Pearl Harbor Day

Pearl Harbor veterans

Pearl Harbor veterans watch during the memorial ceremony at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, 7 December 2007

Pearl Harbor Day, every year on 7 December, seems to get lost in the shuffle now that we’ve got a more recent surprise attack (that would be 9/11) seared into our collective memory.  But it’s hard to overstate the significance of that day’s events and how the repercussions have shaped security in the Asia-Pacific region ever since.

John Lewis Gaddis, in his book Surprise, Security and the American Experience, compares a series of “shocks” to American security, including Pearl Harbor.  He says that Americans, contrary to what might be supposed to be the typical reaction to a surprise attack (drawing inward), tend to expand their influence or scope of activity after an attack.  It’s not hard to see that this is the case, based on Pearl Harbor – America entered World War II and fought for the next 4 years, afterwards cementing a dominant security position in the Asia-Pacific, largely to prevent another Pearl Harbor-like surprise attack from happening.

Post-9/11 America has similarly expanded her reach once again, projecting power most notably into the Middle East, but also into places here in the Asia-Pacific region (the US Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines is one example of this, advising and assisting the Armed Forces of the Philippines in a struggle against Muslim separatists in the southern Philippines allied with the larger al-Qaeda movement via their Southeast Asian arm, Jemaah Islamiyah).

Author James Bradley, who has a new book out that explores how US president Theodore Roosevelt inadvertently set the diplomatic conditions that would lead to the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, has a companion piece in the New York Times that encapsulates his argument.  In it, he says

Roosevelt had assumed that the Japanese would stop at Korea and leave the rest of North Asia to the Americans and the British. But such a wish clashed with his notion that the Japanese should base their foreign policy on the American model of expansion across North America and, with the taking of Hawaii and the Philippines, into the Pacific. It did not take long for the Japanese to tire of the territorial restrictions placed upon them by their Anglo-American partners.

Japan’s declaration of war, in December 1941, explained its position quite clearly: “It is a fact of history that the countries of East Asia for the past hundred years or more have been compelled to observe the status quo under the Anglo-American policy of imperialistic exploitation and to sacrifice themselves to the prosperity of the two nations. The Japanese government cannot tolerate the perpetuation of such a situation.”

Essentially what is shown is that Theodore Roosevelt was unable to foresee the second- and third-order effects that his leniency and favor towards Japan in the resolution of the Russo-Japanese War and advocacy for Japanese expansion into Korea would have.  I can’t help but think what similar “down the road” effects might come from America’s current diplomatic and military endeavours, not just in the Asia-Pacific, but worldwide – probably not all the wonderful things we are aiming for, that’s for sure.


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One Response to “Pearl Harbor Day”

  1. Watch Free Movies Says:

    Pearl Harbor Day happened on December 7, 1941. Sixty-eight years later we still remember Pearl Harbor Day and the events of December 7, 1941. My husband’s father fought in World War II, which inspired my husband to join the Marines and fight in Vietnam. I found your nice website after searching Google Blog so now i bookmarked! – Jannet

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