In December 1941, Pearl Harbour was attacked by the Japanese. It was the consequence of a series of events which brought tension between Japan and America to boiling point. Japan was a country growing in power and stature and America soon came to realise that this growth could prove a threat to them. America aimed to stop Japan’s growth in its tracks as they realised that if the situation was left to evolve much longer then the situation may be out of their control.
However, it can be argued that by not seriously dealing with this threat until the 1940’s, America had left things too late and faced an opponent who would not back down. Japan was a country of contradictions in the early 1900’s. Her growth in industry was a major factor for influencing her growth of power; whilst at the same time their structure was a very traditional political one. The Japanese Emperor Hirohito was right in the centre of the Japanese government. The emperor made Japan very militaristic and the military had a very strong influence in Japan. Japan’s growth in industry had risen greatly since in the preceding 50 years and still it continued to grow.
For this growth to take place though, they relied greatly on imports from other countries to feed their growing population. One of those countries they relied on was America. They also relied greatly on America for immigration, due to the fast growth of the Japanese population. She still wanted to expand further, and at the time, the best option was to increase her trade links overseas. Still supplying raw materials, America became gradually more aware of Japan’s increase in size and military strength. They became more and more worried by it because they realised that if they grew anymore,
then Japan may prove a threat to America and her trade. At the Washington Conferences in 1921, America reasoned with the Japanese government and decided that Japan’s naval bases and naval arms would be limited. For every 5 ships that America had, Japan would be allowed a maximum of 3. Although Japan agreed, they still aimed to expand more so that they could become one of the major world powers. The Great Depression in America hit Japan with force. Japan was affected because America’s trade was vital to Japan’s survival. Trade with America became limited and Japans economic prosperity was at risk. Japan needed more imports.
The army decided on a militaristic option and seized Manchuria, as it had rich supplies of raw materials such as coal, iron ore, timber and rice. They believed that by expanding, Japan could become more powerful. As Japanese troops were already stationed in Manchuria, it proved an easy target for the Japanese. The Americans, focusing on their own needs, did not interfere with the seizing of Manchuria. This proved to be a bad decision for them as their trade links with China were badly affected, but more importantly Because of the success in Manchuria the military gained power.
The public became more enthusiastic and supportive of militaristic nationalism. This led to the military running the government by the late 1930s as many people supported expansion and control in Asia. In the future, Japan would be more aggressive and there would be less chance that they would back down to the Americans. In 1937, Japan attacked the rest of China, indicating to America that Japan was a definite threat to their trade links. By July 1940, America’s President Roosevelt had decided he must take action against Japan’s expansion.
He banned the export of strategic materials to Japan. By doing this he hoped to halt their expansion. He also decided that a massive American Naval Expansion was in order. By doing this he hoped that Japan would fear America because the American Navy was a major strength in the Pacific Region. He hoped to threaten Japan into ending her aggression. In September and December of the same year, Roosevelt cut off all supplies of aviation fuel, steel, scrap iron and other vital war materials to Japan. By choosing this option, he hoped to slow down their preparation for war and give America time to plan and think.
Negotiations were proposed in March 1941 as Japan felt the pressures of America’s actions. America told Japan that they would start to supply them with oil again, if Japan stopped any expansion and with draw from Indo – China. America negotiated because they needed to strengthen their trade links again. Japan decided not to negotiate as their expansion for raw materials was so important. The Japanese had to decide whether to give up slowly or give one major blow to America so that Japan could revitalise whilst America recovered. The military,
now in control of the country, were more inclined to the last option. Because America was not willing to negotiate or co operate with Japan, and Japan were in such a desperate situation, war was seen as inevitable by the Japanese government. Japan became angered even more in September 1941 because America rejected Japan’s proposals for peace. Japan felt there was no other option but to prepare for war. In July, Japanese Admiral Yamamoto suggested an attack on Pearl Harbour. Pearl Harbour was seen as a simple target by the Japanese, just as Manchuria was. It offered itself as the perfect place to attack.
The whole of the US Naval Fleet were docked in the harbour, providing Japan with an opportunity to cause major damage to the US warships. If war were to break out, then it would be a naval one. Japan took the advantage and bombed Pearl Harbour, severely weakening the American Navy. This proved crucial as it both evened out the power between Japan and America and it also gave Japan the opportunity to expand further whilst collecting vital supplies to fight a war with America and give them a fighting chance. Japan had to attack Pearl Harbour because of their lack of raw materials.
This was the major long-term cause of the attack. This can be linked back to the Emperor and the military influence. They were the two main influences on the Japanese people and the Emperor himself was encouraged by militarism. Because of the influence on the Emperor, he ordered an invasion of Manchuria for raw materials and more power. This proved to be a medium term cause. America failed to stop Japan when they attacked Manchuria. This meant that the Japanese army became stronger and militarism grew. The course was almost certainly set for war once the military controlled Japan.
The most important medium term cause was the Wall Street Crash, which took Japan into the Great Depression through America’s misfortune. They were badly affected by the depression because Japan relied mainly on other countries, especially America, for imports of raw materials. America had been hit with depression as well. They concentrated on their own problems and failed to stop Japan from invading Manchuria. The main short-term cause of the attack on Pearl Harbour was America’s decision to reject negotiations and peace talks from Japan about bringing down the Oil Embargo.
This angered the Japanese government, causing dangerous tension between the two countries as Japan were in a difficult situation and were now willing to attack the Americans. The rejections of proposals in September 1941 led to Japan confirming the decision for war on the 26th of November. In the end Japan was driven to war by the fact that the military had control of the country. The army thought that an attack on Pearl Harbour would prove vital if they were to become equally as powerful as America and have a fighting chance in the war which had seemed inevitable for a long time.