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Loved. Hated. Reviled. Feared. And, like P!nk, totally missundaztood.
That's Admiral Isoroku Yamamato in a nutshell.
But the thing about nutshells is, they're not very big. They don't hold a lot of information. So to better understand the dude who masterminded the attack on Pearl Harbor, we're gonna need to crack that shell and lay out all the nutty goodness inside for closer inspection.
Not that Admiral Yamamoto was nutty. Quite the opposite, in fact. He's pretty much one of the best military strategists the nation of Japan—and possibly the world—has ever known.
And he was smart, well-educated, well-trained, thoughtful, and well-liked…by certain people, anyway.
And the people who didn't like him had beef because he was highly unsupportive of Japan's militaristic expansion efforts. And we mean, highly unsupportive. He was not quiet about his opposition to Japan's invasion of Manchuria in 1931, nor was he shy about denouncing his country's plans to formally sign on with Mussolini's Italy and Hitler's Germany in the Tripartite Pact of 1938.
Wait, hold on, is it weird that a career military guy was anti imperial expansion?
Not really, when we consider that his two biggest goals were (a) preservation of the Japanese Empire, and (b) avoiding war with China and the United States. And for Yamamoto, (a) and (b) kind of went hand-in-hand.
See, Japan, being a series of volcanic islands and all, doesn't have a whole lot of natural resources. Because of this, prior to WWII, it imported pretty much all of its oil and oil accoutrements from countries like the United States, and all of its rubber and rubber accoutrements from British Malaya. Yamamoto, being the kind of guy who could put two and two together, figured that Japan should probably stay on the good side of the U.S. and the British Empire if it wanted to continue importing the resources it needed.
If it didn't stay on the good side of the Allies (as they would come to be known), Yamamoto reasoned that the country would eventually be hit with sanctions and embargoes at best, and total invasion and destruction at worst.
And he also figured that doing stuff like invading Manchuria all violent-like, and signing a besties pact with visions-of-world-domination types like Hitler and Mussolini, was most likely not going to help Japan stay on that good side.
Turns out he was right.
At the time, Japanese nationalists and militarists were so peeved by his attitude against what they perceived as Japan's "natural interests" that he received buckets of hate mail, a ton of death threats, and at one point, a bounty was placed on his head.
In fact, a lot of people believe that he would have been assassinated if he hadn't been promoted to Commander-in-Chief of Japan's Combined Fleet, and thus moved onto a ship far out at sea where the would-be assassins couldn't get to him.
But it wasn't only his own countrymen who hated him. After it became clear that he was the dude who orchestrated the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, British Malaya, and the Dutch West Indies, he acquired a whole new anti-fan base: the West.
So why'd he put together such a massive attack if he knew it was going to end all badly for the country he wanted to save?
Because he wasn't a do-it-halfway kind of guy. He had a job to do, and by golly, he was going to do it well, even if he thought it was a really stupid idea.
See, once Japan was officially initiated as an Axis power, Yamamoto knew it was only a matter of time before the Allies brought the pain. He knew that the only way Japan would even have a prayer of coming out victorious in this whole thing was if they went into serious attack mode and took out as many Allied resources as they could in one fell swoop; once the U.S. got motivated to move, he thought, the American population and pocketbook would make them more than able to squash Japan's military like a bug.
He even said that, if Japan was going to go on the offensive against the West, his military would be able to do some serious damage for the first six months, maybe a year…but after that, he couldn't guarantee any kind of success.
Again, turns out he was right.
His coordinated blitz of the Pacific region on December 7th and 8th of 1941 enraged and enervated the West, including the United States, who had thus far pretty much stayed out of the whole world-at-war thing. And even though he'd initially been against everything Japan had done to get to Pearl Harbor, he was still the dude responsible for the attack, and that earned him a spot on America's Least Popular list for quite a while.
Admiral Yamamoto didn't live to see his beloved country surrender to the Allies and submit to American occupation. After the Battle of Midway and the Battle of Guadalcanal had stacked the victory deck in favor of the Allies, Yamamoto decided to take a little flying tour of New Guinea to boost morale.
Instead of boosting morale, though, his plane got shot down by American troops who'd intercepted his encoded travel itinerary.
The next day, April 19, 1943, his death was confirmed when his aircraft and body were found in the New Guinea jungle.
Isoroku Yamamoto was a soldier and a patriot. And people on both sides of the Pacific War are still trying to figure out how they feel about that.