Pearlharbor Essay

This essay has a total of 3681 words and 16 pages.

pearlharbor




Reasons that Japan Involved the U.S. in War


For more than fifty years, historians and social scientists have been questioning whether
or not the United States was already “at war” prior to the Japanese bombing of Pearl
Harbor. Because of the conflict that already existed regarding Japan’s expansionist
practices, the United States may or may have not needed to have its hand forced in the
official designation of war in the Pacific. As the Japanese Empire had grown, so had its
control over its territories. For example, in the early 1930s, Japan invaded Manchuria, a
clear sign that the Japanese did not intend to lessen their efforts to gain control
throughout Asia. The Japanese, who had blocked a number of Russian incursions into
Manchuria, were moving in to gain control of the region's plentiful coal and iron, which
Japan sorely lacked. In 1937, Japanese and Chinese forces fought near Beijing resulting in
Japan’s occupation of northern China. The United States ostensibly “disapproved” of such
actions but refused to take any direct action in stopping it. Whether or not these
conflicts began inadvertently or whether they were planned is unknown. Nevertheless, they
led to a full-scale war known as the second Sino-Japanese War.

Questions as to why Japan wanted the U.S. involved in war bring to bear the numerous
issues involved in any discussion of pre-World War II Japanese-American relations, as well
as those revolving around the war itself. It seems obvious that if there had been some
level of agreement between the nations regarding the larger expansionist practices of
Japan, the need for such a dramatically destructive move as the bombing of Pearl Harbor
might have been avoided.

Japan’s sense of achievement, as well as its sense of resentment, its attempt to learn
from the West and its resistance to Western influence, warred with each other throughout
the 1920s and early 1930s (Fallows 33). Under the rule of Emperor Hirohito, who had
become the nation’s regent in 1921, anti-Western resentments and authoritarian government
flourished. Increasing military involvement in the government began to add to the problems
already being experienced by the Japanese system of leadership. The emperor was supposed
to be the sacred symbol of Japan's history and spirit. However, there were also right-wing
zealots, primarily officers in the army, who felt they had to intervene to "save" him from
Western corrupt practices and beliefs. "Pan-Asian" rhetoric resounded. Japan declared
itself tribune and savior for nations downtrodden by the white West (Fallows 33). And
yet, the Pan-Asian ideal led to strange distortions, since official Japanese propaganda
and official acts simultaneously emphasized the superiority of Japanese people to all
other Asians.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was determined to keep the United States out of the
conflicts taking place between Japan and China but the United States’ diplomatic and trade
offensives against Japan actually began with the London Naval Treaty of 1930 (denying
Japan naval hegemony in its own waters) and culminated in the total U.S. embargo of all
shipments of oil to Japan (Cockburn 802). On October 5, 1937, President Roosevelt made a
speech declaring that America must “quarantine” or isolate expansionist countries such as
Japan. Students of the causes of World War II should be well-aware that what was promoted
as Roosevelt’s "moral embargo" of Japan for its war against China scarcely did justice to
the less romantic though more pragmatic epic of national self-interest in the struggle for
economic advantage throughout Asia. And yet, American ships went on supplying Tokyo with
American oil and steel. Times were hard, it was the middle of the Great Depression and
business was business.

In an apparent response to the statement or possibly as part of a larger intention to
provoke war, Japan began to attack American naval vessels in Chinese territory. At the
time, the majority of Americans wanted to see the U.S. withdraw from China and not engage
the Japanese in battle (Snyder 33). Roosevelt was convinced the attacks would not abate
and ordered that the American vessels in Chinese waters be armed, including merchant
vessels. However, such a move did nothing to stop the Japanese from sinking the ships and
is likely to have actually served to provoke an increase in the attacks. In September
1940, the Japanese entered Indochina after concluding a long period of negotiation with
the Vichy government. The Japanese aim was to prevent aid reaching the Chinese through
Indochina. Approximately 6,000 troops were stationed in the country and given full rights
of transit.

Roosevelt’s next move was to cease all trade with Japan and to begin a program of
lend-lease aid with China. Roosevelt's embargo was a devastating blow, for Japan bought
more than half its imports from the U.S. Ironically, Japan both wanted and relied upon its
trade with the United States and sent a “peace mission” to Washington to negotiate for
resumption of trade and an end to American assistance in China. Hardly had the talks begun
when the Japanese, having already seized a number of bases in northern Vietnam, suddenly
occupied the south in July 1941. This incident threatened not only the back route to
China, but British control of Malaya and Burma (now Myanmar). Roosevelt retaliated by
freezing all Japanese assets and placing an embargo on all trade in oil, steel, chemicals,
machinery and other strategic goods. There were discussions between the Japanese and the
authorities in the Dutch East Indies concerning the supply of oil. It is agreed to supply
the Japanese with forty percent of the production for the subsequent six months. There
were British attempts to block this agreement. The British and Dutch, soon announced
similar embargoes.

The requests of the Japanese trade ministers were denied even though the Roosevelt
Administration and the trade negotiators for the United States were well aware that such
an act would be likely to encourage Japan in attacking the United States directly. It
should be noted that Roosevelt did have other options. The most notable example being
that he could have made the Lend-Lease Act applicable and available to both Axis and
non-Axis nations. He could have also chosen to not make aid available to any nations.

“Japan did not exactly ‘decided’ to go to war; it failed to avoid drifting there. Japanese
society has great concentrations of power--in its industries, in its government--but at
crucial moments in its history, it has seemed to lack a central authority capable of
making ultimate decisions” Fallows (38). Such was apparently the case prior to Pearl
Harbor, just as it was during the final year of the war when no one had the authority to
say “stop” or “enough.” Prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the military and the
imperial theorists were divided into "Strike North" and "Strike South" factions. Strike
North, centered in the Army, thought Japan was destined for all-out war against Soviet
communism and that it should move through China to get ready. Strike South, dominant in
the Navy, believed Japan was destined for a showdown with the Europeans and Americans for
control of Southeast Asia and should strike first--before America rearmed and before the
Japanese Navy ran out of either determination or fuel. The conflict was never clearly
resolved.

Roosevelt had been re-elected to a third term in 1940 after pledging that "your boys are
not going to be sent to any foreign wars." He staked his hopes for peace on a last-minute
message to the Emperor. "Both of us," Roosevelt said, "have a sacred duty to restore
traditional amity and prevent further death and destruction in the world" (Friedrich 32).
The message was delayed for ten hours by Japanese military censors making it almost
midnight on December 7 in Tokyo when U.S. Ambassador Joseph Grew sped with it to the
Foreign Ministry. By that time, Japan’s bombers were within sight of Pearl Harbor.

Even after more than half a century, the question is asked as to what were the Japanese
thinking? “It was not as if the militaries had not been warned. On November 1, 1941, five
weeks before Zeros flew off the Akagi and its sister aircraft carriers toward Hawaii, the
government's senior ministers met in Tokyo for a final review of war plans. Several argued
forcefully that to bomb Pearl Harbor would be an act of national suicide” (Fallows 32).

The most powerful and most crucial part of American defense in the Pacific Ocean was that
of the American Pacific Fleet. Usually, this fleet was stationed somewhere along the west
coast of the United States, and made a training cruise to Hawaii each year. With war
looming, the U.S. Pacific Fleet was moved to the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii. This
was the perfect location for the American forces in the Pacific because of its location,
halfway between the United States west coast and the Japanese military bases in the
Marshall Islands. The Pacific Fleet first arrived at Pearl Harbor naval base on April 2,
1940, and were scheduled to return to the United States mainland around May 9, 1940. This
plan was drastically changed because of the increasing activity of Italy in Europe and
Japan's attempt at expansion in Southeast Asia. President Roosevelt felt that the presence
of the Pacific Fleet in Hawaii would retard any Japanese attempt at a strike on the United
States.

At 7:55 a.m. on December 7, 1941, the Japanese began a devastating three-hour attack on
the American naval base on Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. Six American
battleships were sunk, over 2,400 people were killed and 1,100 more were wounded (Paige
2). "Air raid, Pearl Harbor, this is no drill," said the radio message that went out at
7:58 a.m. from the U.S. Navy's Ford Island command center, relayed throughout Hawaii, to
Manila, to Washington, D.C. “But there was an even sharper sense of imminent disaster in
the words someone shouted over the public address system on another docked battleship, the
Oklahoma: ‘Man your battle stations! This is no *censored*!’” (Friedrich 30).

“Within minutes, Pearl Harbor was pandemonium: explosions, screams, tearing steel, the
rattle of machine guns, smoke, fire, bugles sounding, the whine of diving airplanes, more
explosions, more screams. With Battleship Row afire, Fuchida's bombers circled over the
maze of Pearl Harbor's docks and piers, striking again and again at the cruisers and
destroyers and supply ships harbored there” (Friedrich 42). The Japanese Navy and the
military officials believed that a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor would render the
Americans ineffective, and persuaded the Japanese foreign ministry against sending timely
pre-war warning (Ikuhito 229). In general, Pearl Harbor still represents to most
Americans, even after a half-century, a quintessential moment of treachery and betrayal.

Word of the attack reached President Roosevelt as he lunched in his oval study on Sunday
afternoon. Later, Winston Churchill called to tell him that the Japanese had also attacked
British colonies in southeast Asia and that Britain would declare war the next day.
Roosevelt responded that he would go before Congress the following day to ask for a
declaration of war against Japan. Churchill wrote: "To have the United States at our side
was to me the greatest joy. Now at this very moment I knew the United States was in the
war, up to the neck and in to the death. So we had won after all! . . . Hitler's fate was
sealed. Mussolini's fate was sealed. As for the Japanese, they would be ground to powder”
(Friedrich 44).

The bombing rallied the United States behind the President in declaring war on Japan. On
December 11, Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S., bringing about a global conflict.
Aside from the destruction of the American military installation and troops stationed at
Pearl Harbor, the bombing also served Japan’s interests by establishing the nation as a
military threat to the strategic positioning of U.S. military interests in the pacific.
It also served notice that Japan intended to reign supreme in the Pacific. There are also
those theories that suggest that the Japanese government found it expedient to provoke the
United States into a situation in which it would be fighting a war in very separate and
distant locations, thus lessening the overall strength and ability for effective
retaliation.

On January 23, 1942, Japanese forces seized Rabaul in the Solomons and fortified it
extensively. The site provided excellent harbor and numerous positions for airfields. The
devastating enemy carrier and plane losses of the Battle of Midway (June, 1942) had caused
the cancellation for the invasion of Midway, New Caledonia, Fiji, and Samoa, but plans to
construct a major seaplane base at Tulagi went forward. The location offered on of the
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