Why Japan Attacked Pearl Harbour

Why Japan Attacked Pearl Harbour

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Photo Credit: James Morley
Photo Credit: James Morley

Why Japan Attacked Pearl Harbour

Photo Credit: James Morley via https://www.flickr.com/photos/whatsthatpicture/4959390747/

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While everyone thinks that the Japanese attack on the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941, was unprovoked, that isn’t true. More than seven decades after the surprise attack, a lot of people still think that the Japanese were aggressive imperialists who wanted to dominate the Asia-Pacific region. Today, Americans believe that their forefathers were minding their own business when the crazy Japanese attacked them, out of the blue. Very few people know that the US provoked the Japanese to resort to this unannounced, sneak attack.

Imperial Japan’s Aggressive Overtures

Tensions between the US and Japan had been rising throughout 1941. Imperial Japan, had in 1937, initiated an unjustified war with China, a favored US ally. This war had been raging on for over 4 years before the Pearl Harbour strike. Further, Japan’s totalitarian government had occupied Indochina and was hell-bent on imposing its will in East Asia. The US resented these developments in Asia.

Imperial Japan’s Booming Economy

From 1900, Japan’s economy experienced unprecedented growth. The nation industrialized rapidly. Since Japan had limited natural resources, its burgeoning industries relied heavily on imports. Raw materials such as petroleum, coal, copper, tin, steel scrap, iron ore, bauxite, and rubber were the chief imports. Many of these were from the US or European colonies in Asia. Without access to these imports, Japan’s industrial economy would have collapsed. However, the Japanese engaged in international trade and had built a reasonably developed industrial economy by 1941.

Japan’s Military-Industrial Complex

Simultaneously, the Japanese promoted a military-industrial complex. Consequently, the nation’s army and navy became increasingly powerful. Imperial Japan’s armed forces permitted the rising nation to exert its military might into several places in the Asia-Pacific region. Northern China and Korea were prime among these regions. This exertion of military power was similar to the US using its industrial prowess to equip armed forces that demonstrated the nation’s power into Latin America and Caribbean Islands, and even as far as the Philippines.

The US President’s Personal Preferences and Foreign Policy

The US government was controlled by its President Franklin D. Roosevelt since 1933. He won an unprecedented four 4-year terms and was the President until his death in 1945. He disliked the Japanese but loved the Chinese because his forefathers had prospered in the China trade. Roosevelt also favoured the British, an ally of China in WWII. He didn’t like Germany’s Hitler. Since 1937, Roosevelt paid great attention to foreign policy, partly to fulfil his political ambitions.

The Economic Warfare of the US Provoked Imperial Japan’s Sneak Attack

In the late 1930s, as Hitler’s Germany began to rearm, the Roosevelt administration worked closely with Britain and France to oppose German expansion. The US assistance to these nations included the destroyer deal as well as the deceptive Lend-Lease program. The US military attempted to create an incident that would justify its entry into the WWII arena by working closely with the British Navy. But Hitler didn’t fall for this ploy.

Roosevelt and His Subordinates Put Japan in an Untenable Position

In June 1940, the US Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson supported the Open Door Policy for China. Stimson recommended economic sanctions to check Japan’s advance in Asia. The US President, Treasury Secretary, and Interior Secretary also favoured this economic warfare. Roosevelt was hopeful that these sanctions would instigate the Japanese into committing a rash mistake by starting a war against the US. He also hoped that this would bring Germany in because Japan had a treaty with Germany.

US Administration Throttles Imperial Japan’s War Machine

Accordingly, the US administration curtly dismissed Japanese diplomatic overtures to normalize relations. Conversely, the US imposed a set of increasingly harsh economic sanctions on Japan right from 1939 when the 1911 Commercial Treaty with Japan was terminated. On July 2, 1940, the Export Control Act came into force. This Act authorized the US President to regulate the export of important defence materials. Under this power, on July 31, 1940, US exports of heavy melting iron, steel scrap, and aviation motor fuels to Japan were restricted.

Key Economic Sanctions that Crippled Imperial Japan

October 16, 1940: Roosevelt slapped an embargo on exports of steel and scrap iron to all destinations. Only Britain and some nations located in the Western Hemisphere were excluded in this stifling measure.

July 26, 1941: The President froze all Japanese assets in the US. Roosevelt effectively ended commercial relations between Japan and the US.

August 3, 1941: Roosevelt imposed an embargo of all the grades of oil that were still in commercial flow to Japan. Holland and Britain also followed suit. The European nations also imposed an embargo on exports to Imperial Japan from their Southeast Asian colonies.


Months before attacking Pearl Harbour, the Japanese offered to withdraw troops from Indochina under two conditions. First, the Japanese would work out peace with China without US interference. Second, US would lift the economic sanctions. The US did not want to abandon China. So, the Roosevelt administration continued to insist that Japan withdraw troops from Indochina and also reconsider the agreement it had with Germany and Italy.

Although this happened long ago, you can still take Pearl Harbour tours & see the sunken ships. There are 1,177 people still under the water. In addition, the USS Arizona Battleship is STILL leaking drops of oil. It is said the droplets of oil coming out of the USS Arizona are the tears of the dead. When the oil droplets stop, the dead will stop crying. See this at Pearl Harbour.


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Our Pearl Harbour Tours represent one of the most significant sites in United States History! Pay homage to the 1,177 fallen heroes of December 7, 1941 as you experience the museums, displays, exhibits, and movie short. You’ll have the choice of touring the USS Arizona Memorial, USS Missouri Battleship, USS Bowfin Submarine, and the Pacific Aviation Museum. With our expert tour guides the Pearl Harbour Tours are designed to fit your schedule.

Visit the website: www.hokuhawaiitours.com


The views and opinions expressed in this page and  documentaries are soley intended to educate and provide background information to those interested in WWII .They in no way reflect my own opinions and I take no responsibility for any inaccuracies or factual errors.

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