The Japanese General Who Opposed Pearl Harbor

November 23, 2017

When the decision to attack the naval base at Pearl Harbor was brought to the table in response to the American involvement in what Japan considered its Pacific affairs, it’s commonly believed that all of Japan supported the decision. The proud nation felt it was simply protecting its legitimate interests, and planned to remove one of its greatest obstacles through a surprise attack, but support was not unanimous. In fact, there were leaders within the Imperial Japanese military who were very vocal about their opposition to the Pearl Harbor attack.

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the planner of the Pearl Harbor attack

To those against it, the attack promised only one thing – guaranteed war with the United States that would not lead to a guaranteed victory. In fact, considering the strength of the US Pacific Fleet, success was a pipe dream that would require a miracle. If the attack was initiated and the American fleet wasn’t entirely crippled, it would lead to a difficult and bloody struggle throughout the Pacific.

After December 7th, 1941, as the United States recovered from the attack, the Japanese soon found that those who had opposed hitting Pearl Harbor weren’t necessarily wrong.



The General Disagrees

One advocate who spoke against instigating war with the United States was Imperial Japanese Army General Shizuichi Tanaka. After the First World War, Tanaka served as military attache to Washington DC, and it was during this time that he began to be accused of being a western sympathizer. Because of this, as Japan started to militarize in the 1930s, he was passed over for promotions to more prominent positions.


Gen. Shizuichi Tanaka

When the Second Sino-Japanese War began, the general returned to the battlefield with the 5th Infantry Brigade. Despite taking part in Japanese victories, Tanaka was returned to an administrative position within the General Staff, pulling him from the battlefield. It was after he took this position that whispers of attacking Pearl Harbor started to circulate. Whether it was Tanaka’s time abroad that made him appear sympathetic to the west's cause or an outright fear that a war with the United States would end in defeat is unknown, but the general was outspoken against the planned attack.

Regardless of his views of the Pearl Harbor attack, Tanaka continued to serve, and it was on the battlefield in charge of the 14th Army that he witnessed the devastating losses Japan suffered at the hands of the Allies. When the Emperor of Japan planned to broadcast the nation’s surrender, Tanaka was approached to take part in a coup to overthrow the Emperor and continue the war, but again, reason drove his decision-making.

Rather than take part in the coup, he mobilized the Eastern District Army to stop it from happening. Though his actions likely saved many lives, he couldn't shake the idea that the destruction of Tokyo from Allied bombings was somehow his fault. On August 24th, 1945, after stopping the coup and allowing the war to end, Tanaka took his own life on behalf of the men who served beneath him.


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