Blogs > Cliopatria > Columnist John Leo Gets Pearl Harbor Wrong

Sep 24, 2004 7:34 pm

Columnist John Leo Gets Pearl Harbor Wrong

Blogger Chris Bray (Sept. 21, 2004):

John Leo can't have the vaguest knowledge of history if he believes that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor destroyed"most of the U.S. fleet," leaving the Pacific Ocean"a Japanese pond."

The Navy offers this information on the attack. Visit that page, and you learn that there were more than 90 ships anchored at Pearl Harbor, and 21 were damaged or destroyed."American technological skill," the Navy site explains,"raised and repaired all but three of the ships sunk or damaged at Pearl Harbor." Among the three ships not recovered were the USS Oklahoma,"raised and considered too old to be worth repairing," and the"obsolete" USS Utah," considered not worth the effort." One hundred and eighty-eight aircraft were destroyed -- a serious loss, but nowhere near crippling to a nation with the industrial capacity of the United States.

Most significantly, the Navy reports, the"Japanese success was overwhelming, but it was not complete. They failed to damage any American aircraft carriers, which by a stroke of luck, had been absent from the harbor. They neglected to damage the shoreside facilities at the Pearl Harbor Naval Base, which played an important role in the Allied victory in World War II."

After the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, an Army report explains, the Imperial Japanese Navy then"dispatched large forces to seize the Philippines, Malaya, and the Netherlands East Indies and prepar[ed] plans for new bases from which to strike Australia and India." And the U.S. military knew exactly what the Japanese Navy was doing, since the U.S. had broken Japan's codes. The only attack of any significance on the western United States was an attack on the Aleutian Islands, which was met -- to go back to the Navy report -- with task force of"5 cruisers, 14 destroyers, and 6 submarines." This was, you'll note on the Navy website, the task force assembled for one of the Pacific Fleet's second-priority missions.

Compare the description offered by the Navy and the Army to the picture painted by John Leo: the Pacific Fleet destroyed, the west coast undefended, and the Japanese Navy bent on attacking the west coast.

Pure, ahistorical, unsupported fantasy. Like everything else in Mr. Leo's column. A correction, and an apology, are warranted.

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More Comments:

Charles Tobin Walter - 3/4/2005

Nice job of debunking Leo. I'm afraid that an aircraft carrier full of bloggers would be required to keep up with and correct Leo's misrepresentations, but I appreciate your specific effort.

Michael Harrington Weems - 10/17/2004

You are correct, of course, about the fleet not being totally destroyed. However, I have seen this error before, and it derives from the perception of the attack in America at that time. Carrier warfare was far from the norm in 1941, in fact, Pearl Harbor was the real impetus of its evolution, as we had no other real options. A person learned in military history (MH) knows that the biggest blow struck at Pearl Harbor was to the American psyche, those only casually into MH might still cling to the early view of the attack.

With respect.

MHWeems, Maj(R), USAF