New Take On The Pearl Harbor Attack

At 7:53am on the morning of December 7, 1941, Japan launched a wave of 183 planes as a strike force against Pearl Harbor. They had variety, or pre-selected, targets. Pilots began to attack Ford Island. Other planes bombed the Army’s Hickam Field airbase. Just after 8:00am Wheeler Field was destroyed and a few minutes later, Battleship Row was the target with six battleships anchored along the pier.
A strategically placed bomb set off the USS Arizona’s forward ammunition magazine. The ship was lifted from the water and trapped almost 1,200 sailors inside as she sank. A second wave was less than an hour behind to continue the assault. More than 18 ships were damaged or sank with 65 aircraft destroyed (Anderson, 2002). In total, more than 18 ships were sunk or damaged, 165 aircraft were destroyed, and more than 2,400 Americans were killed (Anderson, 2002). It was an utter defeat for the United States.

The attack could have been prevented and should have been prevented. The United States and Japanese had a deteriorating relationship for some time. The attack was a complete shock to many citizens. America was an isolationist country. In retrospect, the war between the United States and Japan was going to happen. America was certainly preoccupied with the war in Europe and obviously, Britain’s continued existence. Washington had placed economic sanctions on Japan. Japan had almost complete addiction to imported American oil (Record, 2012).
The attack was launched on an unsuspecting nation. Japan was desperate to escape the choice America had imposed on her by the embargo (Howard, 1963). It was an economic asphyxiation for Japan. From 1935-1940 Japan was heavily reliant upon United States exports of scrap metal, copper, cotton, machine tools, and ferroalloys (Tucker, n.d). Washington was wondering how they could maneuver itself without committing any aggressive action or allowing extensive danger to America. Roosevelt needed a declaration of war, but the Japanese needed to attack, and it needed to appear malicious (Kaplan, 2000). Japan could no longer be in this position.
Roosevelt also felt that a change of command was in order. Admiral Richardson refused to place a vulnerable capital fleet at the base. He was subsequently removed and replaced with Admiral Husband Kimmel (Kaplan, 2000). There were factors that are interesting to note. First, Pearl Harbor was indicated as a point of Japanese attack in intelligence. Second, placing battleships along the pier would be a tempting target. Third, more modern vessels were, such as carriers, were removed and sent to sea. Finally, torpedoes were believed to be ineffective in such shallow waters (Kaplan, 2000). These base behaviors should be noted for reference.

Intelligence reports also allude to the prospect that Pearl Harbor could have prevented such attack. America could not have predicted Japanese behavior even though Washington made a very tempting target for them to attack. The United States has a history of intelligence failures beyond Pearl Harbor: Chinese intervention in the Korean War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Tet Offensive (Gustafson, 2015). The events of 9/11 could also be included in these intelligence failures. In the book, Intelligence and Surprise Attack: Failure and Success from Pearl Harbor to 9/11 and Beyond, Eric Dahl explains, “If policymakers are not psychologically receptive toward a particular threat, then warnings, no matter how specific, will not cause them to take preventative action against a surprise attack” (Gustafson, 2015, p. 329). The base may have been prepared for a lesser attack, such as sabotage (Howard, 1963). There is no guarantee against surprise attack.

Suggestion that Roosevelt may have had a specific plan to involve the instigation of the Japanese military. Also, there may have been a lapse in intelligence. There were also communication lapses before the attack. As stated before, Admiral Kimmel was now the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet. At this time, Lieutenant General Walter Short was the Commander of the Army Hawaiian Department. Each of them were declared in dereliction of duty by the Roberts Commission between November 27, 1941 and December 7, 1941 (Burtness & Ober, n.d). The War Department and Navy Department had sent warnings regarding the danger of war with Japan and the appropriate measures of defense required. Yet, neither consulted with the other about the intent of the letters (Burtness & Ober, n.d). Roosevelt also knew on December 6 that the incoming message to the Japanese Embassy was a declaration of war. The Japanese were in striking distance of Pearl Harbor (Kaplan, 2000). This warning was not given to Kimmel or Short in time for proper measures to be taken. The person to give this message to them, General George Marshall, did nothing that evening and went about normal duties the following morning (Kaplan, 2000). This lapse of communication was damning.

Implementing a red team in the days, weeks, or months prior to December 7, 1941 may have prevented the attack. It has already been established by facts that Roosevelt had political motives to let the attack happen and lead America into war. Red teaming may have shown the commanders and base vulnerabilities and how to correct them. If the boss (Roosevelt) did not buy into the method (Zenko, 2015), it would not have made a difference the outcome. Roosevelt would not have approved the red team if he had other intentions.


Anderson, D. J. (2002). The Pearl Harbor attack was just one of Japan’s surprises. World War II, 16(5), 92.

Burtness, P., & Ober, W. (n.d). COMMUNICATION LAPSES LEADING TO THE PEARL HARBOR DISASTER. Historian, 75(4), 740-759.

Gustafson, K. (2015). You Can’t Yell Loud Enough: Intelligence and Warning. International Studies Review, 17(2), 329-331.

Howard, M. (1963). Military Intelligence and Surprise Attack: The ‘Lessons” of Pearl Harbor. World Politics, (4). 701.

Kaplan, M. A. (2000). WHY ROOSEVELT WANTED JAPAN TO ATTACK PEARL HARBOR. World & I, 15(10), 288.

Record, J. (2012). The mystery of Pearl Harbor: why did Japan attack the United States Pacific Fleet and start a war it could not win?. Military History, (5). 28.

Tucker, D. (n.d). Bankrupting the Enemy: The US Financial Siege of Japan before Pearl Harbor. Journal of Asian Studies, 68(4), 1293-1296.

Zenko, M. (2015). Red team: How to succeed by thinking like the enemy. New York, NY: Basic Books.


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