What was Tokyo other options?
In other words, it would have evicted U.S. forces from the Philippine Islands, seized Pacific islands and built airfields there, and employed air and submarine attacks to cut the U.S. Pacific Fleet down to size on its westward voyage to the Philippines’ relief. Interceptive operations would have culminated in a fleet battle somewhere in the Western Pacific. Japan would have stood a better chance of success had it done so. Its navy still would have struck American territory to open the war, but it would have done so in far less provocative fashion. In all likelihood, the American reaction would have proved more muted—and more manageable for Japan.
Suppose Robert E. Lee had laid hands on a shipment of AK-47s in 1864. How would American history have unfolded? Differently than it did, one imagines.
Historians frown on alt-history, and oftentimes for good reason. Change too many variables, and you veer speedily into fiction. The chain connecting cause to effect gets too diffuse to trace, and history loses all power to instruct. Change a major variable, especially in a fanciful way—for instance, positing that machine-gun-toting Confederates took the field against Ulysses S. Grant’s army at the Battle of the Wilderness—and the same fate befalls you. Good storytelling may teach little.
What if Japan had never attacked Pearl Harbor? Now that’s a question we can take on without running afoul of historical scruples. As long as we refrain from inserting nuclear-powered aircraft carriers sporting Tomcat fighters into our deliberations, at any rate.
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