A SUNDAY IN DECEMBER : The Planner : ‘Should Have Attacked Again,’ Genda Believed
The diminutive military commander who devised the operational plan for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor would many years later win a U.S. decoration for his contributions to American security. But he never apologized for his World War II role and contended that the only problem with the Pearl Harbor raid was that Japan failed to follow it up aggressively enough.
Proud and ramrod-straight at 5 feet 3 inches and 103 pounds, sharp-featured Minoru Genda remained devoted to his career to the end. “I am a soldier,” he said shortly before his death.
Asked at a 1956 London news conference if he had any regrets about the Pearl Harbor raid, he responded: “I have no regrets.” Then, after a pause, he added: “Yes, I have regrets. We should not have attacked just once. We should have attacked again and again. The mistake we made was in not occupying Hawaii with the army. If we had then gone on to make a surprise attack on the West Coast of the United States, we might have won.
“Pearl Harbor, tactically, was a success, but strategically it was unsuccessful.”
Asked to comment on whether he thought staging the attack without a declaration of war was “fair,” he replied: “I cannot say now. Maybe in a hundred years’ time.”
When reporters looked aghast, he explained, “You must remember in these things I speak as a soldier.”
Although he won a reputation before Pearl Harbor as an ace pilot, Genda spent World War II in command posts and never shot down an aircraft in combat, he told interviewers after the war. Flying, however, was a vocation he maintained well into his 70s.
After the war, Genda downplayed his role in planning the Pearl Harbor operation. “I was just another man in the ranks” of the planning staff, he maintained. During the action Dec. 7, he remained aboard the carrier Akagi as air operations officer.
When Japan re-established its armed forces in 1954, Genda, who had risen to the rank of navy captain by 1945, joined the so-called Air Self-Defense Force as a general. In his mid-50s, he regularly flew F-86 jet fighters along with Japanese pilots in their 20s. When Japan was choosing a new mainstay fighter jet in the late 1950s, Genda spent three months in the United States, personally test-flying each of three aircraft under consideration. By then, he had become chief of Japan’s air force and had recorded more than 5,000 hours in flight, including 1,200 hours in jets.
President John F. Kennedy awarded him the Legion of Merit for his service in the Air Self-Defense Force and his contributions to the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty.
The irony was not lost on Genda.
“The Japanese people who fought against America are now pro-American, while those who were not directly involved in the war are anti-American,” he said in an interview with U.S. News and World Report in 1969.
He strongly supported the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty and spoke out against Japan “going it alone.” For Japan to build a nuclear arsenal, he said, “would only incite other Asian nations to do the same and increase instability in this area.” But he defied Japanese public opinion by declaring that deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons on Japanese soil was essential to security in the Pacific in the 1960s.
After retiring from the air force, Genda served 24 years in the upper house of Parliament and held the chairmanship of the Japan Animal Welfare Society.
Regularly retiring at 9 p.m., he would arise at 5 a.m. to walk his seven dogs. He also kept a cat and four hawks as pets. To preserve his eyesight for flying, he abstained from alcohol and refused to watch movies or television.
Never was he reticent about expressing his views on security and military strategy.
Once, he asserted that Japan would have used nuclear bombs in World War II if it had possessed them. On another occasion, he declared that Japan would never have surrendered if the decision had been left to the military.
“Even if three or four atomic bombs had been dropped, the Japanese people were not the type who would surrender. We were determined to fight on to the days of our children and our grandchildren. But this was overturned by the Sacred Rescript from the emperor. Without the emperor, there would be no Japan today,” he said.
He died in 1989, on the anniversary of the late Emperor Hirohito’s Aug. 15, 1945, declaration of surrender and seven months after the emperor’s own death.