From Mon Jun 18 07:14:14 2001
Date: Sun, 17 Jun 2001 15:43:07 -0500 (CDT)
From: Michael Eisenscher <>
Article: 121183
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From: Philip Oke <>

Debunking movie myths: some class truth about Pearl Harbor

By Greg Butterfield, Workers World, 21 June 2001

A young couple's romance is disrupted by a foreign enemy's unprovoked attack on a peaceful Pacific isle.

That's the mythical tale depicted in Pearl Harbor, the blockbuster film produced by the Walt Disney Co., chock full of Hollywood stars and state-of-the-art special effects.

Pearl Harbor opened Memorial Day weekend to unprecedented commercial and political hype. It claims to tell the story of the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese air attack on the U.S. Navy station in Hawaii. The film depicts a reluctant United States being dragged into World War II by Japanese aggression.

With the Pentagon's blessing, the producers shot much of the film aboard Navy vessels at the real Pearl Harbor.

Ironically, the film's release coincides with the U.S. government's behind-the-scenes effort to bolster resurgent militarist forces in Japan with the aim of building an imperialist military alliance against the People's Republic of China. Untold millions of Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and other Asian peasants and workers died fighting Japan's brutal colonial occupation of their countries during the 1930s and 1940s.

A film like Pearl Harbor has the potential to mislead millions of workers and young people about the real nature of World War II and the U.S. role in it.

Japanese American and other Asian American groups say it could also spark a new wave of racist violence against Asian people in this country. They note that all of the Asian people in the film are depicted as enemies.

At a Los Angeles rally calling for a boycott of Pearl Harbor, Floyd Mori, president of the Japanese American Citizens League, said, No matter what we achieve ... how far we've come in this country, when the topic of Pearl Harbor comes up, we're always dragged back to the event. (Reuters, May 21)

Other speakers noted that there's no mention of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the war's end, nor of the round-up of Japanese American civilians into prison camps.


So what is it that Disney, the Pentagon and crew are trying to hide behind the love story and multi-million-dollar special effects?

First of all, for the U.S. government, big business and the military, World War II wasn't a war against fascism. It was a war among the imperialist powers to redivide the world's riches.

In the Pacific, that meant a war with Japan for control of the natural resources, labor and markets of Asia. Wall Street and Washington were itching for a fight.

Pearl Harbor, in a military-political sense, was very much like the beginning of the Spanish-American War, wrote Vince Copeland, the founding editor of Workers World, in his 1968 pamphlet Expanding Empire.

The Battleship Maine was sunk in Havana Harbor in 1898, and Washington used it as an excuse to declare war on Spain. But Spain needed the sinking of the Maine like it needed the proverbial hole in the head. And U.S. big business needed a war with Spain.

This is not to say that the Dec. 7, 1941, attack was in itself a hoax or that the Japanese did not really kill over 3,000 U.S. sailors by sending them to the bottom of Pearl Harbor, Copeland continued.

They did. But some thoughtful people later considered it strange that the Japanese imperialists should have done something so ‘stupid’ as to bring the U.S. into the war against them just when they had their hands full in China and had taken over Indochina from the French imperialists. ... Why on earth would the Japanese want the powerful U.S. to make war on them at just such a time, when they needed U.S. neutrality more than anything else? he asked.

The fact is that the Japan-U.S. war was inevitable, given the U.S.-Japanese antagonisms over markets, possessions and economic colonies in Asia. But the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was not at all inevitable. It was not the inevitable beginning of the war.

On the contrary, Copeland asserted, this attack was deliberately maneuvered by the politicians of big business, led at that time by Franklin D. Roosevelt.


It must be remembered that Japan wasn't the only brutal colonial power in Asia. Britain ruled India and Hong Kong with an iron fist. France dominated Southeast Asia.

The United States had taken possession of the Philippines, Guam and other Pacific islands during the Spanish-American War. From 1900 onward, Washington bloodily suppressed continual uprisings by the Filipino people.

And then there was Hawaii itself, the site of Pearl Harbor- robbed from its Indigenous inhabitants by U.S. gunboat diplomacy.

Although Pearl Harbor is best remembered, Japan also targeted U.S. military bases throughout the Pacific on Dec. 7, 1941.

The war between Japan and the United States had its roots in the imperialist redivision of the world that took place after World War I ended. At that time Washington became the senior partner in the U.S.-British-Japanese alliance that dominated China.

In the book A Political History of Japanese Capitalism, Jon Halliday writes about the agreement signed at a 1921 Washington conference on China:

The imperialist powers who gathered at Washington all agreed on one thing: that they should continue to plunder China and exploit the Chinese people. In [Japanese Premier] Saito's words, the arrangement ‘which emerged from the Washington Conference could be said to be based on a new form of suppressing China.‘

But Japan's ruling class and military caste chafed in the role of junior partner assigned to them by the Western imperialists-especially after the Great Depression took hold. Following the capitalist law of expand or die, Japan came into open conflict with U.S.-British domination of the region and of China in particular.

As Japanese exports grew to the detriment of the Western powers, and as the Japanese army clashed with the U.S.- backed Nationalist army of Chiang Kai-shek in China, Washington hit back with tariffs and racist laws banning Asian immigration and property ownership.

Although most of Southeast Asia was in the hands of European powers, Japan's key negotiations were with the United States, wrote Halliday. This was not primarily because of America's colonial possession in Asia, the Philippines, but because of America's key role in Japan's trade, particularly in strategic raw materials.

The United States began seriously to squeeze Japan in July 1940 when it introduced a licensing system for certain U.S. exports to that country. The two crucial items, crude oil and scrap iron, were added to the list after Japan occupied Northern Indochina in September 1940. A full embargo followed on July 26, 1941.

The American embargo, particularly on oil, severely limited Japan's ability to maneuver, Halliday explained. Much of Japanese diplomacy prior to December 1941 was taken up with trying to secure supplies of oil. ... Prior to Pearl Harbor, Japan had only about 18 months' supply.

In November 1941, when the talks with Washington were already well advanced, Japan proposed universal non- discrimination in commercial relations in the Pacific area, including China, if this principle were adopted throughout the world. To the United States ... this was ‘unthinkable.’ Japan was, on the whole, eager to reach a settlement and offered considerable concessions to this end.

Halliday concludes that America could certainly have reached a temporary settlement within the framework of an imperialist carve-up which gave Japan slightly more than it had been granted in Washington in 1921-22. It was America which turned down the Japanese proposal for a summit meeting between Premier Konoe and Roosevelt in autumn 1941. And it was Secretary of State Cordell Hull's outright rejection of Japan's proposals of Nov. 7, 1941, which brought negotiations to a halt.


U.S. imperialism, Copeland writes in Expanding Empire, maneuvered Japan into firing the first shot so that Washington would appear to be waging a defensive war. This was vital, since anti-war sentiment remained strong at home.

Copeland refers to a revealing document first published in the 1947 book President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War by historian Charles A. Beard. It's an excerpt from the diary of Roosevelt's Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson, dated Nov. 25, 1941-about two weeks before the Pearl Harbor attack.

Then at 12 o'clock we went to the White House, where we were until nearly half past one, Stimson wrote. At the meeting were Hull, Knox, Marshall, Stark and myself. There the President ... brought up entirely the relations with the Japanese. He brought up the event that we were likely to be attacked perhaps next Monday, for the Japanese are notorious for making an attack without warning, and the question was what should we do.

The question was how much we should maneuver them into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves.

So the political and military leaders in Washington, especially after they moved to choke off Japan's lifeline of oil, knew an attack was coming. It was, after all, the pretext they were hoping for to extend U.S. military and economic control in Asia.

But no warning was given to the sailors at Pearl Harbor.