The pictures of President Obama and the prime minister of Japan, Shinzō Abe, standing side by side to commemorate the attack on Pearl Harbor 75 years ago (Obama and Abe in historic joint visit to Pearl Harbor, 28 December) has me wondering how many people are aware that two momentous attacks – not one – took place in the Pacific on 7/8 December 1941 (the actual date of the strike on Pearl Harbor). One hour earlier, in real time, Japanese transport ships began landing troops on the east coast of Malaya, prior to overrunning the peninsula and capturing the “impregnable” British bastion of Singapore 10 short weeks later.
The anniversary of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, which brought America into the European war, is thus also the anniversary of the first strike in the unravelling of the British empire in east Asia. The reason the US fleet was deliberately attacked by the Japanese was to prevent its warships and aircraft from coming to the aid of the British colony, which had virtually no air defences. The dramatic devastation at Pearl Harbor was immediately blazoned across press billboards back in England – at the same time as a blanket of silence descended on the alarming news of the concurrent Japanese invasion of Malaya. That silence has remained in place pretty well ever since and, with it, the mutual dependence of these two momentous events – both in time and intent – has almost been lost to public consciousness. It’s high time this fudge of history was corrected.
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