JAPAN went to war because she believed that her air power was dominant in the Far East and that her air coverage of the seized territories could be made secure. Failure to appreciate the primary role assigned to air power in Japanese plans has been the source of much western confusion about the campaign in the Pacific, and could be a serious danger to the peace.
For many years it has been popularly assumed in the west that a war in the Far East would be decided by a great naval battle between Japanese and western fleets, and that in that battle the Japanese fleet faced certain destruction. More careful students of Pacific strategy concluded as far back as 1922, the time of the first naval limitations treaties, that the Japanese Navy would remain close to its base and would risk a major naval engagement only after the enemy fleet had been cut down by submarine attacks and weakened by having to fight far from its own bases. Later it became apparent that the Imperial Japanese Navy would probably engage the enemy fleet only if it were assured of the support of land-based aircraft. But not until the war was actually in progress did it become plain that Japan had assigned her Navy third place among the branches of her armed services. The expanded empire which Japan coveted was to be seized by the forces of all arms, with the Army and the Air Force taking the leading parts. It was to be defended from counterattack principally by air power.
Before the war began, westerners complacently believed that the Japanese were incapable of using air power effectively. Actually, the Japanese militarists had for many years planned to employ it as their chief weapon. To conceal their strategy, they took great pains in the years between the wars to publicize their supposed reliance upon their Navy. Devotion to sea power was used as a mask to cover aerial planning and preparations.
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