Japan’s Attack on the United States

Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 prompted the United States to officially enter World War II. The attack by Japan was the result of years of hostility brought on by Japan’s aggression in Asia in an attempt to expand their empire. Hostilities with Japan initially escalated beginning with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 and it is declared the puppet state of Manchukuo CITATION Mer10 l 1033 (Merriman, 2010). Japan viewed Manchuria as a resource necessary for their growing need for raw materials and to help breathe life into their slumping economy, it was also their gateway to China.

The United States, Great Britain, and the Netherlands imposed an economic boycott following the Manchurian invasion. Japan’s expansion was viewed as a threat to British, Dutch, and the United States’ economic interests in the Pacific region. The sanctions, which prevented trade with the United States resulted in Japan furthering their expansion in the territory of China and Southeast Asia.

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Over the next decade, Japan expanded further into China. Chinese and Japanese forces clashed on the Marco Polo Bridge near Beijing, throwing the two nations into a full-scale war, leading to the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. The conflict was fought primarily between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan from July 7, 1937, to September 2, 1945. Japan intended to isolate China and endeavored to secure enough independent resources to attain victory on the mainland. The United States watched as Japanese forces swept down the coast and then into the capital of Nanjing.

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Tensions rose as the Japanese proceeded to carry out six weeks of mass killings and rapes against non-combatants in what is now known as the infamous Nanjing Massacra. The United States continued to avoid conflict even after the Japanese Army bombed the U.S.S. Panay as it evacuated American citizens from Nanjing, killing three. They allowed Japan to apologize and accepted an annuity for reparations.

1937 also brought Japan into the Anti-Comintern Pact with Germany and Italy. The Anti-Comintern Pact was an agreement between the three countries, that they would work together to stop the spread of Communism around the globe. Japan hoped that this pact would keep the Soviet Union from opposing their expansion and also discourage British and American interference in Asia. Outwardly, the pact was only directed against the Comintern or Communist International. However, a secret clause specified that should any of the participants become involved in a war against the Soviet Union, the other parties would remain neutral. The clause also stated that none of the participants would make political treaties with the Soviet Union. Germany also officially recognized the puppet state of Manchukuo that Japan had established in northeastern China as part of the treaty.

In 1939, Germany voided the treaty when they signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Nonaggression Pact with the Soviet Union. The pact established an agreement between the two countries that they would not take any military action against each other for ten years CITATION His19 l 1033 (History.com, 2019). Stalin viewed the pact as necessary to give the Soviet Union time to build their army and prepare for war. Hitler wished to invade Poland without fighting the Soviet Union. He also hoped that his pact with Russia would keep Britain and France from defending Poland. There were also provisions for how Eastern Europe would be divided up among the two countries. The pact fell apart in 1941 when Germany invaded the Soviet Union. In 1940, Japan invaded French Indochina, attempting to stop the flow of supplies reaching China via the railway from Hanoi and a dirt road out of Burma. Japan also became a part of the Axis powers by entering into the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy. The pact provided assistance for any of the allied countries that are attacked by any country not already involved in the war. The pact was intended to keep the United States out of the war, but it also and linked the conflicts in Europe and Asia.

It was not until 1940 and 1941 that President Franklin D. Roosevelt formalized U.S. aid to China. The U.S. Government extended credits to the Chinese Government for the purchase of war supplies and it slowly began to tighten restrictions on Japan. The United States was the main supplier of the oil, steel, iron, and other commodities needed by the Japanese military as it became depleted by the Chinese resistance. The Roosevelt Administration would now restrict the flow of military supplies into Japan and use this as leverage to force Japan to halt its aggression in China. The United States combined a strategy of increasing aid to China through larger credits and the Lend-Lease program with a gradual move towards an embargo on the trade of all militarily useful items with Japan (US Department of State, 2019).

In mid-1941, Japan signed a Neutrality Pact with the Soviet Union hoping to force the United States into negotiating and also confirming that Japan's military would be moving into Southeast Asia, therefore becoming a greater threat to the United States’ interests. The United States responded to this growing threat by temporarily halting negotiations with Japanese diplomats, instituting a full embargo on exports to Japan, freezing Japanese assets in U.S. banks, and sending supplies into China along the Burma Road. Negotiations were soon resumed but with little progress made. It seemed that pro-Chinese sentiments would make it impossible to reach an agreement that did not include Japan’s withdrawal from China and Japan was not willing to concede. However, serious shortages as a result of the embargo on Japan, forced Japan’s leaders that they must act and quickly. American intelligence officers had begun to decipher messages indicating Japan’s impending attack on the United States however, there were numerous messages indicating multiple locations. Not to mention that US leaders had not given up on negotiations and did not think Japan possessed the military strength to attack (US Department of State, 2019).

In May 1940, the United States had made Pearl Harbor the main base for its Pacific Fleet. The Pacific Fleet was one of the most important branches of the United States Navy at the time as it was the main defender against Japan’s expansion across Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Normally housed in San Diego, it was decided that the fleet should be moved to Pearl Harbor to be more accessible for use in the entanglement with Japan. For months, Japan and Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku studied Pearl Harbor and the movement of vessels believing that the attack would give them control of the Pacific. Meanwhile, the US was aware of Japan’s intentions but was unclear on the details of the attack. A message from the Navy Department to CinCUS, Pearl Harbor on November 24, 1941 stated, “Chances of favorable outcome of negotiations with Japan very doubtful. This situation coupled with statements of the Japanese Government and movements of their naval and military forces indicate in our opinion that a surprise aggressive movement in any direction including attack on Philippines or Guam is a possibility”. So, when the Japanese planes descended on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941, the United States was caught completely off guard.

At first, the Pearl Harbor attack looked like a success for Japan. Its bombers hit all eight U.S. battleships, sinking three and damaging five others. Ten other vessels were damaged or destroyed and 188 aircraft were destroyed. 2,403 naval and other military personnel were killed while more than 1,000 were wounded. Japanese forces went on to capture a string of current and former Western colonial possessions by early 1942 including Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines. However, the Japanese bombers missed oil tanks, ammunition sites and repair facilities, and not a single U.S. aircraft carrier was present during the attack. The Japanese had failed in their attempt to completely destroy the Pacific fleet and, in June 1942, this failure would become apparent when US forces scored a major victory in the Battle of Midway, decisively turning the tide of war in the Pacific.

The day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered his “date that will live in infamy” speech to a Joint Session of Congress. The address was broadcast live on radio to the American people and his words echoed the American spirit when facing adversity, “No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory. I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us. Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger. With confidence in our armed forces – with the unbounded determination of our people – we will gain the inevitable triumph – so help us God. An hour after he finished, Congress declared war on Japan. Germany and Italy, bound by their treaty with Japan, then declared war on the United States on December 11, 1941. After recovering from the Great Depression, the United States had become the largest industrial power in the world. American factories were transformed for military production and wartime production doubled CITATION Mer10 l 1033 (Merriman, 2010). American’s eagerly embraced their role in the war effort and the Japanese were at the center of their animosity for their enemies. Unfortunately, this led to the internment of about 40,000 Japanese citizens living in the United States and about 70,000 Japanese Americans to “relocation centers”.

In January 1942, the first meeting between the British and American military chiefs of staff took place in Washington D.C. . It was decided that Europe was where the focus should remain prioritized as an attack against Japanese forces seemed less urgent now. Once the war in Europe stable, the allies could turn their attention to the war in the Pacific. On February 8, 1943, Guadalcanal, one of the Solomon Islands was recaptured from the Japanese. The Americans were also successful in New Guinea and in the Aleutian Islands. The US Navy was able to retake control of the seas and drive out the Japanese pushing them as far back as to come within 1,400 miles of Tokyo. In October 1944, American forces took back the Philippines and in March 1945, American’s were able to capture Iwo Jima, bringing them within 700 miles of Japan. Saipan and Guam were the staging points for American long-range bombers showering Japanese cities with bombs. However, Japanese pilots were using kamikaze tactics to damage the American fleet off Okinawa. The Potsdam Proclamation of July 26, 1945, warned Japan that they needed to surrender or face “utter destruction”. When the Japanese continued their resistance, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, killing 80,000 people. At the same time, the Soviets declared also declared war on Japan and invaded Manchuria. A second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, killing 36,000 more people. On September 2, 1945, the Japanese signed their surrender on the battleship Missouri, signaling the end of World War II.

Works Cited

  1. Barnhart, M. A. (1987). Japan prepares for total war: the search for economic security, 1919-1941. Cornell University Press.
  2. Encyclopedia Brittanica. (2019, August 11). Anti-Comintern Pact. Retrieved from Encyclopedia Brittanica: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/modern-europe/wars-and-battles/anti-comintern-pact
  3. Encyclopedia Brittanica. (2019, August 11). Nanjing Massacre. Retrieved from Encyclopedia Brittanica: https://www.britannica.com/event/Nanjing-Massacre
  4. History.com. (2019, August 11). German-Soviet Nonagression Pact. Retrieved from History: https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/german-soviet-nonaggression-pact
  5. Merriman, J. (2010). A History of Modern Europe Volume Two: From the French Revolution to the Present. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
  6. Meyer, M. (2015). In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China. New York: Bloomsbury Press.
  7. Pearl Harbor Visitor's Bureau. (2019, August 11). The History of the US Pacific Fleet. Retrieved from Pearl Harbor Visitor's Bureau: https://visitpearlharbor.org/history-us-pacific-fleet/
  8. Prange, G. W. (1982). AT DAWN WE SLEPT; The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor. Penguin Books.
  9. Pruitt, S. (2018, April 10). Why Did Japan Attack Pearl Harbor? . Retrieved from History: https://www.history.com/news/why-did-japan-attack-pearl-harbor
  10. Roosevelt, F. D. (1941, December 11). Joint Address to Congress Leading to a Declaration of War Against Japan (1941). Retrieved from Teaching American History: https://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/pearl-harbor-speech/
  11. US Department of State. (2019, August 11). Japan, China, the United States and the Road to Pearl Harbor, 1937-41. Retrieved from US Department of State: https://2001-2009.state.gov/r/pa/ho/time/wwii/88734.htm
  12. Wallin, H. N. (1968). PEARL HARBOR: Why, How, Fleet Salvage and Final Appraisal. Washington: Naval History Division.
Updated: May 19, 2021
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Japan’s Attack on the United States. (2020, Sep 14). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/japan-s-attack-on-the-united-states-essay

Japan’s Attack on the United States essay
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