What best explains the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor in 1941?
On December 7th, 1941 naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan suddenly and deliberately attacked the United States of America. Until that date, The United States still attempted to maintain the peace in the Pacific by holding talks with Japan. Historically, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor literally awakened a sleeping superpower.
Japan was on a cross of history in 1941, the country was facing problems on resources, diplomacy, and the war they were already involve in. The Japanese government need to find a method to solve all those stuff, and this led them to attacked Pearl Harbor. Why did the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor when they couldn’t take on America? Was Japanese attack in 1941 just a matter of madness? Was there no alternative to war with the United States in 1941? The Japanese attack was mainly the product of the Japanese need for economic resources, Japanese expansionist politics and Japanese naval strength and strategies.
Japan was in the Second Sino-Japanese war for too long time, they want to finish it as fast as they could. The Japanese Empire start to become a great power since 1905, after the Russo-Japanese War. The Japanese Empire need keeping expansion. Japan was only a small island without the industrial resources. But a great power in 20th need a great industrial system to hold its expansion. In 1931, Japan created the Manchuria Crises, took control of North-East China. In 1937, they created the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, which is the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War, one of the mean reason is the Japanese interest in the iron and coal in Northern China.
Japan wanted to end the war in 3 months at the start, but the Chinese resisted their attack heavily in the Battle of Shanghai. The Japanese army spend 3 months to took over Shanghai. This battle shocked the Japanese, and they decide to let the Chinese fear them, “Japanese troops were notorious for their brutal treatment of civilians and military prisoners. The Japanese occupation of Nanjing from December 1937, often referred to as the ‘Rape of Nanjing’, is the most infamous example of Japanese brutality in China. Estimates suggest that the Japanese massacred 300,000 people in and around the city, many of them civilians. Historian Jonathan Fenby describes the Rape of Nanjing as a uniquely “urban atrocity” because of “the way the Japanese went about their killing, the wanton individual cruelty, the reduction of the city’s inhabitants to the status of sub-humans who could be murdered, tortured and raped at will”. Thousands of civilians were buried alive, machine gunned or used for bayonet practice. Females were taken and forced into lab our as “comfort women” (sex slaves for Japanese officers and soldiers). The Japanese also conducted human experimentation in secret bases in China. Vast swathes of China were decimated by Japan’s ‘scorched earth’ warfare, epitomized by the slogan “kill all, loot all, destroy all”.”
The cruel warfare led Japan in to the quagmire of war. On the other hand, Japan has not gotten a plan how to role the land they toke from China, and they did not have enough solider to conquer whole China. In 1941, there were 1’000’000 Japanese soldiers in the battle ground against China. As the time move, many Japanese officer start to be dissatisfied about the War. In 1939 the Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe been dismissed because the stalemate of the war. In 1940, the US and UK started support China to against the Japanese government. The First American Volunteer Group (AVG), nicknamed the “flying tigers”, its pilot was came from the US army and marine, and form by US general Claire L. Chennaulta and agree by president Roosevelt. 100 P-40 fighters been sent to China to help the Chinese build their air force. The British was using the Brume Road to send weapons and resources to support the Chinese army continued fighting with the Japanese. In 1941, China had already lost every harbor they had before the war, the Soviet Union had singed the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact in April 1941, Burma road was the last place that China could got support from. “The Japanese knew it would serve them well if they cut overland access to China from Burma via the famed Burma Road. Along this road a steady stream of military aid was being transported from Rangoon, over the mountains of the ‘Hump’ and into Nationalist China, but if this supply route was closed, the Japanese could deprive Chiang Kai Shek’s Kuomintang (Nationalist Chinese) armies of their life-blood, permitting the Japanese to conquer all China.”
Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor also because they feel pressure from the US. After Fumimaro Konoe been dismissed, Hiranuma Kiichir? (1939.01.5-1939.08.30), Nobuyuki Abe (1939.08.30-1940.01.16), Mitsumasa Yonai (1940.01.16-1940.07.22) become Prime Minister in different time. Andrew Gordon measure “To the south, the Japanese considered both diplomatic and military steps to neutralize or eliminate the hold British in Malaysia, Dutch in Indonesia.” In 1940 Japan sign the “Tripartite Pact”. After this, the Vichy France government agree Japan send troops in French Indo China. This let the USA felt threat. “At the same time, Japan was faced with an ‘ABCD encirclement’ of America, Britain, China, and the Dutch, all of which threatened Japanese markets and interests in Asia. The Japanese thus felt obliged to strengthen their own position further south and embarked on a southward advance into French Indochina. This gained in intensity on 22 September 1940, after the German-influenced Vichy government in France gave its agreement to the policy. The Japanese also began negotiations with the Netherlands East Indies to increase the quota of oil exports to Japan in case oil exports from the US ceased.”
In 1940, Fumimaro Konoe come back as the Prime Minister, and came out with the idea of “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere”. This heavily damaged the USA’s interest in Asia. USA had controlled Philippine in Asia, but the idea of “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” is to expel the non-Asian powers from East Asia, which makes the western countries unhappy. and it is also the origin of the confrontation between the Japanese Empire and the USA. After Japanese troops went in French Indochina, US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt immediately called an international embargo movement, no crude oil been sent to Japan. Without Crude oil, Japan cannot force any military or economy pressure.
The US government will not watch the “Empire of the rising sun” replace their precision in Asia, they also did not want lost their army and naval power next to the coast of China. They give the chance to let the Chinese can loaned with US bank jurying the war. In 1939, US government abolished the treaty of commerce with Japan, they try to use this to warn the Japanese government not to challenge the US, and stop expansion. When the treaty been abolished, USA can totally stop export to Japan in anytime. When President Roosevelt’s Export control act was passed by the US government in 1940, the Japanese government start to be negotiated with the US government. But it was not a successfully negotiation. The US government want was to let Japan went back before 1931, before the Manchuria Crises, and retreated their Military Forces from China, so the US government will stop the embargo. But many military leaders cannot afford that. They create another plan, declare war with US and Britain. The Japanese military leaders plan do use the military advance they got, attack the colony under western country control, to get the crude oil they want, then negotiated with the western country to end the war. At the first time Japan was doing two plans at the same time, both the diplomacy and military plans. The ministry of foreign affair tries to find out a way that could satisfied the US and its only military department, they let the Ambassador to the US, Kichisabur? Nomura keep negotiated with the US government. But the military department was planning a strike attack, to force the western countries to admirer Japanese leadership in Asia.
Japan was a country lack with industrial resources, and it was also why they try to invade South East Asia, and even declare war with the US. Resources was the main reason why Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. The four years of war in China made the pressure that laid on Japan industrial system become harder than it used to be, they need more resources to keep the war going. The things came worse when they invade French Indochina, USA started an energy embargo to the Empire of Japan. The lack of oil and other resources was also the reason that Japan wanted to negotiate with the US government, without the resource from the US will be a totally disaster to the Japanese Industrial system. Because Japan is an island nation, they could not produce the resources that industrial system need, such as fossil oil coal and Iron. Without those resources, the war machine will not work anymore. USA was Japan’s biggest fossil oil import country. In 1930 Japan’s fossil oil annual production was 459 thousand tones. But they need to use 1.7-1.8 million tones, especially the IJN (Imperial Japanese Navy), they need to use 350-400 thousand tones. 90% oil that Japan need came from other country, and 80% oil import came from the USA.
“By early 1941 the United States had in place an imposing number of embargoes on the shipment of materials to Japan, nearly all of them had been justified, and most of them correctly justified, as measures necessary for the American rearmament effort. But for this very reason they had a substantial impact on Japan’s own war economy. Tokyo’s only source of materials crucial for war—scrap iron, steel, machine tools, ferroalloys, aluminum—was, excepting a trickle of supplies from Germany that came over the trans-Siberian railroad, the United States.”Because the Japanese industry was highly dependent on imported items from the United States, the ban compelled Japan to draw down its stockpiles and operate its industry well below capacity; indeed, the ban blocked any significant expansion of Japanese production during the war. Japan need to find out a way to solve this huge problem, otherwise they must stop war with China.
Most part of South East Asia was control by European countries. Such as British Malaysia, and Netherland’s East India. Those countries were attacked by Nazi Germany in 1940. Specially Netherlands, already took over by Germany. But there were still military forces left in those places. But geographically, it wasn’t easy for the Japanese to arrive there, because Philippine between is Japan and South-East Asia, and Philippines was controlled by the USA in 1940. And there were 10000 USA solider stand by at there. There were also a USA Asia fleet in Philippine as well. If Japan going to invade South East Asia they need to face the USA military forces, but A J Taylor thought the Japanese were not afraid about those forces in the far east, the biggest enemy for them will be USA Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
The map shows the Far East and the Pacific Ocean at the beginning of the Second World War
Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor because they had enough military power to did that. USA was one of the great power in the world, and has a strong industrial, economic, and military power, in 1941, USA Pacific Fleet had 5 aircraft carriers, 9 battle ships. This was a very strong naval power in 1940s. Not every country has the strength and confident to challenge Pacific Fleet. But Japan was not one of them, because Japan is an island nation, they had a very large navy at that time. In 1941, the IJN had 9 aircraft carriers, 5 Seaplane tenders, 10 battleships. At the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, the Pacific Ocean warship balance between Japan and the United States was 10:8 in battleships, 10:3 in aircraft carriers, 18:13 in heavy cruisers, 20:11 in light cruisers, 112:80 in destroyers, and 65:56 in submarines.
This was where Japan’s confident came basely from. Pearl Harbor was 6215km from Japan, the America believed even Japan has a powerful navy, they cannot lunch an attack to Hawaii. But the Japanese can do this base on two issues. The first one, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. He was one of the most famous Japanese Admiral, because the attack on Pearl Harbor. He created this plan by himself, he was the commander of Combined Fleet in 1941. Yamamoto had studied in Harvard University between 1919 and 1921, he was also a Military attaché of Japanese Embassy in the United States. He knew USA a lot, he knew that USA’s industrial system was stronger that Japan, if the war between Japan and USA begin, the US military power will increase rapidly by their industrial system. Yamamoto had been the captain of IJN aircraft “Agaki”, he understood the might of aircraft carrier in modern war, he suggest the government to use aircarft carrier as IJN’s mean weapon. The plan he made to attack Pearl Harbor, was based on using aircraft carrier. Yamamoto predicted: “As a consequence, the war will continue for several years, during which our material resources will be exhausted, vessels and arms will be damaged, and they can be replaced only with great difficulties. Ultimately, we will not be able to contend with the United States . . . We must not start a war with so little chance of success.”
In 1940, another battle that gave Japan government confident to attack Pearl Harbor, this was the Battle of Taranto. 1940, the British Royal Navy attacked Italy Taranto naval port with two aircraft carriers with 21 aircrafts. Destroy 1 Italian battleship, hit two. after this battle, every country’s navy got shocked. A 40000 tones battleship been destroyed by 21 aircrafts. Winston Churchill wrote in his memoirs: “By this single stroke the balance of naval power in the Mediterranean was decisively altered.” But the person who most exciting was Yamamoto. His theory been proved, and the new Japanese government also interesting in attack Pearl Harbor with aircraft carrier, they gave Yamamoto the chance to do his plan.
This map shows the Battle of Taranto
Polities was an important character who led Japan to war. Fumimaro Konoe was been dismissed again in 1941. Hideki Tojo took over his place in autumn 1941. When Tojo became Prime Minister, he need to face many problems that Fumimaro Konoe left, such as the war with China, they could saw any hope to saw it finish in short time. But the most important problem was, because of 4 years of war, the social in Japan were became horrible, the people were also not happy by this war, that never came to the end. So Tojo had to find a way let Japanese people focus other staff, and military plan gave him a good idea. Create another enemy can move people’s concentrate to the new war. Tojo can control government for start and win the war. That were the reason he wanted to create another war. Japanese government still negotiated with the US government, but after Tojo came to power, the military officer including himself were tried to keep negotiated with the US, in their eyes, war was a better way to solve all the problem that Japan is facing right now.
Japan was an Empire, led by Tenno, But the true leader is the Prime Minister who led the Government. The Japanese Government was led by dictatorship in 1941, is a Farcie Country, and Tojo was not just the Prime Minister, he was also the minister of the Japanese Army, so Tojo has great power in making decision. Japan was different to other major power in the 20th century, its got it only special culture and political system. Andrew Gordon had measure that the Japanese army power was higher rank than government officer, laws, and the political parties. Tojo already got the power to control the Japanese army and polities, even Isoroku Yamamoto had gave the evidence of the Japanese military power was not on the same level as the US, Tojo still decide to start a war with the USA. Because he never thought about his country will lose.
Another evidence that gave Tojo confident to declare war with Japan was the humanity of the Japanese citizens. Ruth benedict measure in her book, that the Japanese believes, Japan was the only country who build a hierarchy system in the whole world, so they should be the one who helps other countries to build hierarchy system. That was also a reason they built “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere”, they believed they should help China become a great country like Japan. The Japanese citizens believed they were stand on the side of justice, war is to save the Asian brother from the European’s control.
the poster shows the Anti-western thinking in Japan
Also, many Japanese known their country weaker than the US, but they were not concerned about the distance between them and the US. They been told “power of the soul will beat the substance”. The minister of the army in 1932 – 1934 Araki Sadao had told the people “show our royalty to the world, the difference of the substance is not important, and we will not fear.” Just like Araki Sadao said, the Japanese people has a special loyalty to their Emperor, the Tenno. It is link to its hierarchy social system. They believed that the Tenno is the living god, and they joining the war was showing their loyalty to the Emperor. But the Tenno had gave the power of decide to Tojo, and Tenno himself was not satisfied with the US government did to Japan after they were in French Indochina, for Tojo himself, this is a important decision, it is glory or decline.
When Empire of Japan came to expansion routes there were two directions. Nanshin-ron, The Southern Expansion Doctrine was supported by the imperial navy and involved expansion into southeast Asia and Pacific islands, which would bring them into conflict with the European colonial masters and America. Its opposite Hokushin-ron, northern expansion was supported by the army and involved expansion into eastern Soviet and Siberia. However, because several border defeats and the signing of Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact in April 1941, the leaders of Japan paid more attention to the Southeast Asia and saw the war with the United States as inevitable and winnable, with the solution being to attack fast and quick.
The Japanese leaders in 1941 brought broader economic, political, and military assumptions into their consideration of war with the United States. Japan had an increased need for natural resources like oil, minerals, and steel as their goals for expansion in Asia and the Pacific increased. American economic sanctions made Japanese more desirable of the Southeast Asia. Meanwhile Japanese political and military leaders were overconfident about Japanese racial and spiritual superiority and undermined the American public morale. Last and not the least, because of limited resources and industrial capacity, Japanese relatively naval superiority would be lost after 1941; While Japanese navy had a long grand tradition of successful surprise attack experiences.
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