AREA OF STUDY Topic: Pearl Harbor Description: There is a significant amount of controversy concerning the attack on Pearl Harbor. Recently, contemporary sources have alluded to the likelihood that prior to the attack, the Japanese forces broke radio silence and consequently notified the British forces of the impending incident. Various sources also put forward the prospect that the American forces were also forewarned of the attack by the British, and, in spite of this caution, did not execute any action.
Additional issues also surround the controversy, such as the contention over whether the British forces were informed of the attack and subsequently failed to inform America, either through failed resources or misjudgment.
QUESTIONS Focus question: Was the success of Japanese aggression against Pearl Harbor due to a ‘surprise attack’, a result of failed communications, or a lack of response by the American forces at Pearl Harbor? Inquiry questions:
What are the differing perspectives on Pearl Harbor?
How were these perspectives shaped?
Why were these perspectives formed?
Who constructed these perspectives?
What is the evidence used to support the theories and controversies surrounding the attack on Pearl Harbor?
How valid and accurate is this evidence?
THE HISTORIANS Who are the Historians and what is their purpose? The historians used in regards to the focus area of Pearl Harbor were selected from a variety of sources, both primary and secondary.
Secondary sources Robert Stinnett and Stephen Budiansky (Authors of Day of Deceit and Battle of Wits, respectively) are extremely valid to this topic through both their works and debates on the controversy of Pearl Harbor. 1 Robert Stinnett’s purpose is to put forward the theory that the American forces knew of and encouraged Japanese aggression; this incident was then purportedly used to incite the people of America to join the military to participate in World War II. Stephen Budiansky’s purpose is clearly to denounce such claims, and highlight the difficulties of interpreting primary historical sources.
The film Pearl Harbor, directed by Jerry Bruckheimer and written by Randall Wallace also provides a useful contemporary viewpoint on the events surrounding the topic. Interviews with Bruckheimer (Director and co-producer) have revealed that his purpose in relation to Pearl Harbor was to be “true to the period… you have to honour the history of it, yet the drama is most important.” 2 Therefore, this source was willing to compromise on facts in order to create a more appealing account of the events at Pearl Harbor. Wallace’s purpose in writing the script for Pearl Harbor was to portray the “Leadership, courage and inspiration” of the American forces and support the theory that “We [the Americans] weren’t expecting an attack”. 3
The Pearl Harbor Papers: Inside the Japanese Plans by Donald M Goldstein and Katherine V Dillon is a secondary source, which examines the issue using a postmodern approach. This source attempts to study the events at Pearl Harbor from the Japanese perspective through a variety of Japanese primary sources and documents. This text is therefore a key source in the debate.
Primary sources are also imperative in studying the controversy surrounding Pearl Harbor.
Cartoons from newspapers and propaganda posters are primary sources that give insight into the perceptions of the attack on Pearl Harbor at the time. 4 Their purpose was to provoke American hostility against the Japanese, and therefore portrays the attack from an extremely biased viewpoint.
Surprise Attack Successful, by Japanese Commander Mitsuo Fuchida (translated into English by Walter Lord in his Day of Infamy) shows that the historian’s purpose was to depict the details of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and support the argument that the attack was indeed a surprise one.
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speech Day of Infamy, eyewitness accounts and radio reports at the time of the attack are all from the American perspective, and therefore heedlessly maintain the theory that the American forces had received no warning of the attack of Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt says the incident: “Contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack.”
CHANGES OVER TIME How has the content of your choice been recorded and constructed over time? The variances in the perceptions about the attack on Pearl Harbor have been both considerable and diverse. At the time of the attack, primary sources maintained that there was nothing to suggest such an incident would occur. Yet sources that refer to Pearl Harbor in a more contemporary context imply that British forces may have been privy to such information, and may have withheld this intelligence from the Americans.
Moreover, modern sources also explore the speculation that America and Roosevelt himself not only realised that an attack would occur, but also allowed it to in favour of a stronger American military. Why have there been changes to the historical construction of this topic over time? At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the accepted and entrenched Western values placed a restriction upon how both the American and Japanese people viewed the events at Pearl Harbor.
The attack on Pearl Harbor was considered a ‘baptism of fire’ of sorts, and the story was seen to embody the bravery and hardiness of the American forces in the face of danger. Historians were reluctant to dispute this cultural parable for fear of a backlash, and some even employed it to work to their own advantage (such as the propaganda posters encouraging Americans to join the war effort to ‘avenge’ Pearl Harbor).
However, as the world progressed further away from time frame, assumptions were challenged and the postmodern style was increasingly being used to examine historic events such as Pearl Harbor. Purporting to the claim of postmodernists that truth is subjective and therefore one must consider all viewpoints, historians became interested in the Japanese perspective of Pearl Harbor.
The analytical and scientific style of Von Ranke was also used to consider all the facts and come to a more realistic conclusion. As historians culturally and historically began to move away from the modernist mindset, examining issues from an objective viewpoint became an integral element of studying the attack on Pearl Harbor.
SOURCES Research methods and texts to be examined:
The majority of my research has been conducted on the Internet. Sites such as http://www.nationalgeographic.com and http://www.google.com have been useful in discovering background information on my topic, and uncovering information that could not be found in libraries, such as audio and visual sources. Online newspaper articles and essays were also of assistance in commencing my major work.
However, I soon felt the need to examine more comprehensive and reliable sources and borrowed a number of titles from libraries in my area.
I soon realized the importance of comparing both primary and secondary sources, as it would be the crucial starting point for my research task. Consequently, I made an effort to uncover a number of sources from different time periods. This way, I felt my analysis of historiography relating to Pearl Harbor would be both widespread and accurate. Primary sources for my major work were mainly from the Internet, whereas the majority of books I borrowed were modern sources. The sources, which suggested that the claims of a ‘surprise’ attack on Pearl Harbor were false, were also located on the Internet.
By carefully scrutinising the many sources I have obtained so far during my investigation, I hope to eliminate the bias in sources. A careful and detailed analysis will hopefully allow me to explore the nature of historiography and the controversy of Pearl Harbor in relation to my focus question.
1 The two historians engaged in two public debates regarding the attack on Pearl Harbor (January 30, 2003 and March 3rd, 2003). Transcripts cited from http://www.independent.org.
2 Interview cited from http://www.mymovies.net.
3 Interview cited from http://www.wga.org.
4 ‘Look who’s here again’ St Louis Star Times 1941 & ‘Japs bomb U.S.A!’ Castle Films advertisement, date unknown