Wednesday, April 18, 2012

America's Greatest Military Foe 3: Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto?

By the time we reach World War II, naval operations were becoming even more important to warfare. In 1890, Mahan wrote one of the most important treatises on the subject. World War I demonstrated the power of the U-boat, and by World War II, ruling the waves was critical to maintaining operations, especially for island powers like Japan and Britain (though I'm sure Britain would not like me to refer to it that way). While America had Nimitz, Japan's naval forces rested in the eminently capable hands of Isoroku Yamamoto.

Like Howe and Lee, Yamamoto had a strong affection for America. He was educated at Harvard and earned a deep admiration and understanding of America's capabilities and prowess. In addition, his men loved him and his charisma and strategic foresight earned him a position in an otherwise hostile political environment. Yamamoto fully understood his own military capabilities, even if not every quote attributed to him is completely true.

When tasked with overcoming America, even if he did not say that there would be a rifle behind every blade of grass, he understood what would be required to beat not just the American spirit, but its industrial and manufacturing power. Wikiquote provides me with the proper quote, that I could not have placed without it: 
"Should hostilities once break out between Japan and the United States, it is not enough that we take Guam and the Philippines, nor even Hawaii and San Francisco. To make victory certain, we would have to march into Washington and dictate the terms of peace in the White House. I wonder if our politicians, among whom armchair arguments about war are being glibly bandied about in the name of state politics, have confidence as to the final outcome and are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices."
He understood the situation, yet ultimately consented to the attack on Pearl Harbor. It dealt probably the most damaging blow that the U.S. has received in a war; that is part of the reason that Sept. 11's attacks were so closely related to Pearl Harbor. It was a vicious surprise attack that put America back on its heels. But, just like with America's response in engaging Al Qaeda and state sponsors of terrorism, America quickly recovered and declared war with Japan.

His prediction was right, even if he didn't actually say anything about a sleeping giant. The attack succeeded and the U.S. was hobbled for half a year, and until Midway, Yamamoto could run wild. At Midway, both layers of his cautious defense were compromised by circumstances outside of his control. Once the U.S. had cracked the Japanese codes, it was impossible for Yamamoto to effectively attack. Despite the loss at Midway, his men remained loyal to him, tying the politicians' hands; he remained the U.S. nemesis in the Pacific.

We'll never know what would have happened if Yamamoto had succeeded in convincing the militarists in Japan to do their best to leave America out of the fight. But we do know that Nimitz held Yamamoto in high esteem. When he had the opportunity to ambush and kill Yamamoto, he took it, believing that it would be impossible for Japan to replace him with a more competent commander. Much like Lee, Yamamoto was recognized for the force he was on the battlefield. He was a respected commander, both for his skill on the field, and ultimately, he has become recognized as a political . Yamamoto was killed in action, but his reforms of the Japanese navy and leadership helped to buy time and force America into a multi-front conflict that jeopardized its effectiveness in Europe.

Yamamoto was ultimately unsuccessful; his reluctance to take up arms may have been his undoing in the end. Indeed, it poisoned his relationship with his superiors, but America's recovery and cracking of his codes may have made any campaign he waged pointless. He was given what he (ultimately correctly) believed to be an impossible task. Against his better judgment, politicians squandered vital resources and engaged in a campaign that the admiral did not think was wise. Yet, he executed it brilliantly, perhaps executing it to the best of the ability any other naval commander could have given.

Yamamoto's strategies and cautious battle plans were well drawn up, and his surprise strike on Pearl Harbor achieved every objective he could have hoped for. But it wasn't enough; America was too resilient, manufacturing-wise, and was too quickly able to recover from a blow that would have crippled smaller economies. Yamamoto knew what he was getting into, but the politicians wouldn't listen. That, more than anything else, is what doomed Yamamoto's campaign. Well, that and the American Navy and Marine Corps.



In addition to the wonderful book I plan to read, The Reluctant Admiral, I find Yamamoto's idea of how America would fight tooth and nail to its very capitol in defiance of foreign occupiers an interesting parallel to the American's belief that the Japanese would do the same in an invasion of the Japanese mainland. Anyway, here are some pictures of the admiral.

As an aside, maybe I just don't have as firm a grasp on the Pacific campaign as I do the Civil War or the American Revolution, but I feel like this post is more meandering and vague. I apologize, because the next one will probably be even more so.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Are you commenting? Thank you! Please be nice; I'm lazy and would hate to actually have to moderate things.