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How the US has hidden its empire (theguardian.com)
224 points by unmole 32 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 97 comments



> Besides Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and a handful of minor outlying islands, the US maintains roughly 800 overseas military bases around the world.

Germany has a few US military bases. It’s a bit of a micro cosmos. People pay in USD and can buy American products there. I think even the VAT is added on checkout to the price (whereas in Germany, prices in stores always show VAT included).

I was on one a couple times when they played a theatre play (Christmas Charol or so). Quite interesting.


I grew up around US military bases in Japan, and the same holds true : they're basically "little Americas" where you can pay in USD and buy Twizzlers (among other things, but I happened to like twizzlers)

An open question I have after reading your comment is whether or not this isn't true of other countries foreign miltary installations (like the French bases in Djibouti, etc.). Intuitively it seems like due to the nature of military installations, it makes sense to treat them like an extension of the home country - but I'd be curious to see if other countries approach it differently.


> Intuitively it seems like due to the nature of military installations, it makes sense to treat them like an extension of the home country - but I'd be curious to see if other countries approach it differently.

As silly as it might sound: There's no country to actually compare it to because the US is pretty much an outlier in terms of scale and intensity of their military bases on foreign ground.

That's also the reason why the US military building McDonalds in the middle of the Iraqi desert, during an invasion, became pretty much a meme encapsulating the whole of US foreign policy.


> There's no country to actually compare it to because the US is pretty much an outlier in terms of scale and intensity of their military bases on foreign ground.

In terms of scale, of course - but the US is not the only country with foreign military installations. Just off the top of my head, France, the UK and Russia all have long-term out-of-country bases.

Do literally none of these countries have anything that is remotely equivalent to a PX (seems unlikely)? If so, do they pay with their own currency or the local one, and are those transactions subject to local taxes? At the end of the day I expect it boils down to whatever SOFA is in place, but it's a legitimate question IMO.


I lived in Stuttgart a number of years ago, and used to drink with some guys who had a business exclusively selling American cars to American servicemen (in dollars; taxation deferred; big money). In fact, I spent a good bit of time drinking with American servicemen ... they were a large segment of the Anglophone community around there.


Background: Stuttgart hosts EUCOM at Patch Barracks and AFRICOM at Kelley Barracks.

The latter should have moved to Africa at least a decade ago, but America is still looking for an appropriate location (friendly, stable, infrastructure).


AFRICOM headquarters will remain in Germany indefinitely. In addition to the infrastructure problems in Africa (for instance, there are vast areas of the continent, including entire countries, where routine travel is prohibited due to lack of American-level medical or medevac services), there are too many rivalries amongst the nations for a headquarters to be placed in one country.

It's also not unprecedented: CENTCOM, SOUTHCOM, and arguable PACOM all have headquarters that are not in their respective areas of responsibility.


> I think even the VAT is added on checkout to the price

No. VAT in Germany is not charged to American servicemen and women and dependants. This is covered under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) [1]. One may also receive reimbursement of VAT paid on the economy, though that is subject to some restrictions at around €2500, I believe. There are specific rules on cars. The actual forms for receiving reimbursement are onerous enough that VAT forms aren't often used outside of major purchases.

I went to high school on an American military base in Germany in the 1990s. At least then, the major items of note were jeans and gasoline/diesel (though, I had a teenager's bias). Both were subject to significant taxation on the economy that Americans didn't need to pay on base. In practice, this meant there were some restrictions on how many jeans people could purchase at once, to prevent Americans from reselling them to the Germans. There were also special booklets that Americans could buy on base that had little tear-out pages; each page could be exchanged for a certain number of liters of fuel at, specifically, Esso gas stations on the economy. While fuel prices on base (the same rate as the booklets) were considerably more expensive than in the US, it was still far cheaper than off base.

Most of the goods available in stores on base were imported from the US [2]. All prices and payments were in dollars. We did not use pennies on the base, since they were too expensive to import. All bills/receipts were rounded to the nearest five cents [3].

I was told by a teacher at the time that the Rhine valley had "the single largest concentration of Americans outside of America." That specific area of US installations has grown in the intervening 20 years both due to the wind down of smaller Cold War-era bases scattered throughout Germany and due to the current conflicts the US is involved in, of which, most require US forces to deploy via Germany.

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

[2] As a major exception, I believe the bases purchased civilian fuel from German suppliers directly as part of the taxation agreement.

[3] The base bank would always do business to the penny which, over the course of years, would create a small pile of useless copper in every home.


2015: "Despite recently closing hundreds of bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States still maintains nearly 800 military bases in more than 70 countries and territories abroad"

https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/06/us-military-...

Additionally, I must admit haven't thought much about the actual status of the "territories" before.


It's not just military bases, the US DoS runs a whole Spa-resorts in Garmisch-Partenkirchen exclusively for US/NATO (excluding German nationals) military personnel [0].

[0] https://www.edelweisslodgeandresort.com/accomodations/eligib...


In the 90s my sister was friends with a US soldier in Stuttgart so I got visit that environment quite a bit. It felt like a different world. Even the street layout of the areas where they lived were more like an American suburb than a German one.


Do they charge foreign VAT at all overseas? In the US the exchanges (PX/NEX) don't charge state sales tax (and advertises the fact).

Unless you're talking about privately owned stores.


PXs and Commissaries don't charge sales tax anywhere. Source: 12 years in the Army.


It depends on the country and the specific agreement there.


>>I think even the VAT is added on checkout to the price (whereas in Germany, prices in stores always show VAT included).

How is that legal? By law the price shown has to include VAT. Unless somehow the American base is not considered German territory?


I would think if you are an American service member/citizen living on the base, you would not need to pay VAT.

And in fact it looks like this is true: https://garmisch.armymwr.com/programs/vat

> Department of Defense personnel stationed in or TDY to Europe may be eligible to use the U.S. Forces Tax-Relief Program to avoid paying this tax for their personal purchases. In other words, you may be able to have the sticker price reduced by extracting the 19% or 7% VAT when making qualifying purchases through a U.S. Forces VAT Office.

So, if these stores have primarily eligible customers, it stands to reason that the labeling would reflect that. (Rather than having the sticker price reduced, the sticker would reflect the reality of what you're going to pay.)

I am not sure about that though, this whole section says something different, and it's couched in various warnings and restrictions:

> Note: there exists NO direct entitlement to VAT relief of the individual member of the U.S. Forces! VAT relief only applies to procurements by a procurements agency of the U.S. Forces, here the VAT office. A contract shall not be concluded between the individual and the vendor as in such case VAT relief is not available.


The military has a special deal with the German government that sets out exactly how everything works. It is called a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).


As a general matter of policy, I believe US embassies and military bases are considered US soil.


Embassies perhaps but the bases are slightly different: https://www.stuttgartcitizen.com/news/military-civilians-fam...


This is the reason why China finds it acceptable to act as they do in quite a few things, such as attempts to enlarge their EEZ. In their mind, they are just doing what USA did too, so it's a fair game.

But they do not understand, refuse to understand, or simply hold irrelevant the narrative manipulation that is necessary to pull it off, and this is something US excels at. The 'spreading freedom' meme is just one example; another example is 'we do it, and after that we declare it illegal for others to do it' - US committed significant war crimes, such as fire bombing of Dresden and Kyoto, and was never held accountable for it.


Please attend to your facts:

-The fire bombing of Dresden was executed jointly by the United States and United Kingdom, with the UK flying more sorties. This occurred during a war when Germany was executing strategic bombing campaigns against the UK.

-The United States of America did not fire bomb Kyoto. Nobody did.


> This occurred during a war when Germany was executing strategic bombing campaigns against the UK.

The wider point is interesting though. We started the war with the attitude that killing civilians would be a war crime, and then as the war went on that principle was eroded more and more until fire-bombing several civilian populations across Germany was allowed.

There's a reason "Bombber Harris" was also known as Butcher Harris. Even Churchill disliked the area bombing tactics.


Indeed. Attitudes toward civilian casualties in warfare, at least in the West, are less tolerant today--- but the West hasn't been in an existentially-challenging shooting war since 1945.


Aren’t there great number of civilian deaths in the Middle East like Iraq, Yemen? I wouldn’t be surprised that my ignorance is leaving out some wars in Africa this century that the west has some complicity to as well.


100K+ civillians were killed in Iraq2 and the press stayed mostly silent about it while the government tried to fudge the numbers and avoid accounting them altogether. Nobody cares if it's not the anointed ones dying.


It's probable that Harris would not have been given as much rope had the Luftwaffe not changed tactic. Switching away from mainly strategic and airfield targets to the blitz, and attacks such as Coventry. Had they kept plugging away at airfields, they even might have won the Battle of Britain.


US did not firebomb Kyoto specifically but they did firebomb many of Japan's wood and paper urban areas including Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka.

Here is the video of McNamara, the man who helped plan the attacks, reflecting on it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RceLAhPOS9Q


Well the US collapsed our own narrative with Iraq and subsequent regime change attempts, which is why Russia and China don’t bother to try now.

In the aftermath of the first Gulf War, George H. W. Bush originally attempted to create an international precedent where sovereign nations don’t invade each other, by refusing to push into Iraq and depose Saddam after expelling him from Kuwait. That was an important aspect of his “New World Order” and quite forward looking. Clinton mostly upheld it, but subsequently Bush Jr and the neocons tossed that out the window with their invasion of Iraq.

That the Iraq invasion was both poorly justified and poorly executed (the occupation at least) hastened the destruction of H. W.’s precedent. America’s additional regime change attempts since of varying results have further undermined it. At this point the precedent and SOP for the great powers is barely concealed will to power.

The 21st century is going to be ugly as Russia, China and others follow America’s ill-conceived lead in this regard. But make no mistake, it was the US itself that made this dangerous state of affairs more likely.


Oof. As a German I cringe when I hear people cite the firebombing of Dresden.

Yes, it was one of the worst bombing raids and yes, we would consider it a war crime (or at least extremely unethical) nowadays (much like many things both sides had done throughout either World War) but it's usually invoked to play down nazi crimes and it's usually misrepresented because of very successful propaganda.

The estimated death toll was around 25-30 thousand. During and after the war various revisionists and propagandists have blown up that figure to over 100 thousand. Additionally German nazis have built an entire tradition around it, "mourning the fallen" to exploit the incident as a display of nationalism and nazi sympathies.

There's no legal basis to single out the bombing of Dresden as a war crime within the context of the Second World War. I would say that it can be argued that some of the crimes nazis were charged with after WW2 also lacked a pre-existing legal basis but there was no expectation that the winning side would apply punishments consistently, sufficiently or even fairly.

So even if there were good reasons to categorise the Dresden bombings as a war crime in the context of WW2, it'd just be one of many alleged and proven war crimes that went unchallenged -- including other crimes (and "crimes") committed by the US, the Allies in general or any other involved military.


Hi, I created an account to say this: my grandfather was there after the bombing and said that the numbers where heavily downplayed. They were saying 30k, when in fact, it was at least 75k, probably way more. It hurts me personally to have my grandpa indirectly accused as a revisionist, when he was personally there, thus this reply. I don't like it when numbers like these get changed because of politics.


This is the internet, just posting that something is true because your grandfather said it is does not make it true, literally anyone could use that as 'proof' for anything. You and OP are both going to need to produce more data/sources to support your differing claims.


this seems like a valuable point: the collective misremembering of WW2 as some sort of "noble war", at least by the Allies, should probably be completely reassessed. but it is tied in very closely to the non-empire myth, and so it isn't.


The most recent Hardcore History episodes are about WWII from the perspective of Japan, and they’ve really opened my eyes a bit to just how much of their side of the story was left out of my education.


What really was different was conquering territory and then giving it back to the governments in exile.

Contrast this with the other players in the war who kept territory they acquired. Even the soviets who were on our side.


land was given back to other imperialist states but not in actuality to territories under US control. the pattern has been establishment of neocolonial, subordinate client states since WW2, continuing to today in Venezuela. it’s true that we pretend not to have an empire formally but our winning WW2 in large part was about establishing the dominance of American empire.


> fire bombing of [...] Kyoto

I'd love to hear what you're referring to since common knowledge is that Kyoto was notoriously the only part of Japan spared from major bomb raids (originally due to no military significance, then because they wanted to A-bomb it and didn't want earlier strikes to mess up the damage data, but later it was spared from the A-bomb as well)


This comment is whataboutism. The topic is very clearly about American activity. I wish I had an account long enough to flag this.


Killing Hope (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killing_Hope) is a write up of all major US efforts at controlling other countries. I don't know what Americans think of it, but it's fascinating as an outsider.


I haven't read that book, but on the topic of US foreign policy in general, most people I know here in America realize it's a lose-lose effort that we must continue to lose. When it comes to helping other countries, we go from "not enough" to "too much" seemingly overnight, but there never seems to be a "just right".


So fundamental to American propaganda is the notion that imperialism is born of a desire to "help" other countries. It is true that it is often packaged and sold this way, and in some cases it may even be a contributing factor, but our adventurism is largely driven by the military industrial complex and capital looking for "new markets" or "cheap labor" or even just a desire to strangle competing ideologies in their infancy.


That may sound like a good fit for a common narrative, but it's certainly not rooted in fact. Being a superpower, America is often asked to help, and other times forced to help. There's no desire to do any of that stuff you mentioned, for the reasons you seem to think. Unfortunately, it's impossible to please everybody all the time, which creates the propaganda that leads you to think the way you do, so I certainly don't fault you for being wrong.


Indeed, it's really easy to criticize when you're not the one making the decisions. I think a comparison to most other global powers makes the U.S. look relatively benign.


The US also had a practical reason for disliking traditional imperialism.

By the time the US became substantial enough for real international trade, vast swathes of the planet were under other nation's empires leaving fewer trading partners than could be desired. Commodore Perry's somewhat invasive trip to Japan was to try and add a few trading partners from unclaimed nations.

So I suppose it's not too surprising that the colonies gained in the pointless glory seeking of the Spanish American war led to a bit of schizophrenia.


The historiography [1] of this article is interesting. The author talks about how the drafts of FDR's speech changed throughout the day after the bombings. Presumably this means that the author had access to the various drafts of the speech. Pretty clever way to try to glimpse into what he was thinking.

[1] The study of the methods used when writing history.


Not just the author has access; the drafts of the Infamy speech are public: https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2001/winter/c...

You can view the handwritten edits by Roosevelt in the archival drafts.


Kind of curious that the author didn’t mention a primary motive of Roosevelt’s: making the case for entering the war. FDR had been trying to (rightly) sell it to a reluctant, isolationist public as a necessary evil. Thus emphasizing the loss of “American” life was critical, despite the fact that it may have been subject to a less inclusive view that the author would have preferred.


I’ve lived in Hong Kong for some time and even though I’ve been to Guam a few times, in my mind the US is a country that is a 12 to 16 hour flight away when in fact its really only a 4 hour flight away.


The problem with big hairy political words like "empire" is that meaningless semantics take over.

From our perspective, in the post-colonial era, the term "empire" and "colonisation" are just inherently negative terms. The defining qualities (this article explicitly makes this argument) of empire are considered to be slavery, reservation systems and such. In some sense, empire can just mean "bad" and bad can be proof or empire.

The postcolonial age is also the natiolist age, where nation states are the basis of the political system. That makes imperialism's defining quality "the subjegation of nations" because it denies nations ultimate authority.

Marx associated empire with capitalism (surprise surprise), using the term "international capitalism" interchangeably with empire. Considering history, this has some logic to it. For example, the Royal Britsh East India Trading Company colonized India. The crown later confiscated it. 18th and 19th century empires were about controling trade, whether by a king, legal monopoly or otherwise.

The article plays with a mundane territorial definition. Ff you control "overseas" land...

All interesting discussion topics, but also a problem.

"Is X an Empire" just depends on the definition. It's not a meaningful question in itself. Just because you conclude that "yes, it is" doesn't mean anything.


>"Is X an Empire" just depends on the definition.

If X controls my local politics to its benefit, overthrows legitimate governments, and establishes dictatorships whenever it likes, and does that in tons of countries around the world, I'd call it an empire...


Case in point.


US citizenship and American Samoa will become an interesting topic if Tulsi Gabbard becomes a frontrunner as a presidential candidate. To become POTUS you need to be "native born" US Citizen which is a very nebulous idea.


It won't be an issue. Her mother was born in Indiana so Tulsi is a natural born US citizen. Just like Ted Cruz who was born in Canada.


I am sure this will be an issue with a lot of super partisans. My neighbor still believes that Obama was not eligible for being president. I have no idea what evidence could convince these people otherwise.


Let's hope the opinion of your neighbor doesn't cause a constitutional crisis.


I think the people who are spreading these rumors are playing a very dangerous game. There seems to be a trend to spread doubts about elections, FBI investigations, CIA findings and others without providing real evidence. This is a short term benefit for the people spreading the rumors but I wonder if they are starting something that may spin out of control at some point.


We're a bit past that right now.


What makes you think that?


You talk like you have been living under a rock for the past three years. Trump got politically famous through the birther movement. Most of the people who support Trump believe in a lot of these rumors, as you call them, or fake news, as the rest of the world now call them.

Fake news has been a big problem around the world for the past few years and the media has acknowledged and widely publicised it as a problem since 2016. Since a lot of people get their news from Facebook now, and Facebook has been algorithmically recommending fake news articles to people, Facebook has gotten a lot of flak for it, including the CEO being called to testify about it in Congress. A lot of people are now trying to figure out how to combat fake news and this has been on the news and this website for the last few years.


"A lot of people are now trying to figure out how to combat fake news and this has been on the news and this website for the last few years."

You are pretty naive if you think this nonsense will be fixed in a substantial way. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter are dependent on outrage and will not do much to stop it. Yes, there are some people here and in the news discussing these issues but at the same time there are are many more people making a good living off perpetuating propaganda. The most that will happen to Facebook will be a lot of hot air and maybe a slap on the wrist.


Yes, it's been 2 years since the problem has been publicised and discussed but fake news is still widespread. So clearly it is a difficult problem that is hard to fix. But stop talking about it like you just discovered that fake news exists. I'm not sure what kind of discussion you were trying to start by doing that.


What makes you think that I just discovered fake news? Are you always that aggressive?


It would likely be an issue for our president, who had the same issue with his predecessor.


Apparently people born in Samoa are "nationals" but not "citizens" of the US. I had no idea there was a difference between the two.


I guess the interesting thing to note now is that Puerto Rico is likely going to become a state in 2021.


Why 2021? Did something happen?


Wildly guessing: the federal government's response to Hurricane Maria hitting Puerto Rico was wildly insufficient, so if the opposition party takes control (which seems more likely than not), especially given that the opposition party prefers to err on the side of too much government aid/intervention than too little, statehood for Puerto Rico is a reasonably obvious priority. (And a goos strategy for shifting the balance of power in the Electoral College and the Senate, incidentally.)


Except Puerto Rico has to advance a state constitution that Congress has to accept, so the Puerto Rico government itself needs to accept statehood. Except there's not a clear majority in favor of statehood in Puerto Rico; the last two referendums were effectively sabotaged.


If the Democrats win the presidency and both houses of Congress that year.

D.C. will be first in line, then Puerto Rico.


Is there any basis for DC gaining statehood? Where is it coming from besides random grumbling.


Was that article written in close proximity to the 'City of London'? Now that is titular irony.


It's "hidden" to us by our propagandists. Our empire is visible and obvious to everyone else.

Our news, history books, movies, etc all hide it by simply not labeling the US as an empire. It's just as easy as that. We use terms like "superpower" or "leader of the western" or "leader of democracies" or other euphemisms to hide and forgive conquests, brutality, genocide and empire.

Empire is evil and it's something our enemies do, not what we do. It's the british, germans, japanese and most recently the evil soviets who create empires. We are not evil, we don't create empires.


> On this to-scale map, Alaska isn’t shrunken down to fit into a small inset, as it is on most maps.

I'm pretty sure it's usually "scaled down" because that's how map projection works. Does this writer also think that Greenland and Africa are of comparable size?


One example map, and to me a pretty typical example of the genre, shows Alaska on a about half the scale of the contiguous states. Compare the by the scale markings:

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/92/Map_of_U...

This is not simply projection effects, this is explicit downscaling.

Another comparison, Wikipedia lists the area of Alaska as 1,717,856 km^2 and that of the contiguous United States 8,080,400 km^2, so on a map with only projection correction Alaska should be around 1/4 of the size of the lower 48, this is clearly not true on the wikipedia example shown above, and for any other map in the same style.

So no, Alaska is not scaled down for the sake of accurately depicting its size.


Great response. I was going to take a different tack because the Alaska issue seems so obvious, but then I remembered that some people out there don't have maps [1], at least not state maps of the United States.

[1] Including many U.S. Americans


Wouldn't Alaska be scaled up on maps being far to the north?

Have only really seen maps using Mercator myself though.


If it's a shape preserving projection, the usual ones, the opposite happens.

The closer to the focus of the map, the better it's area representation.


Wait - so the special relationship with the Philippines then ... which was in mostly fairly autonomous?

... that's the big ole' 'Empire'?

... and a few mostly unpopulated dots in the Ocean?

Oh, so scary! The power!

And to consider that Filipinos, who are culturally distinct from Americans in every way, and who have almost nothing in common with Americans but a temporary geopolitical alignment should be considered 'Americans' in the same way as those from New Orleans and NYC?

So that's 2018 intersectionalist history?

Rubbish.

America is quite fundamentally distinct from the Philippines and always has been, there's no fundamental reason that most Americans on the street should care enough to 'go to war' over foreign interdiction.

Going to war for those with whom the US has a special arrangement, and going to war for the 'homeland' are indeed quite different questions.

There's no 'hiding' here.

Thanks for the history tidbits Graun, but as usually the headline is ridiculous.


1941 Philippines was as American as 1941 Hawaii which were both about as American as or 1848-1859 Oregon Territory was or 1941-present Puerto Rico is. So, American, if you consider territory where Americans live on American soil to be American.

Where they fork off is the Philippines are now an independent nation, Hawaii is now a US State, Oregon Territory was eventually split into 3 entire US States and part of a couple of others, and Puerto Rico still has more or less the same status as it did in 1941, but a few more rights and privileges afforded to them along with present day Guam, present day Northern Marianas Islands, and present day US Virgin Islands. American Samoa is US Territory, but a Navy playground so while the people are American Nationals living under the US Constituton, they’re not American Citizens and their territory is considered to be on par with all those unpopulated guano Islands we once claimed. That’s the law, 2019.

The Filipinos are culturally distinct but we still count large numbers of them as American Citizens, both as immigrants and as a people that have lived in the mainland since before the Philippines were granted independence. The Native Hawaiians were and still are considered culturally distinct but they are still American Citizens by birthright.

Put another way, your defensive posture is simply out of place here. On December 7th 1941, the Japanese attacked the United States. That shouldn’t need qualification. If they had only attacked Manila but didn’t make it to Oahu, they still would have been attacking the United States and that was certainly the intent of their attack.


> 2018 intersectionalist history

No version of the word "intersectional" appears in the article, nor (so far as I can tell) in anything else by its author.

I agree that the word "empire" here seems overblown, but it seems like perhaps you're bringing your own pet hates into this for some reason?

Also: The article, and the book it's based on, are from 2019 (though I'm sure much of the work was done in 2018 and indeed earlier). Not sure what the point of specifying "2018" is meant to be.


I don't think this article characterizes the relationship with the Philippines accurately at all. No mention of Japan's horrific occupation that the Americans fought with the Filipinos to expel. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philippines_Campaign_(1944%E2%...


What does this have to do with intersectionalism?


"Contrary to popular memory, the event familiarly known as “Pearl Harbor” was in fact an all-out lightning strike on US and British holdings throughout the Pacific. On a single day, the Japanese attacked the US territories of Hawaii, the Philippines, Guam, Midway Island and Wake Island."

This is horrendously sloppy journalism.

The first attack on Wake was three days later and was repelled. The successful attack was another 12 days after that.

And the Midway attack was six months after Pearl.


Perhaps you’re thinking of the Battle of Midway where the US defeated Japan, and which was indeed six months after Pearl Harbour. However Midway was attacked just two hours after Pearl Harbour.


My understanding of the initial attacks (which largely comes from what I was taught in school) lines up with the timeline presented in the article, and every source I've been able to find in the last few minutes after reading your comment supports that. Can you point to any additional material we might have missed?


Wikipedia disagrees with you, and confirms that both Midway and Wake were attacked on the day of Pearl.

In the case of Wake, 8 of the 12 Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters were destroyed. In the case of Midway, the attack that day was repulsed.


Popular memory strikes again!

It's interesting though that in this case both Wikipedia and "Joe H. N. Internet" could be called popular memory. :P


Let's not forget Malaya (as it was then known) and Hong Kong, too.


True, I mentioned it in my follow up. Wasn't HK a month or two after, rather than same day?


It was attacked on December 8th, according to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Hong_Kong.


I'd argue that the Pearl Harbor attack specifically was the primary attack (at least on that front, i.e. excluding the Philippines), and that the Wake and Midway attacks that happened were incidental (or at most in support of) that attack. While I hate the idea of quantity of lives lost being any sort of metric for the "importance" of an attack (every American life lost matters), Pearl Harbor took the brunt of it.

If anything, Pearl Harbor (and other surrounding targets) was the target specifically to tie up American efforts in the Northeast Pacific and keep them out of the way of the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. That much the article seems to get correctly, and is arguably the article's main point.


It was definitely the primary attack. That's where First Air Fleet was going and they only had so many carriers. Spread them around and they might have all failed. Midway and Wake were much smaller attacks, but I'm not sure they were quite incidental, weren't they both significant oiling bases? They were certainly both part of Yamamoto's first phase strategy. So were the Philippines, Malaya, and Borneo. Malaya and Philippines were attacked and invaded the same day. Phase 2 would have turned south across territories toward Australia.

His strategy was not too dissimilar to China's today. Loosely to create a huge space of Japanese air space by taking those far flung outposts to ensure any enemy was stretched across thousands of miles of hostile Pacific.

The Battle of Midway, six months later, was one of the most famous and strategically important naval battles of the entire war. As they lost that naval battle it is never really called an attack on the islands, least not in what I've read. They didn't make it that far.


"Midway and Wake were much smaller attacks, but I'm not sure they were quite incidental, weren't they both significant oiling bases?"

They were more significant as refueling stops for transpacific flights, and as projection points for America's air and naval power. Japan wanted to use them for the same purpose, but was unable to; even with the "successful" invasion of Wake Island, the American submarine blockade kept it from being strategically useful to Japan.

Ultimately, the US was able to build up its carrier force enough to offset the need for these force projection points (or at least the need for Wake, given that they didn't retake it until after Japan had already surrendered).


> (every American life lost matters)

Are non-American lives somehow worth less? (Or just worthless?)

That's the kind of ethno-centric mindset that doesn't even bother to count the civilian "collateral damage" as long as our guys are safe in their body armor or -- better -- thousands of miles away directing drones from behind a desk.

It doesn't help much with building intercultural trust and understanding, though, or "winning hearts and minds".


By "American lives", I meant "lives lost as a result of an attack on American soil". That includes civilian lives, including civilians in American territories (i.e. the Philippines, which was part of America at the time, and Hawaii/Wake/Guam/Midway, which still are).

While I understand that this can be an emotional topic, I would appreciate it if you refrained from putting words in my mouth.


The point isn't the exact semantics of "American lives", it's that you chose to identify a particular kind of lives that "matter". Whether or not you meant it that way, it's easy for a reader to see this as implying that other lives matter less, especially as this kind of attitude (and phrasing) is pretty widespread.

A more inclusive "every life lost matters" would have served equally well in the context, wouldn't it?


The context was an attack on American soil and ascertaining the primary target of that attack. Casualties on the American side are definitely the more relevant metric than, say, casualties on the Japanese side.

Besides, the non-American lives lost - that is, the Japanese lives lost - were lost specifically because they were attacking American soil unprovoked and by surprise. While their lives certainly did matter, and I do sympathize with the soldiers and their families who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, it should be entirely unsurprising that, you know, maybe I'll have a little more sympathy for the defenders. This is not a US-centric mindset, by the way (despite me happening to be American), unless you think extending the same difference in sympathy to Chinese defenders v. Japanese aggressors in the same exact war is somehow "US-centric", or similarly extending the same difference in sympathy to Middle Eastern defenders v. American aggressors.


OP could have just been saying American lives talking about attacks on American military areas. In which case you assume it is American lives. There’s no way to tell if they were caring more about American or western lives like is an unfortunate case a lot of the time.




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