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Did Japanese Soldiers Kill Amelia Earhart? Examining the Conspiracy Theory – The Diplomat

Some conspiracy theories are more realistic than others. One sticky, believable conspiracy theory says that Amelia Earhart didn’t actually die in some remote part of the Pacific, but that she was actually captured and killed by Japanese soldiers who suspected that she was an American spy. Purported new evidence that supports the theory has been aired at different times by The History Channel and The New York Times. Earhart had become famous as the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. In 1937, she took on the challenge of flying all the way across the world. On July 2, 1937, Earhart was flying the longest and most challenging leg of her around the world voyage, from Lae, New Guinea to Howland Island, a tiny speck of land with an airstrip in the middle of the Pacific. She never arrived at her destination.

The U.S. Navy was called in to look for her, pulling in a force of 3,000 men, 10 ships, and 102 fighting planes who searched all over the Pacific. Earhart was assumed lost somewhere at sea, and eventually proclaimed to be dead on January 5, 1939. The trip from Lae to Howland Island was risky, since this relatively small speck in a very large ocean was going to be hard to find. Adding to the danger, the 2,500 mile trip was so long that Earhart’s Lockheed Electra plane would have very little fuel left when she got to her destination. If she ended up getting off course, there would be little time to try to find land before she would run out of fuel.

Amelia Earhart’s final trip (solid red line), showing both her intended destination (Howland) and other candidate islands. Image by Snowfire, via Wikimedia Commons.

In theory, Earhart could have chosen a closer, safer destination. There were other islands that were closer. The reason Earhart didn’t choose one of the other islands was because she would not have been welcome. These islands were owned by the Japanese government, and relations between the United States and Japan were tense. Actually, these islands were a major cause of the Japan-U.S. tension. The Imperial Japanese Navy didn’t take kindly to American visitors to these islands, and had banned Americans from visiting even back in the 1920s, long before the mounting tensions between the countries.

There were other reasons that U.S. Navy officers thought it plausible that Earhart had been killed by Japanese soldiers. A lot of it was the intense secrecy the Japanese held around the islands. The year before, the U.S. Navy had proposed an exchange of information to help build trust between the United States and Japan, where the U.S. would be allowed to visit the islands, and in exchange, the Japanese Navy would be allowed to inspect American islands off of Alaska. The Japanese turned down the offer, again making the Americans think something fishy was going on.

Amelia Earhart sitting in the cockpit of an Electra airplane. Photo by New York World-Telegram via Wikimedia Commons.

In all likelihood, Earhart simply crashed somewhere in the vast ocean, never to be seen again. This article is adapted from a chapter in the author’s newly published book, “Beverly Hills Spy: The Double-Agent Flying Ace Who Infiltrated Hollywood and Helped Japan Attack Pearl Harbor.”

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