Archive for the ‘Day of Infamy Project’ Category

Pearl Harbor

Day of Infamy Project | Posted by Rebekah
Dec 07 2011

I went to bed last night, warm and feeling safe. Despite the cloud of anxiety I often see in the news in places like Afghanistan or the election result and riots throughout the Middle East, I still slept soundly, knowing that though those events could have a deep impact on my life, I did not fear that I would awaken to find soldiers on my front lawn, attacking, shooting, hurting my family.

I awoke this morning, safe and mildly rested (children didn’t have a restful night).  Still, it was a nice morning, not too cold, though a dusting of snow lay on the tips of the grass and my resting flower beds.  I made a special breakfast for my family, due to a family birthday, then my husband set off for work, like he does every weekday, and I set about my daily tasks, or would have, if I wasn’t so sick with a cold. A morning so unremarkable that if it wasn’t for the birthday and the cold, I’d soon forget all about it, and it would blur into hundreds of other mornings that have happened in my life. (And despite the cold and the birthday, the details of today will soon blur anyway)

Why do I mention these inanities on the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor?  Because, the more I learn about history, the more I realize that while each individual person is unique, people and the human condition is so similar thoughout the centuries that history can, and sadly often does, repeat itself.

The people of America and even Hawaii probably felt, on the night of 6/7 December 1941, as I did on this night of 6/7 December 2011.  Storm clouds were swirling, but whether in the Pacific or Europe, they were swirling OVER THERE.  Not here. Most slept well, got up, made breakfast, went about their day’s work.  Since 7 December 1941 was a Sunday, not a weekday, many people were out and about to church, getting breakfast, just enjoying the lovely weather that a Hawaiian December was.

Yet their fate as drawing closer, and by 7 am, though the official attack was well over an hour away, it was already nearly inevitable. But they still felt secure that today was any other day.

That is why Pearl Harbor still reverberates to this day.  The most thorough shattering of a person’s world happens when they discover nothing was as it appeared.  Things appeared safe that morning, but before dawn, at least one enemy submarine was already in the harbor, possibly two. Another sub had already been attacked and sunk by 7 am, though no one believed the report that came in from the WARD.  Enemy submarines at Pearl Harbor?  Unbelievable.  Hundreds of planes were already in the air, roaring towards their target. But no one knew it, and when they were spotted on Radar, they were mistaken for a group of American bombers that were due to land that morning.

Everything, in fact, appeared safe and normal until the last second, when the planes roared over Pearl Harbor.

And the world Americans believed they were inhabiting, one in which life was calm and safe, if difficult,  shattered. Distance was no barrier any longer, and if we could be struck at Pearl, then our territories of the Philippines, and Guam, and Wake Island, and Singapore, and Malaysia, in just 48 hours, where else could the seemingly invensible and innumerable Axis armies strike next?  A U-Boat strike off of New York, or Washington DC? Invading Japanese soldiers in Los Angeles?  Sometimes, we can laugh now at the thought, since we knew the end of the story of WWII, but back then, it was a real fear.

Few historians today doubt that America would eventually be drawn into WWII, it was just a matter of when the danger from the outside would loom large enough to overcome the resistance from within.  As Germany and Japan advanced, soon the Americas would have to defend themselves, but if it took too long, some feared, the Axis would be too strong to defeat by just the Americas alone, and some countries in South America had strong ties to the Axis-maybe they would fight with them instead of with us.

So today, I write this post, on an average day.  My husband is safe at his workplace, the downtown of my city is as quiet as it ever is. We go about our business unperturbed, despite taking the time to remember a day when our world changed forever, leaving a scar on our history, and in the minds of those who still live today. And studying Pearl Harbor and the rest of WWII makes me grateful for the peace and quiet, and so deeply thankful to those who woke to something different in Oahu that morning.  To all those, military, civilian, children, medical teams, who experienced that day, I say, ‘Thank You.’  Not only for what you had to live through, but how you kept going, cleaned up the harbor, repaired those ships, took care of our men for four long years, and now, preserve the history for my and future generations.  I thank those who signed up to protect your family and friends and community, putting yourselves in danger and sacrificing the comforts of home so the rest of us can now live.  I thank you, for giving me, 70 years on, my average, quiet day.

And for those of you who now, sit on the front lines, in our submarines, in our military camps, in our outposts, behind our computer systems, on our planes and base camps, here at home, and around the world, I also say thank you.  For standing in the gap, like your predecessors.  While we stop today to revisit a national tragedy of Pearl Harbor 70 years ago, may we not forget the modern soldiers, marines, air force, coastguardsmen, and sailors, who are doing their best to keep such a thing from happening again.  And may those of us who live under your protection remember you ore often than a few days a year.

Road to Infamy: Expansion and cusp of 1940.

Day of Infamy Project | Posted by Rebekah
Nov 09 2011

Years passed, relatively uneventfully-save for the Great Depression.  Most countries continually scrambled to find ways to keep food, warmth and shelter together.  It’s a bit funny to note that following WWI, most countries agreed to a limitation on the number of people and ships and units in any given country’s military to make sure that no one could be a strong aggressor again, but once the Depression happened, the military was one of the best places in many countries for a young man to get three squares, a roof and work.  Looking through the letters of some of the men who would one day man the submarine USS Flier, you see that theme a lot.  The Chief Radioman of Flier, “Bud” Klock, joined the military to relieve his single mom of his room and board expenses, as well as try to pay off some medical debts he’d accumulated and then help out mom and younger brother. He wasn’t alone in this type of motivation.

Ordering ships, submarines, planes, and other military accoutrements from various governments also put people to work in mines, smelters, factories, shipyards, and shipping companies.  There were some exceptions: ammunition and bombs were still expensive, leading to many war exercises in the 30s being conducted with flour bags rather than blank or live ammo.

Yet, the anti-war sentiment remained strong in many countries as well, leading to the irony of having fully-staffed, fully-updated military always on standby, always practicing, and utterly forbidden to do anything other than keep everyone employed.

Not shockingly, this raised a number of tensions as everyone watched everyone else with a wary eye.

Japan now had Manchuko firmly in its grip, and sadly for the Chinese residents of the area, it was not a pleasant experience. ( It’s at points of history like this that, as a researcher, and artist, I must be very careful.  Atrocities must be explored, documented and remembered, if only to attempt to stop such from happening again, but it’s far too easy to delve so deeply in horrors like this that sleep and peace is destroyed by these images. So, if it sounds like I’m glossing over some things, I am. I’ve learned where my “horror level” is and I try not to violate it, for my mental sake, and my family’s. ) Every year the Japanese Army pushed out further, to the Great Wall, to just outside Beijing, and with each push, people were murdered, raped, tortured,  and mutilated in such ways that are unimaginable. The foreigners in the area documented many things, and those images and accounts are easily available on the web.

In July of 1937, Japan took advantage of the fact China was fragmented, had a weak government and even weaker military which was already trying to fight wars with Russian Communists, (Xinjian War), and nationalist Tibetians, among other small conflicts that slowly bled what little military there was.  This was the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War and the infamous Rape of Nanking.

During this whole conflict, Americans watched. Many American diplomats, ambassadors, military advisors, were in China at this time. Since America was technically a “neutral nation” these people were mostly safe, though in December 1937, a Japanese aircraft destroyed the American gunboat SS Panay, and killed American men. If FDR truly wanted to go to war, this might have started it, but few lives lost so far from home, didn’t resonate enough with the press, especially after the Japanese government, who wanted to avoid a direct confrontation, apologized and paid reparations. (The accounts of what was happening in Nanking and other places were widely reported on and condemned, but that wasn’t enough to overcome the anti-war view either)

While Japan flexed her muscles in the East, the US Navy had their annual War Games. Admiral Ernest King was assigned to take back Pearl from an aggressive force. (Hmmm….that sounds familiar.) Apparently, the defense at Pearl learned exactly nothing from the Navy exercises of 1932, because King followed Yarnell’s plan to a T, then for fun, bombed” the Naval bases in Alameda and Mare Island on his way back to San Diego.  King, like Yarnell was trying to make the point that air attacks would be a major vulnerability, and the Navy should expand in Air Craft Carriers. But when $500 million dollars were appropriated by Congress to beef up the military most of it went to newer, bigger battleships (like the Missouri). Japan watched this buildup with alarm: with most of the British Navy in the Atlantic, the American Navy was the only large threat in the Pacific, and now it was expanding.

Then on September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Europe was plunged into WWII, but the American public were firm.  “We’re not getting entangled in another war OVER THERE.” So the USA remained officially neutral, despite some curious programs that leant help to England.

Japans military was also growing, though the extent was a secret and many began to fear it was as big a threat as Germany, if not bigger.. The American government would soon have to do something, but without the military. What could they do? And would it be enough to stop the expansion without risking American lives and lands in the Pacific?


Road to the Day of Infamy…The toothless League Lion and the growth of Japan

Day of Infamy Project | Posted by Rebekah
Nov 07 2011

So back to Japan and Manchuria and what’s happening there.

Following the original invasion of Manchuria in September 1931, China applied to the League of Nations to stop them and force a withdrawal.  That was, after all, what the League had been founded for, to stop wars through interaction and diplomacy.

Of course, there were major problems.  One was the sheer time delay for messages to get to the League headquarters in Europe.  Another was the severe anti-war sentiment in both the USA and Europe. The horror of WWI and the mark it left on the soldiers destroyed both physically and mentally from the new weapons like tanks and poison gas made a lot of people strongly against fighting war for any reason.  Nothing could possibly be worth asking our boys to go through something like this again-or worse.

The League of Nations issued a verbal reprimand to Japan. Some sources say that the Japanese government agreed and said they’d withdraw from the conquered areas of Manchuria back to the rail zones, but the military ignored the government. Other sources say that Japan rejected the proposal out of hand, saying that they were simply protecting their own people from violence done to them by the few communities of Chinese that inhabited the area, and were now strengthening their position to make sure there were no repetitions.  In any case, in six months, Japan had firm control of the whole region, installing a Japanese friendly government and renaming it Manchuko.

The League decided the only fair thing to do was send a delegation to Manchuko and listen to both Chinese and Japanese sides of the story and see if they could mediate a solution. Months passed again, as the delegation transported to Manchuko and began their investigation.

The story the Japanese originally circulated about Chinese dissidents blowing up the rail line had quickly fallen apart.  There was strong evidence that some low-level lieutenants had done the damage themselves to try and instigate an incident with the local Chinese forces (you remember, the one with dummy rifles?) Whether this was to vent steam or part of a full plot to purposely invade and hold Manchria/Manchuko again depends on the source one finds.

In the end, the League delegates issued the Lytton Report, stating that though China had goo d complaints, it also had ambiguous ownership of Manchuria to begin with. It also stated, as gently as it could, that Japan, had acted in an aggressive measure and needed to withdraw from Manchuria. In light of the issues with China’s apparent ambiguity to Manchuria, the Lytton Report also suggested that Manchuria establish itself as an independent nation.  (Sounds a bit like my parents presiding over my siblings and me…”If you can’t play nicely and treat things properly, I’ll take it away from both of you!”)

At this point, the delegates expected Japan to respect the findings of the report and f0llow the recommendations if they wanted to maintain their position in the League. Japan left…the League.  It kept Manchuko.

The League wasn’t out of options yet.  According to their pact they could attack Japan itself and force it to obey the League ruling, or they could cut Japan off from the economic trade of all League members and starve it into submission.

And that’s when the real problems began.  Because it’s 1933. In the middle of the global Great Depression. What trade is going on in the world, all countries are eager to continue, if not increase any trade they have going to strengthen their respective economies. There were enough members in the League to make things problematic for Japan, but not for long. There were enough other countries with the goods and services that Japan was looking for who would happily increase trade in a heartbeat, especially with Japan consuming about as much as it could get its hands on.

The League nations knew it too, and were not about to cut their trade down for a country that would be hurt only temporarily.  So that left war.

Being the Great Depression, most League nations had a fully staffed military.  After all, it was a steady, if small, paycheck  and at least you had three square meals, clothes and shelter every day, which was more than many folks had.

But there was that anti-war sentiment. And the League nations knew that no matter what had happened in Manchuria/Manchuko, it was not outrageous enough, nor close enough to home, to get their citizens willing to go to war.

So it turned out, that the League was a toothless lion. Japan kept Manchuko. And soon realized that there was potential for much, much more.


(As an end note, seven months after Japan left, Germany also walked out. Barred from having a military after WWI, it sought to increase its military under the League’s rules, but realized that the other European powers were not going to let it have a military on par with the rest of Europe. So it walked too, and started building what would become one of the most feared militaries in history. Once again, the League’s hands were tied, verbally, economically, and certainly, militarily.  Germany began her growth and Europe looked on, hoping it wouldn’t come to the worst…again.)

British website about the Manchuria incident and the League response

Timeline of the development and dissolution of League of Nations

Day of Infamy: The First Pearl Attack…1932

Day of Infamy Project | Posted by Rebekah
Nov 04 2011

Day of Infamy Project: Longtime readers will recognize some of this post, thought I’ve found more information since I originally wrote this last year.  Still, for those who are interested, this is the first time Pearl Harbor was attacked, and it was not in 1941.  IT was in 1932.  The attack itself will sound familiar to those who are familiar with the MO of the December 7, attacks, and it should.  Admiral John H. Towers, who commanded the Air Forces of the Pacific during WWII, dined with a Japanese vice admrial in Tokyo in the 1950’s who had helped plan the attack on Pearl.  According to Towers, “He told me they had simply taken a page out of our own book!”

I’m also trying a Twitter Project for the months of November and December.  Leading up to December 7/8, I’ll be tweeting the events that lead up to Pearl Harbor and the attack itself.  Eventually, by mid-November, these tweets will be in real time.  i.e. I’ll tweet about the Japanese fleet leaving Japan ON the 70th anniversary of that happeneing on November 26, and we’ll track the attack fleet together. as they launch and attack.  Thus far, there are two feeds:

Twitter: Day of Infamy: Japan (To watch Pearl HArbor unfold from the Japanese point of view)

Twitter: Day of Infamy: Pearl (To watch Pearl unfold from Pearl)

Some of these Tweets will be stand alone tweets, others will link to articles, photos or things related to the attack on Pearl, some will link back here to blog posts I write (or ask guest authors to write)  But I think the ferocity of the attack can be experienced through Twitter in an interesting way.  We’ll see.  If you’re not into Twitter, that’s okay, a lot of that information will be here still.  And look for more Day of Infamy tweets.  Washington DC up next.

In honor of all who lost their lives in the opening salvos…we retell the story.  And in the retelling, we’ll remember.


It was a quiet Sunday morning.  The winter storms that routinely lashed the sea northeast of Oahu were at it again, pouring rain on Kahuka Point and obscuring most of the horizon with low clouds, though right over Pearl Harbor, the sky was clear.  The fleet lay at anchor, in the neat double rows on Battleship Row, at the small Submarine Base, and even in the dry docks, having their hulls scraped and checked for the corrosion that the saltwater carved into their sides.

The sun had only just risen.  A minimum of crew was on call.  Some were in their racks, sleeping off the effects of the night before.  Others were already out, attending early Mass and church services.  A few were already stumbling into kitchens and restaurants and Mess Halls, seeking that morning cup of coffee and a bite of breakfast.

Suddenly, airplanes shot out of the clouds, strafing the ground, dropping bombs on the peaceful ships at harbor.  In moments, the harbor was in disarray, men scrambling to gain their battle stations, but it was already too late.  The ships were already damaged, some severely, both at anchor and those in the dry docks.  Nothing was spared.

The planes headed back out to sea, and there, in the midst of the storm, a small group of ships waited for their return, hiding in the rain, safe from the eyes of radar.  The planes landed safely on the two carriers.

In the Bridge of the lead carrier, the admiral listened with satisfaction to reports of the damage.  When presented with the final report, he smiled, and signed it:

Adm. Harry E. Yarnell


Sunday, February 7, 1932

In the beginning of the 20th century, the backbone of the Navy was the behemoth battleships and destroyers.    Battles consisted of larger and larger and larger ships and guns squaring off and blasting each other and their surroundings to pieces.  He with the largest gun (and support platform, i.e. the ship itself) generally won.  Aircraft Carriers and Submarines were considered little more than niche vessels which had limited uses, mostly reconnaissance for said big guns.

But one admiral, Harry Yarnell, believed that the Navy had more to fear from an aerial attack delivered from the deck of a carrier, than from ever larger confrontations between larger and larger ships and deck guns. During the annual combined Navy war games at Pearl Harbor, he set out to prove his point.  Every year, Yarnell’s ships in California would leave for Pearl, “attacking” the battleships stationed in Pearl.  (at this time the military’s main Pacific base was in San Diego, not Pearl Harbor, so Yarnell had the larger fleet.)  Usually, the radio traffic between the massive fleet would be intercepted by Pearl, their battleships would leave harbor, and everyone would “battle” out in the open sea.

In 1932, the Navy proposed the scenario that “the enemy” (in this case, the Pearl Harbor force, the smaller fleet) had taken over Hawaii, and Yarnell’s much larger San Diego fleet, was assigned to take out the Pearl fleet and recapture Hawaii.  Pearl prepared, searching the seas, the air, the radio signals, looking for the full strength of Yarnell’s fleet.

Yarnell did something totally unexpected: he left most of his ships home.  Taking only Aircraft Carriers SARATOGA and LEXINGTON out to sea with a small escort of three destroyers, everyone maintained strict radio silence and traveled miles away from the well-traveled shipping lanes. During the winter months, storms routinely popped up near Oahu, and inside one of those, Yarnell’s fleet hid, knowing the radar couldn’t see them through the storm.  To top it all off, he also decided to attack on Sunday, a day he knew most sailors would be off duty, and also most likely to be off-ship.  It would take a long time for anyone to fully man the waiting ships, or get them underway in defense.

The “bombs” and “strafing” were just flares and bags of flour, but the referees of the war games judged that Yarnell had been more than successful, sinking EVERY ship in Pearl Harbor, as well as figuratively destroying every land-based plane in Oahu.  In addition, 24 hours after the attack, using what few battleships that had already been at sea during the simulated attack, the Pearl Harbor team still hadn’t found Yarnell’s small fleet.  From Yarnell’s point of view, it had been a complete success, and he and his officers argued that, having proved the effectiveness of an aerial attack from a carrier, those ships should become more central to the plans of the military, instead of outlying support vehicles for the battleships.

But it was also an idea ahead of its time. The other admirals, who believed that the battleship was still the workhorse of the navy, protested the results, insisting that if this was a real scenario, their battleships would have found the aircraft carriers and destroyed them before they got near enough to do damage-especially a foreign fleet who would easily be spotted by the dozens of freighters, tankers and fisherman that routinely worked around the islands.

Yarnell argued his point, saying that in years past, during war games, when each team had one aircraft carrier, it was the primary point for both teams to “destroy” the other’s carrier, usually resulting in both teams losing their carrier early in the game. To him, it was obvious: in war the side with the most aircraft carriers would have the advantage, and more funds should be allocated to build six to eight carriers, rather than larger dreadnaught battleships and destroyers.

In the end though, the battleship officers won, and in the years between 1932 and 1941, the military and FDR ordered the construction of another twelve battleships but only four aircraft carriers, the YORKTOWN, ENTERPRISE, WASP and HORNET.  (and only the ENTERPRISE was supposed to be assigned to the Pacific Fleet, where Yarnell feared a Japanese attack.) The Navy was growing, but the retired Yarnell feared that it was growing the wrong sectors.

What few knew, was the Japanese paid attention to this particular war game, and the Japanese Consulate in Honolulu sent a detailed record to Tokyo about how the surprise was accomplished.  Records later showed that the Japanese War College studied this attack in 1936, coming to the following conclusion:

“In case the enemy’s main fleet is berthed at Pearl Harbor, the idea should be to open hostilities by surprise attack from the air.”

To give one a point of view on the growth of battleships in just 30 years (including WWI) these historical photos have been scaled to the right size for each vessel: from the Pre-WWI Utah to the USS Missouri, under construction on Dec. 7, 1941.