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A Historiography Paper: What Caused Pearl Harbor?

Essay By: Brooke

I just felt like posting my Historiography paper online.

Submitted:Feb 20, 2013    Reads: 293    Comments: 1    Likes: 1   

What Caused Pearl Harbor?

"Pearl Harbor will long stand out in men's minds as an example of the results of basic unpreparedness of a peace loving nation, of highly efficient treacherous surprise attack and of the resulting unification of America into a single tidal wave of purpose to victory." This excerpt from Homer N. Wallin's book, Pearl Harbor: Why, How, Fleet Salvage, and Final Appraisal, talks about December 7th, 1941, which marks the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and how the United States was unprepared. Going along with Wallin's thought of America's unpreparedness it brings up the point that December 7th, 1941, had been a turning point in the history of World War II. It also brings up the fact that people still have different opinions on how World War II was started for America.

Two popular views are Joy Hakim's and Edward Miller's, their view will be compared and contrasted in this paper. Joy Hakim is an American author who has written a ten-volume history of the United States entitled, A History of US, and Freedom: A History of US. Hakim's book discusses a wide range of US History, ranging from the finale of World War I to World War II. Edward Miller, a graduate from Syracuse University, wrote War Plan Orange: The U.S. Strategy to Defeat Japan, 1897-1941. Miller's book discusses twenty years of research in formerly secret archives and reveals the U.S. Navy's strategy to defeat Japan. Other people like Henry C. Clausen, who is the author of Pearl Harbor: Final Judgement, Robert Van Der Linden, a graduate from University of Denver and George Washington University, researches U.S. commercial aviation, interwar military and naval aviation, special purpose aircraft, and Homer N. Wallin, agree with Miller's or Hakims views on the causes of Pearl Harbor.

Specialists like Van Der Linden and Henry Clausen tend to agree with Miller's theory. Miller believes that the Pearl Harbor attack led to the United States's involvement in World War II and made the war truly global. It is important to emphasize that the USA's entry into World War II influenced the balance of power in the world. The involvement of the USA in World War II was provoked by the growing aggression from Japan as well as Germany.

This shows that the involvement of the USA in World War II made the Allied Powers stronger. Miller explains this in a way that the role of Pearl Harbor and its outcomes can hardly be underestimated. At the same time, views of specialists, like Edward Miller and Joy Hakim, vary consistently on what led to the Japanese attack as well.

It is important to understand the causes of the attack on Pearl Harbor and motives of each party involved in the conflict. Traditionally, specialists, like Edward Miller, argue that Japan wanted to dominate and control the Asia-Pacific region. Which makes the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor more of a question of time, rather than a question of international diplomacy or relations. What this means is that Japan was not interested in the presence of a powerful country, such as the U.S.A. Instead, Japan's strategic focus and ultimate goal was to obtain total domination in the region.

Of course, such domination could not happen as long as the U.S. opposed Japanese efforts to gain that dominant position. This, obviously, made the United States of America a threat to Japan due to the Americans not allowing Japan to grow in power. Since Japan's power would be a threat to the national interests of the USA, Japan decided to attack the USA and destroy its main naval base. In doing this, Japan expected that the States would not recover after Pearl Harbor.

Pearl Harbor attack does not prove to be completely the Japanese fault. The USA underestimated the fact that Japan was indeed a threat. The Americans also had failed to foresee the attack. That mistake not only proved to be a tactical failure of the US Navy command, but it was also a failure of American intelligence.

Miller's traditional view on the causes and effects of Pearl Harbor are quite convincing since they are grounded on logical evaluation of consequences of the attack. On the other hand, his interpretation of Pearl Harbor is a one-sided interpretation of events, in which the USA is depicted as a victim of aggressive Japan. While the Japanese's position in the attack is practically ignored, Miller's view also depicts the US as another dominant power in the Asia-Pacific region, and he makes it seem like it would be a logical probability that Americans also desired to maintain their control over the region.

Yet, in this perspective, it is also possible to refer to a different view on Pearl Harbor. Some specialists, like Joy Hakim and Homer N. Wallin, suggest more of an unusual cause of Pearl Harbor. According to Hakim's view, the formal cause of the USA's entry into the war was the attack of Japanese military forces on Pearl Harbor. In addition, this attack was a direct aggression of Japan against the USA that made the involvement of the US in World War II practically inevitable (Wallin, 14-22). At the same time, the USA could not ignore the development of German power in Europe. Germany was the ally of Japan and since Germany had threatened Great Britain, it also threatened the national interests of the United States in Europe.

Obviously, the loss of Great Britain would lead to the dominance of Germany, which would make America more likely to face its opponents face-to-face without any external support. This would make it more likely that the U.S. would have had to oppose to both Japan and Germany if it failed to assist its allies in Europe. When the US military became involved in Europe, it undermined the position of Germany and forced the Germans to concentrate their military forces on both the Western and Eastern fronts, which proved to be fatal to Germany and led to its downfall.

Such a view on Pearl Harbor also seems to be quite convincing, and this view on Pearl Harbor interprets the context of Japan-USA relationships. It depicts Pearl Harbor more of a struggle for the domination in the Asia-Pacific region. Yet, it presents the attack in the context of the global politics of the World War II era.

Hakim's viewpoint makes is seem like the USA had to enter World War II after Pearl Harbor, and that the United States's involvement had led to the defeat of Japan, Germany, and its allies. Hakim hints that the main causes of Pearl Harbor were the growing aggression of Japan and its desire to get rid of the main rival in the Asia-Pacific region, the failure of the U.S. commandment and intelligence; the US expectations of principals and protocols that are related to international conflicts, and the U.S.A's underestimation of Japan's ambition and power. As a result, the US Naval base proved to be unprepared for the Japanese attack.

In discussing Pearl Harbor, each author has pointed out factors that contributed to the United States entering World War II. The most significant of those factors being the attack on Pearl Harbor. It is hard to choose whether Hakim's or Miller's theory is correct. Each author gave facts and options that would lead people to believe their theories.

Pearl Harbor is just an example of how a small group of men in control of government have the power to destroy the life, property, and freedom of citizens. Miller's view seems to make more logical sense because in Van der Linden's lecture, he mentions that the Japanese had previous interest in Pearl Harbor and the number of battleships, aircraft, cruisers, and submarines at Pearl Harbor. Which makes Miller's view seem more accurate, and he was right when saying that the attack on Pearl Harbor was only a matter of time than diplomacy. Pearl Harbor was just a way for the Japanese Military to try to scare the Americans, so they would stay out of World War II. If the Japanese had succeeded in scaring the US, then it would be easy to conquer the territories in that area. Instead, it stirred America into actions and changed the outlook on who was going to win the war.

When Americans remember World War II, they remember Pearl Harbor because Pearl Harbor stands as a symbol of America's unpreparedness. No one will remember Pearl Harbor for how it happened, but what they will remember is why it happened. Wallin was right to say that the Japanese surprise attack made America stand as one and fight to protect it's homeland.Regardless of the different theories on how Miller and Hakim seem to agree on the fact that: when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, it changed the course of World War II.

Work Cited

Clausen, Henry C., and Bruce Lee. "Who Was Telling the Truth?"Pearl Harbor: Final Judgement.

New York: Crown, 1992. 61-82. Print.

Hakim, Joy. A History of the US: War, Peace, and All That Jazz. New York: Oxford UP, 1995.


Miller, Edward S. War Plan Orange : The U.S. Strategy to Defeat Japan, 1897-1945. Annapolis:

Naval Institute, 1991. Print.

Van Der Linden, Robert, and Sarandis Papadopoulos. "Thinking Critically About the Attack on Pearl Harbor." Lecture. Thinking Critically About the Attack on Pearl Harbor. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Washington D.C. 8 Feb. 2013.Thinking Critically About the Attack on Pearl Harbor. 2011. Web. 8 Feb. 2013. <https://squirrel.adobeconnect.com/_a751959191/p8hxrpnz7x6/?launcher=false&fcsContent=true&pbMode=normal>.

Wallin, Homer N. "The Brutal Aggressiveness of Japan." Pearl Harbor: Why, How Fleet Salvage,
and Final Appraisal. Washington: Naval History Division, 1968. 14-22. Print.


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