The Legacy Of The Man Who Planned The Pearl Harbor Attack Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was the chief architect of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 75 years ago. Naval historian Capt. Yukoh Watanabe talks about Adm. Yamamoto's legacy in Japan.
NPR logo

The Legacy Of The Man Who Planned The Pearl Harbor Attack

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/504651757/504651758" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
The Legacy Of The Man Who Planned The Pearl Harbor Attack

The Legacy Of The Man Who Planned The Pearl Harbor Attack

The Legacy Of The Man Who Planned The Pearl Harbor Attack

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/504651757/504651758" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was the chief architect of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 75 years ago. Naval historian Capt. Yukoh Watanabe talks about Adm. Yamamoto's legacy in Japan.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

On this day, 75 years after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, we're hearing many voices on the program. We're hearing survivors of the attack. We're hearing the experience of a Japanese-American, and now we'll hear about the Japanese admiral who directed the attack at Pearl Harbor. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto led the Japanese navy in 1941. Americans recall him as an enemy mastermind. A Japanese historian recalls an irony of Yamamoto's life.

YUKOH WATANABE: I'm Yukoh Watanabe, naval historian and also a sea ship's captain in Japan.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Watanabe has written extensively about the admiral, and here is that irony. The mastermind of Pearl Harbor spent a lot of time in the United States before the war. He studied for four years at Harvard. He later joined Japan's diplomatic staff in the United States. He read a biography of President Abraham Lincoln and grew to admire him.

WATANABE: (Through interpreter) Like Lincoln, Admiral Yamamoto was also raised in very poor conditions and studied very, very hard to get to where he was. Lincoln was so attractive as a leader and not because he was perfect, but because he had his faults. He was a man. He made mistakes, and Yamamoto believed that this was a key ingredient for a leader.

INSKEEP: Yamamoto knew the United States well enough that he apparently understood how the war would end. He personally opposed attacking the United States, believing that if the conflict was long and drawn out, Japan would lose. Watanabe cites a letter the admiral wrote to a friend.

WATANABE: (Through interpreter) And the letter reads as follows, (reading) I find my present position extremely odd, obliged to make up my mind to and pursue unswervingly a course that is precisely the opposite of my personal views. Perhaps this, too, is the will of heaven.

GREENE: Well, Yamamoto's Pearl Harbor attack was a success. It sank or damaged numerous American ships, but the admiral's premonition was right. The United States did not give up. Instead it launched entire new fleets of ships, which have dominated the Pacific to this day. Admiral Yamamoto did not live to see the end of the war, though. The United States discovered where he was and shot down his plane in 1943.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: We say that Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto studied at Harvard for four years. However, according to the registrar, records show that Yamamoto withdrew shortly after the start of his first semester in 1920 and did not return.]

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Correction Dec. 13, 2016

We say that Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto studied at Harvard for four years. However, according to the registrar, records show that Yamamoto withdrew shortly after the start of his first semester in 1920 and did not return.