“Japan could never have crushed U.S. maritime forces in the Pacific and imposed terms on Washington. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t have won World War II.”
Listen to Yamamoto. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto reputedly cautioned his superiors that Japan must win a quick, decisive victory lest it awaken the American “sleeping giant” with fateful consequences for Japan. The IJN, prophesied Yamamoto, could run wild for six months — maybe a year — before the United States mustered its full power for combat. During that interval, Japan needed to stun American society into a compromise peace — in effect a partition of the Pacific — while firming up the island defense perimeter enclosing the Asia-Pacific territories won by Japanese arms. What if its efforts fell short? U.S. industry would be turning out armaments in massive quantities, while new vessels laid down under the Two-Ocean Navy Act of 1940 — in effect a second, bulked-up U.S. Navy — would start arriving in the theater. The balance would shift irretrievably. In short, Yamamoto warned military leaders against “script-writing,” or assuming the enemy would do precisely what they foresaw. The admiral knew a thing or two about the United States, and understood the American propensity to defy preconceptions.
Don’t listen to Yamamoto. If Admiral Yamamoto rendered wise counsel on the strategic level, it was suspect on the operational level. His solution to the problem of latent U.S. material superiority was to strike at what navalists saw as the hub of enemy power — the adversary’s battle fleet. For decades IJN planners had envisioned waging “interceptive operations” to slow down and weaken the U.S. Pacific Fleet as it steamed westward, presumably to the relief of the Philippine Islands. Once aircraft and submarines deployed to outlying islands whittled the Pacific Fleet down to size, the IJN battle fleet would force a decisive battle. Yamamoto, however, convinced IJN commanders to jettison interceptive operations in favor of a sudden blow at Pearl Harbor. But in reality, the battle line stationed in Hawaii wasn’t the core of American naval strength. The nascent Two-Ocean Navy Act fleet was. The best that Yamamoto’s scheme could accomplish, consequently, was to delay an American counteroffensive into 1943. Tokyo may have been better off sticking with the interwar plan, which would have driven up U.S. costs, protracted the endeavor, and potentially sapped U.S. perseverance … (read more)