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Why Japanese leaders attacked Pearl Harbor (timeline.com)
205 points by log-fire on Dec 5, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 129 comments

The headline doesn't square with everything I've ever read about the attack. Embarrassment was at best a minor factor in the Japanese thinking. The major factor, IIRC, was that certain military officers -- many of them belonging to (or fearful of) a murderous ultranationalist faction -- had come to dominate the Japanese government [1]. These military men:

+ wanted to strike south to secure desperately-needed sources of oil, rubber, and other resources for their war machine (an alternative they debated was to invade Siberia);

+ felt that for a strike south to succeed, they had to neutralize both the U.S. Pacific Fleet and the American bases in the Philippines, from which the U.S. surface fleet, submarines, and air forces could have caused serious problems for Japan's maritime supply lines from Southeast Asia; and

+ perhaps most importantly, were out of their depth when it came to assessing a political risk, namely the extent to which a surprise attack would bring down on them the implacable fury of an enraged and industrially-powerful United States.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_militarism

I've read the linked book[0] and you're right that the headline gets it wrong. It should have said that the decision to attack Pearl Harbor was the result of Face-saving among the Japanese military leadership. To summarize:

The US had embargoed Japan and was demanding that the army (IJA) withdraw to its pre-war Manchurian borders in China. The IJA needed American goods to prosecute the war but such withdrawal would result in an utter loss of face for the IJA.

The IJA instead proposed that the US and Dutch be attacked and goods be secured from American and Dutch colonies (Philippines and Indonesia) to fight the war in China. This would chiefly be a Naval war and thus executed by the IJN.

The IJA hoped to force the IJN to share in its loss of face by admitting it wasn't powerful enough to fight the USN. But the Admirals refused to publicly admit that they couldn't fight the USN (privately they lobbied the Emperor and his subordinates to intervene). Through this impasse between the service branches the Japanese government drifted towards a war they knew they couldn't win.

[0] http://www.amazon.com/Japan-1941-Countdown-Eri-Hotta/dp/0307...

They did try invading Soviet territory, but got slapped so badly by Zhukov that they gave up. Permenantly; the Soviets were able to send all of their military forces west when their spy in Japan confirmed that the latter had no plans to attack them.

Some important Japanese politicians did anything they could to stop war with the USA (Mamoru Shigemitsu, a pacifist, and Fumimaro Konoye, who considered an attack on the USA to be a very bad idea) but the militarists had the ear of the emperor, and kool aid was drunk.

The article and the commenters here vastly underestimate the weakness of the US strategic position and the initial advantage that the IJN had. They institutionally understood and embraced the new reality of carrier and air warfare.

The reality is that the Philippines were incredibly vulnerable and run by a General who was not so effective. Ditto the fossils living in WW1 dreadnought world on the Navy side.

Had fate turned ever so slightly at Pearl Harbor, Coral Sea, or Midway, the great gamble made by the Japanese would have been genius.

The embarrassment and face saving nonsense killed them not in 1941, but in 1943, when they followed through on a fools errand instead of settling for peace. Once the US industrial power was mobilized, the result was pretty certain.

Had fate turned ever so slightly at Pearl Harbor, Coral Sea, or Midway, the great gamble made by the Japanese would have been genius.

The embarrassment and face saving nonsense killed them not in 1941, but in 1943, when they followed through on a fools errand instead of settling for peace. Once the US industrial power was mobilized, the result was pretty certain.

Disagree strongly. The way those battles turned just sped up the destruction of Imperial Japan---and if you expect every battle to go your way, you're a damned fool.

The surprise attack, their brutality in war, plus our memory of how WWI did not end in a lasting peace, made sure settling for a peace was not an option by 1943. By the time we were focusing on the home islands with Operations Starvation and Downfall, plus the fruits of the Manhattan Project, the details of the Bataan Death March unquestionably revealed by the liberation of the Philippines ... well, it really sucked to be Japanese by then. But not hardly so bad as the subject people in the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, which they were killing at a rate of 400,000 per month by then.

I'm finishing reading Hell to Pay: Operation Downfall and the Invasion of Japan, 1945-1947 http://www.amazon.com/Hell-Pay-Operation-Downfall-1945-1947/... and it's really sobering. Olympic as planned, the invasion of southern Kyuushu, wasn't going to work, and with Marshall pushing for all nuclear weapons after Nagasaki to be earmarked for it, and liberal use of poison gas, it would have made Okinawa look like a walk in the park. And there's no way Coronet, the planned March invasion of the Kanto plane in Honshu that includes Tokyo would have happened on schedule before the weather made it impractical. Yet we were absolutely determined to see it through, one way or another, with as many as a million of our men dying the process.

The US would have been able to replace their aircraft carrier losses pretty quickly, far quicker than the Japanese. By the end of the war the US had close to thirty carriers IIRC.

> an alternative they debated was to invade Siberia

You're too polite. They did try that. There were minor skirmishes along the Soviet-Japanese border before WW2, they were close to an actual war. But the Japanese Army got smashed so that idea was scrapped.

The other faction vying for power then gained favor and they headed south.

> + perhaps most importantly, were out of their depth when it came to assessing a political risk, namely the extent to which a surprise attack would bring down on them the implacable fury of an enraged and industrially-powerful United States.

By "out of their depth" do we mean "dumber than six pounds of gravel"? I admit that the fantasy that slapping someone in the face will instantly cow them, instead of provoking angry retaliation, is a common one in history, but I don't think that makes it any less stupid given the historical evidence.

(See also Every Terrorist Ever, with the exception of the ones who want to provoke angry retaliation.)

>(See also Every Terrorist Ever, with the exception of the ones who want to provoke angry retaliation.)

I don't pretend to know what a terrorist's goals are, but my observation, as a US civilian is that our responses to terror have harmed us a whole lot more than the terror attacks themselves, so assuming that a terrorist's goal is to maximize damage to my country, it would be rational for them to focus not on how many people they kill, but on how big and self-destructive of a response they can provoke.

(the counter-argument, of course, is that I don't know how many terror attacks would have happened without our massive reaction.)

As I understand it, the goals are to provoke overreaction and sharpen the conflict. And so to radicalize supporters, and build support among potential allies. Except for the violence aspect, the strategy is not all that different from nonviolent resistance.

I think that nonviolent resistance is different because the nonviolent resistor is saying, essentially "give me what I want or I will put myself in a position where you have to hurt me." - which only works if the authority in question has some problem with hurting the nonviolent resistor.

Terror, on the other hand, seems to be saying something more like "no matter how powerful you are, you can't prevent us from coming in and inflicting shocking, unexpected violence on you."

Do you see the difference? one relies on fear, while the other relies on... well, I had it called guilt, but a better person than I am would call it 'empathy' or something like that.

I agree that the initial primary goal of terrorism is fear. There's also anger, because fear and anger are connected. But I'm not so sure that nonviolent resistance is all about fostering guilt/shame/empathy. I think that guilt etc and anger are also connected. And so both can lead to overreaction. And once you've goaded an opponent into overreacting, they will be hurting innocents. And that will foster sympathy, and build general support for your cause.

Sure, I'm just saying that nonviolent resistance only works at all if the enemy is unwilling to just kill you and your supporters.

I'm saying that nonviolence operates on your enemies willingness to harm others, rather than focusing on harming the enemy, and that makes it fundamentally different from other forms of warfare.

Now, there is a connection in that both terror and nonviolence are fundamentally psychological warfare; both rely on giving the enemy feelings rather than just killing the enemy in the most efficient way possible, but I think that nonviolence is interesting and different because it is a new form of warfare that only works against modern societies that are able but not willing to just kill a bunch of the opposing group.

Yes. And yet, I think it useful to distinguish the immediate enemy that you're facing from the group that they're acting for. Consider Ghandi. I'm guessing that many of the British his people were facing in India would rather have killed him and his followers. They certainly did hurt a lot of protesters. But they knew that the British public would have been outraged. And eventually, it was public support in Britain that led to Indian independence. It's not that the colonial managers were converted. Maybe some were. But mostly they were overruled.

Certainly. and I agree that terror and nonviolence both target the civilian population's feelings on the matter. Also note, that has a direct effect on how front line soldiers act; if the boss says he'll demote me if I do X, well, I'm a lot less likely to want to do X, regardless of my feelings on the matter. (And while I've never been in such a position myself, I read that killing people who are not fighting back is harder for most people than it sounds.)

but I think that the genius of Gandhi was that he saw that he couldn't win through conventional military means, so he found another way; ethics aside, I think he should be remembered as a great general; a great strategic thinker who won a war that seemed impossible to win because he considered options that were not obvious to the military leaders who tried for Indian independence before him. (and may not have been available to those leaders... but still, it was a great innovation in strategy and tactics, really, that you could fight a war by.. not fighting.)

That's the thing that seems weird about the current wave of middle-eastern terror; if the goal is to get the US out of the middle east, terror has been woefully ineffective. It's possible that there is some deep game, someone trying to get the US to attack some countries and not others... but it's also just as likely that this current wave of terror has no real strategic planning, that it's just a howl of undirected, incoherent rage; like a man putting his fist through the drywall in his own house.

The latter explanation of terror actually seems more plausible to me than any grand strategic plan.

I totally agree about Ghandi. It was an amazing strategy. And nonviolent resistance has been so successful for so many.

Maybe you're right about radical Wahhabi terrorism. There is a lot of incoherent rage. But I do think that, at least for the rational planners, the goal is to draw the Christians into battle in the Middle East. Look at how they played the US into attacking Iraq, ruled by their former pocket anti-Communist strongman, and creating chaos that ISIS could later exploit. It's beyond amusing how both the radical Christian new right and the radical Wahhabis see conflict in the Middle East in the context of Armageddon. They just disagree about which side Christ will favor.

> By "out of their depth" do we mean "dumber than six pounds of gravel"?

There's no excuse for the Japanese militarists' infliction of millions of deaths and untold suffering, but please keep in mind that they were doing the best they knew how at the time with the hand they were dealt (genetics, education, training, experience, social pressures, etc.), in a situation with enormous risks for their nation, which they believed to be on their shoulders. I'm curious what if anything you know of such pressures.

There's no excuse for Adolf Hitler's infliction of millions of deaths and untold suffering, but please keep in mind that he was doing the best he knew how at the time with the hand he was dealt (genetics, education, training, experience, social pressures, etc.), in a situation with enormous risks for his nation, which he believed to be on his shoulders. I'm curious what if anything you know of such pressures.

Seems like you can plug just about any name you want into this paragraph. What are you trying to say?

I'm saying:

1. it's better to understand who and what you're dealing with, especially when it's a mortal adversary whom you might have to fight to the death;

2. the older I get, the less judgmental I get about other people personally, because I really do believe everybody does the best they know how --- and that's true even though very often I don't accept (and might be more than willing to fight against) what they regard as "the best"; and

3. I'm mindful of the words of a very wise, first-century Middle Eastern sage [1] who urged us to love our enemies [2].

[1] http://www.questioningchristian.com/2004/11/benjamin_frankl.... (self-cite).

[2] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%205:43-...

Or in case of Germany, zero risk because hyperinflation after the treaty meant Germany didn't have much to lose and a lot to gain.

Blame Hitler all you want but England and France are ultimately responsible for WWII.

Certainly the situation as a whole was quite complex, but when you get down to the details, dctoedt specifically asserts that there were people who thought the US would roll over and cower if attacked once, and if that is true, then those people were bloody great idiots.

If it's not literally true, then perhaps they were something else.

> dctoedt specifically asserts that there were people who thought the US would roll over and cower if attacked once

For the record, that overstates what I said, which I hope was a bit more nuanced than that.

Certainly the Japanese militarists, as a whole, decided to roll the dice that the outcome would not be "An enraged U.S. will counterattack us until our way of life is destroyed." It doesn't necessarily follow that there were those among them who thought, "The US will roll over and cower if we can just take out their battleships at Pearl Harbor."

(Of course, some Japanese militarists had an overly-exalted regard for Japanese military virtue and prowess. So it does seem likely that there were indeed some militarists, especially junior officers, who held the latter view, and yes, that view proved fatally naïve.)

I've been reading Dower's"Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II" and I think embarrassment is a significant factor, though this is not exclusive with your explanations. While the nation as a whole may not exhibit signs of shame, the Japanese culture at the time seemed to encourage the direction of moral responsibility upwards.

So while (particularly) the need for oil can't be overstated in this case, I think that there was a degree of self-consciousness that DID characterize the actions of the upper military acting on pressure from those "beneath" them. I don't think the pressure was directly to attack, but there was enough power concentrated in the hands of the few that their decisions were allowed to be implemented rapidly and without much resistance.

Ok, we changed the headline to the more generic HTML doc title.

For future reference, the previous title was "Japan attacked Pearl Harbor to avoid embarrassment", which is the title that appears at the top of the linked story. While clearly a proposition rather than a solid fact, I think it's an accurate summary of the thrust of the article.

I think a lot of wars, murders, suicides, as well as a great many companies, inventions, organisations, movements happened at least partially to avoid embarrassment.

In such cases, people prefer terms like "honour", "principle", "fear of failure", "perseverance", etc.

I completely agree. The title is reductive.

"Instead of being tried for war crimes, the researchers involved in Unit 731 were given immunity by the U.S. in exchange for their data on human experimentation."


A bit off topic but perhaps interesting to some.

"During the final months of World War II, Japan planned to use plague as a biological weapon against San Diego, California. The plan was scheduled to launch on September 22, 1945, but Japan surrendered five weeks earlier."


Not just Unit 731, but a lot of America's rocketry experience was imported wholesale from Nazi Germany. We are talking 1500 scientists, technicians and engineers (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Paperclip) including Wernher Von Braun, the designer of the V2. Indeed , Von Braun had been advocating space flight since the very beginning- all the evidence suggests that his tryst with the Nazi weapons program, was merely in order to further his ambitions for human space flight.

Where would America be in the space race, had they not done this? I think in hindsight, it was a pretty clever decision - these people were probably the most valuable war bounty America got out of the whole deal.

Unlike Unit 731, the scientists in Operation Paperclip were just that: scientists. Their complicitness in the war, while definitely non-zero, was markedly less.*

Unit 731's doctors were more akin to Mengele: personally hacking off living humans' half-frozen arms to see how they reacted in the cold, experiments with gangrene, etc...

Every single concentration camp "doctor" was deemed a war criminal. We didn't import them as a war bounty. Too bad we never did the same for Japan.


* The only two exceptions seem to be Kurt Blome and Hubertus Strughold, both brought over in Paperclip, who probably perpetrated some nasty shit but were "tried" and given a pass.

Definitely they were not as culpable as the guys in unit 731 (Hell even Hitler was probably less sick than those guys).

But their involvement (they used slave labour with people possibly tortured or worked to death) was strong enough for some of them (especially higher ups) to be put to trial.

Cf. Operation Paperclip, Klaus Barbie

An absolute disgrace that so many monstrously evil war criminals were let off after the war.

But the US is currently shipping weapons and money to brutal dictators in several countries in a horrible display of RealPolitik, so not much has changed.

I'm genuinely curious: Which brutal dictators are currently receiving U.S. arms? With Mubarak gone I can't come up with any. The Saudis? Hard to describe what they're running (or at least barely managing) as a dictatorship.

Pakistan? Their democracy is a joke. The military holds all the power as evidenced by the multiple military coups in their past

Knowing nothing about Pakistan, don't the coups demonstrate the lack of power military holds? If I was a military chief, I'd rather prefer to steer policy from the background assuming I had any real influence. Not saying you're wrong. I'm trying to understand...

They depose a leader then to retain US support they allow elections then depose him when they no longer approve. Might as well be a Itanian style theocracy.

Army chief el-sisi, who deposed the last elected leader is now the new "elected" leader. When it comes to words like "iron fisted" "tyrannical" "repressive" el-Sisi makes Mubarak like your friendly mailman. But Obama supports him, so I guess that doesn't matter for most people (not speaking for you).

Well, what's the alternative?

"Yeah, these guys have some impressive technology and ideas that can revolutionize our world. But they killed a lot of people, so we're gonna just kill them"

Very rarely those who take the absolute high road win...

"Kill them and take their lab-books" doesn't work?

Interesting read, but there is something a little odd about an article that describes Emperor Hirohito as "merely a figurehead" but later casually mentions that Hirohito had the power to surprise General Tojo by naming him prime minister and spends a good deal of time talking about how Hirohito could have potentially prevented the war due to how much influence he had.

The "merely a figurehead" part is post-war propaganda. Too bad that it's verboten to discuss in Japan.

The article appears to be of the belief that literally nothing the Japanese government could have said or done was a sign they wanted war.

The article appears to be of the belief that no one in the Japanese government wanted war but they were all bumbling fools who couldn't say they didn't want war.

The anti-war faction weren't bumbling fools, but the decision was made and that was that. Konoye killed himself rather than lie to exonerate the emperor in the post-war kangaroo court.

The members of the anti-war faction knew bloody well that if they made too much of a fuss about it they would be assassinated. Perhaps the object lesson to learn from the Pacific War is that it's beyond insane to allow a culture of acceptable political assassination to develop in your system. See also how the Nazis were tacitly supported in their street battles etc. with the Communists et. al.

They wanted to go to war, just not against the US. They very much thought that they were racially superior to other Asians and would easily dominate them in battle.

It's really complicated. Many centuries before the Emperor had became a token, if you held him (I think it was all men by then), that helped your case for legitimacy. The Emperor got a bit of a rehabilitation in the downfall of the Tokugawa Shogunate ("military government"), the other side rallied around the name of the Emperor, and I guess he was given something of a position in the following fatally flawed constitution; things were so fluid then any strong man could make a difference.

Fatally flawed in that you couldn't form a government without a member each from the Army and Navy, and the Army abused this. Plus in the 20s or so a culture of acceptable political assassination developed.

In this context, I'm sure Hirohito, who would have much rather focused on marine biology, knew very well something unpleasant would happen to him if he didn't go along with the ultranationalists, there's way too much old and new Japanese history telling him exactly that.

I seriously doubt he could have prevented the war, especially since the genesis was so long in forming, e.g. without their depredations in China stretching back years, and of course the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, it's very unlikely things would have come to a head like they did. And why not go back to their turn of the century war with Russia and occupation of Korea? Not all that many people are upset with the former, even today, although it helped set the stage for the Bolsheviks and most of the bloodletting of the 20th Century.

Repeating a bit about what I've read especially in Hell to Pay (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10685585), while we can debate his being able to influence things earlier, we, the peoples of East Asia, etc. can be very thankful that he was able to throw his weight behind surrender after the two bombs and the Soviet entry in the war, in a situation where the cabinet was still bloody minded enough to stay the course. And I'm not so sure they wouldn't have "won", they were quite willing to sacrifice 20 million of their own people in the process, a mere 1/5-1/4th.

Counterfactuals to that could include Hirohito trying earlier and being replaced by a pliable Emperor who wouldn't have dared try or have had the stature to make that utterly critical move when it most counted.

"Pundits have long puzzled over why Japan, embroiled in an unwinnable war in China, attacked a country that supplied most of its oil and had an economy 70 times its own."

That's off by like an order of magnitude. Numbers like this are never exact, but no way was the difference 70x. Wikipedia's numbers have it at ~5.5x: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_production_during_Wor...

By the end of the war, the US was producing as many light aircraft carriers per month as Japan had produced over the entire war. Whatever the exact numbers were, it was silly lopsided.

Or the speed at which the US was producing ships. It was beyond lopsided.

Also, I seem to remember reading Canada had a part in the pre-war story (very anti-Japanese PM), but I don't remember the source.

This timeline seems to put all the blame on Japan. No doubt they had over-militaristic tendencies. But let's also take the long view on America from Japan's perspective:

* Settlers displace native peoples in the north east of North America and the Caribbean.

* The first Americans kick out the British.

* Americans move west, killing more native peoples.

* Americans take over land from Mexico.

* "Manifest Destiny"

* Americans topple the Hawaiian monarchy and take over Hawaii.

* Americans go to war with the Philippines, killing tens of thousands.

It doesn't seem unreasonable for Japan at this point to feel threatened by America or compelled to take action to protect themselves.

I'm going to be a little imprecise here, but hopefully accurate:

1853: Commodore Perry shows up on the shores of Japan with shiny ships and cannons and says "You're gonna trade with the world." It worked, but Japan didn't like it. Japan spent its time buying ships from Great Britain and sending its young people to school in the United States to learn what it could about empire building.

Late 1800s: The United States, wanting to be seen as a world power, attacks and defeats the world's weakest "World Power" Spain, both in Cuba and in the Phillipines. Japan had been helping the Phillipines achieve independence and the United States basically stole the Phillipines out from under them.

Early 1900s: Japan fights and wins against Russia in the Pacific. They basically destroyed Russia at Port Arthur (using the same tactics as were used at Pearl Harbor). To retaliate the Russians had to send their Atlantic fleet the long way around the world. By then Japan had rebuilt from the battle at Port Arthur and defeated the Russians again. The lesson: Defeating a world power only requires you to be powerful within your sphere of influence.

Shortly before Pearl Harbor: U.S. cuts off oil supply to Japan. Japan needs the oil in the Phillipines and also wants to take the Phillipines back which they felt were stolen from them. Pearl Harbor was their attempt to recreate the Battle of Port Arthur and wipe out American presence in the Pacific, leaving Japan the most powerful entity in that sphere of influence.

The long view of Japan and the United States is that we kind of grew up together, but we were the bullying older brother. They grew up to emulate us and when they got big enough... they punched back.

That's ridiculous. Let's take a long view on China from Japan's perspective:

* Han Chinese displaced people in every direction, throughout what is now China and even into Malaya.

* Chinese moved south & west, killing native peoples. (numerous Mongol, Dzungar and Tibetan elimination campaigns)

* China takes land from Tibet (1930-1932).

* "Chinese unity" includes a lot of places that aren't Han Chinese. (routinely interfering in Mongolia)

* China previously demanded tribute from Japan.

* Republic of China oppressed the Manchu, killing hundreds of thousands.

* China wanted to kick Japan out of the mainland.

It was only logical to feel threatened by China. If properly unified it would outclass and defeat Japan. They had a momentary advantage and felt compelled to take action to protect themselves against a hostile China.

Where is the ridiculous part?

Aside from aspect that many national governments were expanding and conquering, as they are wont to do.

Most nations have many reasons to fear their neighbors if you look far enough back.

The situation dictated policy. Either their war in China ground to a halt or they conquer SEA. I don't think the "Manifest destiny" entered much into IJA/IJN thinking in 1941.

Major General Smedley Butler predicted a war with the Japanese in his book "War is a Racket":

Then they begin to cry for a larger navy. For what? To fight the enemy? Oh my, no. Oh, no. For defense purposes only.

Then, incidentally, they announce maneuvers in the Pacific. For defense. Uh, huh.

The Pacific is a great big ocean. We have a tremendous coastline on the Pacific. Will the maneuvers be off the coast, two or three hundred miles? Oh, no. The maneuvers will be two thousand, yes, perhaps even thirty-five hundred miles, off the coast.

The Japanese, a proud people, of course will be pleased beyond expression to see the united States fleet so close to Nippon's shores. Even as pleased as would be the residents of California were they to dimly discern through the morning mist, the Japanese fleet playing at war games off Los Angeles.

Wikipedia says that the US genocide of Native Americans numbered somewhere between 30-50K people over 120 years, some of those in military conflicts. In comparison in the Rape of Nanking, the Japanese murdered 50-300K. And averaged 300-500K civilians murdered per month between 1937 and 1945.

By 1941 Japan had no reason to believe the US was in any way expansionist. There had been 20 years of isolationist rhetoric from both political parties and almost no public support for intervention in wars abroad.

The Manifest Destiny doers didn't know it, but most of the Americas had been cleared a hundred years earlier by disease. Some estimate 95% fatality rates.

So, is OK to decimate everybody left because disease had already killed a lot of the native people. So if another country had come to conquer the European nations after the black plague and committed genocide would it have been OK? Otherwise I'm not exactly sure what is your point.

Is like you are trying to say, hey, I only killed 4%, the other 95% were already dead so is not so bad.

I'm guessing the parent post is saying that the numbers of dead would have been higher had the populations not been decimated by disease.

There's no one saying it is okay here. Everyone agrees it meets the modern definition of a genocide. But I'd would certainly need some evidence that the US was responsible for 80% of the deaths of the remaining native Americans. I looked around for these numbers and have never seen anyone claim this.

If that is what Wikipedia is claiming then it is off by orders of magnitude on the the Native American genicide.

If you try to prove this you'll find the problem. There is very little evidence to go by except guestimations. You can say it is off by orders of magnitude (which is silly because 2 orders of magnitude would be the total estimated population of N. American before Columbus), but you certainly can't back that up with evidence.

18 million was the estimated population for North America alone. So, yes, the population drop has been in the millions. the Trail of Tears alone would cover half the 30k. U of OK did a lot of the research.

18 million is the max with other estimates being much lower. That's certainly not a fact. And the only source for deaths on the trail of tears is the US government which gives 4000.

You quote a government source on the deaths cause by said government?

"And the only source for deaths on the trail of tears is the US government"

No, they are not the only source. "Cherokee Population Losses during the Trail of Tears: A New Perspective and a New Estimate" gives the loses as double. Not counting the subsequent increase in loses where they ended up.

I doubt we would take German official's word at numbers during WWII, so I'm not sure why the US's word is valid in this instance. The US couldn't even keep the land ownership and payments straight for the tribes and lost a massive lawsuit because of it.

You are missing my point. I'm not saying the US government is correct, I'm saying no one else was counting the dead. And at the time, the US government had no reason to downplay the numbers since the voting population mostly didn't care.

And I don't have time to read your book, but I'm going to guess that the book relies upon the official government numbers and their extrapolates additional deaths based on some criteria. I doubt someone just magically found a new as yet undiscovered accurate death list.

A lot of work has gone into ancestry by the tribes and finding old records along with tribal sites not destroyed, but quoting old numbers without current research is just wrong.

90% died from diseases. That's why it was so easy to settle North America. The socities collapsed before settlers even expanded westward. The diseases traveled much faster than European contact. That's why Europeans thought much of North America was wilderness.

There were certainly acts of genocide (like Trail of Tears) and Indian Removal was a form of ethnic cleansing.

But there was never an attempt or policy to kill Native Americans off.

Plus a lot just blended into society. Intermarrying has always been common. Both on and off the reservations. Most native americans aren't full blooded anymore, but a mix of white and black too.

"But there was never an attempt or policy to kill Native Americans off."

I see stuff like this and I cannot believe the total ignorance. I guess I'm going spend part of my night grabbing every damn reference to every government and private company policy that was specifically designed to kill Native Americans including some laws still on the books that included clause that you could kill any Native American if you were in a covered wagon or any group of 5 Native Americans that were gathered. Some, including MN's ban on all Dakota Indians, are still on the books.

We'll ignore the whole, give Native Americans disease laden blankets and killing as many buffalo as possible so the plains tribes would starve.

Its as bad as people quoting the US government general on how many Native Americans died during the Trail of Tears. I guess people like that believe other governments when they say how many people they killed.

As to your last line.... that does not account for the loss.

It's fair to point out American imperialism and colonialism in the past, and even ongoing to a certain extent in the 1940s, but leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor it hardly matched the intensity or blatantness of Japan's own imperialism and colonialism, particularly in Manchuria and the Pacific.

I doubt Japan felt threatened by the US because of manifest destiny or the American revolutionary war. I think you're going a bit too far trying to paint the US as appearing unusually hegemonic or aggressive for the time.

Considering the US was way undermilitarized after wwi compared to European nations, it's hard to think Japan would consider the US as an immediate adversary. Specially considering a growing USSR.

Mostly they hoped to take out the US naval fleet and have their way in the pacific while Germany kept the allies busy, and then eventually win in Europe creating a world wide axis.

The US was under-militarized at the beginning of the WW2 years, but its industrial capacity was unrivaled and undeniable. Even before its entry into the war, for instance, it was almost singlehandedly supplying the British and Soviet war efforts. The US was supplying nearly 40% of all the USSR's food, clothing, munitions, and military hardware during Hitler's Barbarossa campaign, in the months prior to Pearl Harbor. It was doing all of this while its economy was roaring back up from the Depression, and its output was just getting started. (The US produced about 2,500 warplanes in 1940; by 1944, it was producing just under 100,000 per year.)

Germany and Japan correctly feared the United States long before its entry into the conflict. They feared it not necessarily as a war machine, but as a relentless and massive industrial machine. They knew that, if war with the US were to drag on for a few years, the US would eventually get its shit together and outproduce and outgun either of them by an order of magnitude.

The US was maybe more active in Japan's neighborhood than you might be thinking: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yangtze_Patrol https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Panay_incident

I don't know what the Japanese felt, but I think the US maybe was about as hegemonic as Japan, Britain, Russia, Germany, France. It wouldn't hurt for US citizens to know these bullet points in their history that relate to Japan's neighborhood: Perry's expedition to Japan, the Spanish American war, but especially the Phillipine Insurrection, the Anti-Imperialist League, the Boxer Rebellion, the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii, and the Yangtze Patrol, and its context.

Japanese culture perceives time differently than western culture. For example, a train in London is considered "on time" as long as it's within 14 minutes. In Japan, a train is considered late if it's not within 1 minute of schedule. Those perceptions of "lateness" permeate throughout the culture.

I don't claim any authority, but it's important not to project our own views of cultural permanence onto other cultures. Japan has businesses that have spanned over a 1000 years contiguously. I would not be surprised if Japan had a view that spanned much further into the past (particularly during the days of the Emperor).

Oh, just another side. Those are only a couple of examples of Western aggression in the previous century. Europe and the U.S. had been quite active in South East Asia. There likely would have been Japanese alive at the time who had a living memory of events like the colonization of Vietnam.

I think that's less about perception of time as it is cultural expectations. Plenty of people in Europe would consider a train that's 15 minutes late "late," it just happens often enough that society has to take the slop of inefficiency into account.

But, my point is that even conceding such a long view of history, the US probably didn't look more menacing than Europe. The US was a minor political and economic power, whereas Europe was much more powerful and had its own much longer history of imperialism and territorial expansion by divine right.

The implication seems like a bit of historical revisionism in hindsight, based on how threatening the US seems to a lot of people now.

>The US was a minor political and economic power

I agree with you that the US was under-powered militarily at the time, but by the 40s the US had been the world's largest economy and industrial power for decades.

> For example, a train in London is considered "on time" as long as it's within 14 minutes.

That may be true in London, for all I know, but it's definitely not true in western culture as a whole.

It's not true in London. Trains delayed by 4 minutes count as late.

There are different times for when you can actually do anything about it - mostly if a train is delayed by an hour you can get a refund (if you chose not to travel) or compensation (if you were already travelling before the delay happened), but it's a bit complicated.

For London tube trains you can get some refunds if the train is 15 minutes late.


> Transport for London (TFL) offers refunds if a passenger's journey is delayed by more than 15 minutes. For tube passengers, this amounts to the fare for the single journey you were making, whether you have a season ticket, or have purchased a single fare. London Overground users get the same, but only when their train is delayed by more than 30 minutes

How long have they held that perception of time? I'm under the impression that in the Anglosphere it is only as old as railroads.

The paper on cultural time perceptions I found, which I'll have to dig up again, attributed the difference to a deep cultural value placed on timeliness in Japanese society. e.g. the value predated the specific train result.


Though I've read papers that also trace a shortening of the window of timeliness to the appearance of public clocks. Like Big Ben.

> * The first Americans kick out the British.

That really doesn't capture the flavor of it. In a very real sense, the first Americans were British -- they just refused to pay taxes to a government thousand of miles away.

It also skips over the part where they failed to kick the British out of Canada.

The US never tried to take over the territory later called Canada, whether to annex it or to remove the British. There was never a war declared for that purpose, the US never mobilized its full military toward that aim, there was never a large amount of financing raised to pay for such an immense effort, and so on. There's zero evidence to support the notion that US planned to try to accomplish that outcome. At best it was a skirmish toward a narrow goal.

> The US never tried to take over the territory later called Canada, whether to annex it or to remove the British.



... Without representation. The taxes weren't the whole problem.

You seem to completely ignoring Japan's wars of invasion against China, Korea, Indochina, and basically every border other than "America" first. Or for that matter, the rest of World War II which had been going on for over a year.

2 years, really. It kicked off in late 1939 with the German invasion of Poland, subsequent declarations of war by Britain and France, and then an awkward months-long period of shuffling about known as the "Phony War".



Japan's intrusions and occupations of Korea and China lasted decades before 'it kicked off in late 1939'.

Let's not forget the black ships forcing Japan to open up. Many right wing Japanese still link the entire war period back to that and they do have somewhat of a point.

I strongly recommend Ian Buruma's "Inventing Japan"

So if a convicted murderer moves in beside me, it's partially his fault if I attempt to murderer him in his sleep

It is if there are no legal authorities more powerful than the both of you (as was the case). Actually, your use of the word "convicted" is nonsensical in this case.

The more accurate analogy is if a murderer murders your neighbor, and then moves into his house, and the police don't exist.

I think this may be an unfair metaphor, because we have a police force and laws that give us incentive to not murder our neighbours in their sleep and give us assurance that we will be protected while we sleep ourselves.

On the world scale, this doesn't exist. If there was no laws, police, or government and a serial murderer moves in beside you, you may very well try to murder him in his sleep.

Well I guess Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, while the US was attempting to find a peaceful solution, so Japan gets the blame.

And let's not forget spending a decade rampaging about China raping and murdering.

So, yeah, it turns out that when a country goes out and commits mass murder for ten years then carries out a surprise attack against another country who thinks they should maybe just cut back a bit on that whole raping-and-murdering thing and has otherwise stuck to their own borders for a couple of decades, the first country gets the blame for the ensuing war. Go figure.

The tone here is incredibly biased towards "nobody in Japan wanted war". Apparently nobody in Japan wanted war, but they somehow kept invading countries?

And the claim that "Japan had planned to declare war shortly before its planes bombed the US fleet at Pearl Harbor, but a series of errors by typists and translators prevented the Japanese embassy from giving Washington the declaration in time." is beyond absurd.

> And the claim that "Japan had planned to declare war shortly before its planes bombed the US fleet at Pearl Harbor, but a series of errors by typists and translators prevented the Japanese embassy from giving Washington the declaration in time." is beyond absurd.

It appears to be the truth, or pretty close to it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attack_on_Pearl_Harbor#Japanes...

I think it's far far far more likely that they intended for the declaration to arrive after the attacks, but with some amount of plausible deniability.

Why is that? What advantage would that provide? It seems like they would have been a lot better off if the declaration had arrived before, but maybe I'm missing something.

My understanding is that the Japanese' Bushido code specifically looked down on sneak attacks. I.e., a lower-class Ninja* might kill you in your sleep, whereas a noble Samurai would wake you up and give you a chance to draw.

If you've ever noticed the Americans' official reaction to Pearl Harbor often made a curious point about calling it a "despicable sneak attack". While a sneak attack seems like a rather obvious way to start a war for Westerners, the emphasis may have been a propaganda point towards the Japanese.

[*] No offense is intended to any actual Ninjas.

"Bushido" and the culture of the samurai as most people understand it was more or less invented whole cloth as a romanticized, retroactive mythology[0], well after the cultural relevance of the samurai had passed on. It was embraced by the wartime Imperial government for its propaganda value, but that doesn't mean the government necessarily bought into it.


That was a really interesting read and I think it supports the concept that "Bushido" was in full swing by the 1940's:

Bushido would find its ultimate embodiment in kamikaze pilots and foot-soldiers who “honorably” sacrificed themselves for their country. “Although some Japanese were taken prisoner,” David Powers of BBC writes, “most fought until they were killed or committed suicide.

And untold millions died because of Japanese leaders' cautious stupidity. It seems like there are lessons to be learned here? Let's start with, whenever there are positions that are culturally unspeakable, you have a problem. Perhaps another is, whatever idiocy a foreign nation's leaders are spouting, it's a good bet nobody actually wants war (cough cough Putin)

This is a problem in all organizations, not just governments. Few things predict failure better than an environment where criticism and negative feedback are suppressed, often because it's seen as not nice, or uncivilized. I've seen startups fail because big problems were readily visible and understood by most of the staff, but people were terrified to talk about them. By the time people were aware of how widely shared the suppressed opinions had spread, the damage was done. Just this week, I talked with employees of another high profile startup that claim they are heading in the very same direction, because discussing the technical problems in their platform leads to social ostracism.

It's not as if there's only one way to et into an unsafe culture: I have seen situations where people were intimidated by using abusive, aggressive behavior, and others where the same things were accomplished through smiles and backstabbing.

If you are leading a startup and you don't see dissent in your organization, beware, because what it means is that it's been forced to go underground.

So yes, we should learn from imperial japan that every organization needs ways for people to safely and politely express unpopular, honest opinions.

Or to phrase it in a slightly different way: followers ignoring their own judgement to root for ideas they think their leaders might like, combined with leaders trusting an overwhelming agreement between their followers more than their own initial opinion. It's a feedback loop than could even pick up random noise and amplify it to the level of ideology, if it wasn't for preexisting cultural seeds that have a headstart over that random noise. It would not even need the often cited climate of fear to work, even though that would certainly "help" a lot (and should therefore certainly be avoided): a uniform wish to get ahead, strictly positive reinforcement, should already be sufficient to make an organization collectively believe funny stuff none of the individuals would ever believe on their own.

Not for the first time, and perhaps not for the last time, these words are so relevant.

A war that need not have been fought was about to be

fought because of mutual misunderstanding, language

difficulties, and mistranslations.

Why did America drop the two bombs? Why did it not drop the first one over the Tokyo bay? Why Japanese leaders hesitated so much to surrender, despite being so much overwhelmed by foreign power? Why nobody managed to stop Hitler from inside Germany? Why all the genocides in the history had to happen?

The world is complicated, it does not always choose the right path. Decisions of even the greatest importance are sometimes made with insufficient information, and are subject to all kinds of cognitive failures. It's easy to judge after you know all the facts.

I don't understand the debate of the meaning of ignore vs reject.

The US made ultimatum without a specific deadline. The hawkish press spoke in behalf of the government, but without authority. The US continued its plan to attack until surrender was communicated. No doubt powerful in US govt wanted to see what the bomb could do. Dropping two a-bombs in a week wasn't an accidental race condition against communication lines. The US leadership had two bombs and wanted to use them.

nobody expected them to surrender at the time, and they needed either to go trough a landings and ugly attrition war or display such force to let the parties surrender while saving face.

that's why the bombs and that's why the target were mid sized cities.


especially source http://www.nytimes.com/2003/08/05/opinion/blood-on-our-hands...

''We of the peace party were assisted by the atomic bomb in our endeavor to end the war,'' Koichi Kido, one of Emperor Hirohito's closest aides, said later.''

We certainly hoped they'd surrender at the time.

The targets were mid-sized cities because by the time the target planning started, Kyoto was the only big one the B-29s hadn't burned to the ground (well, the important parts; I forget when, but we'd given up on Tokyo after destroying 17 square miles or so), and Secretary of War Stimson, who'd visited it and Japan in general, removed it from the list, despite Groves imploring him many times to not. That was wise, if for no other reason that it strengthened the Emperor's hand when he was finally in a position to end the war, for a long time Kyoto was the Emperor's city, Tokyo the military's.

One thing we could learn is that the pre-war Japanese Constitution had a serious problem. The Constitution gave all powers to the Emperor and let him govern the country through the parliament, cabinet, courts, army and navy. That was interpreted to mean the army and navy did not have to obey the cabinet as long as they obey the Emperor. The Emperor didn't actually govern just like UK, so there was no head of the country. Japanese leaders had variety of opinions, but once the atmosphere that a war was inevitable was made, no one had authority to stop that.

This is a pretty interesting point because Germany had the exact same problem - with Hitler able to have the Enabling Act passed. It's a more extreme example because it allowed the Reichstag to vote themselves out of power in favour of Hitler, but it's interesting that Japan similarly had a constitutional power balancing problem.

Not exactly. For example, you couldn't form a government without one member each from the Army and Navy, and the Army grossly abused this power.

And as I noted elsewhere, a culture of acceptable political assassination was well established by then, so e.g. being too strongly anti-war would only get you killed.

You only know the results in hindsight. When you make a decision, you can't guarantee what would happen next.

Yes, but you can use history to make an educated guess about what will happen.

History does not tell you about new things. For example, how will technology affect the outcome of war. Evolution is another such thing. You're poisonous caterpillar that no one can eat, you prosper, then suddenly you get decimated by a bird that can stomach your poison.

> For example, how will technology affect the outcome of war.

That's one thing you do learn from history. You'll win this one if you have the technology and your opponent does not. Otherwise you lose. The next war, you'll both have the technology.

Catch here is to know what is relevant technology.

In 1935 USSR was pioneer in monoplane fighters with retractable undercarriage. They we're two or three years ahead of anybody else, and the Russians had them in relatively large quantity.


Problem was that they didn't know it was relevant. When war started they still mostly relied on biplanes. And only got the development rolling again in 1940 with MIGs and they could not compete with Nazis in the sky on even terms until 1943.

Japanese had total miss with Yamamoto class ships. Germany didn't invest enough in submarines and their tanks we're way too fancy for field repairs. Nobody understood how important submachine guns would be. Brits had some major naval defects, exposed by explosion of HMS Hood and problems with guns of King George V battleships. France and U.S. fucked up tank development. U.S. made thuderbolts, which we're about twice as costly and difficult to built than what was necessary.

It's complete hit and miss. Currently U.S. has global military hegemony because they can afford to miss more than anybody else. Also logistics. If you are committed to get more stuff to the front than the enemy, you can compensate quite lot.

I read somewhere on wikipedia that Japan did some research on nuclear weaponry but concluded it's not feasible.

Not feasible for them, they didn't have a supply of uranium ore, nor the industrial capability to make use of it. I think if the Germans had done everything right and started in earnest soon enough (they didn't, period), they could have rode the plutonium path to a working bomb in time.

But sometimes the smallest of things derails you. The scientists' saving throw for a real program failed when the bigwigs Nazis were invited to a seminar, but the secretary sending out the invitations accidentally included in the packets the agenda for a different and very technical seminar they'd have no interest in.

WW II was probably the last big colonial war - where the objective of the warring parties/world powers was to gain or defend direct control over territories and natural resources. I find it is such a pity that the world did not figure out a couple of decades earlier that it is cheaper to buy raw materials rather than to kill dozens of millions in a war over those damned resources; so many lives would have been saved;

What have the Americans ever done for us? Post WWII American leadership brought us decolonization; i think that this was a really significant change; one of the biggest changes of the twentieth century...

I'm wondering to what extent the same social and linguistic issues might be behind Japan's political and economic policy paralysis over the last 20+ years.

I'm more wondering what sort of similar things are happening in my (USA) government that I can't perceive because I'm too immersed in it all.

Will the election of Donald trump allow the cultivation of such nationalist behavior here in the U.S. ?

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