laws twice in the 25 years before Pearl Harbor. In 1916, the Japanese government allowed Nisei or their guardians to retroactively renounce Japanese citizenship; and then in 1924 the Japanese government eliminated automatic citizenship of foreign-born children, although the children were eligible for Japanese citizenship if their parents applied for it within two weeks of their birth. Nevertheless, a large number of Nisei, particularly those born before 1924, held dual citizenship with Japan, even if they did not know it. This contributed to the perception of divided loyalties once the war began.
The “Final Solution” to the Jewish question was decided in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee, in a stately and picturesque building alongside a garden and lake, on January 20, 1942. It is against this incongruous backdrop that history’s most infamous crime, the mass murder of an entire people, was decided upon in bland and bureaucratic proceedings and language. Indeed, the architect of this extermination, Adolf Hitler, was not even present at the meeting, and did not affix his signature of approval to the Wannsee Protocol, the document which is the closest written master plan we possess for the Holocaust.
The central mystery to all queries concerning Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust is, where did the hatred come from? And how could this man gain power in the most advanced nation in Europe, and proceed to implement this monstrous slaughter? Many profiles and much ink has been spilled in the effort to explain and understand how the Final Solution came to pass. Many explanations focus upon Hitler’s inner world and some hidden aberration, such as misplaced anger and blame at his Jewish doctor for failing to cure his mother’s cancer, vague speculations that Hitler’s grandmother had conceived out of wedlock by a married wealthy Jewish employer, claims that Hitler’s rage stemmed from repressed homosexuality, or even that his youthful anger with the Catholic church mutated into an intense hatred of the Jews as persecutors.
Those who seek rational explanation of the Holocaust and Adolf Hitler as historical phenomena cannot find satisfactory answers by the usual means of rational inquiry. But the proper place to seek a rational understanding of this most irrational and horrific event is inside of Adolf Hitler: not in his emotions, but in his mind and the ideas he believed in. Hitler believed in and acted upon a worldview which, however unsound in factual reality, had a horrible logic. It is a testament to the essential inhumanity of himself and his followers that they believed they were acting from motives of beautifying the world.
The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American Experience in the war that changed the world - why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today - so that all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn.