Why Did Japan Attack Pearl Harbor?

This is a guest post by Dave HackersonA previous post in this series is can be found here.

The International Dateline is truly a fascinating thing. It’s like a magic wand of time that can both give and take, depending which way you head. Each time my family and I fly back to the Midwest, the space time continuum is seemingly suspended. Leave Tokyo at 4:00 pm, touch down in the Midwest at 2:00 pm, and then reach our final destination by 5:00 pm of the same day. Over 15 hours of travel that appears to have been compressed within the span of one single hour. I still can’t wrap my head around it at times.

This dateline has a way of slightly altering our perspective of historical events. Most Americans are familiar with the following quote from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt: “December 7th, a date that will live in infamy.” The date to which he refers is the day on which the Combined Fleet of the Japanese Imperial Navy under the command of Admiral Isoroku Yamamato attacked the elements of the US Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor. However, this is the narrative from the American side of the International Dateline. The December 24th edition of Shashin Shuhou (Photographic Weekly), a morale boosting propaganda magazine published in Japan from the 1938 until mid-1945, carried the following headline for its graphic two-page artist’s depiction of the attack: “Shattering the dawn: Attack on Pearl Harbor, December 8th”. The Japanese government christened the 8th day of each month as Taisho Hotaibi (literally means “Day to Reverently Accept the Imperial Edict”) to commemorate the great victory over the United States at Pearl Harbor and the Imperial declaration of war on the US and its allies (the day also served to regularly renew nation’s fervor and commitment to the war effort). Was Pearl Harbor a great victory for the Japanese? The answer to this question depends on the context in which the attack is viewed. From a purely military engagement view, it is safe to say that it was a resounding success, but did this single engagement succeed in shaping the course of the upcoming conflict? This is the question that the Mainichi Shinbun explored in the third installment of its series “Numbers tell a tale—Looking at the Pacific War through data” (the original, in Japanese, is here). True to the narrative on this side of the Pacific, this article was released on December 8th last year. Just as with the other installments in the series, it presents a slew of data that helps to put historical events into context.

“Did the attack on Pearl Harbor truly break the US? Japan’s massive gamble with only a quarter of the US’s national strength.” The title of the article does a nice job of setting up the exhaustive economic analysis it conducts in an attempt to answer this question. The very first thing the article does is to compare the respective GDPs of the US and Japan in 1939. At this time, Japan’s GDP stood at 201.766 billion dollars. However, this amounted to less than a fourth of the US’s GDP of 930.828 billion dollars (note that figures are not adjusted for inflation). Even the UK had a larger GDP than Japan at 315.691 billion dollars. When you combine the GDPs of the US and UK, Japan already suffered a disadvantage of greater than 6 to 1.

The next set of figures the article introduces is related to industrial capacity. The first thing it examines is iron production, and here the article makes reference to the quote by Prussian leader Otto Van Bismarck, who claimed that it was iron which made a nation. Taking Bismarck at his word, Japan’s iron production did not bode well for its position as a nation. In 1940, Japan’s national production of crude steel was 6,856,000 tons per year. In contrast, the US was producing nearly nine times that amount at 60,766,000 tons per year. Likewise, Japan lagged far behind the US in terms of electric power output and automobile ownership. Japan’s electric power output in 1940 stood at 3.47 billion kWh, but this figured was dwarfed by the US’s output of 17.99 billion kWh. The gap in automobile ownership is also especially telling. The 1920s are often considered to be the decade in which America “hit the roads” and became enamored with the automobile, and this fact is backed up the figures for automobiles owned by Americans in 1940. By that year, there were already 32,453,000 automobiles on roads in the US. Japan didn’t even come close, with only 152,000 automobiles scattered across the country.

In addition to lacking the physical resources and infrastructure to sustain a prolonged war of attrition, the makeup of Japan’s economy also posed a number of difficulties. Here the article emphasizes a major difference between Japan and other first world nations at that time: Japan was not a “heavily industrialized nation”. This fact was clearly reflected in the country’s exports. In 1940 finished metal products accounted for only 2.8% of the nation’s exports, while raw silk, textiles, and clothing products made up for more than a quarter. Likewise, only 30% of the nation’s income was generated by industry, which was less than the combined income of agriculture, retail, and transport sectors. In the 1930s, Japan made every effort to expand its heavy industries. The Truman administration dispatched an investigative committee to Japan after the war to study the effects of America’s strategic bombing on Japan and its economy. The study found that in 1930 the industrial makeup of Japan was 38.2% heavy industry and 61.8% light industry. By 1937 Japan had succeeded in reversing these percentages to 57.8% and 42.2%, but the difficulty the nation had in securing the resources it needed for industry restricted its industrial capacity. The study did not mince words in its assessment of the Japanese economy. “The nation of Japan is truly a small country in every manner of speaking, and ultimately a weak nation with an industrial infrastructure dependent on imported materials and resources, utterly defenseless against every type of modern-day attack. The nation’s economy at its core was rooted in a cycle of daily subsistence, in which people only produced what they needed for that day. This left it with no extra capacity whatsoever, leaving it incapable of dealing with potential emergencies that may arise.”

To compensate for its lack of resources, Japan cast its gaze across the waters to Manchuria. Japan had steadily expanded its interests in Manchuria since its victory in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, and placed the South Manchuria Railway Company as the primary driver of this massive undertaking. This company was founded in 1906 upon the railway Japan received from Russia after the war, and was a national policy concern that was half-owned by the state. Japan aimed to make Manchuria the focal point of an own economic bloc that also included Korea, Taiwan, and China. While Manchuria was rich in natural resources, it was highly underdeveloped, and Japan ultimately exported far more machinery and infrastructure building equipment than the resources it imported. While Japan was able to construct some of this machinery and equipment on its own, it was dependent on material and machine-related imports from the US, UK, the Netherlands, and Australia, the very nations against which it would ultimately go to war. In 1930, Japan exported nearly 96% of its raw silk thread to the US, which would send raw cotton back the other way. Japan would then process this cotton into finished cotton products for export to British India and the UK. Using the profits from these exports, Japan would then import strategic resources from the US, UK, and the Netherlands, such as oil, bauxite to create the aluminum used in air craft, and the bronze needed for the metal casings of bullets. The problematic nature of these trade relationships was pointed out by the Japanese economist Toichi Nawa of Osaka University of Commerce (present-day Osaka City University). In his book Research on the Japanese Spinning Industry and Raw Cotton Problem, Nawa stated that “any confrontation with the UK and US would be tragic, and must be avoided.” He further elaborated on Japan’s trade issues, saying that “the more Japan rushes along its efforts to expand heavy industry and its military industrial manufacturing capacity so it can bolster its policies on the continent (Manchuria and China), the more dependent it becomes on the international market, creating cycle that leads to increased imports of raw materials. Herein lies the gravest of concerns for the Japanese economy.”

Nawa’s words proved to be all too prophetic. Japan’s aggressive agenda in China following the Marco Polo Bridge incident in 1937 brought heavy criticism from the global community. As the conflict in China escalated, Western nations retaliated with economic sanctions and restrictions on imports. The most devastating of these was the US’s decision to ban all oil exports to Japan in August of 1941. The US was the world’s largest producer of oil in 1940, accounting for over 60% of the world’s supply. The upper brass of the Imperial Japanese Navy had predicted that they had enough oil stockpiled to wage war for at least 2 and half years, but if the UK and US shut off all oil exports, they would have no other choice but to move into Dutch territory and seize the oil fields of within 4 to 5 months in order to augment their supply. The attack on Pearl Harbor occurred exactly four months later.

Did Japan truly have the capacity as a nation to wage a modern war against a nation such as the United States? As tensions rose in US-Japan relations, Japanese government and military officials took a hard look at the data available in an attempt to answer this question.

A joint military and civilian economic study group organized around army paymaster Lt. Colonel Jiro Akimaru was set up in February 1941 to undertake this task. Known as the “Akimaru Agency”, this group was split into four sections to study the total war capacity of Japan, the UK-US, Germany, and the Soviet Union. The report they compiled by the end of September 1941 made the following conclusions:

1)      The conflicting state between Japan’s military mobilization and its labor force has become fully evident. Japan has also reached its peak production capacity, and is unable to expand it any further.

2)      Germany’s war capacity is now at a critical point.

3)      Not a single flaw exists within the US’s war economy.

Even if Japan sacrificed the living standards of its populace to boost its war capacity, it still would not have the financial resources to compete with the US. Hiromi Arisawa, a member of the UK-US section who was also president of Hosei University during his lifetime, made the following remarks when reflecting back on the report the Akimaru Agency prepared:

“Japan cut national consumption by 50%. In contrast, America only reduced its national consumption by 15 to 20%. Excluding the amount of supplies they shipped to other Allied nations at that time, the savings from this reduced consumption provided them with 35 billion dollars* for real war expenditures. That was 7.5 times greater than what Japan was capable of achieving with its cuts.”

Lt. Colonel Akimaru alluded to this fact when he presented the report at an internal staff conference meeting for the Army. Gen Sugiyama, Chief of Staff of the Supreme Command, acknowledged that the report was “nearly flawless” in its analysis. After praising Akimaru for the quality of the report, he then issued the following order. “The conclusion of your report goes against national policy. I want you to burn every copy of it immediately.”

Lt. Colonel Hideo Iwakuro, founder of the Nakano School and a military intelligence expert, was dispatched to the Japanese embassy in the US and took part in the planning of unofficial negotiations between the two countries. He returned to Japan in August of 1941 and met with influential figures in the political and business world, trying to persuade them of the futility in war with the US. At the Imperial General Headquarters Government Liaison Conference, Iwakuro presented the following data based on his own personal research to demonstrate the gap between the US and Japan in terms of national strength.

Iwakuro’s conclusion was straight and to the point. “The US has a 10-1 advantage in terms of total war capacity. All the Yamato-damashii (Japanese fighting spirit) we throw at them will not change anything. Japan has no prospects of victory.” Incidentally, the next day War Minister Hideki Tojo (who later became Prime Minister) immediately ordered the transfer of Iwakuro to a unit stationed in Cambodia. Iwakuro made the following remarks to the people who came to see him off at Tokyo Station. “If I should survive this ordeal and ever make it back to Tokyo, the Tokyo Station we see here will most assuredly lie in ruins.” Those words came to fruition in the spring of 1945.


Admiral Yamamoto salutes Japanese pilots.
Admiral Yamamoto salutes Japanese pilots.


So did the attack on Pearl Harbor truly break the US? The quote made by Admiral Yamamoto at the end of the movie Tora! Tora! Tora! puts it quite succinctly: “All we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” Though there is debate about whether he actually uttered those words, Yamamoto was no stranger to the US having studied at Harvard and spending time as a naval attache, and he knew full well the awesome industrial might and material resources the nation possessed. Japan played a great hand with its attack on Pearl Harbor, but as Yamamoto knew, the deck was already stacked against it. The only thing that remained to be seen was how long Japan could make its kitty last.

Why am I ignoring Nigeria?

By Seth Studer

I take a little exception to the smarminess of certain media’s response to the Charlie Hebdo murders. Last week, they inform us, we witnessed two horrific massacres: the murder of 12 satirists in Paris and the murder of roughly 2,000 civilians in Baga (that’s in Borno, Nigeria). But, they continue, judging from CNN, Fox, and your Facebook feed, only one of these terrible crimes got any coverage. To ask the question “which one: the 12 Europeans or the 2,000 Africans?” is to answer it. While the loss of 12 innocent lives and an implied assault on Free Speech (which doesn’t really exist per se in France) rallies millions across the Great White West, virtually no one is speaking for what Teju Cole calls “unmournable bodies” (an eloquent phrase, although the critical theorist’s habit of saying body when you mean person upsets his essay’s thesis). Cole’s essay in the New Yorker (linked above) is intelligent and passionately argued, and he handles his argument’s underlying ethos – the aforementioned smarminess – with more grace than others (the latter article incorrectly states that Nigeria is south of the equator, a reminder that the many truths revealed by postcolonial theory – e.g., global North vs. global South – do not always square with geographical reality). But in general, I felt scolded for paying more attention to France than Nigeria.

And I probably deserve a scolding. Did mainstream news outlets focus on France over Nigeria as the consequence of a bias toward white Europeans? Absolutely! Was the attack on Charlie Hebdo more frightening and noteworthy to Western audiences than the massacre in Baga because the former represents an attack on the imagined “center” of Western civilization rather than its “periphery”? You bet!

So should 2,000 murder victims be more “newsworthy” than 12 murder victims? I think it depends on the circumstances. 

Anyone who hasn’t been following Boko Haram over the past many months is an irresponsible consumer of world news. The mass violence last week represents the terrifying apex of an ongoing story. We spent much of 2014 preoccupied with the horrors inflicted upon the Nigerian people by this radical group (even Michelle Obama got involved, which got American conservative media involved, etc., etc.). The Charlie Hedbo massacre, meanwhile, fell out of a clear blue sky. Both discrimination against Muslims and Muslim unrest in France are ongoing, but nothing concrete or obvious precipitated this attack. These murders arrived on our screens demanding a context. Hence, the intense coverage.

And for me, intense coverage of the Charlie Hebdo massacre is essential not merely because it reinforces Western commitments to free speech (commitments that tend to get waylaid when they’re needed most). Coverage is essential because France is an important European nation in the grips of a major rightward political and cultural shift, one that could potentially turn more strident, more xenophobic, and more violent. After a half century on the fringes (and apparent defeat in the face of European unification), Europe’s right-wing parties (as opposed to its right-of-center parties) are, ahem, on the march. In the United States, extreme right-wing rhetoric has benefited from decades in the mainstream: a speaker’s racism or xenophobia can be carefully coded and embedded in speeches about tax policy. In Europe, the far right has been far wilder and wilier. They’ve retained their ugliness and wear it explicitly on the surface. (Whenever one of my liberal friends unfavorably compares America’s conservative politics with Europe’s socialist policies, I remind them, “Yes, you like their left wing, but you don’t want their right wing.”) Meanwhile, since the 2007/08 global banking crisis, nationalism in Europe – both right-wing and left-wing – has resurged to levels not seen in decades. Because of their knotted political and economic ties to Germany (or Russia), the peoples of Europe are seeking social and cultural distinction. Secession movements have gained renewed traction in the geographical and political expanse between Scotland and Crimea. Consequently, Germans and Russians are also asserting their national character in ways that, twenty years ago, would have seemed taboo.

This, for me, is the context of the Charlie Hebdo attack, far removed from the bloodshed in Nigeria (admittedly, all things connect in our post-post-colonial world, as African expats like Cole convincingly demonstrate). Note that the above paragraph doesn’t include the word “Islam.” I don’t think you need to dwell much on radical Islam to understand the socio-cultural dynamic that drives millions of French residents into the streets. From a French perspective, however, immigration from the Muslim world underscores every aspect of the current national identity crisis. Thus, when an event like the attack on Charlie Hebdo occurs, you get 3.7 million people in the streets and attacks on Muslims.

This, to me, is a very big story indeed.

Two thousand people died in Nigeria last week, it’s true, but 3.7 million people marched throughout France yesterday – roughly one million in Paris alone. What do those one million want? What do they represent? Many of them are doubtless sympathetic with France’s Muslim minorities. Few among them are likely to be extreme French nationalists (though more of them are sympathetic with French nationalism than Western liberals would like to imagine). Whatever their motives, this represents a good moment to take France’s cultural temperature. The context demands it. Your first response to Charlie Hebdo should be an unequivocal condemnation of the murders and support for free speech. But your second response, given the atmosphere in Europe, should be concern for liberalism in France. Because, contrary to what the news coverage is telling you, continental Europe is not historically an easy or natural home to liberal values. And because a march can be a mob by another name.

Kamikaze Attacks by the Numbers: A Statistical Analysis of Japan’s Wartime Strategy



Note: This is a guest post by Dave Hackerson.

One of the defining symbols of the vicious struggle between the US and Japan in the Pacific War, this word always conjures up a conflicting mix of emotions inside me. The very word “kamikaze” has become a synonym for “suicide attack” in the English language. The way WW2 was taught in school (in America) pretty much left us with the impression that kamikaze attacks were part of the standard strategy of the Japanese Imperial Army and Navy throughout the entire war. However, it was only recently that I was surprised to learn that the first time the Japanese introduced this strategy was on October 25, 1944 during the second Battle of Leyte Gulf. The Mainichi Shinbun here in Japan put together a wonderful collection to commemorate the 70th anniversary of this strategy. It features data that has not only been debated and analyzed from a number of angles, but it also provides statistical evidence that underscores the utter failure of this strategy. The title of the article is “Did the divine wind really blow? ‘Special strikes’ claim lives of 4000,” and it is the second part of a three part series called “Numbers tell a tale—Looking at the Pacific War through data”. The first part was posted in mid-August, and the third and final part is due to be put online in December. The original Japanese version for this special can be accessed here. The slides I refer to numbers “1” to “5” listed at the very bottom of each page. The current slide is the one highlighted in blue.

In this post, I will provide an overview of the information on this site while occasionally inserting my own analysis and translations of select quotes. I hope it helps to paint a clearer picture of a truly flawed strategy that is still not properly understood by both sides.

Slide 1

True to the series name, this article wastes no time in hitting you with some pure, raw data. The first pie graph (11%, 89%) indicates the actual success rate of kamikaze attacks. As you can see from the graph, only 11% were successful, while the remaining 89% ended in failure. This means that merely 1 in 9 planes actually hit their targets. After introducing these figures, the article focuses on the initial execution of the kamikaze strategy during the Second Battle of Leyte Gulf on October 25, 1944. Five planes hit and sunk the escort carrier USS St. Lo, while other planes succeeded in damaging five other ships. The estimated success rate in this battle was 27%.

The article then puts this percentage into context by comparing it to the success rate of dive bomb attacks (non-kamikaze) in other battles. Here are the figures:

Pearl Harbor (1941): 58.5%

Battle of Ceylon (1942): 89% (percentage of hits on the British carrier HMS Hermes)

Coral Sea (1942): 53% (percentage of hits on the USS Lexington, which was severely damaged)

Looking at these figures, it’s clear that the kamikaze attacks were not that effective. The Japanese navy was overly optimistic and believed they would be fairly successful, but the US quickly adapted, and by the end of the war the success rate fell to 7.9% (Battle of Okinawa). Even the Dai Honei (main headquarters of the Japanese forces) admitted that the attacks had little to no effect.

The next part of the article is titled “War of attrition: ‘Certain death’ strategy that claims both aircraft and pilots”. It discusses the reasons why the hit rate for Japanese air force dropped so dramatically as the war wore on. Here are the three reasons cited.

  • Decline in the flying abilities of the fighter pilots
  • Deteriorating performance of aircraft and materials
  • Improvements in American countermeasures

After introducing these reasons, the article makes a very important statement. “Kamikaze attacks meant that you lost both the aircraft and pilots. This not only wore down Japan’s fighting strength, but essentially destroyed the nation’s capacity to actually wage war in the future.”

The article then turns its attention back to the first kamikaze attack and the pilot chosen to lead it. Lieutenant Yukio Seki was a graduate of the naval academy and proven veteran. He died crashing his plane into the USS St. Lo and was later enshrined as a “軍神 (gun-shin, or military god)” in Yasukuni Shrine. The article seems to imply that this “honor” is actually an injustice to the Seki’s memory in light of what he said before heading into battle. “I’m fully confident that I can drop a bomb on any aircraft during a normal attack. Japan’s screwed if it’s ordering a pilot like me to smash his craft into an enemy vessel.” These words are in stark contrast to the quote and images on the cover photo of Shashin Shuuhou (Photographic Weekly, a morale boosting propaganda magazine published from the mid-1930s until mid-1945) that accompanies this post. The main quote shown to the left of the Lieutenant Seki states: “A single vessel strikes true in defense of the land of gods. Oh, our Kamikaze (Divine Wind) Special Strike Force. Your fidelity will shine radiantly for the next 10,000 generations.” The quote in the bottom right further contradicts the statement Sergeant Seki made before he took off. “Lieutenant Seki, commander of the Shikijima Battalion that served as the First Kamikaze Special Strike Force Battalion to be sent out on an all-out bomb strike. Immediately before heading into battle, Lieutenant Seki is said to have rallied his troops with the following cry: ‘Men, we are not members of a bomber squad. We are the bombs. Now up and away with me!’”

Slide 2

The focus then shifts its attention to the heavy losses among the ranks of Japanese pilots. The Japanese navy started with 7000 well-trained pilots at the beginning of the war. By 1944 over 3900 had died in battle. In the early days of the war the Allies estimated that Japanese pilots had a 6-1 superiority advantage over Allied pilots, but by April of 1943 it was even at 1-1. Japan simply could not replace the pilots it lost at a sufficient pace, so it decided to compensate by “short-tracking” their training. The pie graph here is really telling.

Rank A pilots (over 6 months of flight training): 16.3%

Rank B pilots (4 to 6 months of flight training): 14.4%

Rank C pilots (approx. 3 months of flight training): 25%

Rank D pilots (less than 3 months, or in some cases only flight theory): 44.3%

These figures are breakdown of the pilots sent to fight in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. The article then cites three reasons believed to have initiated a vicious cycle for the Japanese navy:

  1. Compensate loss in air force manpower by short-tracking training and sending raw pilots straight into the fight
  2. Raw pilots have a low chance of returning from battle, and most likely fail to influence the course of battle
  3. Losses only increase, while the ranks of pilots continue to thin.

The authors of the article squarely place the blame on the shoulders of the upper brass in the navy. Personally, I think the Japanese navy would not have sunk to such desperate measures if Admiral Yamamoto hadn’t been shot down and killed in 1943. He would have found a way to prolong the fight and preserve Japan’s precious little resources. One could argue that the U.S.’s decision to shoot down Yamamoto and take him out of the picture eliminated the voice of reason within the Japanese ranks, and actually paved the way for this strategy to be adopted.

The article implies that Japan was insane for throwing away what little resources it had. When the enemy has 10 times the amount of resources, you do everything you can to hold onto what you have. The Japanese brass seemingly defied this logic by not only wasting aircraft, but needlessly wasting human lives. But why would they do that? Japanese writer Kazutoshi Hando, a man who has written extensively about the Showa Period and WW2, provides some valuable insight into how these men thought. “The very concept of logistics was either given little thought or entirely ignored by the Japanese military… After all, in the eyes of the Army’s General Staff Office and the commissioned officers in the navy, troops were ultimately viewed no more as resources that could be gathered for a mere 1 sen 5 ri (price for a postcard at that time). When they formulated a strategy, they flung the troops out to the front with 6 go (about 900 grams) of rice and a 25 kilogram pack. If you ran out of food, you were told to forage for your own supplies wherever you were. Surrender wasn’t option (because it was actually prohibited under the Japanese military code), so if you found yourself in a losing battle, the only option was gyokusai (a figurative term coined by the Japanese military which loosely translates as “beautiful death”). They didn’t give any thought whatsoever to potential survivors.”

Not only were the majority of the pilots deployed in the latter the days of the war vastly inferior, but the aircraft deployed were also no match for the Allied forces. In addition to fighters and bombers, reconnaissance and even practice planes were deployed! As the war wore on, Japan faced these problems:

  • Lack of skilled engineers, resulting in the low performance of new aircraft because of the deterioration in manufacture and production quality.
  • Use of low octane, poor quality fuel.

In spite of all these problems, the Japanese armed forces went ahead with this strategy. The navy asked for the construction of aircraft that would save on materials, be easy to fly in training, and able to conserve fuel. Unfortunately, the end product was of inferior quality compared to the aircraft produced in the early days of the war. Combined with poorly trained pilots, it was simply a disaster waiting to happen.

Slide 3

This slide focuses on the performance capacity of the aircraft. Lots of info on plane specs, but as you can see, by the end of the war Allied aircraft were simply far superior to Japanese planes in every respect. The kanji 零 in the name of the plane 零式艦上戦闘機 21型 indicates “rei” or “zero” (Type Zero Carrier Fighter 21). Click and hold the mouse cursor on the plane to rotate the view. The specs of the Zero changed very little during the war. The first generation of Zero fighters (1939) carried a Sakae 21 Engine, which boasted 950 hp. The type produced after 1943 was fitted with the Sakae 52 Engine that delivered 1100 hp, an improvement of only 150 hp, and a top speed of 624 km/h. A seasoned pilot would have had his hands full going up against the likes of the USAF Hellcats and P51s, but with the green pilots the Japanese forces sent up it was clear they no longer carried about fighting for air superiority.

Slide 4

I won’t get into the details here, but this slide reveals how quickly the US adapted to the kamikaze attacks. Surprising as this may sound, these attacks failed to sink any major ships or carriers. This is because the US used radar effectively to scramble fighters to meet the Japanese attacks. In addition, the US had damage control units on board each ship, so even if a kamikaze pilot broke through, the damage could be contained right away, enabling the craft to stay in the fight. While many ships were damaged, less than 50 were actually sunk. The chart here is quite telling. The red bars indicate ships sunk, and the yellow bars indicate ships damaged, but not sunk.

Slide 5

This slide takes an indirect jab at people who attempt to beautify the sacrifices made by kamikaze pilots. The vast majority did not want to participate in the attacks. Saburo Sakai, one of Japan’s ace pilots, commented on how the strategy lowered morale. “The morale sunk”, he said. “Even if the reasons for fighting mean that you have only a 10 percent chance of coming back, you’ll fight hard for that. The guys upstairs (upper brass) claim morale went up. That’s a flat-out lie.”

There were even instances of NCOs ordering their men not to do kamikaze attacks, and instead instructed them to conduct “normal attacks”. In an interview linked to this article, the non-fiction writer Masayasu Hosaka speaks about reading the memoirs of someone who witnessed the pilots flying off to do their kamikaze attack. This witness states that the radios of all the aircraft were kept on, so they could actually hear everything the pilots said, including the statements they uttered right before they met their end. Here are some of the things kamikaze pilots said: “F*ing navy aholes!” , “Oh Mother!”, or the name of their wives or sweethearts. It seems that very few shouted “Banzai Japanese Empire” (“Banzai” means “10,000 years”).

Returning to the question originally posed in the title of the article, it is almost assuredly clear that the divine wind never blew. There wasn’t even much of a breeze. In adding my own two cents, the kamikaze attacks were a great propaganda tool for the US, for it allowed us to portray the enemy as fanatical and beyond reason. This made it easy for us to justify the atomic bombings, especially after the war, because the kamikaze attacks seemingly “proved” that only excessive measures would bring them to the negotiation table. The propaganda twist on kamikaze tactics was carried over into post-war education in the US, and led many of us (or at least myself when I was a kid) to believe that Japanese soldiers were possessed with an unswerving conviction to fight to the death.

In closing, I once again borrow the words of Kazutoshi Hando. He cuts straight to the chase:

The complete irresponsibility and stupidity of the nation’s military leaders drove the troops to their deaths. The same can be said for the kamikaze special strike force strategy. They took advantage of the unadulterated feelings of the pilots. People claim it’s a form of ‘Japanese aesthetics’, but that’s pure nonsense. The General Staff Office built it up as some grand strategy when in actuality they sat at their desks merely playing with their pencils wondering ‘how many planes can we send out today?’ This lot can never be forgiven.


Remind Me: How is Putin Winning?

By Seth Studer


Last week, the Washington Post ran a headline that captures everything wrong about how Russian president Vladimir Putin’s political and military maneuvers in eastern Europe have been covered in the West: “Ukraine ratifies associations with E.U., grants concessions to rebels.” The newly strengthened relationship between Kiev and the E.U. is rightly emphasized, but the small concessions to Russophone rebels in eastern Ukraine is added as an apparently obligatory counterbalance – common throughout what we in America cloyingly call “the mainstream media” – to reinforce the narrative that Russia is somehow on the move. I say “cloyingly” because the sentiment reflects an American Cold War nostalgia that never quite collapsed under the Berlin Wall or the disintegration of the Soviet Union, a nostalgia for three networks, two newspapers, and one Bad Guy. “See! Concessions! This is why Obama is weak and Putin is strong! The West is in retreat and the rebels are getting concessions! Right?! Right?!”

Mr. President, build up that wall!
Mr. President, build up that wall!

Here’s a different perspective:

At this time last year – September 24, 2013 – Ukraine’s president was little more than Putin’s stooge, Moscow’s man in Kiev, a corrupt thug who lived in a Eurotrash mansion (“Opulence: I has it”) and kept two bells on his nightstand: one for vodka, the other for prostitutes. Viktor Yanukovych had spent his political life advocating and advancing close ties to Russia. He became president after his predecessor, a reformer who was poisoned and disfigured in what amounts to hilarious retro-Cold War shenanigans gone terribly wrong, failed to win reelection. Ukraine was leaning toward Russia, and through Yanukovych, Putin effectively determined Ukrainian foreign policy. You might say that Putin was co-president of Ukraine.

Flash forward one year: Yanukovych is gone, ousted by his own people. Instead of enjoying considerable power over Ukrainian policy, Putin now owns Crimea (which has only been Ukrainian since 1954), exerts direct influence over some parts of eastern Ukraine (instead of the whole thing), and finances (though denies any ties to) a ragtag bunch of crypto-fascist Russophones who can’t distinguish between a Ukrainian fighter jet and a passenger plane full of innocent Europeans (they can’t even control their Twitter accounts; at least ISIS has decent PR guys).

Meanwhile, Kiev has never been closer to Europe, and its fate has never seem more intertwined with the EU’s. As a bonus, the Baltic states just got reassurance that NATO benefits will be honored, and Russia is facing several not-insiginificant economic sanctions from many of its ostensible allies.

Am I the only one who sees Putin as the net-loser here? And Obama? He barely had to do a thing to achieve this outcome.

But...but...Obama has a pink backpack and Putin doesn't wear a shirt!
But…but…Obama has a pink backpack and Putin doesn’t wear a shirt!

Twenty-five years ago, Berlin was the primary political border of Europe, where East and West faced off. Today, the border has shifted eastward…all the way to Kiev. Putin (shirtless) is in a helluva fix, and all Obama (mom jeans) had to do was make a couple phone calls. The West is kind of kicking ass, and we’re not even trying that hard. Because while Russian hardliners project a lot of strength, they tend to exert it by beating dogs, shooting tigers, and undermining themselves.

Strategy and the Israel-Palestine Conflict

By Kindred Winecoff

Tom Pepinsky cites some political science research on this and other conflicts, and concludes:

The most topical recent work on this is Anna Getmansky and Thomas Zeitzof’s forthcoming APSR piece, which finds that exposure to rocket attacks in Israel is associated with greater support for right-wing parties among Israelis. The core feature of the rockets fired from Gaza is that they cannot effectively target people or installations. They fall almost randomly. Looking back in history to an earlier insurgent war, Matthew Kocher, Stathis Kalyvas, and I findthat South Vietnamese villages exposed to aerial bombing from the United States and Republic of Vietnam forces were more likely to shift towards NLF (Viet Cong) control. Our argument also relies on the indiscriminate nature of this violence, which was simply incapable of separating true NLF supporters from neutrals or even RVN partisans within Vietnamese villages. …

If the goal is to compel civilians and non-combatants to change their minds about the conflict, to create a new kind of politics, then it will not. Most worryingly, if our findings are true, then this dynamic creates incentives for each side to make it harder for its opponent to discriminate between its own combatants and non-combatants. This is sad, and frightening.

We can actually say more about this. In a significant article in International Organization from 2002, Andrew Kydd and Barbara Walter (singular) notes that terrorist and insurgent violence is often a tactic used in order to mobilize support for extremist groups. In this case, in light of the quotes Brooks provides that I recount in my previous post, we could perhaps say that Hamas is hoping to provoke Israel into indiscriminate violence so that it will garner sufficient domestic and international support to force Egypt into ending its blockade.

Israel appears more than willing to play its part, and that’s more than a shame. But if this is an accurate assessment then Hamas’ actions are incredibly cynical. It would mean that if Gaza was not under an Israeli assault then Hamas’ international position would be undermined by Egypt’s (effective) economic sanction. Its domestic credibility might be negatively impacted over time as well. In other words, Israel is not the only thing standing in the way of Palestine being truly free.

La Guerre n’est Pas Finie

By Kindred Winecoff

I’ve been thinking about why the most recent flare-up of the Israel-Palestine conflict is happening now. Most off-the-shelf explanations of the relationship — ethno-religious animosities, long-standing rivalry, Western imperialism, etc. — only describe baseline characteristics even if they were fully acceptable as explanations (which they are not). There is a big gap between the long-running fundamentals and what is happening now.

I’ve had a nagging sense that all of this was somehow related to the revolutions, invasions, and civil conflicts that have been occurring in the Middle East for several years* but was having trouble filling in the picture. So I was happy to see David Brooks, who is not one of my favorite people, providing appropriate context:

Look at how the current fighting in Gaza got stoked. Authoritarians and Islamists have been waging a fight for control of Egypt. After the Arab Spring, the Islamists briefly gained the upper hand. But when the Muslim Brotherhood government fell, the military leaders cracked down. They sentenced hundreds of the Brotherhood’s leadership class to death. They also closed roughly 95 percent of the tunnels that connected Egypt to Gaza, where the Brotherhood’s offshoot, Hamas, had gained power.

As intended, the Egyptian move was economically devastating to Hamas. Hamas derived 40 percent of its tax revenue from tariffs on goods that flowed through those tunnels. One economist estimated the economic losses at $460 million a year, nearly a fifth of the Gazan G.D.P.

Hamas needed to end that blockade, but it couldn’t strike Egypt, so it struck Israel. If Hamas could emerge as the heroic fighter in a death match against the Jewish state, if Arab TV screens were filled with dead Palestinian civilians, then public outrage would force Egypt to lift the blockade. Civilian casualties were part of the point. When Mousa Abu Marzook, the deputy chief of the Hamas political bureau, dismissed a plea for a cease-fire, he asked a rhetorical question, “What are 200 martyrs compared with lifting the siege?”

The eminent Israeli journalist Avi Issacharoff summarized the strategy in The Times of Israel, “Make no mistake, Hamas remains committed to the destruction of Israel. But Hamas is firing rockets at Tel Aviv and sending terrorists through tunnels into southern Israel while aiming, in essence, at Cairo.”

Emphases added. This means, among other things, that John Kerry will be completely wasting his time in Cairo unless his trip is an attempt to reconcile the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters with the Egyptian military. (Hamas’ rejection of the ceasefire negotiated by Egypt and Israel makes additional sense in this light.) That is so unlikely as to be hardly worth hoping for, and it isn’t even clear what such hope would mean, but that is the only mission with a chance for success. Of course it’s not even that simple: all of this is occurring within a broader regional conflict environment, as Brooks also notes:

This whole conflict has the feel of a proxy war. Turkey and Qatar are backing Hamas in the hopes of getting the upper hand in their regional rivalry with Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The Egyptians and even the Saudis are surreptitiously backing or rooting for the Israelis, in hopes that the Israeli force will weaken Hamas.

It no longer makes sense to look at the Israeli-Palestinian contest as an independent struggle. It, like every conflict in the region, has to be seen as a piece of the larger 30 Years’ War. It would be nice if Israel could withdraw from Gaza and the West Bank and wall itself off from this war, but that’s not possible. No outsider can run or understand this complex historical process, but Israel, like the U.S., will be called upon to at least weaken some of the more radical players, like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and Hamas.

It should be reiterated at this point that this is fundamentally a conflict over economics, not ideology. It is about control over the region’s resources at a time when those resources are dwindling and demographic pressures are mounting. Which is all to say that it isn’t 1967 anymore. Nor 1979 nor 1987 nor 2000.

None of this means that Israel’s response has not been disproportionate. It has been, and frankly it’s hard for me to believe that anyone could sincerely believe the opposite. Regardless of the tactics of Hamas, the Netanyahu government has shown a characteristic lack of maturity by lashing out with far less discrimination than it is capable of. It is, as the late Tony Judt put it, a sign of Israel’s inability to yet achieve its full height. Israel’s own blockade of Palestine only increased Egypt’s importance, it must be remembered. Still, Israel’s immaturity has a different flavor when half of Israel’s neighbors in the Middle East are supportive or indifferent, while much of the other half are engaged in their own domestic conflicts that are (in some cases) as severe as that in Palestine, or even much worse. It has a different feeling when ISIS is brutalizing Iraq while preparing to materially support Hamas.

The United States used to forestall Egyptian meddling in Palestine through military aid. It had a pacifying effect (pdf). Such aid had been frozen several times since the Arab Spring. Now the taps are open again, but it is much less clear if money will be able to soothe tensions if Egypt’s enemy is Hamas rather than Israel.

I am interested in this question in part because I cannot understand why Palestine remains cause célèbre for the left while support for Israel is de rigueur on the (American) right. This appears as a vestige of a Cold War mentality where imperialism was the primary concern of capitalists and socialists alike. Perhaps I’m thinking too much like a political scientist, but aren’t the stakes much lower today? Other than habit, why is Palestine’s struggle with Israel given so much more concern even than Iraq? Or this (h/t Dan Nexon)?

*On that point, briefly: neoconservative “domino” theories look a lot better today than they did in 2006, don’t they? But it’s more of a “be-careful-what-you-wish-for” situation than neoconservatives would’ve expected, and the much-maligned Cold War policy of maintaining relationships with authoritarians for the sake of stability is more understandable all the time.