In the quiet of a Sunday morning in December, the skies over Pearl Harbor erupted in a hail of bullets, bombs, and torpedoes. The calm waters below instantly became a war zone as battleships erupted into flames. Smoke filled the air, rising high enough to be visible to pedestrians strolling through Honolulu.

The assault on Pearl Harbor was a devastating day in American history, and while it’s easy to picture the Japanese leaders celebrating the attack, there were those in Japan questioning the mistake that may have been made. At the forefront of that concern happened to be the same man who masterminded the assault, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.

The Admiral’s Doubts

Yamamoto caricature

To say that Yamamoto was near genius in his planning and execution of the Pearl Harbor attack wouldn’t be far off the mark, but he didn’t go into the process without a heaviness of mind and concern over the ramifications of such a move.

In the years following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Yamamoto was a villain to the United States and became a target of intense scorn and hatred. Caricatures and cartoons of the admiral circulated through major newspapers depicting a man hellbent on taking down the United States. He was misleadingly quoted to make it seem that he was bragging that Japan would dictate the peace in the White House, and it would be on their terms alone.

The truth of it, however, is that Yamamoto wasn’t as arrogant as the war and the attack on Pearl Harbor painted him to be. In fact, it was he who admitted that the struggle that would follow the 1941 assault would be futile for the Japanese. He saw the strengths of the United States, the weaknesses of his own nation, and knew that there was only one shot to cripple the opposing power. Conceived in “desperation,” as he had said, the Pearl Harbor plan was that attempt to cripple the elements of the American military that would pose the greatest threat in the Pacific.

Watching It Unravel

Battle of Midway – Japanese Carrier Hiryu just before sinking

Yamamoto lived just long enough to see how right he was. In June of 1942, the US engaged the Imperial Japanese Navy at the Midway Atoll in a battle that would change the course of the Pacific war. As the admiral feared, his navy was no match for that of the United States. With much of Japan’s navy damaged or sunk, the plan to dismantle the United States Navy at Pearl Harbor had turned into a lengthy suicide mission.

On April 18th, 1943, the US exacted its revenge for the 2,400-plus lives lost at Pearl Harbor when the admiral’s plane was shot down after American code breakers determined the location of his aerial convoy.

Just over two years later, the Admiral’s greatest fear about initiating battle with the United States came true when Japan was forced to surrender, finally ending the World War II.

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