Killer Subs In Pearl Harbor
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NOVA looks into new clues to one of the most tragic events of World War II, the sinking of the USS Arizona. It has been thought that the Arizona was sunk by a bomb dropped by a Japanese aircraft, but the discovery of five Japanese midget subs just outside Pearl Harbor raises new questions about the Arizonas final hours. Could these tiny but lethal subs have played a crucial and previously unsuspected part in the days tragic events?
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One thing I wish they had emphasized more was the 2002 discovery of the mini-sub that was sunk by the destroyer USS Ward outside of the harbor. There is some information on this in the book USS Ward Fires First Shot WWII. I've long wished that this sub would be raised and put on display as the first vessel sunk by the US Navy in the war.
My reason for rating this program so low is not the basic tenant of the program's argument - that a Japanese midget submarine made its way into Pearl Harbor and made an attack against American battleships. It issues come from the deceptive way it presents its arguments. The show and the researchers resort to some of the key sins against an objective evaluation of historical events - hyperbole, omission, and manipulation of facts. The more I watched the program the more I kept feeling like some con artist was trying to jive me.
It isn't clear whether the hyperbole is the result of the researchers or the show's writers, but the program tries to cast the Japanese midget submarine operation as some recently discovered event. That may be true of you never watched "Tora Tora Tora", or read even the most basic account of the Pearl Harbor attack that well documents the attack by the USS Ward on a Japanese midget sub. For example, the narrator talks about the 1944 West Loch Disaster: "Unlike December 7th, this second disaster is not well known, because, until recently, it was veiled in secrecy." Seeing how this event was declassified in 1960, I guess what constitutes "recently" is a matter of opinion. Two of the researchers interviewed for the show, John Rodgarrd and Peter Hsu, later admitted that the show implied a lot of discoveries were recent when in reality they weren't. Even the wreck of the midget sub was known since the early 1990s but was presumed to be a trophy recovered during the Pacific campaign and then dumped.
The program also omits some significant facts to bolster their hypothesis. The most glaring perhaps, is the failure to mention the torpedo attack on the cruiser USS St. Louis. That ship was subjected to an attack by a submarine, as the cruiser exited the entrance to Pearl Harbor about 2 hours after the attack started. The submarine fired two torpedoes (the same number carried by the midget subs) that ended up hitting a reef and exploding. The St. Louis incident is well documented and widely accepted by many naval historians as likely involving the submarine that is the focus of this program. One of the researchers in the Nova program, Parks Stephenson, argued on his website that the midget sub could not have attacked the St. Louis, and you can judge for yourself the veracity of his arguments. But whether this incident is accurate or not, that this was left out of the Nova documentary implies there are no other theories about the role of the missing sub during the attack.
Another example of omission is in the very photograph the researchers argue shows the Japanese submarine. You can see a launch some 40 or 50 yards from the supposed submarine... possibly one of the battleship whaleboats taking crew members ashore for Sunday service. But the researchers opt to crop the boat out when zooming in to show their computer enhancement. That there were no witnesses on that boat who saw a Japanese midget submarine thrashing about is difficult to believe, but pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
The documentary is also guilty of outright fact manipulation. Two researchers point out a Congressional report that a 1,000 lb torpedo was found in Pearl Harbor, and say it couldn't have come from an airplane (which carried a 450 lb warhead). While that it true, they fail to state that the torpedo couldn't have come from a midget sub either. The midget subs carried a special torpedo with a 350kg (770lb) warhead. So was the weight of the found torpedo somewhat overstated? Perhaps, but more details would be needed to confirm this. But that doesn't stop the researchers from flinging out handful facts, whether they are relevant or not, to make it seem they have hard proof for their theories.
The last sin is, for want of a better term, the failure to pass the "smell test". One of the surviving Japanese support crew was interviewed for the show. He said the crew of the sub was "highly qualified for the job", which is most certainly true. So why would the sub skipper then proceed to position his boat in one of the main aircraft torpedo drop zones at the very beginning of the attack? The subs were tasked to attack the battleships between the first and second air strikes. So the skipper would have to be some imbecile to not only put his own boat at risk but, even worse, risk the success of the aircraft strikes by placing his sub right in the middle of where the torpedo bombers were releasing their weapons.
There are other details that undermine the theory of the sub attack - such as if there was a strong wind blowing from left-to-right in the photo that supposedly shows the submarine (look at the flags on the battleships), then why are the rooster-tails moving in the opposite direction from the sub? But we could go on and on. In the end, I don't dismiss the possibility that the submarine made its way into the harbor, but the arguments and evidence presented in this show show create a very circumstantial and ultimately misleading case for their arguments. I would suggest reading alternative accounts of the event before drawing any conclusions.
Minus 1 star for not using a modern recording format on this DVD.