NEWPORT, R.I. -- Three U.S. Naval War College (NWC) professors spoke to students in a Dec. 6 panel about the infamous surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 that catapulted the United States into World War II.
Strategy and Policy Professor Sally Paine spoke on Japanese motives for the attack, National Security Affairs Professor Steven Knott explored its impact on national security, and Joint Military Operations Professor Donald Chisholm spoke about the execution of War Plan Orange, a preconceived campaign against Japan.
Paine said the Japanese had a concurrent campaign in China that consumed 65 percent of the Japanese army in 1941. Paine admitted the Japanese were building natural resource stocks, but mainly were claiming a lien on China’s future which was uncertain because of civil war.
“What the Japanese were doing was not fundamentally about oil,” she said.
Additionally, the U.S. was providing aid to Chinese rebels. Japan was unhappy with the intervention and began drawing plans for military deterrence. Japanese authorities incorrectly thought the U.S. would not retaliate.
“It was a tragedy and a miscalculation for everyone involved,” Paine said.
Knott said the war had implications for women and African Americans.
Women comprised a greater proportion of the labor force during the war and their role in society permanently changed. Additionally, President Franklin Roosevelt appointed Ms. Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor, as the first female member of a presidential cabinet in U.S. history.
African Americans also saw substantial elevation, and Knott said African American combatant units paved the road for the civil rights movement, as blacks sought legitimacy in society because they had fought for America’s freedom.
During the war, blacks made up 16 percent of the fighting force but only 10 percent of the U.S. population. President Harry Truman’s1948 order to desegregate the military was a pioneering step towards equality, Knott said.
Following Pearl Harbor, Knott said the predecessor to the CIA had little authority and the National Security Council similarly had few resources at its disposal. Truman was apparently suspicious of having Gestapo-like secret police, Knott said. It took years to get the White House’s attention.
“The kind of icing on the cake was the North Korean invasion of South Korea,” Knott said.
Chisholm spoke about War Plan Orange, a campaign against Japan conceptualized by Teddy Roosevelt while he was president. Military leaders, many affiliated with NWC, formed assumptions about the Pacific and planned accordingly.
The plan recognized that the U.S. would lose posts in the Pacific, but regain them through a fierce naval campaign which included the possibility of amphibious assault. Forces would slowly advance towards Japan from the south, concluding with the empire’s unconditional surrender.
The plan was implemented with remarkable success after Pearl Harbor, and the actual campaign in fact progressed quicker than the forecasted timeline. Chisholm attributed some of that to solid logistics planning on behalf of Americans, and misconception on behalf of the Japanese who thought the chance of war with the U.S. was remote.
Indeed, during the battle for Okinawa, the U.S. Navy lost 34 ships and 368 others were damaged.
“The Japanese made a serious blunder…we were willing to pay a much higher price than the Japanese had suspected,” Chisholm said.