Japan Felt It Had No Choice But To Attack Pearl Harbor (Was Tokyo Right?)

Japan Felt It Had No Choice But To Attack Pearl Harbor (Was Tokyo Right?)

Warfare History Network

History, Asia

Japan needed resources and America was standing in the way.

Key point: Japan was fighting a war for its survival.

By the time the attack on Pearl Harbor plunged the United States into World War II, Japan had been preparing for an all-out offensive in the Pacific for months.

Japan relied on imports of raw materials and natural resources to survive. Rubber, tin, iron, and especially oil had to be imported for Japanese industry to function. The same raw materials were also essential for the Japanese war machine.

In 1894-1895, Japan defeated China in a short war and gained control of the island of Formosa, part of Korea, and a bit of Manchuria. Along with these territories came all their natural resources. In 1905, after Japan defeated Russia in the Russo-Japanese War, the Empire of the Sun took control of all of Korea and part of Manchuria that had earlier been gobbled up by the Russians.

On September 19, 1931, in the midst of a worldwide depression, Japan staged an incident at a railway station on the Korean border of Manchuria, which it used as an excuse to invade the mineral-rich Chinese province. When the League of Nations condemned the act, Japan resigned from the League. In 1936, to expand her navy, Japan renounced the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty, which had limited the size of the Japanese Navy. In July 1937, Japan launched a full-scale invasion of China on the pretext that Chinese soldiers had fired on Japanese troops in Manchuria. Although Japan could not conquer all of China, by 1939 it had captured almost all of the important port cities and had firm control of the raw material that went into or out of the Asian giant.

In June 1940, after Japan moved into French Indochina while France was under Nazi occupation, the U.S. Congress passed the Export Control Act, which prohibited the export of “strategic minerals and chemicals, aircraft engines, parts, and equipment” to Japan. Conspicuously absent from this list was crude oil.

The already strained relations between the United States and Japan worsened in September 1940 when the Japanese signed the Tripartite Pact with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Hitler, who was already planning to start a war in Europe, was hoping that the Tripartite Pact would encourage Japan to invade the British holdings in the Far East to pin down forces already there.

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