Remaining Mysteries of Pearl
I never miss an issue of Military History, and the January 2012 issue was another winner, but I was disappointed by the article “The Mystery of Pearl Harbor” [by Jeffrey Record]. The author tries to explain why Japan attacked the U.S. by arguing that Japan had only two options: either go to war or face economic ruin from America’s trade and financial embargo. This answer isn’t going to satisfy any of us who are truly puzzled by Japan’s decision, because we know something the author finally acknowledges only in the closing paragraphs: Japan had a third option. It could have attacked only the Dutch and British colonies and left America and its Pacific possessions alone. This would have gotten Japan all the resources it needed, and it would have left America neutral, thereby enabling Japan (and probably Germany also) to win the war. The real mystery is why Japan did not take this third option.
Re: “The Mystery of Pearl Harbor”: It seems to me the more perplexing question is why President Franklin Roosevelt provoked a war with Japan at a time when he was most concerned with Europe and Adolf Hitler. As your article pointed out, his action in cutting off Japan’s vital natural resources unless they renounced all their conquests of the last decade amounted to an ultimatum he must have known would lead to war very soon.
Robert A. Lanier
I very much enjoyed Jeffrey Record’s article on the Japanese rationale for attacking Pearl Harbor. Reading it, I realized that I had heard a remarkably similar line of reasoning before.
Nation X decided that in pursuit of its goals it would inevitably provoke the U.S. to war. The U.S. was significantly larger than X in population and industrial capacity, so X couldn’t hope to win a long war. However, the leaders of X were convinced that (a) their young men had much greater fighting spirit than the Americans, so that they would easily prevail in any battle fought on anything close to equal terms, and (b) the Americans lacked the stomach for a long, bloody conflict. So, X felt that the war would consist of a few hard-fought battles (with X mostly prevailing), followed by a negotiated settlement that would allow X to attain most of its goals. In 1941 X was Japan. In 1861 X was the Confederate States of America. If the Japanese had studied the American Civil War, perhaps they would have thought twice about their plans.
Drexel Hill, Pa.
Your January 2012 issue included a very impressive aerial display of Pearl Harbor as it was on Dec. 7, 1941. You included the submarine USS Gudgeon as being present during the attack. But according to Clay Blair Jr.’s Silent Victory, Gudgeon was in Lahaina Roads, outside Pearl:
At 8 a.m. on December 7 Gudgeon was practicing recognition signals with Navy patrol planes.…While so engaged, Gudgeon’s radioman picked up a plain-language radio broadcast: “Air raids on Pearl Harbor. This is not a drill.”
Gudgeon spent the rest of the day patrolling outside Pearl Harbor and did not re-enter the base until the 8th.
I thoroughly enjoyed—and was enlightened by—the excellent article on the history of race relations in the military [“Crossing the Great Divide,” January]. It is a subject that has been too long avoided.
However, your timeline fails to include Major Martin Robinson Delany. Delany was appointed by President Abraham Lincoln as the first black field officer in the history of the U.S. Army. He was also an author, educator, poet, abolitionist, newspaper editor, African explorer, inventor, physician, judge and champion of black rights. Before and during the Civil War Dela-ny’s reputation rivaled that of Frederick Douglass as a leader of his people. He was crucial to the cause of black enlistment during the war, and afterward he served as a lieutenant colonel in the South Carolina militia, as an officer in the regular army and as a functionary in the newly formed Freedman’s Bureau. Robinson Delany surely deserves a place in the pantheon of black military pioneers.
Cold Spring, N.Y .
I can attest that President Harry Truman’s 1948 executive order [re. equal treatment in the armed forces] was largely ignored by the Navy well into the 1960s.
I arrived at Naval Station Algiers, across the river from New Orleans, in September 1956. It was my first duty station after boot camp at San Diego, where my recruit company was all white. I was surprised to find my barracks segregated three ways—one wing for whites, one for blacks and one for everybody else (Asian-Americans, Latinos, Pacific Islanders, etc.).
In January 1957 I transferred to Naval Training Center Great Lakes to attend Journalist “A” School. I can’t remember seeing any black sailors anywhere in the Service School Command area. It wasn’t until the 1960s that I first became aware of a black member of the journalist rating.
I retired from the Navy in 1975 and could count on one hand the number of white steward’s mates I had ever seen. And I would have noticed them, because my duties included photographing more “Officers’ Country” social events than I can recall.
Kingsley R. Woodhead
Master Chief Journalist
U.S. Navy (Ret.)
Earned Not Won
In the November 2011 edition of Military History it was stated that Wild Bill Donovan “won” the Medal of Honor in World War I and that Arthur Aaron, Royal Air Force, was Leeds’ only World War II Victoria Cross “winner.” The honoring of military awards are not the same as giving awards out in a contest or athletic event. Military awards are earned and awarded; they are not won. The individuals who received them are recipients of the award. Would we say an individual won the Purple Heart posthumously? No wonder the general public thinks athletes are heroes. Aren’t they winners also?
Sgt. Maj. Mike R. Vining
U.S. Army (Ret.)
South Fork, Colo.
Editor responds: Thank you for your careful read. We do know better and certainly meant no disrespect to those men and women who have justly earned military awards in the service of their respective countries.
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