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Nature of the Pearl Harbour attack

LAURENCE REES: And the nature of the attack on Pearl Harbour was incredibly important for the course of the whole war, wasn't it?

AKIRA IRIYE: Of course it was, because it mobilises American opinion. Even isolationists who had been opposed to US intervention in Europe all now say that this was a humiliating cheap shot against the United States and that now the nation must unite and fight against this treachery. I think there’s only one person in congress, Mary Rankin, who opposed the First World War and opposed the Second World War. She was being very consistent. but allied isolationists - of whom there were quite a number still on the Republican side - now came around and said we can’t let this kind of thing happen unpunished. So we have all to unite, there is no question about that.

LAURENCE REES: So the irony is that the attack onn Pearl Harbour gets the Japanese precisely the reverse of what they wish?

AKIRA IRIYE: Absolutely. I think that this shows the extent of the Japanese self complacency, ignorance of the outside world, they really did not know much about the United States or other countries for that matter and they did not know much about China. I mean this is their island mentality, the fact that they are not really doing enough about other countries, in the past 50 years or so in which they had emerged as a world power. I mean they really had not studied other nations or international affairs or anything like that, they’ve been so very self centred, there’s no question about that.

LAURENCE REES: So in a way if the Japanese had known more of the history of America they wouldn’t have done it?

AKIRA IRIYE: They wouldn’t have done it if they’d known enough, and they would not have attacked China either, but particularly the United States. They have Japanese immigrants in the United States and they have some students who have studied in the US but when it comes to the question of how much the average Japanese person knew about the United States in 1941 the answer would be practically zero because at that time something like 80% of the people in Japan still lived in the countryside. They had not had the kind of education that urban university students had, and even urban university students would not have studied American history, American society, as much as they studied European history.