The Aircraft Carriers Were Not in Pearl Harbour

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941 was, from both the human and the diplomatic points of view, a vile and despicable act. The two countries were engaged in diplomatic talks aimed at preventing war between them and the attack came as a complete surprise and with no American provocation whatsoever. With that, there are still military and strategic lessons to be learned from it.

Although the Japanese had several motives to attack, their main intention was to prevent the American Pacific fleet from hurrying to the aid of the Philippines which Japan intended to take. As the Japanese found out later, the Americans had no intention of doing this any more – they have rewritten their Pacific military doctrine a year earlier.

The attack dragged the United States into a war it hitherto avoided participating in. Only God knows what would be the faces of European and Far Eastern countries today had the United States not thrown its entire military might into these two war fronts, with the expressed intention of bringing its enemies to a complete surrender rather than negotiating cease fire agreements of some kind with them.

And on the immediate military level – despite the fact that the attack caused the American fleet very heavy loses in life (some 2,400 sailors perished), in eight battleships that were sunk inside the harbour and in a large number of fighter planes that were destroyed on the ground, it had missed its main target: the three mighty aircraft carriers of the Pacific fleet that, luckily for them, were away from the harbour when the attack took place. These aircraft carriers and others that had joined them destroyed several months later four Japanese aircraft carriers during the battle of Midway which marked the turning point of the war in the Pacific. The Japanese attack also ignored the submarine base located at Pearl Harbour, submarines that later imposed a naval siege on mainland Japan. With time, six of the eight battleships that were sunk in the harbour were pulled out of the shallow water, repaired and returned to service.

No one can tell the future or read the minds of Israel’s distant and, in their own mind at least, powerful enemies. Without belittling for a minute the serious threat that they pose, if Israel were to attack them, it must take into account that the enemy’s strategic intentions may be completely different than those it assigns to them, that dragging these enemies into a prolonged war may have long term implications beyond Israel’s control, and that their metaphoric ‘aircraft carriers’ may not be in the harbour when Israel attacks.

This article was written yesterday for no special reason. Only after completing it did I discover that yesterday was the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbour. An amazing coincidence or a guiding hand from high above? Who knows.

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