Sun 3 Oct, 2010 07:16 am
Give us your expert synopsis on the WWII Japanese invasion of the Aleutian (SP?)Islands if you will. I am embarassed to say I am just learning of this and it seems to me that it was as major an event as Pearl Harbor in terms of strategic action.
My main question is how in the world did this spectacular failure of intelligence or planning on our part allow the Japanese to invade these islands in a complete surprise attack? It would seem to me that being so close it would have seemed natural for them to do it.
Thanks for your expertise Big Dawg.
It was a major national embarrassment, but i don't know that it was as strategically important as all that. Attu and Kiska are a hell of a long way from any important war industries or military bases in the United States. Dutch Harbor was never seriously threatened. Eventually, after some ham-handed operational ineptitude, the army managed to round up the Japanese. It was hard, bloody fighting, and to that extent, it gave the army some idea of what they'd have to deal with with the Japanese in future. It tended to harden army attitutdes toward the Japanese too--that they were barbarians who would have to be dug out of their holes. There was a good deal of racism in the United States at the time toward the Japanese (there had been since the late 19th century, especially in California), and this just tended to harden American contempt for the Japanese.
For the campaign to have been a success for the Japanese, they'd have had to take Dutch Harbor, far to the east from Attu and Kiska. That would have required them to risk one or more (it probably would have taken two or three) of their big carriers. They lost four of their big flattops at Miday, a year before the invasion of Attu. They really never had a chance to do anything strategically significant.
Like Pearl Habor, it was a profound embarrassment to be kicked around militarily by a people we considered inferior to us. Attu and Kiska don't matter--but at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese planned and executed one of the most daring and successful naval attacks of all time. It still pisses Americans off, which is why the FDR conspiracy theory is so popular. People would rather believe the government cynically betrayed Americans than to believe that a "racially inferior people" caught us flat-footed like that.
Got it. thanks. It almost seems akin to 9/11 in the context of "who the hell dropped the ball for God's sake?"
Were there locals on those islands who suffered as a result of this or was it moslty just a couple small bases and some seals living there?
It's funny how when I was young I, like a lot of middle and high schoolers found history to be the most dry and boring subject imaginable, and now I'm absolutely fascinated by it and regret my ignorance of it. Im working on it though.
So far the main lesson I've learned is that we never learn any damn thing
There were Aleuts living on those islands. The Japanese were contemptuous of them, as they were (and maybe still are) of the Ainu on their big, northern island. But i don't think they went out of their way to harm them. There was a fascinating book which i read a couple of years ago by a woman who taught school in the islands in Alaska before Dubya Dubya Two. I'll see if i can come up with the name. There were a few big towns, but no cities, and mostly the population was scattered about in small groups, not much differently than it probably was before the white boys showed up.
Here we go--A Schoolteacher in Old Alaska, by Hannah Breece. I highly recommend it as an interesting look into the past.
When I was about 60 years old, I decided that when I grew up, I wanted to become an historian.
Setanta, we learn so much from you. Thanks for you sharing your knowledge with us.