Isoroku Yamamoto's sleeping giant quote

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Isoroku Yamamoto's sleeping giant quotation is a film quote by the Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto regarding the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor by forces of Imperial Japan.

The quotation is portrayed at the very end of the 1970 film Tora! Tora! Tora! as:

I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.[1]

An abridged version of the quotation is also featured in the 2001 film Pearl Harbor.

Although the quotation may well have encapsulated many of his real feelings about the attack, there is no printed evidence to prove Yamamoto made this statement or wrote it down.[2]


The line serves as a dramatic ending to the depiction of the Pearl Harbor attack, but it has yet to be verified that Yamamoto ever said or wrote anything resembling the quote. Neither At Dawn We Slept, the definitive history of the Pearl Harbor attack by Gordon Prange, nor The Reluctant Admiral, the definitive biography of Yamamoto in English by Hiroyuki Agawa, contains the line.

The director of Tora! Tora! Tora!, Richard Fleischer, stated that while Yamamoto may never have said those words, the film's producer, Elmo Williams, had found the line written in Yamamoto's diary. Williams, in turn, has stated that Larry Forrester, the screenwriter, found a 1943 letter from Yamamoto to the Admiralty in Tokyo containing the quotation. However, Forrester cannot produce the letter, nor can anyone else, American or Japanese, recall it or find it. Randall Wallace, the screenwriter of the 2001 film Pearl Harbor, readily admitted that he copied the line from Tora! Tora! Tora!

Regardless of the provenance of the quote, Yamamoto believed that Japan could not win a protracted war with the US. Moreover, he seems later to have believed that the Pearl Harbor attack had been a blunder—even though he was the person who came up with the idea of a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. It is recorded that "Yamamoto alone" (while all his staff members were celebrating) spent the day after Pearl Harbor "sunk in apparent depression".[3] He is also known to have been upset by the bungling of the Foreign Ministry which led to the attack happening while the countries were technically at peace, thus making the incident an unprovoked sneak attack that would certainly enrage the Americans.[4]

Similar sayings[edit]

In The Reluctant Admiral, Hiroyuki Agawa gives a quotation from a reply by Admiral Yamamoto to Ogata Taketora on January 9, 1942, which is similar to the famous version: "A military man can scarcely pride himself on having 'smitten a sleeping enemy'; it is more a matter of shame, simply, for the one smitten. I would rather you made your appraisal after seeing what the enemy does, since it is certain that, angered and outraged, he will soon launch a determined counterattack."[5]

The other common quotation attributed to Yamamoto predicting the future outcome of a naval war against the United States is: "I can run wild for six months … after that, I have no expectation of success".[6] As it happened, the Battle of Midway, the critical naval battle considered to be the turning point of the war in the Pacific, did indeed occur six months after Pearl Harbor (Midway ended on June 7, exactly 6 months later).

Similar to the above quotation was another quotation that, while real, was widely misinterpreted in the US press. Yamamoto, when once asked his opinion on the war, pessimistically said that the only way for Japan to win the war was to dictate terms in the White House.[7] Yamamoto's meaning was that military victory, in a protracted war against an opponent with as much of a population and industrial advantage as the United States possessed, was completely impossible—a rebuff to those who thought that winning a major battle against the US Navy would end the war. However, in the US, his words were recast as a jingoistic boast that he would literally dictate peace terms at the White House. This deliberate mistranslation became famous when read by narrator Walter Huston over stock footage of Yamamoto and his men on parade, in Frank Capra's Why We Fight propaganda films, and spread by word of mouth all over the United States.


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-21. Retrieved 2009-10-12.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ Safire, William (2008). Safire's Political Dictionary. Oxford University Press. p. 666. ISBN 0195343344.
  3. ^ The Reluctant Admiral, p. 259
  4. ^ Haruko Taya Cook, Theofore F. Cook, Japan at War: An Oral History, New Press, New York, 1992, p. 83
  5. ^ The Reluctant Admiral, p. 285
  6. ^ Fumimaro Konoe, Konoye Ayamaro Ko Shuki (Memoirs of Prince Ayamaro Konoye), Asahi Shimbun-sha, 1946, p. 3.
  7. ^ The Reluctant Admiral, p. 291.


  • Prange, Gordon; Donald M. Goldstein; Katherine V. Dillon (1991). At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor. New York City: Viking. ISBN 0-07-050669-8.
  • Agawa, Hiroyuki (1979) [1969]. John Bester, ed. The Reluctant Admiral: Yamamoto and the Imperial Navy (1st English ed.). New York: Kodansha International. ISBN 0-87011-355-0.
  • Suid, Lawrence H. (December 1964). "'A Terrible Resolve'". Proceedings of the Naval Institute. 543 (94 (6412)).