News | Dec. 19, 2023

Introduction to Fall Professional Reading

By Cmdr. Peter Mersky, USNR (Ret.)

A quick look at the reviews in the Fall column will show a focus on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, certainly one of this country’s history’s seminal events that thrust us into what had been a major war involving mainly European countries: the so-called Axis, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Japan, as of Sept.  27, 1940, along with Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Rumania, and Thailand, against The United Kingdom, France, and other smaller nations (Turkey remained neutral through most of the war, but eventually joined the Allies in February 1945) that were threatened by Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler, such as Denmark and Norway, and soon, the much larger Soviet Union. Imperial Japan had long been intent in bringing China, Thailand, and other small countries in Southeast Asia into a co-prosperity sphere referred to as “Asia for the Asians,” basically an anti-West bloc that would stand up to increasing Western influence that Japan’s military rulers deeply resented and vowed to tame. As modern and well-equipped though the Japanese Army and Navy were by 1940, forays into China and Manchuria beginning in 1931 and intensifying in 1937 with heavy bombing of major Chinese cities, not to mention action against an American gunboat, the USS Panay on Dec. 12, 1937, served to illustrate just how serious Japan was in pursuing its nationalistic program in dominating as much of Asia that it could, no matter how long it took.

The British operation against the Italian Navy in Taranto Harbor on the night of Nov. 11-12, 1940, gave the attentive Japanese rulers (no matter how often they would deny it) the seed of an idea to attack the U.S. Navy and Army’s main bases in the Hawaiian Islands. They took it from there, planning, refining, training for and ultimately flying what became the successful operation on Dec. 7, 1941, against the Navy’s fleet at Pearl Harbor, a number of U.S. Army air bases near the harbor as well as raids against American installations in the Philippines on Dec. 8, as well as the highly successful destruction of two major British Royal Navy ships on Dec. 10. The Pacific War was on, and soon Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, and one-time ally Turkey and a few European nations allied with the Axis were arrayed for the monumental struggle for their lives for the next four years. Millions of civilians and service members of many of the world’s countries, large and small, were ultimately killed and injured, and the world’s geography was changed, and indeed, is still changing as a result of what became known as World War II. In reality, we have yet to see the final result of the early-morning Japanese raid against America’s far-flung bases in the Pacific. 
— Peter B. Mersky