August 30, 2002
Firing The First Shot

DailyPundit and others have blogged an Independent story about the Japanese mini-sub recently found off Pearl Harbor, arguing that the U.S., in sinking the submarine, "fired the first shot" at the Japanese. There seems to be at least a small hint of criticism, implying that it was somehow wrong for the U.S. Navy to fire at an armed submarine attempting to enter an American naval base by stealth.

I can't find it on the web, but someone once said:

The aggressor is always a peace-lover: he wants to enter your country unopposed.

I don't know whether this was Orwell, Clausewitz, or someone else entirely, and my wording may be quite inaccurate, since I'm quoting from memory. But the thought is worth pondering: when one country attacks or invades another, it is generally utterly irrelevant who fired the first shot. The Polish army may well have fired the first shot at the invading Germans in 1939: it doesn't matter.

Can anyone help fix the text of the quotation, and identify its author?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at August 30, 2002 11:54 PM

It was, indeed, Carl von Clausewitz, and the words (in English, of course, I haven't gotten around to getting a German version of the book) are:

"The aggressor is always peace-loving; he would prefer to take over our country unopposed."

Your memory serves you well indeed :)

Posted by: Misha on August 31, 2002 11:08 AM

Funny how you picked up on that same hint of criticism. I was flabbergasted to see that shooting at an armed sub in your water was starting the war yourself. Good catch :-)

Posted by: Vinny on September 1, 2002 12:19 PM

The stories I read about this also pointed out, somewhere towards the end, that this confirmed what the Americans had claimed all along, that they fired the first shot. So instead of "Americans fired first", with "(contrary to what _they_ believed)" the unwritten assumption, we have "Americans fired first, (contrary to what _you_ believed)". The first is exciting news, the other is dull trivia, so that angle was buried at the end or left out alltogether.

Posted by: Bjørn Stærk on September 2, 2002 07:35 AM

Actually, when you look at the paragraph from the article, it's rather silly:

"An accidental discovery on the seabed could provide proof that an American sailor, not a Japanese pilot, fired the first shot in the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 that launched the Pacific War."

So, it was a sneak attack, but we "fired the first shot" in it. Um--your point being what? That it's no longer a sneak attack because we found the sub and fired at it?

It's just pure dumbness, if you ask me. (Is "dumbness" a word? Because it should be.)

Posted by: Meryl Yourish on September 2, 2002 05:28 PM

Hint of criticism, the Yahoo science page still lists the headline for on story as

"Japanese historian says sub find proves U.S. started war"

" A government historian said Thursday that the finding of a Japanese midget submarine sunk just before the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor was evidence that the United States, not Japan, started the war between the two nations.

"The finding provides evidence that it was the Americans who made the first shot, which means the war had already started even before Japan's air attack on Pearl Harbor," said Takehiko Shibata, a historian at the Defense Agency's research institute. "It's been our understanding of how World War II started. Now we have the proof."

Posted by: Jeremy on September 4, 2002 02:18 AM