Tuesday, April 15, 2008

In the Depths of Utah

[Pearl Harbor - December 7, 1941]

Here in dull, dull, dull Delta, Utah is a museum devoted to a poignant memory. A few miles outside town, at Topaz, there was a relocation center, some would say a concentration camp. 8,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans were imprisoned there during the Second World War. It has become an accepted fact that they were harmless and their imprisonment a product of wartime hysteria.

I am not so sure. It is easy and convenient in hindsight to say so. It is the nobler and kinder sentiment. But it was wartime. The mea culpa claim of wartime hysteria ignores the fact that Japan was at war too. The Japanese were far more committed to the war than we were, and suffered far more war hysteria than the Americans did. Is it an absolute certainty that everyone who left Japan also abjured it, that no one among the Japanese immigrants had any love or loyalty for Japan? Had that been true, they would be almost alone among immigrant groups in retaining no loyalty to The Old Country.

In 1942 when the round ups began, much of the American fleet had been destroyed at Pearl Harbor. The Japanese launched a second great naval offensive toward Hawaii with the apparent intent of destroying the remainder of the fleet. The preparation of troopships in Japanese ports suggested that the occupation of the Hawaiian Islands was intended. The encounter of the Japanese fleet and the remainder of the American fleet is known today as the Battle of Midway. It was the most decisive naval battle of the Pacific War.

Throughout the remainder of the war, the United States enjoyed naval superiority because of the destruction of Japanese carriers at Midway. The advantage grew because after Midway superior American naval forces alway inflicted greater losses on numerically inferior Japanese forces so the advantage gained at Midway continued to grow. Had it been the US carriers that were destroyed at Midway, the reverse would have been the case.

How near a thing was the outcome of the Battle of Midway, fought between roughly equal forces? The history is that its outcome was a matter of luck. Under heavy cloud cover the carrier planes of each fleet searched for the enemy fleet. The first to locate the other would be able to send its planes to bomb and sink the other. Even under attack, the fleet being bombed could not counter-attack because it still did not know where the enemy fleet was. A US patrol plane spotted the Japanese fleet through a break in the clouds and radioed back the location, before any Japanese patrol plane could find the US fleet. So the US won the battle and eventually the war.

Had the first fleet sighting at Midway been by a Japanese patrol plane rather than an American one, the subsequent history of the war would have been quite different. After destroying the remainder of the American fleet and occupying Hawaii, Alaska, and the Pacific end of the Panama Canal, a Japanese invasion of the West Coast would have become a considerable likelihood. Those who argue that the Japanese had no reason to invade ignore the importance of seizing or at least destroying the shipyards around San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and elsewhere where the losses at Pearl Harbor and Midway could have been made good.

The argument that they had no reason to invade the US ignores that they had no reason to invade China, the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies, Indochina, Malaya, Siam, New Guinea, Burma, or any of the Pacific islands. They had no reason to threaten to invade Australia. Yet they did. Preempting American capacity to rebuild the navy would have been more than enough reason.

With overall naval superiority in the Pacific and control of Hawaii, would the Japanese have attempted to invade the United States? Whoever built the now-crumbling fortifications still visible overlooking the Golden Gate thought so.

The argument that the Japanese committed no act of sabotage can be as easily explained as showing that the internment worked as that they were loyal. Similarly the fact of no sabotage can be ascribed to there having been no invasion, behind the lines of which they could have committed it.

Now, a lifetime after the fact, it is inconceivable that there could have been a Japanese invasion of the United States. It is inconceivable that the Japanese Americans could have been Fifth Columnists in the course of such an invasion. It was not inconceivable in 1942.


  1. O, to be in Utah now that spring is here...

  2. Well, at least we'll always have Utah.