The following is an excerpt from GEOFFREY NORMAN | Jun 11, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 37 | TheWeeklyStandard.com |
In the six months after its surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese Navy sailed from one victory to another, across the Pacific and into the Indian Ocean, until it seemed as though it was not merely unbeaten, but unbeatable. The Japanese conquered everything they attempted to conquer—including the Philippines and Singapore—and they defeated every fleet they encountered. Perhaps the most heavily symbolic of those early victories was the Battle of the Java Sea, in which a force of cruisers and destroyers fighting as part of something known as American-British-Dutch-Australian (ABDA) Command, was routed and its commander, Rear Admiral Karel Doorman, killed when his flagship, the Dutch cruiser De Ruyter, was hit by a Japanese torpedo that blew up one of the ship’s magazines.
That victory, and others, were so conclusive—even easy—that the Japanese Navy began to think of itself as invincible and became infected with what some of its officers would call, ruefully, “the victory disease.” But that was later. After Midway.
Despite its astounding run of victories, Japan had still not fully settled accounts with the Americans. Faced with the decision of “what next?” the Japanese high command designed an operation to force America’s aircraft carriers into a decisive battle and sink them. The U.S. Navy would be left without carriers, with its battleships mostly resting on the mud in Pearl Harbor, and with its submarines shooting torpedoes that routinely malfunctioned. In this state of helplessness, the Americans might be persuaded to negotiate. If not, Japan could defend its empire from behind a barrier of island fortresses that ran from the Aleutians to New Guinea, with its invincible navy sailing out to meet and engage any threat.
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