How can we possibly justify having started a war? And having done so, how can we ever again say that December 7, 1941 is a day that will live in infamy without also saying the same of March 20, 2003?
Sixty years after Pearl Harbor, the administration of G. W. Bush has made "preemption" an official part of U.S. policy. According to this so-called "Bush Doctrine," the United States claims the right to use military force whenever it determines that its security or economic interests may be threatened by another nation in the future. The Bush National Security Strategy of 2002 states that "The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction - and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively." In other words, if it is to our advantage, we will strike first - begin a war - when we see a potential threat.
That is exactly what the Japanese did in 1941, when the United States posed a huge threat to their leaders' conception of Japan's national interests. With bases reaching across the Pacific, the U.S. Navy, in particular, was potentially a major obstacle to Japanese expansion in China and Southeast Asia. Moreover, the United States had imposed an embargo on oil and steel shipments to Japan, a nation that depended on imports and had oil reserves sufficient for only about two years. By November 1941, negotiations to resolve or defuse these issues had stalled. Japanese military planners, by then in control of their country's government, saw armed conflict with the United States as inevitable, and disabling U.S. naval power in the Pacific seemed essential for achieving their goals. They judged that a high-risk, high-gain surprise attack would give Japan its best chance for success. That is, they chose preemption.
After the war, the United States and its allies did not accept Japanese or German claims that their preemptive acts had been legitimate. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson was the chief allied prosecutor of major Axis war criminals. In August 1945 Jackson wrote: "We must make it clear to the Germans that the wrong for which their fallen leaders are on trial is not that they lost the war, but that they started it... Our position is that no grievances or policies will justify resort to aggressive war. It is utterly renounced and condemned as an instrument of policy." During the next few years, officials and military officers of both Germany and Japan were tried and convicted for planning and carrying out aggression by their countries' armed forces. There was no exception for "preemptive war," although some of the accused tried to use that concept in their defense.
Sunday, December 07, 2008
Charlotte Alexandre sent me an article from Truthout today entitled "Remember Pearl Harbor" and subtitled "'Pre-emptive' war, then and now." We really need to think about its thesis. Here's part of what it says: