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Japan Strikes: 1941
Sixteen years before Pearl Harbor an English naval expert uncannily prophesied in detail the war in the Pacific. Now comes evidence that the Japanese heeded his theories—but not his warnings
December 1970 | Volume 22, Issue 1
Evidence that Bywater’s strategic plans had been taken to heart by Japanese war lords still seemed agonizingly out of reach, until one day I happened to be in the Library of Congress in Washington and looked up Bywater’s name in the card catalogue. I caught my breath suddenly when I came upon two entries under his name in Japanese. Quickly I copied down the Arabic numerals on the cards and rushed over to the Orientalia Division, asked for the books, and then begged a young JapaneseAmerican librarian to translate the titles for me. W7hen he did, I had my first important clue that Japanese military thinking had been influenced by Bywater. During the next few months I began to correspond with both military and academic scholars in Japan and began to piece together impressive evidence that Hector Bywater had, in effect, originated the plans for Japanese conquest in the Pacific.
Hardly had a month gone by after the publication in 1921 of Bywater’s Sea Power in the Pacific —the book containing the twenty-eight-page chapter that later became The Great Pacific War —when the Office of the Naval General Staff in Tokyo translated it into Japanese and distributed mimeographed copies to top naval officers as “material for strategic studies.” Because of “numerous demands” for additional copies, according to a publication of Suik’f4 Sha, the quasi-official naval officers’ association, Suik’f6 Sha was granted permission by the Imperial government to have Taiheiyo kaiken ran , as Sea Power in the Pacific was titled in Japanese, printed and distributed to a still wider circle of naval officers, although not to the general public.
By the time The Great Pacific War appeared in 1925, Bywater evidently had a wide enough following in Japan so that Hakuh’f4 Sha, a regular commercial publisher, had the book translated and offered for sale as Taiheiyō no Soha-sen . The following year The Great Pacific War was again translated and published by Bunmei Kyokai, the Waseda University Press, under the title Taiheiyō Senso to sono Hihan (“The Pacific War and Comment”) with an introduction by Tola Ishimaru, a lieutenant commander in the Imperial Navy. Apparently the Japanese government did not wish to have these translations known about in the West and thus intervened with the publishers so that, contrary to th^e usual practice, Bywater never received a royalty or learned of the pirated editions. Copies of both books are today in the National Diet Library in Tokyo and the library of the Japanese Defense Academy, formerly the Imperial War College, at Yokosuka.
Such widespread publication naturally stirred up a good deal of discussion. In his introduction to The Great Pacific War Commander Ishimaru said that the book possessed “a certain degree of rational probability and practicability” and that while Bywater’s conclusion that Japan would necessarily lose the war was “slander,” it was nevertheless possible that “by making good use of this publication the people of our country may turn a misfortune into a blessing.”
Also illustrative of the impact of The Great Pacific War on Japanese military thought are the many references to Bywater in a book called The Three-Power Alliance and a L’mted States-Japanese War , which was written in 1940 by Kinoaki Matsuo, an intelligence officer in the Imperial Navy and a high official of the influential politico-religious Black Dragon Society. Matsuo began by arguing that war with the United States was “inevitable.” Proceeding from that premise, he suggested that the best place for the “Japanese surprise-attack fleet” to strike would be at Pearl Harbor, that “simultaneous” attacks should be launched against Guam and the Philippines, and that the actual landings on the latter, preceded by a “diversion,” should come ashore on Luzon at Lingayen Gulf and Lamon Bay, precisely according to Bywater’s plan, which the author acknowledged having studied.
Indeed, Matsuo took courage from By water’s conclusion that Japan could achieve a great strategic advantage bystriking first and driving American forces from the southwestern Pacific. “As Bywater has pointed out,” Matsuo declared, “if Guam and the Philippines fall into [Japanese] hands, the United States will be confronted with a serious problem, the solution of which will be almost impossible.” But Matsuo was more a polemicist than a student of strategy, for he seized upon those elements in Bywater’s analysis useful to his thesis—namely, that Japan might hold off the United States indefinitely—while dismissing other considerations that he found distasteful. Bywater’s prophecies that the Imperial Navy would be shattered, the Philippines retaken, and Tokyo bombed were all brushed aside by Matsuo with the argument that Japan would display “a courage a hundred times higher than ordinary,” being possessed of “a burning determination to win.”