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Old 05-26-2001, 12:31 PM
Wumpus Wumpus is offline
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This question inspired by reading the reviews of the movie PEARL HARBOR....

I'd always been lead to believe that Admiral Yamamoto did in fact say, "I fear we have awoken a sleeping giant" after the attack on Pearl. And indeed, a quick Web search revealed hundreds of Web sites attributing the quote to him...without a cite.

However, I also found a couple of sites that hinted that Yamamoto never said it, and one that hinted that the line was invented for the '60s movie TORA! TORA! TORA!

Anyone out there have the Straight Dope -- a proper cite showing he did say it, or a cite that shows its an urban legend?
Old 05-26-2001, 02:27 PM
tomndebb tomndebb is offline
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John Deane Potter's Yamamoto (part biography, part WWII history) does not mention that line, although he does indicate that Yamamoto was very pessimistic.

On November 11, 1941, he wrote to a friend, Admiral Hori, wondering about the fate that brought him to engage in an act against which he was personally opposed (war with the U.S., not the Pearl Harbor attack).

On December 18, he wrote to his sister,
Well, war has begun at last. But in spite of all the clamour that is going on we could lose it. I can only do my best.
At about the same time, on the same day that a celebratory party was thrown for him by one of the Japanese senior admirals, he wrote to another friend,
.This war will give us much trouble in the future. The fact that we have had a small success at Pearl Harbor is nothing. The fact that we have succeeded so easily has pleased people. Personally I do not think it is a good thing to whip up propaganda to encourage the nation. People should think things over and realize how serious the situation is.
Nearly a year earlier, writing to a hawkish supporter of the government in an effort to dampen that man's enthusiasm he wrote:
Should hostilities break out between Japan and the United States it is not enough that we take Guam and the Philipines or even Hawaii and San Francisco. We would have to march into Washington and sign the treaty in the White House. I wonder if our politicians who speak so lightly of a Japanese-American war have confidence as to the outcome and are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices?
Ironically, the "sign the treaty in the White House" line was taken by the Japanese military and used as a prediction, which, in turn, was taken up by the U.S. as counter-propaganda of his "boasting."
Old 05-26-2001, 04:48 PM
sailor sailor is offline
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I have always heard the quote attributed to Napoleon
Old 05-26-2001, 11:24 PM
Kilt-wearin' man Kilt-wearin' man is offline
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It at least sounds like something Yamamoto would've said. I read a few biographies of him in college (I need to find copies of a couple of those books for myself) and gained a healthy dose of admiration for the man. I can't remember if that particular quote was in one of the bios or if I saw it in a movie, though.

And just to nitpick, Tora! Tora! Tora! was released in 1970. Good movie, though.
What does a Scotsman wear under his kilt? Shoes.
Old 05-26-2001, 11:34 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
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I don't recall that Yamamoto quote, but he allegedly said something to the effect that if Japan declared war on the United States, they would be successful for six months but after that he would not be confident about their chances.
Old 05-26-2001, 11:42 PM
Johnny L.A. Johnny L.A. is online now
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In case somebody doesn't know it, the quote in question is:
I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.
This is how it appeared in Tora! Tora! Tora!. (I just popped in the DVD to be sure I had it right.)
'Never say "no" to adventure. Always say "yes". Otherwise you'll lead a very dull life.' -- Commander Caractacus Pott, R.N. (Retired)

'Do not act incautiously when confronting a little bald wrinkly smiling man.' -- Lu-Tze
Old 05-27-2001, 07:44 AM
LouisXIV LouisXIV is offline
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Pearl Harbor

In addition to too many other historical inaccuracies to mention in the new Pearl Harbor movie, if the quote is from Yamamoto, they have him saying it on the bridge of one of the Japanese carriers. Yamamoto was not with the strike force but back in Japan when Pearl Harbor was bombed.
Old 05-27-2001, 09:02 AM
Wumpus Wumpus is offline
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The Napoleon quote is rather different: "[China] is a sleeping giant. Let him sleep! If he wakes, he will shake the world." Though obviously the (real or fictional) Yamamoto quote was inspired by Napoleon.

I'm beginning to suspect the TORA! TORA! TORA! theory is correct--this specific quote was manufactured for the movie. It wouldn't be the first time that Hollywood has superceded history in the minds of the public.
Old 05-27-2001, 10:11 AM
Johnny L.A. Johnny L.A. is online now
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As Wampus said, Hollywood does take many liberties with history. Still, Tora! Tora! Tora! seemed to take some pains to ensure accuracy. Yamamoto's quote was superimposed on the picture at the end of the movie, which leads me to think that the writer believed that Yamamoto said it. I'll have to watch the movie again with the director's commentary on to see if he says anything about it. On the one hand, I hadn't heard the quote before I saw Tora! Tora! Tora!. On the other, I was a single-digit-old kid when the movie came out.
Old 05-27-2001, 10:28 AM
wring wring is offline
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when you posted this yesterday, I spent a bit of time researching it. What I found were a bunch of sites that 'quoted' Yamamota "as Yamamota said...." and a bunch more that stated "as Hollywood had Yamamota say in Tora Tora Tora". I didn't find either illuminating, since they were mutually exclusive and neither referred to source data (ie, none of the places that attributed the quote to Yamamota went on to say 'as he said to..... at......", nor did the places that attributed it to Hollywood mention who specifically claimed authorship (yea, I know, 'the writer').

But, one thing I also did, was check the on-line quotation sources (Bartletts etc) and found zero mention of this quote.

So, to me, there wasn't a 'definative' answer that I could find, but the lack of mention in something like Bartletts leads me to suspect that it's a Hollywood fabrication.

(IOW, I don't know but I don't think he said it)
Old 05-27-2001, 12:22 PM
Joe_Cool Joe_Cool is offline
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How strange. I was reading this thread while I'm watching Pearl on the History Channel, and while I'm finishing, that scene just came on.

The "Pearl" version of the quote is "I fear we have succeeded only in awakening a sleeping giant."
Old 05-28-2001, 08:43 AM
Wumpus Wumpus is offline
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I suppose the real test of the TORA TORA TORA theory would be to try to find a reference to Yamamoto's "sleeping giant" quote that pre-dated 1969 (when the movie was made.)
Old 05-28-2001, 12:46 PM
Liberal Liberal is offline
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I researched for about three hours. Ignoring GeoCities pages and so forth, there are tons of references to the quote in one form or another. Many of them disagree on little details. Most say that Yamamoto made the remark after the attack, but there are a few, like the American Air Power Heritage Museum, that say he uttered the fateful words before the actual attack. Some say he was heard to say the remark; others say he wrote it in a diary.

The Admiral's alleged quote is a popular item. I tracked down twelve pages of Google references, before they began obscuring into personal home pages of Japanese people named "Yamamoto". I also search Excite, Hotbot, Yahoo, and a couple of others. It's mentioned in an official court document, a dissenting opinion from West Virginia's Justice Maynard:

This decision amounts to nothing less than a judicial Pearl Harbor. Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto is quoted as saying about the United States right after the attack, I fear all we have done is awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve. To continue the metaphor, that is precisely what this Court has done to the Legislature of West Virginia. This Court cannot continue to thumb its nose at the other branches of government. The Legislature and the Governor will not stand by and continue to allow this Court to usurp their constitutional powers. I genuinely fear that the Legislature will now be a giant filled with a terrible resolve.
That particular usage of the alleged quote, as an analogy to pissing off a bully, is common everywhere. It was even used to summarize what DOJ did to Microsoft.

There is an historian and author, William Martin, with an English degree from Harvard, and a masters in fine arts from USC, who gave a plenary address to the Massachusetts Historical Records Advisory Board:

As I said earlier, what I try to do is take you to the point where the decision is about to be made, where the history is still the future. By that I mean, a decision as grand as that of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who attacked Pearl Harbor against his better judgment, and later was heard to say that, "I fear that we have awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve."
Military sources are no help. The Navy archives turn up nothing, but the Air Force does! Lt. Colonel Matthew Caffrey, Jr, USAF Retired, writes in Toward a History-Based Doctrine for Wargaming:

Yet was Pearl Harbor a Japanese victory? Certainly it was a tactical victory by standards of attrition ratios. Shortly after his great "victory" Admiral Yamamoto said, "I fear all we have done is waken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve." The sense of purpose Pearl Harbor gave the American people far outweighed any temporary advantage it gave Japan. How could Japan have missed this? Japanese Naval wargaming did not take political impact into account.
Tantalizingly, he ends the above passage with a footnote that regretably turns out to be an irrelevant comment toward our purpose here, and not a citation of his source.

Even Senator John McCain writes in his introduction to the book, Pearl Harbor:

And those events changed the course of world history. The architect of Japan's bold stroke against American naval forces at Pearl Harbor, the respected Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, harbored few illusions regarding the nature of the country he was ordered to attack. Well versed in American culture and industrial capacity, Admiral Yamamoto prophetically proclaimed, upon receiving word of his magnificent victory at Pearl Harbor: "We have awakened a sleeping giant and have instilled in him a terrible resolve." The admiral's eventual death at the hands of American fighter pilots constituted an exclamation mark on his fateful prediction. Galvanized as a nation, the American people responded with a war effort that would take them to victory in the Pacific as Allied forces similarly drove to Berlin.
Sometimes, the sources seem at first sight to be surprisingly good, like Great Lakes Virtual Harbor, which has an otherwise fantastic tribute to the USS Arizona (complete with original newspaper picture of the ship when it was christened). There is a long and impressive expository on the Pearl Harbor attack, when suddenly, just as it,s attributing the alleged quote, it spells the Admiral's first name "Ishoroku". [sigh...] One can forgive a typo, I suppose, but it certainly doesn't help. Of course, that wasn't as bad as the site that called him "Yamamuchi".

Things went downhill from there. Oddly, the very best biography I found online was at Find a Grave. If you're truly interested in Yamamoto, you don't want to miss it. It does indeed paint a picture that the admiral did not want to drag Britain and the U.S. into a war with Japan:

Yamamoto warned Premier Konoye Fumimaro concerning possible war with the United States: "If I am told to fight regardless of the consequences, I shall run wild for the first six months or a year, but I have utterly no confidence for the second or third year. The Tripartite Pact has been concluded and we cannot help it. Now that the situation has come to this pass, I hope you will endeavor to avoid a Japanese-American war."
So, the thing is that the alleged quote is something that Yamamoto might easily have said. He was intimately familiar with the U.S., having been educated here and having lived here for quite some time. Unfortunately, he likely didn't say it. At Naval History Magazine's site, Lawrence Suid writes an article called Pearl Harbor Comes to the Big Screen, about the new movie. In it, he says:

Why Pearl Harbor? Hollywood has been there, done that, several times. Air Force in 1943, From Here to Eternity in 1953, In Harm's Way in 1965, and Tora! Tora! Tora! in 1970, all portrayed the Japanese attack on 7 December 1941. In addition, John Ford made a documentary about Pearl Harbor, albeit one that recreated the action so well that later filmmakers used some of the scenes as if they represented the real thing. In fact, Tora! Tora! Tora! presented an objective, accurate account of the attack from both sides, even if Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto never said that the attack would only "awake a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve."

Hmmm... The site credits him with having written "frequently on Hollywood's portrayal of military and naval history. He is the author of Sailing on the Silver Screen (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1996)".

You'd think a quote like this would have attributions all over the place, but even Hiroyuki Agawa's book, The Reluctant Admiral, apparently never mentions it. There is not a citation for the quote to be found in twelve pages of Google.

Except one. And a telling one at that. But it isn't attributed to Isoroku Yamamoto. It's attributed by Amazon as follows:

Quotes from Tora! Tora! Tora!:

After the attack on Pearl Harbor is mistimed
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto: I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.
Quotes from T3, indeed. My money goes on the real Yamamoto never having said it. Or having written it in any diary, either.
Old 05-28-2001, 06:56 PM
Wumpus Wumpus is offline
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Here's some hard evidence in favor of the "It was made up for TORA TORA TORA" theory. A park historian at the Pearl Harbor monument thinks the quote is made up:

"Martinez said he could find no historic documentation that Yamamoto had any second thoughts until months later, when the tide of war began to change. The "sleeping giant" quote seems to have been an invention of the 1970 movie "Tora! Tora! Tora!"
"It's as if the movie created the phrase and suddenly it came to be accepted as real history," Martinez said."

Full article at:

Lots of other interesting tidbits in there about historical inaccuracies in PEARL HARBOR as well.
Old 05-28-2001, 07:02 PM
Liberal Liberal is offline
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It looks like we scooped Snopes here! Bartender, drinks all around on me!


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