Daniel Markind

Israel, Gaza and the Pacific war in World War II

When the Japanese Imperial Air Force attacked the United States’ Pacific fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941, they knew that Japan could not invade the United States and conquer it. What Japan could do, however, was so cripple American naval and military panel in the Pacific that Imperial Japan would have a free hand to conquer and control whatever territory it desired that would secure resources, raw materials and markets to allow Japan to control its future and the future of all countries in the region for generations. By doing so they also could deprive the United States of raw materials that it needed, putting the Japanese foot on America’s throat instead of the other way around.

Despite not being existentially threatened with foreign conquest in the immediate future, the Roosevelt Administration responded with total war. Over the next nearly four years, the United States unleashed against Japan an amount of disproportionate force perhaps unmatched in world history, culminating with the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japanese cities.

During the Pacific war, the United States lost approximately 103,000 men. The Japanese lost over 2,000,000 soldiers and civilians killed, roughly a 20-1 ratio. Following the Battle of Midway in 1942, the Japanese Navy no longer possessed a serious threat to further expansion. By 1944, American air power was so superior that the US Air Force could, and did, bomb Japanese cities at will. There were no “smart” bombs in the Second World War. Bombs dropped at or near cities were likely to kill many more civilians than military personnel. “Strategic” bombing began in June 1944. By the end of the war somewhere between 250,000 and 900,000 Japanese civilians were killed in the raids. American Admiral William Halsey famously said about conducting the Pacific War, “… remember Pearl Harbor. Keep ‘em dying.”

Die they did, in extraordinary numbers. During the nights of March 9-10, 1945, in a raid known as “Operation Meetinghouse,” American planes destroyed 16 square miles of Tokyo, killed approximately 100,000 civilians and left almost 1,000,000 Japanese homeless. The Japanese High Command, which walked past the wreckage, death and destruction every morning, refused to surrender. Indeed by the time Operation Meetinghouse was finished, the bloodiest battle American troops would fight in the Pacific in World War II, Okinawa, was still a month in the future. Beginning on April 1, 1945 and continuing for 62 days, the Battle of Okinawa resulted in approximately 14,000 American deaths, 77,000 Japanese soldiers killed and 150,000 Okinawan civilians. When it was over, and the Allies had a bridgehead 340 miles from the Japanese home islands from which to launch the planned invasion of the Japan home islands, the Japanese still didn’t surrender. It would take two atomic bombs to accomplish that.

By this point in the war, of course, Japan was defenseless against American air power. All Japan was trying to do was bleed America so badly that the United States would not be willing to pay the price in blood needed to accomplish what was needed to be accomplished – destruction of the entire structure of Japanese militaristic Imperial rule. By late summer 1945, four months after Europe had already celebrated V-E Day, the Truman Administration was estimating that there might be 1,000,000 American casualties resulting from the invasion of the Japanese home islands. Already since late June 1945, American intelligence estimates had been warning General Douglas MacArthur that at least six additional Japanese military units had arrived on the scene of Southern Kyushu, the southernmost of the Japanese home islands. MacArthur was warned that since April 1945 Japanese strength had increased from 80,000 troops to 206,000. Surely, the invasion of Japan was going to be bloody.

Does this sound familiar? One party enormously stronger than the other militarily, but the other party refusing to surrender, seeking only to cause maximum bloodshed and having utter disregard for the fate of its civilians. Simply change the names of Japan to Hamas and the United States to Israel and you’re left with a mosaic eerily reminiscent of Gaza in March 2024. One huge difference, of course, is that in 1945 there was no world community demanding that America stop causing Japanese “genocide” and wringing its hands over America’s “disproportionate response” to the Pearl Harbor aggression. The Roosevelt and Truman Administrations knew that the Japanese Imperial system had to be destroyed, and they were prepared to do whatever it took to do so.

As we reflect on this, I would be interested to know if those who accuse Israel of genocide etc. can inform me of at which point the American response to Japan during World War II crossed the line and also turned into genocide? A far larger percentage of Japanese were killed by the Americans (and others) than Gazans killed by Israel. Japan was just as defenseless against American air power as Hamas is in Gaza. Japanese civilians suffered more than Gazan civilians are, and this was even before Truman dropped the bomb. When did American military destruction of Japan become genocide? If it didn’t, why not?

One interesting byproduct of the Gaza War has been how less interested Israeli public opinion is in following the demands of the world community. I happen to believe this is a good thing. It stems, however, from a belief that the world is biased against Jews, and that Israel will always have actions demanded of it that are different from any other state. To those who dispute this, I would submit that if good answers can’t be given to the questions raised above, it is proper for Israel to turn a deaf ear to all the world’s protests about genocide and disproportionate force. As Roosevelt and Truman understood, the party that was the victim of the initial surprise attack needs to do what is in its own security interests, whether the world likes it or not.

About the Author
Daniel B, Markind is an attorney based in Philadelphia specializing in real estate, commercial, energy and aviation law. He is the former Chair of the National Legal Committee of the Jewish National Fund of America as well as being a former member of the National Executive Board and the National Chair of the JNF National Future Leadership. He writes frequently on Middle Eastern and energy issues. Mr. Markind lives in the Philadelphia area with his wife and children.
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