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Hollywood: 3 Top Movie Myths About Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor is in the news, six months ahead of schedule, owing to the release of the Hollywood blockbuster, which earned $75 million dollars over the Memorial Day weekend. Following are the top three myths perpetuated by the film:

MYTH #1 The Japanese were guilty of staging a sneak attack. This is undoubtedly the myth that Americans hold most dearly about the war. Evidence in support of it seems overwhelming: Newsreels at the time noted that the attack occurred while Japanese diplomats were negotiating with the State Department, successfully exploiting American naivety, it seemed. Further, the Pacific fleet was taken by surprise. Finally, FDR himself told Congress, in his"day of infamy" address, that the attack had come as a shock.

While the Japanese certainly intended to catch us flatfooted in Hawaii, repeating a successful strategy used at the outset of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, they also intended to give Secretary of State Cordell Hull prior warning of at least a couple of hours. The war warning was indeed prepared and sent to the Japanese embassy in Washington, but owing to faulty transmission and a delay in translation, the message was not delivered to Secretary Hull until an hour after the attack had begun.

War did not come out of the blue, in any case. FDR was expecting war by then; on December 6, in a final effort to prevent hostilities, he'd sent a personal note to Emperor Hirohito appealing for peace. War simply had become virtually inevitable. Nothing we could do or say could convert the Japanese militarists to democracy and peace; unless Japan suddenly changed we would continue our crippling oil embargo.

Even if the Japanese warning had arrived prior to the attack, American officials would likely still have regarded Pearl Harbor as shocking. A few hours notice would hardly have diminished the surprise, especially since when the war came it came in Hawaii; the expectation was that the Japanese would strike further east, probably in the Philippines, not at Pearl Harbor, thousands of miles from Japan.

But the charge that the attack was sneaky plays on a stereotype that Asians are sly. More precisely, it was shocking. Isn't that enough?

MYTH #2 The attack on Pearl Harbor destroyed the Pacific fleet and caused catastrophic losses to our air forces. Stanley Weintraub, author of Long Day's Journey into War: December 7, 1941, effectively demolished this myth years ago. To be sure, he noted:"Eighteen ships were indeed sunk, including eight battleships. At least 347 aircraft were destroyed or badly damaged. Nearly 4,000 men were killed or wounded. It looked very bad. Results even exceeded Japanese expectations." But-and it's a big but-"more than half the U.S. planes destroyed were obsolete, and battleships, the Navy's proud dinosaurs, played a minor role in the war. No aircraft carriers were lost at Pearl Harbor-none were there at the time of the attack. This was crucial."

MYTH #3 Admiral Kimmel was playing a round of golf when the attack began. Kimmel and General Short had indeed been scheduled to play gold Sunday morning on the island of Oahu. But it was called off at the last minute when visitors had arrived.