in 1941, japan bombed the american territory of the philippines-- 7/22/19

Today's selection -- from How to Hide An Empire by Daniel Immerwahr. On December 7, 1941, Japan bombed the American territory of the Philippines:

"Nine hours after Japan attacked the territory of Hawai'i, another set of Japanese planes came into view over another U.S. territory, the Philippines. As at Pearl Har­bor, they dropped their bombs, hitting several air bases, to devastating effect.

"The army's official history of the war judges the Philippine bombing to have been just as disastrous as the Hawaiian one. At Pearl Harbor, the Japanese hobbled the United States' Pacific fleet, sinking four battleships and damaging four others. In the Philippines, the attackers laid waste to the largest concentration of U.S. warplanes outside North America -- the foundation of the Allies' Pacific air defense.

"The United States lost more than planes. The attack on Pearl Harbor was just that, an attack. Japan's bombers struck, retreated, and never re­turned. Not so in the Philippines. There, the initial air raids were followed by more raids, then by invasion and conquest. Sixteen million Filipinos ­-- U.S. nationals who saluted the Stars and Stripes and looked to FDR as their commander in chief -- fell under a foreign power. They had a very different war than the inhabitants of Hawai'i did.

Advancing Japanese troops moving toward Manila.

"Nor did it stop there. The event familiarly known as 'Pearl Harbor' was in fact an all-out lightning strike on U.S. and British holdings through­out the Pacific. On a single day, the Japanese attacked the U.S. territories of Hawai'i, the Philippines, Guam, Midway Island, and Wake Island. They also attacked the British colonies of Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong, and they invaded Thailand.

"It was a phenomenal success. Japan never conquered Hawai'i, but within months Guam, the Philippines, Wake, Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong all fell under its flag. Japan even seized the westernmost tip of Alaska, which it held for more than a year.

"Looking at the big picture, you start to wonder if 'Pearl Harbor' -- the name of one of the few targets Japan didn't invade -- is really the best short­hand for the events of that fateful day.

"'Pearl Harbor' wasn't how people referred to the bombings, at least not at first. How to describe them, in fact, was far from clear. Should the focus be on Hawai'i, the closest target to North America and the first bit of U.S. soil Japan had struck? Or should it be the Philippines, the far larger and more vulnerable territory? Or Guam, the one that surrendered nearly immediately? Or all the Pacific holdings, including the uninhabited Wake and Midway, together?

"'The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves,' Roosevelt said in his address to Congress -- his 'Infamy' speech. But did they? JAPS BOMB MANILA, HAWAll was the headline of a New Mexico paper; JAPANESE PLANES BOMB HONOLULU, ISLAND OF GUAM was that of one in South Carolina. Sumner Welles, FDR's undersecretary of state, de­scribed the event as 'an attack upon Hawaii and upon the Philippines.' Eleanor Roosevelt used a similar formulation in her radio address on the night of December 7, when she spoke of Japan 'bombing our citizens in Hawaii and the Philippines.'

"That was how the first draft of FDR's speech went, too. It presented the event as a 'bombing in Hawaii and the Philippines.' Yet Roosevelt toyed with that draft all day, adding things in pencil, crossing other bits out. At some point he deleted the prominent references to the Philippines and settled on a different description. The attack was, in his revised version, a 'bombing in Oahu' or, later in the speech, 'on the Hawaiian Islands.' He still mentioned the Philippines, but only as an item on a terse list of Japan's other targets: Malaya, Hong Kong, Guam, the Philippines, Wake Island, and Midway -- presented in that order. That list mingled U.S. and British territories together, giving no hint as to which was which.

"Why did Roosevelt demote the Philippines? We don't know, but it's not hard to guess. Roosevelt was trying to tell a clear story: Japan had attacked the United States. But he faced a problem. Were Japan's targets consid­ered 'the United States'? Legally, yes, they were indisputably U.S. territory. But would the public see them that way? What if Roosevelt's audience didn't care that Japan had attacked the Philippines or Guam? Polls taken slightly before the attack show that few in the continental United States supported a military defense of those remote territories.

"Consider how similar events played out more recently. On August 7, 1998, al-Qaeda launched simultaneous attacks on U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Hundreds died (mostly Africans), and thousands were wounded. But though those embassies were out­posts of the United States, there was little public sense that the country itself had been harmed. It would take another set of simultaneous attacks three years later, on New York City and Washington, D.C., to provoke an all-out war.

"An embassy is different from a territory, of course. Yet a similar logic held in 1941. Roosevelt no doubt noted that the Philippines and Guam, though technically part of the United States, seemed foreign to many. Hawai'i, by contrast, was more plausibly 'American.' ...

"Yet even when it came to Hawai'i, Roosevelt felt a need to massage the point [and] ... clearly worried that his audience might regard Hawai'i as foreign. So on the morning of his speech, he made another edit. He changed it so that the Japanese squadrons had bombed not the 'island of Oahu,' but the 'American island of Oahu.' Damage there, Roosevelt continued, had been done to 'American naval and military forces,' and 'very many Amer­ican lives' had been lost."



Daniel Immerwahr


How to Hide an Empire


Farrar, Straus and Giroux


Copyright 2019 by Daniel Immerwahr


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