Thesneak attack that was carried out by Japan in 1941 against the UnitedStates was one of the most shocking attacks ever to occur on Americansoil. This attack was carried out at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii wheremost of the United States’ Pacific fleet was docked. The attackcame as such a huge surprise since the Japanese had meticulouslyplanned for this. They had moved numerous sea and air vessels forover 3000 miles undetected. This attack resulted to over 2000 loss ofmilitary and civilian lives. Most of the vessels that were docked inthe harbor were sunk, and this too was extremely devastating to theUnited States Navy. This resulted to the United States declaring thatthey were going to war against Japan and Germany. Initially, theUnited States President Roosevelt had his hands tied on the issue ofthe Second World War. Britain was already at war with Germany afterHitler breached the Munich agreement that they initially had. Japaninvaded China, and the United States was extremely against this. Theinitial area in China that was first taken over by the Japanese wasknown as Manchuria. This region of China fell to the Japan controlway back in 1931. However, after the Japans took over the capital ofthe Republic of China, Nanking, in 1937, the United States becameconcerned. President Roosevelt felt that the United States shouldoffer some form of assistance to the ongoing war. When an opinionpoll on the views of the American people was conducted, it was foundout that the majority was for peace, and they did not condone theongoing war. Millions of youth even signed petitions that stated theywould not serve in the war if the need ever arose (Iriye, 25).
Thisessay will focus on the query whether the attack on Pearl Harbor wasinevitable or not. From the United States standpoint, they did notaim at actively participating in the war. However, they were sendingfleets into the Pacific Ocean to protect their waters. Around thistime between 1940 and 1941, Japan and the United States were undernegotiations as they attempted to reach an agreement that would leadto a peaceful resolve to their disagreement. It was evident, however,that the leaders of both countries were stalling as they were makingplans for full on war. President Roosevelt in May of 1941 decided tocut off all negotiations with the Japanese and instead sought ways ofempowering his Navy. More ocean fleets were constructed, and advancedbombing fleets were manufactured. On 27th November in 1941, the thenPrime Minister of the Great Britain, Sir Winston Churchill, organizedan appointment with President Franklin D. Roosevelt to warn him of animpending attack from the Japanese. This attack was planned to takeplace in ten days’ time. This intelligence was received and passeddown the chain of command. It is, however, unclear how muchpreparation was taken into account since the Secretary of State forthe United States at that time Cordell Hull failed to secure thesafety of the American troops who lost their lives. It is clearhowever that soon after this attack on Pearl Harbor, the Americanpeople overwhelmingly supported the call to go to war (Iriye, 101).It can be argued that the United States agreed upon this attack totake place so that they might go to war. The only fact that remainstrue is that the attack on Pearl Harbor was bound to happen. Thediscussion below will focus on the various points that came into playtowards the pre-Pearl Harbor attack and what happened after.
TheAmerican foreign policy was that they were to ensure they maintainpeace with all the nations of the earth. Although Britain had calledfor the assistance of the United States in the war against Germanyand Japan, the President Roosevelt felt that his hands were tied.Public opinion ratings were very vital for him, and all the opinionpolls that were being conducted kept showing that the American peoplewere in full support of a total abstinence from the war. This madePresident Roosevelt with the help of his secretary of state, CordellHull, to seek for a peaceful resolve of the conflict that wasbuilding up in the Pacific Ocean. The issue that was to be resolvedwas the decision by Japan to take forcefully over and controlterritories that belonged to China. The Japanese government was alsokeenly following the news that came from the United States. They sawthat public opinion was a key reason towards decision making by theUnited States government. They, therefore, felt they had the upperhand in the negotiations and were expecting to have the talks gotheir way. When this failed to happen, they went into the offensive.Their plan was to destroy the full fleet and fuel supplies of theUnited State Army and thus ensure that the Japanese would have thefull control of the Pacific Ocean. They had based their assumptionson the people of Japan whose opinions rarely changed. They mistookthe democratic form of government in the United States with themonarchy under Emperor Hirohito. This made the then Prime Minister ofJapan plan an elaborate attack on the American soil. The PrimeMinister, Hideki Tojo, felt that the United States had crossed a lineduring their negotiations and had broken diplomatic agreements.Little did he understand that soon after this attack occurred atPearl Harbor, the opinion of the American people would changeovernight. They were now in full support of the war against Japan.Historians view that this was the stage where Franklin D. Roosevelttricked the Japan nation into firing the first shot that would ensurethe two countries went to war against each other.
Chinahad been at war with Japan for over a year over territorial rights. This was due to Japan breaking the agreements under the Nine-PowerTreaty. The agreement as that Japan would give China a chance tobecome a sovereign nation. This agreement was broken once Japaninvaded Manchuria and established a puppet government there. Japancontinued to take over vast territories of China. In 1932, the Leagueof Nations called a meeting to try to negotiate with Japan. Japandelegates walked out of the meeting as a sign that they did not wantto hear any negotiation talks. They later withdrew themselves fromthe League of Nations. The US feared for the civilian live in Chinaand the lives of the American citizens who were in China. The onlytime the United States had a conflict with Japan was when one of theUnited States ships was bombed by Japan in the Yangtze River. TheJapanese said that this was an accident. The United States decided tobegin trade sanctions against Japan. All forms of trade between thetwo countries eventually ceased. The worst action was when theRoosevelt administration completely cut off the supply of oil toJapan. Japan had no interest in declaring war with the United States.Therefore, through the ambassadors for the two countries,negotiations were started as the two leaders worked on forging apeaceful path through the crisis. These negotiations underwentseveral stages.
Alsoknown as the Berlin Pact, this agreement was between Japan, Germanyand Italy. The pact was meant to create a new order in Europe. Japanwas to accept the leadership of Germany and Italy in this arrangementwhile they were to be given domain over East Asia. The US wantedJapan to remove themselves from this pact. They knew that Hitler’slong-term plan was not to only conquer Europe, but the rest of theworld. The negotiations failed after Japan still aligned themselveswith Italy and Germany.
TheUS gave its terms for negotiations, which included that Japan shouldcease to interfere with the workings of the Chinese government, andthey were not to exceed the areas of the Pacific that they did notcontrol.
Japan’sterms for negotiation were clearly unfair as they declared that theUS should make China have a peace agreement with them. This agreementwas well scripted in a way that clearly showed Japan would stillcontrol vast resources in China. This made the negotiations fail.
Thisinvolved the terms of negotiations written by the US in response toJapan’s proposal. This draft wanted Japan to follow the samerequests that were in Plan A. A planned meeting between the USpresident and Japan’s premier for further talks also failed. Thisact would have been very beneficial to the negotiations. With time,Japan was given the idea that the United States had no intention ofany form of negotiation. The only thing the United States wasdemanding was that Japan pulls all of its troops from China for thesanctions that were imposed to be lifted (Iriye, 25). Japan wasadamant and not intended to let go of their grip on China.
TheJapanese finally brought terms of conditions that were like anultimatum on November 20th,1941. This was the modus vivendi and it stated that the US shouldcease from further assisting China, and the oil sanctions were to belifted. This proposal was the final attempt that Japan had made attrying to make peace with the US. Had the US accepted this term,they would have been Japan’s ally, which would have meant that theysupport Japan’s invasions and control of other nations. The US,therefore, treated the Hull’s note as their modus vivendi. Nofurther attempts at negotiation continued after this. Therefore, itseemed like the two countries had failed to reach a common ground andwar was inevitable.
Therewere numerous assumptions that were made, and these assumptions werenot talked about during those negotiations. The major assumption wasmade by the Japan administration. They viewed that the actions thatthe United States Navy were undertaking in the Pacific Ocean appearedto be preparation for an impending war. They also saw that the UnitedStates were not that concerned about a peaceful resolve of theconflict that had arisen. This was because the United States wasoffering military assistance to the Republic of China at the expenseof Japan. This led to full blown mistrust between the two nations.Eventually, it got to a point where the negotiations were completelycut off, and Japan felt they had been greatly disrespected by theUnited States. They, therefore, planned their retaliation thatresulted to thousands of deaths. The US also assumed that Japan’smilitary prowess was not that effective and were caught completelyoff-guard when the Japanese struck at Pearl Harbor.
Japanhad no interest in the United States. When the United States imposedsanctions on Japan due to their occupation of the North Eastern partsof China, there arose an issue. Japan felt that the United Statesshould have supported them. They, therefore, turned to Germany whomthey felt were more willing to offer their support. China wastherefore crushed from both sides by two countries that were workingtogether to destroy it. The only countries that were in support ofChina were France, Great Britain, and the United States. The mainreason these countries were in support of China was that they wereagainst imperialism. Adolf Hitler had aimed at first taking over theentire Europe before conquering the entire planet. The United Statesand Britain worked closely to ensure this plan was thwarted. ThePearl Harbor attack was a very legitimate excuse for the UnitedStates to apply them fully to the war. These factors were thereforebound to work against the negotiations that had been ongoing withJapan (Iriye, 109).
Bothcountries have a very large responsibility towards the breakdown ofthe negotiations between the two countries. The United States playedthe leader role in breaking up these negotiations. This is becausePresident Roosevelt was finding reasons to go into war in a way thathis fellow compatriots would support his decision. He thereforeimposed very heavy sanctions on Japan. During the few talks that thetwo countries had, it was evident that the United States had nointerests in any compromise. They even went as far offering militaryassistance to China and firmly stated that for the sanctions to belifted from Japan, they had to remove their military forces that hadoccupied China. The United States then began moving navy vesselsthrough the Pacific and the Japanese realized that they werepreparing for war. Japan, on the other hand, did not bother to conveytheir misgivings during the negotiations (Iriye, 78). They just wentahead and planned the Pearl Harbor attack. They were to pay dearlyfor this decision.
Itis evident from this essay that Pearl Harbor attack could have beeneasily avoided if the two countries had fully committed themselvesduring the negotiations. The attack was also known about days beforeit happened, but top officials in the Roosevelt administration choseto sit on this intelligence. They needed the attack to happen forthem to get an excuse to participate in the Second World War. It is,therefore, clear that the Pearl Harbor attack only occurred to servethe selfish interests of some individuals, and this resulted totremendous loss of lives.
Iriye,Akira. “Pearl Harbor and the Coming of the Pacific War: A BriefHistory with Documents and Essays”. Bedford/St.Martins,1999.