Some people seem so fond of the thought of shocking or cataclysmic events that they manage to convince themselves they will happen tomorrow. Consider, for example, the predictions of civil war, “just around the corner,” we’ve seen on social media for the last decade and more. Recently our media have regaled us with stories about “imminent” invasions of Ukraine by Russia, and Taiwan by China. I won a dollar bet with a friend a year ago who had convinced himself that release of the Covid virus would inevitably result in the fall of the Chinese government. Of course, shocking and cataclysmic events do happen once in a while, and since the myriad Cassandra’s out there generate enough predictions to suit every occasion, some small number of them must inevitably come true. A case in point is the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, that took place 80 years ago today.
Consider, for example, an article entitled “Stop Japan Now,” that appeared in the December, 1941 issue of “Flying and Popular Aviation” magazine. The author was James R. Young, who had worked as a journalist in Japan for the previous 13 years. It starts with the following quote by Senator Allen J. Ellender of Louisiana:
Several months ago I stated that, before this war was over, our Government would have to engage in war with Japan. I know of no better time than now to do the job.
It didn’t take long for his wish to come true. Young agreed, advocating a quick, surgical preemptive war against Japan in order to release our Pacific naval squadrons for convoy duty in the Atlantic, thus averting a British defeat. According to the first paragraph of his article,
Japan’s threat in the Far East is perpetuated by an Axis plan to keep our Pacific Fleet from being released for immediate convoy duty in the Atlantic. America can and must call Nippon’s bluff and free our Naval squadrons in the Pacific, if we are to get the necessary aid to Britain in time. This is the hour to act. Japan is vulnerable to an attack by our Army and Navy air units operating from bases in Alaska, the Philippines, and even China. Almost single-handed our air power, as it now stands, can cut the lifeline of Japan’s only real menace – her navy – destroy her crowded cities, demoralize her army and render the nation worthless to the Axis.
Beneath a picture of a Japanese aircraft carrier one reads the caption,
U.S. Navy experts long have considered Japanese air and sea power third-rate.
Such hubris was probably similarly common among Russian naval experts back in 1904, before their attitudes about Japan’s “third rate navy” were adjusted by Admiral Togo in the Battle of Tsushima. A bit later on we read,
Less than 1,300 miles away from her industrial centers near Tokio, at Alaskan air bases, are U.S. Army Air Force bombardment groups, standing ready for action. And facing her Gibraltar of the Pacific, Formosa (largest island in the Japanese group), are strong U.S. land, sea and air forces in the Philippines. Japan could not withstand the highly developed and speedy striking ability of America’s new Pacific might. She would quickly crumble.
Indeed, we could knock out the feckless Japanese with one hand tied behind our backs. According to Young,
One effective attack from an American aircraft carrier, bombers from Siberia, or a squadron from China could cripple Japan’s transportation system. Night attacks on any part of Japan will leave her practically helpless… Important naval bases also will be vulnerable to bombardment, in view of the fact that antiaircraft defense cannot function until the attacking forces are over their objectives. Such airports as Japan has could be bombed completely out of commission as they have few such bases and cannot move freely to newer fields, due to the condition of the terrain.
As Young pointed out, the Japanese were particularly helpless when it came to military aviation:
In aviation, as in the auto industry, the Japanese have always had something of everything from everywhere. A big handicap is the development of carburators to contend with notoriously bad Japanese weather conditions. The have French carburetors, American piston rings, German and Italian cylinder heads, Swedish ball bearings and all kinds of machine tools – plus American cotton, Dutch rubber, and imported aluminum… For a number of years the Japanese have developed aircraft through adopting a type purchased through a manufacturing license from some other country. These licenses and designs have become obsolete by the time they have gone into production.
The Zero fighter had become operational in April, 1940, and had been used extensively in China for more than a year before Young’s article appeared, but, apparently, he hadn’t noticed. When war did begin in the same month as the article was published, Japanese fighters and bombers made short work of opposing air forces as they swept south through the Philippines and southeast Asia. Young continued,
The answer in dealing with such a nation is to take Vladivostok, Dakar and Martinique – and do the arguing afterward. If we find we do not need the bases, we can hand them back. (!)
Right! I’m sure Comrade Stalin would have meekly accepted our seizure of Vladivostok while his nation was fighting for its life against Nazi invaders. And, after all, it would only take a few days for Japan to crumble beneath the hammer blows of our vastly superior military, and then we could just hand back the city, good as new.
The same magazine had an article by Major General L. H. van Oyen, head of the Dutch air force in the Netherlands East Indies entitled, “The Netherlands Indies are Ready.” According to the general,
The Netherlands East Indies has two air forces, army and navy, The army air corps, which I head, is equipped with Rayan trainers, made in the United States, a formidable array of Brewster Buffalo fighters, Fokker reconnaissance planes (now used only for training), and Curtiss interceptors, known over here as the CW-21. We also have many Curtiss P-36 fighters.
Japan’s air force would soon make short work of the general’s Brewster Buffalos and P-36 fighters. Eventually, of course, nearly four years and two atomic bombs later, Japan did crumble beneath the weight of U.S. military and industrial might, but the job was somewhat more difficult and protracted than Young imagined. I find little about what happened to him and his “expertise” after the war. However, if our own times are any guide, he made out just fine. Consider, for example, the case of Gordon Chang, who predicted that the Chinese government would collapse in 2011 in his “The Coming Collapse of China,” published in 2001. Now, a decade later, the Chinese government seems to be doing just fine, and yet I continue running into articles citing him as an “expert” on China.
According to Julius Caesar, “Men willingly believe what they wish to believe.” It’s as true today as it was 2000 years ago.