• Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Subscribe
  • RSS

The Attack On Pearl Harbor Was Not A Consequence Of “American Weakness”

USS Arizona

Dave Schuler makes a number of observations on the occasion of the 72nd anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that are worthy of your consideration, but this one in particular stood out to me:

The Japanese leaders knew that and hoped to remove us from the game with a single, devastating masterstroke. The stroke failed as they learned to their sorrow. We riposted and it’s not too great an exaggeration to say that we ended their civilization for it. Japan of today bears only a superficial resemblance to the Japan of 70 odd years ago. You can injure us with an attack, as we were reminded not too long ago, but making war against us is an enormous task.

I happened to run across Dave’s post after I had run across comments posted around the web and on social media by others regarding today’s anniversary, many of which argued that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was a consequence of American weakness or lack of resolve in the face of aggressive behavior. In some sense, I think this is a knee jerk observation that some people make regarding any of the events that led up to World War II because of the manner in which history tends to get lumped together. It’s true, for example, that the United States had largely disengaged itself from Europe at the end of World War One and that there was a strong movement in the nation during the 1930s that argued against getting involved in the rather obvious growing march toward war that was taking place in Europe. Indeed, arguing against that sentiment was something that Franklin Roosevelt fought hard to do in the years leading up to the start of the European war in 1939 and later when he introduced plans like Lend-Lease and other programs that were obviously designed to keep Europe in general, and the United Kingdom in particular, in a position where it could fight Germany at least to some degree until that future date when the United States would be drawn in, which is something that seemed inevitable by the time the time 1940 rolled around.

Out in the Pacific, things were far different. In addition to Hawaii, the United States also had a military presence in such strategically important areas as Guam, Midway, and The Philippines, and we were joined by British garrisons in places like Hong Kong and Singapore, not to mention a smaller French presence in Southeast Asia. The Japanese, meanwhile, had their eyes set on the creation of what was sometimes called a “East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere,” which was really little more than just a name for Japanese domination of the resource rich areas around the Pacific and, eventually, the entire area. They had started down that road with the invasion of Manchuria, but had their sights set far higher. The only problem is that there were a few things that stood in their way, principally including he U.S. Pacific Fleet based in Pearl Harbor and our military assets in Guam and on various Pacific Islands, as well as the British garrisons in Hong Kong and Singapore.

The entire purpose behind the Japanese attack seven decades ago was the hope that a single devastating attack on the Pacific Fleet would knock the the United States out of any war long enough that the Japanese would have a free hand in the Western Pacific that would end with them becoming so entrenched that removal by force would prove difficult if not impossible. Added into that, of course, was some sense of cultural narcissism on the part of much of the Japanese military leadership that the American people couldn’t possibly be strong enough to bounce back quickly from the kind of devastating blow that they had planned. Some among the Japanese military leadership who were more familiar with American culture tried to persuade the leadership that they were mistaken in their assessment of the character of the American people, but they were overridden and the attack went forward. After it was over, it had indeed resulted in quite a blow against the fleet, although by a stroke of both luck and good planning the Pacific Fleet carriers had been saved because they weren’t in port that day, and the rest is history. Often forgotten by Americans, though, is that at roughly the same time they were attacking in Hawaii, the Japanese had launched attacks against military assets in The Philippines, as well as the British assets in Hong Kong and Singapore. The Japanese had decided to attack all of their potential adversaries at once, and, at least for the moment they had succeeded.

As it turned out, of course, it was only a temporary victory. Rather than causing the American people to retreat in terror, the attack, which had occurred in a place that most Americans had only read about in an era where an island group thousands of miles west of California was seemingly an “out of sight, out of mind” type of place. Rather than scoring a knockout blow, the Japanese had, in the words of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, awoken a sleeping giant. What’s important to remember, though, is that Japan attacked us 72 years ago not because we were weak, but because we were strong enough to be considered a threat to their territorial ambitions. If “American weakness” in the Pacific were really what the status quo ante on December 6th, 1941 had been as some current arguments seem to suggest, then they arguably would have felt free to bypass us completely on their way to domination of the Pacific.

Related Posts:

About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Ron Beasley says:

    Dave is certainly right about that. The Japanese certainly underestimated the will and ingenuity of the United States. My father spent over 3 years of his life in India and received the Bronze Star. My mother’s cousin was the radio operator on the Enola Gay. The strategy of the Navy commanders was nothing short of brilliant – making sure the same aircraft carrier was seen all over the place.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  2. DC Loser says:

    The Japanese attack was a sign of her own weakness. Her army was stuck in a war in China that had been going on since 1937, and was dragging on and eating up resources and personnel with no end in sight. The US imposed oil and other (scrap metal used for making bombs and weapons) sanctions which would begin to cripple the Japanese economy and military. It had no choice but to make the gamble to knock out the US to allow it the free hand to take the resources it needed to continue and win the war on favorable terms.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  3. john personna says:

    I was surprised to find an old book from the 30’s, written with the introduction “everyone knows we are going to end up fighting the Japanese, and so I went to see who they are.”

    I think there was more of a cold war leading up to Pear Harbor than most people now understand.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  4. michael reynolds says:

    @john personna:

    Not to mention that Teddy Roosevelt essentially invited them to take over the far east as honorary white folks.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  5. bill says:

    @DC Loser: true, that old age adage of “hit the biggest guy and see what happens” didn’t pan out for them. they sure weren’t ready for any of what we had after that. of course the military leaders were under the gun to take over that entire region and failure was not an option- ditto for the krauts.
    but after all that ruckus they sure do make great cars, but japs are more reliable.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  6. michael reynolds says:

    There are so many odd narratives about WW2 that people have stuck in their heads. The notion that Japan was exploiting our weakness is almost diametrically the opposite of the truth. And it’s obviously false in that they didn’t just attack us, but the UK and Netherlands as well. Not too many years earlier they’d thrown down with Russia and then launched into China and threw in France just for fun.

    Another myth is that the French are cowardly. If you’re talking about the French government? Sure. And stupid, disorganized and treasonous, to boot. But if you recall Dunkirk you should recall that it was in large part French troops holding the Wehrmacht at bay while the Brits (and some French) evacuated. Fighting a defensive battle where the enemy has air supremacy, greater numbers, superior equipment and morale, and you have to slowly shrink your perimeter while maintaining constant hostile contact, is just about the definition of a tough military mission.

    No, it’s the Italians who were pathetic fighters. The French soldiers did fine, with what they had going on up their chain of command. The Italians, though. Wow. Roman blood had become somewhat dilute.

    Of course the ultimate American myth is that we won the war in Europe. No, we won the war in the Pacific. The USSR and the UK won the war in Europe. We absolutely helped, and we made a major contribution, but by the time we showed up and shot our first Nazi the Battles of Britain and El Alamein had already been fought, and Stalingrad was well under way. In other words, Hitler’s advance had already been stopped. We showed up to help with the rollback.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 1

  7. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Yeah, lots of people don’t realize that the US didn’t engage in ground combat against the Wehrmacht until February 1943 — three and a half years after the start of the war.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  8. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The USSR and the UK won the war in Europe.

    80% of all German casualties were on the Eastern Front against the Soviets. Rather sobering to consider that that front was so massive a bloodletting that the combined efforts of the US, Britain, Canada, France, Australia, New Zealand and all other Western allies only accounted for 20% of German losses.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  9. rudderpedals says:

    The Brits would have folded without pre-war American supplies by way of FDR’s avoidance of the Neutrality Act with trades and non-sales. All three Allies were essential for the European win: The Soviets and US in blood and treasure and the Brits for that and hanging on expertly and long enough to keep their independence and fleet.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  10. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Rafer Janders: Yeah, lots of people don’t realize that the US didn’t engage in ground combat against the Wehrmacht until February 1943 — three and a half years after the start of the war.

    Make that November 1942, Operation Torch — the joint US-British invasion of North Africa. February 1943 was the Battle of Kasserine Pass, where the green US forces were thoroughly pounded by Rommel’s forces. But before then, there had been clashes, but nothing really major.

    And I’d put the US and UK’s contributions in Europe about equal — we had the numbers and the materiel that kept them going. But yeah, our efforts were overshadowed by the USSR’s.

    Plus, we kept the Soviets supplied; without that, it’s quite possible they would have lost.

    I read something elsewhere that really summed it up brilliantly:

    …start a war with the world’s biggest empire, follow up by invading the world’s biggest dictatorship and finish by declaring war on the world’s biggest democracy and you…have given yourself a challenge.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  11. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    I’d say that the Pearl Harbor attack was a consequence of perceived American weakness. The Japanese didn’t want to conquer the US, and knew they had no ability to do so. The whole point was to cripple our offensive capability to give them a free hand in the western Pacific. They convinced themselves that we would grudgingly acknowledge their superiority and accept their conquests as a fait accompli by the time we could rebuild our war capabilities. As noted, some in the Japanese Navy and government knew that was folly, but they were not the dominant faction.

    To the Imperial Japanese, the French were finished, the British were on the ropes with the Nazis, and the US was focused on Europe. With all that, they figured they could strike hard against the US and British, who would decide that they couldn’t take on the Japanese and the Germans at the same time.

    And they did hit hard. Pearl Harbor, the Philippines, French Indochina, Malaysia, Hong Kong. The day after Pearl Harbor, they sank two of the Royal Navy’s most powerful ships.

    They were wrong, but it wasn’t very apparent at the time.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  12. anjin-san says:

    It should be noted that Japan was forced into opening itself to the west at gunpoint. Subsequently, the west encouraged them to build a modern industrial state, and a modern navy (with a great deal of help from the British). Apparently no one stopped to think that Japan did not have sufficient natural resources to support either, or it was seen as too good of a business opportunity to pass up.

    The law of unintended consequences is hard to escape from.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  13. anjin-san says:

    Strange to think things might have ended differently had not the Soviets used so much reinforced concrete for construction in Stalingrad.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. Ron Beasley says:

    @anjin-san: The thing we don’t talk about is the Japanese thought they were invincible until the end. They had their God/Emperor after all.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  15. @michael reynolds:

    Fighting a defensive battle where the enemy has air supremacy, greater numbers, superior equipment and morale, and you have to slowly shrink your perimeter while maintaining constant hostile contact, is just about the definition of a tough military mission.

    The superior equipment part for the Germans in 1940 is debatable. A lot of historians consider the French armor to be superior to the German’s, the French just didn’t know how to use it the same way the Germans did.

    As a side note, if anything precipitated the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor it was the hostility that the United States displayed towards Japan from freezing their assets in the U.S. in July 1941 to embargoing oil sales to Japan in August 1941 when 80% of Japan’s oil came from the U.S.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  16. mike shupp says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, who saw fighting men on a number of fronts, actually rated Italian soldiers highly. He thought their superior officers were poor, and that their equipment was inadequate — to put it kindly — but the ordinary soldiers were excellent.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  17. The other Jack says:

    Many seem to be trying to oversimplify the situation. Many of the Japanese probably did perceive a weakness in America. That perceive weakness was the American will to fight not their capabilities. Like the hitting the biggest guy theory, the idea is to take away their will to fight. Yes the Japanese misjudge it.

    The U.S was involved in the war prior to Pearl Harbor in several ways. Military enforced embargoes. Economic sanctions against Japan and Germany. Economic, various supplies and military assets aid to the Allies forces. The U.S. was escalating such aid. Including such units like the Flying Tigers which were already being sent prior to Pearl Harbor. The U.S. was already in a massive military buildup.

    Japan knew they would have to address the U.S. problem sooner are later. The problem for them is they probably waited too long.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  18. Rafer Janders says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Make that November 1942, Operation Torch — the joint US-British invasion of North Africa. February 1943 was the Battle of Kasserine Pass, where the green US forces were thoroughly pounded by Rommel’s forces. But before then, there had been clashes, but nothing really major.

    No, don’t make it that. Operation Torch was against the Vichy French, not the Germans. As I said, the first major combat action against the Wehrmacht by US forces was only in February 1943.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  19. DC Loser says:

    For an excellent treatment of why the Germans won in France in 1940:

    http://www.amazon.com/Strange-Victory-Hitlers-Conquest-France/dp/0809088541

    On paper, the French had better tanks, but the difference was in how the Germans and French staff performed, in particular the role intelligence played in the German victory.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  20. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    …start a war with the world’s biggest empire, follow up by invading the world’s biggest dictatorship and finish by declaring war on the world’s biggest democracy and you…have given yourself a challenge.

    Great quote. Any idea where it came from?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Neil Hudelson: Just some commenter at another forum I read. Really sums it up elegantly, doesn’t it?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  22. michael reynolds says:

    The French government pre-Vichy was about half fascist itself, not committed to the Republic, disappointed by electoral limits, denying the legitimacy of opposition, only interested in the military and big business, fearful of anything tinged with socialism, and racist.

    So, basically, like the GOP.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

  23. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:

    After walking through the history section (Dewey 900s) of my local library, I’ve decided that it was American racism and our intentional infliction of low self-esteem on the Japanese, a kind of bullying in today’s malleable vernacular, that actually caused World War II.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5

  24. michael reynolds says:

    @11B40:

    You’re a dishonest fool. I know what’s in that section of the library, and this is just you making things up so you can play the victim.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  25. anjin-san says:

    @ 11B40

    That’s right! There is no racism in America – don’t they pretty much say that on Fox about a dozen times a day?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  26. de stijl says:

    Doug:

    many of which argued that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was a consequence of American weakness or lack of resolve in the face of aggressive behavior

    Ah, the American version of Dolchstosslegende. “If only we’d have allowed to take off the kid gloves, WWII / Korea / Vietnam / Iraq I / Iraq II wouldn’t have been such a debacle.”

    this is just you making things up so you can play the victim

    And 11B40 proves my point.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  27. michael reynolds says:

    @de stijl:

    For a segment of the American population, it’s always time for more cowbell. If only we were more ruthless, more masculine, more thoroughly purged of weakening foreign elements, more in touch with our manly warrior past, we could conquer the world.

    Not that I want to go all Godwin’s, here, but there is a certain familiarity to that storyline.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  28. de stijl says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Not that I want to go all Godwin’s, here, but there is a certain familiarity to that storyline.

    Godwin refers to Sparta?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  29. michael reynolds says:

    @de stijl:

    Hah! At least that far back. I imagine Gort and his tribe of Neanderthals were thinking if they were just tougher they could take down those new sapiens interlopers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  30. de stijl says:

    Oops! I was the dude who invoked “Dolchstosslegende.”

    [Puts hands in pockets. Kicks pebble. Walks away red-faced.]

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  31. Stonetools says:

    If American racism played a part, it was in their underestimatation of the Japanese. They simply didn’t believe that the yellow man had the courage, imagination and the technical competence to pull off an operation like the Pearl Harbor attack. They thought that Japanese pilots were incompetents who flew fabric covered biplanes. They thought that Japanese soldiers would run away at the first sign of white troops. Boy, were they wrong.
    The attack on Pearl Harbor was’nt prompted by American weakness. Rather, it was a gamble by Japan that they could knock out the Americans with one punch. As it turned out, they couldn’t.
    Why did Japan go to war? They wanted to play the same imperialist game they saw the Western powers played, including the USA. Those American bases in the Philipinnes and Hawaii didn’t just appear in those places by magic, after all.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  32. Jenos Ida nian #13 says:

    @michael reynolds: You just can’t not be an asshole, can you?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  33. anjin-san says:

    @ Jenos Ida nian #13

    Another irony meter bites the dust…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  34. michael reynolds says:

    @Jenos Ida nian #13:

    What, you mean pointing out that the mindset of your party is similar to that of the quick-to-collaborate French government? You don’t like historical parallels? What’s the point of learning history if we can’t learn from it?

    The French fell because their government was ripe for the picking. It was riven by seemingly intractable partisanship. It was dominated by an economic elite that feared communism, socialism and any sort of redistribution or leveling and was attracted to the macho display and reckless aggressiveness of the Germans and to a lesser extent the Italians. It was racist and antisemitic. It was nostalgic for largely mythical good old days.

    Sorry if the truth hurts.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  35. Rafer Janders says:

    @de stijl:

    You know, it’s a little silly to think that you shouldn’t make references to Hitler or the Nazis in a discussion ABOUT WORLD WAR II.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  36. An Interested Party says:

    You just can’t not be an asshole, can you?

    In other news, Rush Limbaugh accused Michael Moore of being fat…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  37. JohnMcC says:

    It’s been obliquely referred to, but not specifically stated here that the fascist/militarist ideology of the Axis governing parties held that the Democracies were weak at least partially because they were Democratic. Democracy and degeneracy were inevitably joined. It’s the lesson of the 20th century, I personally believe, that (small-d) democracy won over every rival.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  38. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @michael reynolds: What, you mean pointing out that the mindset of your party is similar to that of the quick-to-collaborate French government? You don’t like historical parallels? What’s the point of learning history if we can’t learn from it?

    I could bring up the similarities between the Nazi ideology and the practices of today’s Democratic Party, but I’m not interested in a tit-for-tat game here. I was participating in a polite discussion about history, and not looking for the routine bullshit.

    Should have known that Mr. reynolds was incapable of turning off his asshole impulses.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  39. michael reynolds says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:
    No you could not make such a case. That’s drivel. The Nazi party was anti-democratic, racist, militarist and financed by big business. So no, Jenos, you could not make such a case.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  40. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @michael reynolds: I feel no compunction to refute you on this point; it’s been done before, many times. But it’s a classless response to a classless move in this case.

    By the way, I never got to applaud you for your courageous stance: that in all elections, the Republicans should only win when they secure a supermajority of the vote — and even then, only after careful scrutiny.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  41. michael reynolds says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Spare us all the victim act, no one is buying.

    And the reason you don’t make the argument is because you can’t. Now, over on some right wing site, sure, because there you’d be talking to credulous nitwits. Here? You’d be eaten alive, and you know it.

    If there is any comparison to be made with US politics – and that’s a point we could debate – you know perfectly well the parallel between any foreign militarist, corporatist, anti-democratic and racist party, and any American political party, can only be to the GOP.

    The question is why you belong to a party you know you can’t defend competently in a room full of bright people. Why you would belong to a party with those attributes. That’s between you and your psychiatrist.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  42. Grewgills says:

    When either modern American political party begins a campaign of ethnic cleansing, then we can pull out the Nazi comparisons. Can we leave them in the drawer till then?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  43. Rafer Janders says:

    @Grewgills:

    When either modern American political party begins a campaign of ethnic cleansing, then we can pull out the Nazi comparisons. Can we leave them in the drawer till then?

    No.

    Look, the Nazis didn’t begin with the Holocaust. That only came a decade later. They began with street fights, with campaigns against the liberals, the socialists, the unions, the foreigners, the Jews, the Catholics, the Lutherans, the gays and lesbians, the artists, against anyone free-thinking or smart or brave enough to stand up against them. They then moved on to militarism, to foreign adventurism and bullying, to military build-ups, and to aggressive war. Nazism was about a lot of things, and it wasn’t just about the death camps.

    It’s really, really stupid and ahistorical to say that we can’t make analogies to the Nazis unless we analogize to the absolute worst thing they ever did.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  44. Grewgills says:

    @Rafer Janders:
    Nazis are totally and inextricably linked to the Holocaust; when you invoke Nazi comparisons you are invoking the Holocaust whether you like it or not.
    I disagree with almost all Republican policy positions, but to compare them to Nazis is stupid and does absolutely nothing to forward any sort of productive debate. Ted Cruz, as destructively wrong as he is, is not looking to bring about a Kristallnacht.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  45. Jr says:

    Yeah, Pearl Harbor had nothing to do with America”s perceived “weakness”. Those sanctions were killing Japan and they had to deal with the US sooner or later, fortunately for us the carriers were gone and the Japanese forget to take out the oil reserves.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  46. michael reynolds says:

    @Grewgills:

    You’re taking a very superficial view of history, my friend. Just because you identify the Nazis solely with their end-stage state, it does not make discussions of their earlier stages of development irrelevant. It’s like only talking about end stage melanoma and not sun exposure or irregular moles. The whole needs to be considered.

    In any event, this began for my part with a comparison to Vichy. They also participated in facilitating the holocaust, but no, that is not the only interesting thing about them.

    I reject Godwin’s Law as I reject all arbitrary limits on free discussion – although the “law” itself specifies “inappropriate” comparisons, not all comparisons. It’s been reduced to an overs-simplification. It’s time to retire the rule and judge discussions on rational, case by case.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  47. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Jr: Yeah, Pearl Harbor had nothing to do with America”s perceived “weakness”. Those sanctions were killing Japan and they had to deal with the US sooner or later, fortunately for us the carriers were gone and the Japanese forget to take out the oil reserves.

    And just what was the stated motivation for those sanctions? Here’s a hint.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  48. Grewgills says:

    You’re taking a very superficial view of history, my friend. Just because you identify the Nazis solely with their end-stage state, it does not make discussions of their earlier stages of development irrelevant.

    I am not the one looking at history superficially. Ask the next 10 people you meet what they think of when they think of Nazis. Ask the 10 after that what they think of when they think of Hitler.
    They are completely, inextricably, and viscerally linked to the horrors they committed. You aren’t simply saying corporatist or fascist when you say Nazi, you hare saying something much more. People use those comparisons to get a visceral response. When one does it in the context of modern American politics it is to smear by association with the (or one of the) most evil regimes we learn about. When you compare them to Nazis you aren’t simply saying you have some of these shared traits, you are saying that they have certain traits and look where that leads… death camps. You and anyone else intelligent that makes the comparison knows exactly the connections that will be made and is going for a visceral emotional response.
    If you really thought Ted Cruz et al were headed down the pathway to a Kristallnacht and were warning against that horrific outcome, then yes, it would be a reasonable comparison, but we all know that is nonsense.

    It’s like only talking about end stage melanoma and not sun exposure or irregular moles.

    To borrow your analogy, these comparisons are like seeing someone’s freckles and saying they look like they are like melanoma. Superficially in some few ways yes they are, discoloration, possible irregular shape, on the skin, etc, but it is still a ridiculous comparison to make.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  49. grumpy realist says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: Actually I think there was a think tank in the Japanese military that gamed out what would happen if they attacked the US, realized it was Not A Good Idea, but couldn’t get sufficient people to listen to him.

    And in fact at the very end, the Japanese government was still wanting to continue fighting even after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Ministry of War was still extremely gung-ho. The cabinet was deadlocked, and Prime Minister Suzuki turned to the Emperor and asked what his opinion was. The Emperor said: “In my personal opinion, I think we should surrender.” Suzuki turned back to the cabinet and requested that the Emperor’s personal opinion be made the official decision of the cabinet.

    And that’s leaving out the attempted coup d’etat by a group of military officials to keep the Emperor’s proclamation from being broadcast…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  50. michael reynolds says:

    @Grewgills:
    If I were talking to a room full of kids I might approach it differently. But I’m on a thread about World War II and related issues and talking to a bunch of politically involved adults. So it’s absurd to insist that all references conform to the lowest common denominator of understanding. People here are generally capable of understanding nuance. I am not required to use terms only in ways that are easily digestible. I’m not required to speak only in cliches and commonplaces.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  51. michael reynolds says:

    @grumpy realist:
    Yeah, I think it’s fair to say that Japanese thinking at that time was not a prisoner to logic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  52. grewgills says:

    @michael reynolds:
    Perhaps you can explain to me how comparing modern mainstream American political parties or figures to Nazis furthers any rational discussion.

    So it’s absurd to insist that all references conform to the lowest common denominator of understanding.

    It is absurd to try to say that any comparison to Nazis doesn’t dredge up what they actually did. That is why people use the comparison, to dredge up those emotional connections. To pretend otherwise is not reasonable.
    I can compare the guy down the street to Mandela: they were both more violent in their youth, both went to prison, both are more wise in their later years. Is that man like Mandela? No. Just because you can find commonalities doesn’t mean a comparison is reasonable.
    Hitler was a vegetarian and a supporter of animal rights. Does that mean animal rights activists are like Hitler in any meaningful way? Again, no.
    All those comparisons do is make whatever discussion they are a part of more insular and less persuasive.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  53. grewgills says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    I could bring up the similarities between the Nazi ideology and the practices of today’s Democratic Party, but I’m not interested in a tit-for-tat game here.

    They both support(ed) reasonable vacations for workers and support(ed) animal cruelty regulations. There, done.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  54. Electroman says:

    @Grewgills: Ethnic cleansing? The Holocaust was genocide, not ethnic cleansing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  55. Grewgills says:

    @Electroman:

    Ethnic cleansing is a the process or policy of eliminating unwanted ethnic or religious groups by deportation, forcible displacement, mass murder, or by threats of such acts, with the intent of creating a territory inhabited by people of a homogeneous or pure ethnicity, religion, culture, and history. Ethnic cleansing usually involves attempts to remove physical and cultural evidence of the targeted group in the territory through the destruction of homes, social centers, farms, and infrastructure, and by the desecration of monuments, cemeteries, and places of worship.

    Wiki
    The ethnic cleansing included the attempted genocide of Jews and Roma, but was not limited to that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  56. michael reynolds says:

    @grewgills:

    Okay, you’re wearing me out.

    You’re in effect arguing that: 1) You don’t see the connection and 2) I can’t make a reference that violates your expectations.

    First of all, since we have free speech, let’s begin with the fact that I have a right to write what I like. Second, interesting writing will very often violate your (or society’s) expectations.

    Now, if I fail to make the connection, if I fail in my argument, then that’s one thing. But you’re preemptively concluding that I’ve failed solely on the grounds that I used an analogy you don’t like. You don’t make the case that I’m wrong on the logic, or on the facts, you make the argument that I’m wrong because my analogy doesn’t mesh with your expectation for the appropriate use of said analogy.

    If that were an appropriate way to judge writing, all writers would be out of business, since it is rather the job of professional writers to challenge your expectation.

    So, if you want to explain to me where I’m incorrect in drawing parallels between Vichy and the GOP – and by the way, that’s what I actually wrote – go right ahead. But don’t tell me I’m wrong because of Internet Law, or because to you all such references mean a particular thing, because that’s all bullsh!t.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  57. Grewgills says:

    You’re in effect arguing that: 1) You don’t see the connection and 2) I can’t make a reference that violates your expectations.

    First of all, since we have free speech, let’s begin with the fact that I have a right to write what I like.

    Of course you have the right to, as I have the right to write back how I think you’re wrong. That you have the right to write something does not make it productive or worthwhile.

    1) No I don’t see a connection of any real strength. I can see no reasonable scenario where the modern American Right would accept control from a foreign power of any stripe and aid them in the subjugation of the American populace. That is what the Vichy are known for. Your analogy is weak and comparing your domestic political opponents to Nazi sympathizers and traitors to their own people is not conducive to any sort of productive discourse with domestic (or foreign) political opponents.
    2) You are free to make whatever references you like, as I am free to find it absurd, inapplicable, and counter productive.

    because to you all such references mean a particular thing, because that’s all bullsh!t.

    To deny that references to Nazis and Nazi sympathizers are not emotionally charged is more than a bit disingenuous.

    Second, interesting writing will very often violate your (or society’s) expectations.

    The tired old trope of comparing your opponent to a Nazi or Nazi sympathizer is the opposite of novel or interesting.

    Have you ever, even once, in an argument seriously compared someone or their position to Nazis or Nazi sympathizers and had that argument with them be at all productive?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  58. Matt says:

    @Grewgills: A lot of the people involved in the Nazi party didn’t either…

    They just new they hated the gays the unions etcetc..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  59. Grewgills says:

    To the down voters I ask again, have you ever, even once, in an argument seriously compared someone or their position to Nazis or Nazi sympathizers and had that argument with them be at all productive?

    There is a reason Godwin’s Law came to be and it’s not because comparisons to Nazis or Nazi sympathizers are clever and apt and just enough outside the bounds of polite conversation to make them edgy and interesting. It is because they are lazy, common, and rarely ever serve any constructive purpose whatsoever.

    Yes Republicans and Nazis are both of the Right as Communists and Democrats are both of the Left, but Republicans are no more meaningfully like Nazis (or their sympathizers) than Democrats are like Communists (or their sympathizers). If you have fallen so far down the rabbit hole that you can no longer recognize that you need to take a break from the internet.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  60. Grewgills says:

    @Matt:
    Didn’t either what?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  61. michael reynolds says:

    @Grewgills:

    I don’t know what you men by productive. I’m interested in the truth, not in gaining converts.

    And again, you go to “what Vichy is known for.” But (thanks to odd circumstances) I know quite a bit more about Vichy. So I’m not limited to what is commonly known, I’m free to enlarge on other people’s perceptions.

    Recall that the original point I was pursuing was that the French government was responsible for their loss to the Germans in 1940, not the French soldier. And that the cause of this loss was the French government’s factionalism, paranoia about redistribution, concern for maintaining an entitled hierarchy, devotion to wealthy interests, phony nostalgia, distrust of intellectuals, etc…

    Now, are these or are these not also attributes of the GOP? If so, then why can’t I say so? And if you believe not, then why don’t you make that argument?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  62. michael reynolds says:

    @Grewgills:

    Yes Republicans and Nazis are both of the Right as Communists and Democrats are both of the Left, but Republicans are no more meaningfully like Nazis (or their sympathizers) than Democrats are like Communists (or their sympathizers).

    How do we know if we aren’t allowed to debate it?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  63. Grewgills says:

    @michael reynolds:

    And again, you go to “what Vichy is known for.”

    Well, that is what they are primarily known for. Any comparison to them invokes what they are primarily known for.

    Recall that the original point I was pursuing was that the French government was responsible for their loss to the Germans in 1940, not the French soldier. And that the cause of this loss was the French government’s factionalism, paranoia about redistribution, concern for maintaining an entitled hierarchy, devotion to wealthy interests, phony nostalgia, distrust of intellectuals, etc…

    Now, are these or are these not also attributes of the GOP?

    Many in the US and England at that time shared those same characteristics, as did many in other parts of the world at various times. People don’t draw those comparisons nearly so often. Why do you think that is?

    I don’t know what you men by productive. I’m interested in the truth, not in gaining converts.

    That is fortunate, because comparing your political opponents to Nazis or their sympathizers certainly won’t gain any converts.

    How do we know if we aren’t allowed to debate it?

    You can see people go on ad nauseum on other sights about how Democrats in general and Obama in particular are leading us on a march to socialism or communism, however poorly defined. They manage to draw some similarities, as you did with the Vichy, but on the whole their arguments are vapid, lazy, unconvincing, and rather miss the larger point.
    Returning the favor with comparisons to Nazis or Vichy is no more illustrative.

    Perhaps I am dense and just missed it, as I am popping on here between grading finals. What exactly was your point in comparing the Vichy to the modern GOP? What truth was illustrated by your comparison? What did it contribute to the discussion?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  64. Grewgills says:

    @michael reynolds:
    To put it more plainly, when you make an effective analogy it includes what the analogue was PRIMARILY known for whether or not that is your intent. One cannot make a useful analogy, when one glosses over what the analogue is primarily known for.
    Obama is ‘regarded as handsome and charismatic’, he ‘spoke warmly of his grandmother in interviews’, he was cared for for a time by his maternal grandmother. Those are all traits shared by Obama and Ted Bundy, yet no useful analogy can be drawn between them.
    You could make a much longer and more political list with Mumia and Obama, but the analogy would still have little meaning and serve more to distract than to inform.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1