December 7th, 1941, a date that will live in infamy.
Why did it happen? What was Japan's logic behind the sneak attack? What was the logic behind the U.S.'s demands for unconditional surrender in 1945?
Answering these questions isn't just a dry exercise in trivial history. They carry an important lesson that most people are unaware of.
First of all the Japanese military was under no illusion that they could defeat the United States military. They knew that the United States had the resources to defeat them.
So why on Earth would Japan attack someone whom they knew could kick their asses?
Having the ability to defeat someone is not the same thing as having the will to do it. Japan thought we lacked the will to defeat them. They thought the United States didn't have the warrior tradition needed to fight a long and costly war. They thought the isolationist movement was proof of America's lack of will, that it showed a weakness they could exploit.
Japan's plan's never included defeating the United States on the battlefield. The war plan was to cripple the United States Navy for six months to a year giving them time to "run wild" in the Pacific. They were well aware that the war would start to turn against them after this time period.
The long term plan was to make victory over them so damn bloody that the United States wouldn't have the will to persue it. They were relying on the isolationist movement to force the United States to give them the two things they wanted, a free hand in China and unrestricted access to the oil from the Dutch East Indies. They were ready to sign away everything they had gained in the early phase of the war to gain these objectives. The Japanese ramapge in 1942 was to gain bargining chips to deal away in a negotitated peace.
The concept of making victory so bloody that the United States would negotiate continued to drive Japan's thinking right into August of 1945. They knew they couldn't hold Iwo Jima, they just wanted to make taking it so bloody that it would deter the United States from invading Japan. They knew there was no hope of holding Okinawa, what they were after was making it so costly to take that the USA would be ready to enter peace negotations.
The United States was well aware that Japan was ready to come to the bargining table. We knew that we could end the war with a win simply by dropping the demand for unconditional surrender.
So why didn't we open negotations with Japan earlier in 1945? Why push it to the bitter end?
Because we wanted to make damn sure the same thing that had happened in Germany didn't happen in Japan. Hitler used the myth that Germany had been stabbed in the back, that it hadn't really been defeated in the First World War.
The United States' goal went beyond just winning at a peace conferance. We were determined to open a can of whoopass that was so bad it would leave no doubt to anyone in Japan that they had gotten thier butts kicked so they wouldn't dare try it again.
Less than 21 years after the WWI armistice Germany launched a new and even more terrible war. We were looking ahead in 1945, we wanted to make damn sure that we didn't have to fight Japan again in 1966.
The lesson from this is clear: it doesn't matter if you have a kickass military if your foes think you lack the will to use it. They will NOT fear fighting you if they think they can win by outlasting you.
Viet Nam, Beirut, and Mogadishu sent a message to the world that the USA lacked the will to win. The peace movement is sending the same message that the isolationists sent to Japan prior to the day of infamy.