Editorial: They remember Pearl Harbor (2-3-42)

The Pittsburgh Press (February 3, 1942)

They remember Pearl Harbor

To the public, the Pacific Fleet’s attack on Japanese bases in the Marshall and Gilbert Islands is welcome evidence that our sea forces are able to take the offensive. To the strategists, it is a forerunner of more ambitious action in the future against the enemy’s outer defense screen.

This was not a major engagement. Its purpose was to feel out enemy strength, and to destroy as many bases and craft as possible in a hit-and-run process.

It was successful. The reconnaissance was completed. Jap losses were heavy, and American light. Fortunately for the enemy, no capital ships were found at or near the bases, or they probably would have been added to the toll of auxiliary ships and planes destroyed.

The importance of the Marshalls, which Japan heavily fortified as a mandate power, and the Gilberts, which she captured from the British in December, is obvious. They serve as a barrier between our Hawaiian-based fleet and the Southwest Pacific war zone, and as bases against the American-Australian supply line.

From these Marshall bases, Japan launched the surprise assault on Pearl Harbor, Midway and Wake with aircraft carriers, long-range bombers and submarines. They are 2,200 miles from Pearl Harbor, or almost halfway to the great Dutch Indies base of Amboina now threatened by the Japanese. They are less than 700 miles south of our lost Wake.

Therefore, the safety of Hawaii, the recapture of Wake, the protection of our lifeline to the Indies, to Singapore and eventually to the Philippines, all would be greatly facilitated by our seizure of these enemy lines.

If Admiral Nimitz’s destructive raids are merely the prelude to bigger action – as the Japanese fear and Americans hope – the enemy now faces the difficult choice of defending those crippled bases with inferior forces, or shifting some Japanese strength from the long Burma-Singapore-Philippine-Indies battle line. Either way, the Allies should profit.

That, of course, is the supreme advantage of offensive over defensive strategy. Virtually all of Japan’s extraordinary victories to date, extending over many thousands of miles, are due to her offensive advantage and our defensive disadvantage. Japan never can be stopped or turned back by defensive action, however heroic. Only counteroffensives against her dangerously lengthened lines can lick her.

So even more gratifying than the immediate result of the Pacific Fleet’s first major action is its promise of more offensives to come.