Although analyzing threats has being updated by Intelligence services across the globe, surprised events are still challenging for many active experts in global politics. Many theories and strategies are used to highlight unexpected events and more measures are taken in nowadays to mitigate the surprise and Pearl Harbor is a great example when it comes to analyze a threat in international security.
What happened at Pearl Harbor?
According to Fukuyama’s definition, the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese can be termed as a strategic surprise. The attack carried out by 353 Japanese aircrafts was supposed to be preventive in nature to prevent American navy from interfering in Japan’s plans to attack the colonies of the Allies in South East Asia. This can be considered as an example of strategic surprise as Japan had not formally declared war on USA and more so because prior to this incident, the USA was not an active participant in the second World War .1
This single event is touted to have been the pivot in changing the balance of power in the favour of Allied forces and going by Fukuyama’s definition definitely caught the American government off guard. This low probability high impact scenario was planned and executed by the Japanese to utmost finesse to ensure that the entire operation achieved its objectives. The measures used by Japanese to ensure that it remained a surprise were many. The first measure was the long and difficult worded letter sent via the Japanese embassy which took the translators too long to decode and ensured that the attack remained a surprise and the Japanese toed the conventions of war as well. Furthermore in one blow, the Japanese were able to destroy a large part of the American Navy and thus gain a tactical advantage in the war having caught USA off guard. Other methods used like the detailed planning that went into the attack, the modification of missiles and bombs to maximize damage in shallow waters, the use of two waves in the air attack all prove without a doubt as to the validity of the attack having been a classic example of a strategic surprise .2
However, had the then US president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, paid attention to this possibility and not ordered the deployment of a majority of his naval force in the vicinity of Hawaii, the situation could have been completely different. This ignorance along with the lack of large scale supplies of fuel and ammunition needed to support such a large fleet; lack of support ships like tug boats; inadequate training facilities for the troops collectively led to the massive loss suffered both in terms of naval power and in terms of human lives lost.
It was not as if the attack was a total surprise. By mid 1941, it had become imminent from intelligence sources that war between Japan and USA was on the anvil. The USA had prevented the Dutch from providing fuel to Japan and had placed a complete trade embargo with Japan on its own as well. USA had also supported the Allied Forces in various ways which included weapons, ammunition, supplies and medicines to various Allied nations and helping other factions which were opposed to Japanese and Axial powers’ invasions; a case in point being that of China where America helped the government of Chiang Kai-Shek in resisting Japan’s military .3 Had Roosevelt paid attention to all the intelligence reports and had he listened to the then commander-in-chief Richardson and not deployed his navy in the vicinity of Hawaiian Islands, maybe the attack could have been avoided.
Fukuyama, and Francis: Blindside. “How to Anticipate Forcing Events and Wild Cards in Global Politics.” CH 9,11. Washington, D.C: Brookings Institution Press, 2007.
George, Roger Z, and James B. Bruce. “Analyzing Intelligence: Origins, Obstacles, and Innovations.” Ch 14,15,17,18. Washington D.C: Georgetown: University Press, 2008.