Monday, 6 July 2015

Attack on Pearl Harbour and its Historical Consequences

Some U.S. media called September 11 Attacks in New York the new Pearl Harbour. The term arose from the historical fact that while U.S. military had launches many military expedition abroad, this was the 1st time since the Attack on Pearl Harbour that an attack was targeted on the U.S. soil. Another intended parallel is that the attacks in both incidents were caught U.S. government by surprise, caused by a failure of intelligence.

9/11 attacks on Twin Towers
9/11 attacks on Twin Towers

Some went further to say that the historical consequence of 9/11 attacks in 2001 is as pivotal to the subsequent historical development as Attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941. I don't know how far and pivotal the historical consequences of 9/11 as it's too early to say because it's still being played out.

The attack on Pearl Harbour, 1941
The attack on Pearl Harbour

The historical consequences of the attack on Pearl Harbour is quite clear given the 74 years of historical hindsight.

The attack on Pearl Harbour wasn't just the single worst military blunder carried out by the Japanese Imperial military, it also is one of the most pivotal event in the 20th century with at least 3 very important historical consequences that are still relevant and being felt today some 3/4 century later.

 Development of WW2 
Before the attack on Pearl Harbour, America took an isolationist stance on WW2, distancing itself from the war. This event pulled USA into the war, and had totally and drastically changed its dynamics.

Flags of Axis Powers
Without the U.S. involvement, it's quite probable that the outcome of WW2 would have been quite different. Many possibilities existed. For example, the Japanese invasion of China may have complete and as a result China is still a colony of the Imperial Japanese Empire today. The Axis Power could have been victorious and carved out the countries in Europe, Asia and Africa among themselves.

That's one possible outcome. How likely that outcome would be is the topic of debate among historians.

Another possible outcome is that without the attack on Pearl Harbour, U.S. involvement in WW2 may come later (perhaps much later), only after seeing the victories and threats of the Axis Powers on America itself. This delayed U.S. involvement would imply a prolonged and much more bitter war than the one we actually had (as terrible as it was). WW2 may end in 1950s or 60s with quite different outcomes. Instead of total defeat of the Axis Powers, there may just be truce between USA and the 3 established Fascist governments that continue to exist today. This is because the later the U.S. involvement, the more territories that the Axis Powers would seize and the stronger they would become.

And then, there was a real possibility that U.S. wouldn't launch a full scale war on the Axis Powers at all if USA wasn't under attack.

In short, we really had very little idea about the development of WW2 if the attack of Pearl Harbour didn't happen, except that its outcome would be quite different.

 The Atomic Bomb 
While the discoveries and development of nuclear physics in the early 20th century may inevitably lead to the development of nuclear weapons. When and if it would be deployed at all are the questions.

The Little Boy, dropped on Hiroshima in 1945

Remember that if it weren't for the attack on Pearl Harbour, USA may not engage war fully in WW2. Even if it did eventually, it was entirely possible that it would concentrate its war effort on Europe for several reasons.

U.S. government considered Hitler far more dangerous than Japan. In the world of 1930s, The West wouldn't consider any Asian country a threat, including Japan. In addition, the Western Allies had been trying desperately to persuade U.S. involvement in the the Western Front.

Imperial Japan, on the other hand, was far from the mind of U.S. government. So it's only because of that Japanese fateful miscalculation to attack on Pearl Harbour that the atomic bombs were eventually dropped on Japanese soil. The only atomic bombs that were ever used in any war. When the building of the atomic bomb was suggested to U.S. government by European scientists, it was meant to be used, if at all, on Hitler's Germany. Japan was never considered a target for this weapon.

Whether Uncle Sam would inevitably wage full scale war in WW2, the attack on Pearl Harbour certainly had hastened it, changing the nature of the outcome of the war.

atomic bomb detonation over Hiroshima
Atomic bomb detonation over Hiroshima

It was the unwillingness of the Imperial Japanese military to surrender that forced U.S. government to use the atomic bomb. That's the most accepted explanation in history books. It also served as a demonstration of its effectiveness. Let's say that without the attack on Pearl Harbour, the atomic bomb may probably not be used at all. It didn't use on the theatre of war in the Western Front.

Since it was dropped, it had been considered again and again by US government as a weapon to bring war to a quicker end. Its detonation was considered for the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Fortunately for the Korean, the Vietnamese, and most of all American that the decision to drop the nuclear bombs was withdrawn.

It's fair to say that the use of the bomb demonstrated its destructive power, and more importantly the reality of successfully building and deploying such a weapon, not merely some thought experiments of theoretical physics. This led to the nuclear arm race after WW2. Its effect is still being felt today. Nuclear developments in Iran and DPRK aren't historical issues of the past, but current affairs news.

On the other hand, one might say that it's the destructiveness of nuclear weapons had helped to prevent the 2 superpowers of the opposite ideological sides going to war directly during the Cold War. Well, this is a very great price to pay for deterrence. We had a few very close misses that caused by technical glitches or accidents. So far, we're just lucky that the world hasn't destroyed by a nuclear holocaust. But that's not to say it will never happen. It only has to happen once to meet the apocalyptic end.

 Post-WW2 Geopolitical Landscape 
It's entirely possible that Uncle Sam would remain an isolationist until the attack on Pearl Harbour. Without this Japanese military miscalculation, Uncle Sam's involvement of the war would be indirect and limited to activities such as the freezing of the Japanese fund that led Japanese to launch on attack on USA. U.S. government may also supply arms to its European Allies, supplies intelligence, etc. But it wouldn't go to war. At least, not before Pearl Harbour attack, and may be much later, if at all. We know that timing is everything.

Uncle Sam army recruitment poster
Army recruiting poster with Uncle Sam

With so many U.S. military excursion abroad since WW2, it's hard to imagine that Uncle Sam was once an isolationist. Because of the Pearl Harbour incidence, U.S. had done an about face of being an isolationist in the global political arena to being an active interventionist since the end of WW2. This role is still being held today, having some hundreds of foreign military bases. The military presence in Okinawa today is a direct consequences of the Pearl Harbour attack.

No historian was able to calculate the historical ramifications of this single Japanese military miscalculation had on the history since.

Good or bad, like him or hate him (Uncle Sam), you could say it's all started with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.

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