For the attack on Pearl Harbor to be orchestrated, Japan needed somebody at the helm. For the United States to react, a government official would need to step forward. To justify how the US completely missed the signs that Japan was planning an attack, there needed to be a scapegoat for blame to fall on.
The attack on Pearl Harbor affected thousands of people, both in the United States and in Japan, but at the forefront of each country were key players, either calling the shots or falling victim to the politics of such a devastating attack.
At the forefront of the attack on the United States was Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. In 1939, Yamamoto took the reins of the Imperial Japanese Navy and masterminded the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Admiral of the Navy and commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet, Yamamoto became a high-value target of the United States when it became clear he was responsible for the Pearl Harbor assault.
After American codebreakers determined the location of Yamamoto’s flight in April of 1943, his craft was shot down and he was killed in the crash. As the man credited with taking on the United States, Yamamoto’s death was a blow to Japanese morale.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
American president Franklin Roosevelt’s actions the day after the attack helped unite the nation in resolve and hope. In his speech, which spawned Pearl Harbor’s “Day of Infamy” nickname, Roosevelt urged the US Congress to declare war with Japan.
The speech was so well received that not only was the tally in Congress just one vote shy of unanimous, the entire nation was united, eager to enter into battle. The President found a way to turn the fear of another attack on American soil into the mindset that a war in the Pacific was necessary.
Admiral Husband E. Kimmel
How Japan was able to surprise the entire American naval force at Pearl Harbor was a question everybody had on their mind. Helming the United States Pacific Fleet was Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, a decorated veteran of World War I. By 1942, his service in the First World War would be overshadowed by what many claimed was a failure to adequately prepare Pearl Harbor for the devastating attack.
Whether Kimmel was responsible for the losses depends on who you ask. According to the members of the Roberts Commission appointed by President Roosevelt, Kimmel and Army Lieutenant General Walter Short showed poor judgment and were charged with dereliction of duty. Kimmel was blamed, rightly or not, for not properly defending Pearl Harbor even though he had been warned of a possible attack shortly before it happened.