The Guardian August 1, 2001


Film Review:
Some class truth about Pearl Harbour

by Greg Butterfiel

A young couple's romance is disrupted by a foreign enemy's unprovoked 
attack on a peaceful Pacific isle. That's the mythical tale depicted in 
Pearl Harbour, the blockbuster film produced by the Walt Disney Co., 
chock full of Hollywood stars and state-of-the-art special effects.

It claims to tell the story of the December 7, 1941, Japanese air attack on 
the US Navy station in Hawaii. The film depicts a reluctant United States 
being dragged into the Second World War by Japanese aggression. With the 
Pentagon's blessing, the producers shot much of the film aboard Navy 
vessels at the real Pearl Harbour.

Ironically, the film's release coincides with the US government's behind-
the-scenes efforts to bolster resurgent militarist forces in Japan with the 
aim of building an imperialist military alliance against the People's 
Republic of China. Untold millions of Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and other 
Asian peasants and workers died fighting Japan's brutal colonial occupation 
of their countries during the 1930s and '40s.

A film like earl Harbour has the potential to mislead millions of 
workers and young people about the real nature of the Second World War and 
the US role in it.

Japanese-American and other Asian-American groups say it could also spark a 
new wave of racist violence against Asian people in this country (USA). 
They note that all of the Asian people in the film are depicted as enemies. 

What workers need to know

So what is it that Disney, the Pentagon and crew are trying to hide behind 
the love story and multi-million-dollar special effects?

First of all, for the US government, big business and the military, the 
Second World War wasn't a "a war against fascism". It was a war among the 
imperialist powers to re-divide the world's riches.

In the Pacific, that meant a war with Japan for control of the natural 
resources, labour and markets of Asia. 

Blood for oil

It must be remembered that Japan wasn't the only brutal colonial power in 
Asia. Britain ruled India and Hong Kong with an iron fist. France dominated 
Southeast Asia.

The United States had taken possession of the Philippines, Guam and other 
Pacific islands during the Spanish-American War. From 1900 onward, 
Washington bloodily suppressed continual uprisings by the Filipino people. 
And then there was Hawaii itself, the site of Pearl Harbour  robbed from 
its Indigenous inhabitants by US gunboat diplomacy.

The war between Japan and the United States had its roots in the 
imperialist re-division of the world that took place after the First World 
War ended. At that time Washington became the senior partner in the US-
British-Japanese alliance that dominated China.

In the book A Political History of Japanese Capitalism, Jon Halliday 
writes about the agreement signed at a 1921 Washington conference on China: 
"The imperialist powers who gathered at Washington all agreed on one thing: 
that they should continue to plunder China and exploit the Chinese people."

But Japan's ruling class and military caste chaffed in the role of "junior 
partner" assigned to them by the Western imperialists  especially after 
the Great Depression took hold. Following the capitalist law of "expand or 
die", Japan came into open conflict with US-British domination of the 
region and of China in particular.

As Japanese exports grew to the detriment of the Western powers, and as the 
Japanese army clashed with the US-backed Nationalist army of Chiang Kai-
shek in China, Washington hit back with tariffs and racist laws banning 
Asian immigration and property ownership.

"The United States began seriously to squeeze Japan in July 1940 when it 
introduced a licensing system for certain US exports to that country. The 
two crucial items, crude oil and scrap iron, were added to the list after 
Japan occupied Northern Indochina in September 1940", writes Halliday.

A full embargo followed on July 26, 1941. "The American embargo, 
particularly on oil, severely limited Japan's ability to manoeuvre", 
Halliday explained. "Much of Japanese diplomacy prior to December 1941 was 
taken up with trying to secure supplies of oil... Prior to Pearl Harbour, 
Japan had only about 18 months' supply.

"In November 1941, when the talks with Washington were already well 
advanced, Japan proposed universal non-discrimination in commercial 
relations in the Pacific area, including China, if this principle were 
adopted throughout the world. To the United States... this was 
'unthinkable'. Japan was, on the whole, eager to reach a settlement and 
offered considerable concessions to this end".

Halliday concludes that "America could certainly have reached a temporary 
settlement within the framework of an imperialist carve-up which gave Japan 
slightly more than it had been granted in Washington in 1921-22.

It was America which turned down the Japanese proposal for a summit meeting 
between Premier Konoe and Roosevelt in autumn 1941. And it was US Secretary 
of Sate Cordell Hull's outright rejection of Japan's proposals of November 
7, 1941, which brought negotiations to a halt".

"We were likely to be attacked"

US imperialism, Copeland writes in Expanding Empire manoeuvred Japan 
into "firing the first shot" so that Washington would appear to be waging a 
defensive war. This was vital, since anti-war sentiment remained strong at 
home.

Copeland refers to a revealing document first published in the 1947 book 
President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War by historian Charles A 
Beard.

It's a excerpt from the diary of Roosevelt's Secretary of War, Henry L 
Stimson, dated November 25, 1941  - about two weeks before the Pearl 
Harbour attack.

"Then at 12 o'clock we went to the White House, where we were until nearly 
half past one", Stimson wrote. "At the meeting were Hull, Knox, Marshall, 
Stark and myself. There the President... brought up entirely the relations 
with the Japanese. He brought up the event that we were likely to be 
attacked perhaps next Monday, for the Japanese are notorious for making an 
attack without warning, and the question was what should we do.

"The question was how much we should manoeuvre them into the position of 
firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves."

So the political and military leaders in Washington, especially after they 
moved to choke off Japan's lifeline of oil, knew the attack was coming. It 
was, after all, the pretext they were hoping for to extend US military and 
economic control in Asia.

But no warning was given to the sailors at Pearl Harbour.

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Acknowledgement to Workers' World

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