A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Misquoting Yamamoto

Advocates of gun rights often argue that in World War II Japan was deterred from invading the U.S. mainland by a fear of American citizens with guns in their closets. They frequently quote Japan’s Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto as saying: "You cannot invade mainland United States. There would be a rifle behind each blade of grass."

But this quote is unsubstantiated and almost certainly bogus, even though it has been repeated thousands of times in various Internet postings. There is no record of the commander in chief of Japan’s wartime fleet ever saying it.

How do we know? We contacted Donald M. Goldstein, sometimes called "the dean of Pearl Harbor historians." Among his many books are "The Pearl Harbor Papers: Inside the Japanese Plans" (1993) and the best-selling "At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor" (1981). He is a professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. He told us the supposed Yamamoto quote is "bogus."

In an exchange of e-mails he said:

Prof. Goldstein: I have never seen it in writing. It has been attributed to the Prange files [the files of the late Gordon W. Prange, chief historian on the staff of Gen. Douglas MacArthur] but no one had ever seen it or cited it from where they got it. Some people say that it came from our work but I never said it. … As of today it is bogus until someone can cite when and where.

We included this in an update to an Ask FactCheck item we posted May 10, debunking an error-filled "gun history lesson" circulating by e-mail.

We make no argument either for or against gun ownership.  But we do object to fabricating quotes and passing them off as historical fact.