80th Anniversary Historical Spotlight from Issues & Controversies in History:
PEARL HARBOR ATTACK: Who Was Responsible for Failing to Anticipate the Attack?
Who was to blame for not seeing the attack on Pearl Harbor coming? Be sure to check out Issues & Controversies in History’s complete and unbiased coverage of this issue. Learn more about the issue and check out a sample of the pro/con arguments on both sides below.
On Sunday, December 7, 1941, Japanese air and naval forces launched an attack on the U.S. military base at Pearl Harbor, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu—one that took everyone, including government and military officials, by surprise. Immediately, the question arose: Who should have seen the attack coming and taken steps to stop it? Should the blame fall solely on the American military commanders who were stationed there? Or should the responsibility also be shared by their superiors in the Army and the Navy, and by the U.S. government as a whole?
Arguments That the Local Commanders Were Responsible for Failing to Anticipate the Attack:
Arguments That Their Superiors and the Government Were Responsible for Failing to Anticipate the Attack:
Japan’s successful attack on Pearl Harbor can be blamed solely on Admiral Husband Kimmel and Lieutenant General Walter Short, who were assigned to defend the base and the ships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet stationed there. They failed to employ even the most basic methods that might have detected the approaching Japanese forces, such as around-the-clock radar sweeps and regular aerial reconnaissance flights. In effect, their slipshod defense measures ensured that the Pacific Fleet was an easy target for the Japanese, and their negligence almost caused the U.S. to lose the Pacific War on the very same day that it began.
The Pearl Harbor disaster is the fault of the entire U.S. military establishment and also of the civilian government. Prior to the attack, most American officials wrongly believed that Pearl Harbor was out of Japan’s reach, so they told Kimmel and Short that the Japanese would likely strike elsewhere in the Pacific; it is therefore unfair to blame the two commanders for failing to predict the attack. Also, the government essentially paved the way for the attack by provoking Japan with aggressive diplomacy while failing to build up the U.S. military and the defenses at Pearl Harbor in preparation for war.
Issues & Controversies in History links this pro/con article to rich related resources that enhance the debate. Students and researchers can delve into primary sources that provide context, a topic-specific timeline, and a bibliography. Plus, discussion questions are provided to inspire critical thinking and analysis.
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