To Awaken A Sleeping Giant

Wednesday, December 7, AD 2011



At the end of the epic movie Tora, Tora, Tora, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the head of the combined Japanese fleet, after the successful attack on Pearl Harbor, refuses to join in the elation of his staff, and makes this haunting observation: “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”  The line is almost certainly apocryphal.  The director of the film, Elmo Williams, claimed that Larry Forester, the film’s screenwriter, had found the line in a 1943 letter written by Yamamoto.   However, he has been unable to produce the letter, and there is no other evidence that such a letter exists.

However, there is no doubt that Yamamoto would fully have endorsed the sentiment that the line contained.  He had studied at Harvard in 1919-1921, and served two tours as a naval attache at the Japanese embassy in Washington DC.  He spoke fluent English, and his stays in the US had convinced him of that nation’s vast wealth and industrial power.  He had also developed a fondness for both America and Americans.

In the 1930’s Yamamoto spoke out against Japan allying with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, fearing that such an alliance would lead inevitably to a war with the US that Japan would lose.  He received frequent death threats as a result from fanatical Japanese nationalists.  These were not idle threats, as such nationalists did assassinate a fair number of Japanese politicians and military men during the Thirties who were against war with the US.  Yamamoto ignored the threats with studied contempt, viewing it as his duty to the Emperor and Japan to speak out against a disastrous course.  Yamamoto wrote in a letter to one nationalist:

Should hostilities once break out between Japan and the United States, it would not be enough that we take Guam and the Philippines, nor even Hawaii and San Francisco. To make victory certain, we would have to march into Washington and dictate the terms of peace in the White House. I wonder if our politicians (who speak so lightly of a Japanese-American war) have confidence as to the final outcome and are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices.

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3 Responses to To Awaken A Sleeping Giant

  • A gigantic boiler. I like that.

  • I hadn’t realized that the “sleeping giant” line came from Tora, Tora, Tora. I could swear that I’d read it presented as history in a couple of books when I was a kid reading up about WW2.

  • A good discussion on the subject of the quote is here:

    This is something we are seeing more of in the age of the intertnet in which a manufactured quote is cited quite a bit and becomes gospel. A prime example is this alleged George Orwell quote which is completely apocryphal:

    “We sleep safely in our beds at night because rough men stand ready to do violence on our behalf.”

    Then we have this quote universally, and falsely, attributed to Edmund Burke:

    “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

    A final example is a description of government attributed to the Father of Our Country but which he never uttered:

    “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence — it is force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.”

    Fake quotes, even when they express the sentiments of the individual purportedly having said them, are a bug-a-boo of mine.