The Curse of Hindsight: December 7, 1941

Today’s blogger is Stephanie Stork, a summer 2013 intern in the Archives I Reference and Processing Sections who worked with Navy records.

Working at the National Archives this past summer as an intern with the Old Navy/Maritime Reference staff allowed me to work with an array of exciting documents, which I’ve come to appreciate as artifacts of their own time. One of the projects included writing an enhanced descriptive aid of the Division of Naval Intelligence Administrative Files 1927-1944 (Record Group 38, entry 85, National Archives ID: 4490843). It was with this series that I wished for a time machine, especially in the specific case of two files spanning 1928-1933. I wanted those involved to know, like myself, what the future would bring, specifically the events of December 7, 1941.

The first file (see 8 images under “Fukunaga File” below) is comprised of correspondence from 1933 and 1934 between the Director of Naval Intelligence and Lieutenant H.L. Spain of the U.S. Naval Reserve, who took it upon himself to send a letter to the department with an attached newspaper article entitled “U.S. Customs Seize Cargo of Japanese ‘Fake War’ Books.” This article, which appeared in the Honolulu Advertiser on December 14, 1933, chronicled Honolulu Customs’ seizure of copies of a Japanese book of fiction authored by Lt. Commodore K. Fukunaga of the Japanese Naval Reserves, entitled, An Account of the Future War Between Japan and the United States. As the Honolulu Advertiser reported, this work of fiction set its storyline along the idea of a future war between the United States and Japan in 1936, in which a Japanese fleet surrounds the island of Oahu and captures Hawaii. The article reported that in Fukunaga’s book, “American cruisers and warships are described in great detail throughout the yarn and are properly named,” and that, “One incident related tells of a Japanese submarine which was dispatched to lay mines at the entrance to Pearl Harbor, but which fails to return.” The news article then moves on to mention the book’s emphasis on airplane bombings, and that “Later on the opinion is expressed that the enemy fleet has been sunk…”,

Another document (from a second file, see images under “Ishimura File” below) I came across in the same archival box is a letter addressed to the Secretary of the Navy from a Mr. Ralph B. Mazar. This letter, forwarded to the Navy Department on December 12, 1941, included Mazar’s translations of a select number of paragraph’s from a Japanese publication issued in 1928 entitled War Is Inevitable. This publication, bearing the imprimatur of the emperor and authored decades earlier by Commander Toto Ishimura, notably mentioned resentment towards the United States, and stated “Surprise will be the keynote of our initial attack. Fabian tactics will be our naval guide. In the opening hours of the War the Japanese Navy will sink and disable a goodly number of American warships.” Mazar went on to note that the book had a “Mein Kampfian touch” to it, and that Ishimura wrote “Within seventy-two hours after our first surprise attack, half of the American Fleet will be sunk or crippled, army and navy personnel will be demoralized, population of the United States will be stunned.”

There is no crystal ball in which one can tell the future. Judging past actions with knowledge from the present is unfair, but there are times when one cannot help but look back in history and wish that those in the past could have known what future decades would bring.

Note: All documents from each file have been posted with this blog for context and researcher convenience.

References: RG 38, Division of Naval Intelligence Administrative Files 1927-1944, Box 35. File: A7-1/OQ/Fukunaga, Kyosuki

RG 38, Division of Naval Intelligence Administrative Files 1927-1944, Box 35. File: A7-1/OQ/Ishimura, Toto (1941)

2 thoughts on “The Curse of Hindsight: December 7, 1941

  1. As a cultural phenomenon, “war fiction” depicting scenarios of conquest (of others) or invasion (by others) had been well-established long before the appearance of the Fukunaga book. Prior to WWI, for example, there were a number of novels projecting German or French invasions of Britain or even the United States. How predictive were these of forthcoming events? Not very. Rumors of war between the US and Japan had been circulating since the Spanish-American War in 1898, and the US Navy had been basing contingency plans around such a prospect ever since. Undoubtedly Secretary Knox learned precious little from Mr. Mazar’s letter, and wouldn’t have learned much from Fukunaga’s tome even had he read it when it was still warm from the printing press. Alas, the appearance of Lt. Arthur McCollum’s name and initials on the March 1934 memo will only feed into the pre-conceived notions harbored by conspiracy theorists. (Sigh…) An interesting side-light, however.

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