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Why did US think Pearl Harbor attack so dirty?


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#1 Christian Lupine

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 2048 PM

After reading threads here about WWII and Pearl Harbor, one question always puzzles me. Why did the US believe the attack to be so unfair and sneaky. I am no expert about WWII to be sure, and I do know there was no war going on between US and Japan at the time, the ships were at rest, etc. but it always seems to me like it was fair game. The ships were military targets with sailors aboard at the time. Am I just overlooking something, or do I just lack an understanding of the ethics of war at that time?
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#2 FlyingCanOpener

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 2101 PM

After reading threads here about WWII and Pearl Harbor, one question always puzzles me.  Why did the US believe the attack to be so unfair and sneaky.  I am no expert about WWII to be sure, and I do know there was no war going on between US and Japan at the time, the ships were at rest, etc. but it always seems to me like it was fair game.  The ships were military targets with sailors aboard at the time.  Am I just overlooking something, or do I just lack an understanding of the ethics of war at that time?

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The whole "Gee, we were trying to declare war on you at the same time but missed it by a bit" angle?
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#3 TTK Ciar

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 2116 PM

After reading threads here about WWII and Pearl Harbor, one question always puzzles me.  Why did the US believe the attack to be so unfair and sneaky.

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To be effective at fighting an enemy, soldiers (if not the entire nation's citizens) need to hate the enemy. By presenting the attack as a slimy, dirty, underhanded act of sheer barbarity, the american people were enraged against the japanese. This invigorated domestic support for the war effort, assured the army plenty of recruits, reinforced soldiers' morale, and laid the groundwork for later propaganda to build upon.

This propaganda was as effective as it was because of a popular attitude in the west that wars should be "fought fair", in battles of military strength against military strength. Robert Leonhard has more to say about this peculiar bias in _The Art of Maneuver_ (use amazon's "search inside" feature to view pages 109-110 -- he relates an amusing anecdote where a proposed tactic of catching the enemy halfway through a river crossing was rejected for being "unfair").

This curious misconception about warfighting is exploited by american political leaders even today, with the public renouncement of terrorists as "cowards", and the like.

-- TTK

Edited by TTK Ciar, 18 November 2005 - 2122 PM.

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#4 KingSargent

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 2134 PM

Basically, the hype was about the attack taking place without a declaration of war.

Rather hypocritical, since the US had been fighting the Germans without a declaration of war for months.

There was also the racist angle: "How DARE those little yellow monkeys do taht to US?!!!"
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#5 JOE BRENNAN

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 2159 PM

   ...I do know there was no war going on between US and Japan at the time, the ships were at rest, etc. but it always seems to me like it was fair game.  The ships were military targets...

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Why did they need to be military targets for it not to be dirty? You're simply making a different assumption about what's acceptable in war than what most Americans (and probably most Westerners, perhaps most people altogether) made at the time: pre-emptive attacks on military targets without a declaration of war or any other warning are OK you imply, a similar attack (or one in a declared war perhaps) against civilians wouldn't be. I'm not sure there's a more definitive answer than that the general view at the time was different from your assumption.

TTK's answer implies a still different assumption that anything is OK in conflict which is the implication of saying that complaint about Al Q's tactics is a "curious misconception about warfighting".

Practically, laws of war have often created mutual benefit for both sides when followed. Japan's fate at the end of WWII could even be given as a example of the downside of not following them. I would not personally exclude moral reasons for them as well. Still clearly there isn't a single absolute set of them for all wars in all times. Also the point about subjectivity (depends who's breaking the rules and who suffers for it) has some validity, though I don't believe the US reaction to the Pearl Harbor attack was anything close to conscious hypocrisy*; any more than the reaction to 9/11 was/is.

*maybe if the US had pre-emptively struck Germany, not escorted merchant ships to defend them against submarines...but even that implies the relativism that Germany (and Japan) as agressors in the wars they were already fighting were in the same moral position as the US was in opposing them (with quasi-war in support of Britain and economic sanctions, respectively).

Joe

Edited by JOE BRENNAN, 18 November 2005 - 2207 PM.

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#6 DKTanker

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 2219 PM

Basically, the hype was about the attack taking place without a declaration of war.

Rather hypocritical, since the US had been fighting the Germans without a declaration of war for months.

There was also the racist angle: "How DARE those little yellow monkeys do taht to US?!!!"

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Just so I understand your point. It is your position that US warships escorting civilian ships, said escort being required because belligerent German Type VIIC submarines were on a mission to sink said civilian ships, is morally equivalent to Japanese Carrier Fleet sailing half way across the Pacific Ocean, to destroy a US Fleet at anchor and in no way belligerent?
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#7 Scott Cunningham

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 2229 PM

It was a sneak attack. Its like someone in a bar hitting you from behind over the head with a beer bottle. It was just like the German attack on Russia.
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#8 Gabe

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 2250 PM

It was a sneak attack. Its like someone in a bar hitting you from behind over the head with a beer bottle. It was just like the German attack on Russia.

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It was sneaky. But I think no one else would've had the same outrage to a sneak attack Americans had. It has to do with Americans not being used to getting attacked, unlike the Europeans for example.
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#9 DKTanker

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 2311 PM

It was sneaky. But I think no one else would've had the same outrage to a sneak attack Americans had. It has to do with Americans not being used to getting attacked, unlike the Europeans for example.

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Evidence to support your thesis would be forthcoming, correct?
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#10 Gabe

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 2353 PM

Evidence to support your thesis would be forthcoming, correct?

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I hold this truth to be self-evident.
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#11 R011

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Posted 19 November 2005 - 0009 AM

After reading threads here about WWII and Pearl Harbor, one question always puzzles me.  Why did the US believe the attack to be so unfair and sneaky.  I am no expert about WWII to be sure, and I do know there was no war going on between US and Japan at the time, the ships were at rest, etc. but it always seems to me like it was fair game.  The ships were military targets with sailors aboard at the time.  Am I just overlooking something, or do I just lack an understanding of the ethics of war at that time?

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Perople thought differntly back then. Back then, it was expected that a formal Declaration of War was required before beginning hostilities. IIRC, Germany declared war on Poland, for instance. Even afterwards, there was and is an expectation that some kind of declaration or similar authorization is needed except in clear cases of self defence, like Korea 1950 The 1991 and 2003 wars, for instance, were authorized by the UN (though the authorization for the 2003 poner rests on a technicality). Vitenam was a case of the United States lending aid to another legitmate government involved in an internal conflict.

That the targets were legitimate (unlike Chinese civilians) is irrelevant by those standards. Nor had the US given the Japanese any legitimate reason to deserve being attacked. Sanctions enforced by non-military means were quite legit and could and would have been lifted had Japan ceased its illegal agression against China and France.
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#12 R011

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Posted 19 November 2005 - 0021 AM

Just so I understand your point.  It is your position that US warships escorting civilian ships, said escort being required because belligerent German Type VIIC submarines were on a mission to sink said civilian ships, is morally equivalent to Japanese Carrier Fleet sailing half way across the Pacific Ocean, to destroy a US Fleet at anchor and in no way belligerent?

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Unlike the last war, the Germans made a good faith effort to avoid attacking neutral ships. If American actions against German submarines, including the escort of beligerent flagged ships, attacks of identified German subs that were not behaving in a hostile fashion, and recon for the RN, weren't acts of war, they were so close as to be barely distinguishable. Indeed, I'm not sure if Lend-Lease was not a beligerent act in itself.

Yet, the US did otherwise maintain legally correct relations with the Reich and could plausibibly present American actions to the US and international public as within international law. Japan could not possibly claim PH was an accident or an isolated case of their task force defending itself against an unprovoked American attack. Nor could they present their attacks on Hong Kong, Malaya, the DEI, or the Philipines as such.

People tend to concentrate so much on the PH attack that they forget that hostilities began at about the same time all over south east Asia. Americans might have been using the Philpines as their rallying call thather than Pearl had the IJN made a differnt strategic decision.

BTW, a big difference - we were the good guys - they were very much the bad guys. I'm not exactly overcome with outrage that the US was not scupulously obeying the spirit of international law in order to stop Hitler.

Edited by R011, 19 November 2005 - 0023 AM.

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#13 R011

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Posted 19 November 2005 - 0026 AM

It was sneaky. But I think no one else would've had the same outrage to a sneak attack Americans had. It has to do with Americans not being used to getting attacked, unlike the Europeans for example.

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I rather suspect that if Germany had started the war on September 1st 1939 with an attack out of the blue on Scapa Flow, the British public would have been as angered as the Americans over PH. Recall the British outrage twenty-five years earlier when the Kaiser's army invaded neutral Belgium.
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#14 KingSargent

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Posted 19 November 2005 - 0052 AM

Just so I understand your point.  It is your position that US warships escorting civilian ships, said escort being required because belligerent German Type VIIC submarines were on a mission to sink said civilian ships, is morally equivalent to Japanese Carrier Fleet sailing half way across the Pacific Ocean, to destroy a US Fleet at anchor and in no way belligerent?

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Morality has little to do with it. FDR was ordering the USN to commit acts of war at a time when the US was officially neutral and FDR could not get Congress to agree to a declaration of war. That is/was grounds for impeachment.

Besides escorting merchant convoys, the USN was providing heavy-ship escorts for British troop convoys. A USN pilot was 'advising' the British in the PBY that spotted Bismarck. A USCG cutter spotted Bismarck and broadcast her location, course, and speed to all and sundry. US Army personnel were in combat zones training British troops how to operate American weapons supplied by the US during peacetime (for the US). All this was illegal under US law, never mind international law.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was much more overt, but US illegalities had been going on for some time; at least the Japanese made an effort to get their declaration of war to the US before the attack on Oahu.
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#15 UN-Interested Observer

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Posted 19 November 2005 - 0238 AM

Aiui the actual plan to attack Pearl Harbor was conceived and exercised by the American forces there. Japanese spies documented and forwarded such information. When the attack came the second time it was almost identical, angle of approach, timing, even the use of the same cloud formations for concealment.

Not saying this would make one mad, but it couldn't have helped,
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#16 R011

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Posted 19 November 2005 - 0401 AM

at least the Japanese made an effort to get their declaration of war to the US before the attack on Oahu.

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As declarations of war go, that one seemed a bit ambiguous - more like an ulimatum without a deadline.
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#17 Michal W.

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Posted 19 November 2005 - 0402 AM

The war on Poland began before the declaration of war.

According to Wikipedia (and concurring with what I was taught earlier) the Germans managed to raze one Polish town (bombers), attacked another (ground forces), started bombarding Gdansk (Danzig) from Schleswig-Holstein, which was anchored there as it came with a "courtesy visit" a month earlier.

The main attack also "missed" the declaration of war by a bit. This kind of "enraged our population" too.
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#18 ink

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Posted 19 November 2005 - 0413 AM

Likewise the Germans attacked Yugoslavia (by bombing Belgrade at 6 am) on the 6th of April 1941 without a declaration of war.
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#19 Yama

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Posted 19 November 2005 - 0541 AM

If Donald Rumsfeld had planned Pearl Harbor, he would have praised its "shock and awe" effect and how it was "surgical military operation with low collateral damage and ultimately it will save lives"...

Edited by Yama, 19 November 2005 - 0541 AM.

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#20 R011

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Posted 19 November 2005 - 0749 AM

If Donald Rumsfeld had planned Pearl Harbor, he would have praised its "shock and awe" effect and how it was "surgical military operation with low collateral damage and ultimately it will save lives"...

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That it was a well conducted operation with few civilian casaulties is not relevant. It was clearly a violation of international law as it stood then to conduct an agressive war - i.e. attack US, British, and Dutch possessions in Asia and the Pacific with out any legal excuse with the intention of adding them to the Japanese Empire. It was also a violation of custom to attack without a formal declaration of war.
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