Friday, September 25, 2009

The Road to Pearl Harbor: Inevitable?

Listening to Jean Smith's FDR and reading Ian Kershaw's Fateful Decisions creates a great synergy. For instance, the road to war between the U.S. and Japan contains a number of crucial misperceptions and missed opportunities. If FDR had met Prime Minister Kenoe, would this have prevented the war? On the other hand, would American public opinion, already turned away from appeasement because of the failure of Munich, in conjunction with the influence of the military in the Japanese government, have made war inevitable? In addition, the Japanese public held a very strongly nationalistic sentiment. Would these factors have doomed any diplomatic initiative? Individuals, no matter how capable, cannot overcome strong social forces, can they? However, if society, national and international, constitutes a complex system, then even small number of agents with limited power can have a crucial effect on the system. No single viewpoint, individual or collective, can take hold of an assured position to control the outcome. These two accounts of the road leading up to Pearl Harbor make me believe that war could have been avoided in late 1941, but I question whether it could have been delayed long enough for the conflict to resolve on its own (as did the Cold War). For an influence on my thinking about this, read Niall Ferguson's essay in the volume Virtual History that he edited.