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For what reason did Japan bomb Pearl Harbour?

Plan and Record of Procedure

When we were asked to consider a question to answer, which would have been suitable for our personal study, I knew straight away that I would want to structure my question around Pearl Harbor. Since childhood, watching movies about Pearl Harbor always caught my attention. From most movies and books it seemed to me as if the Japanese people were just cruel and evil people, who had no basis to attack America; so was this the reason for the bombing? That they were just cruel people? Or did they have a legitimate reason which had been completely cut out of history by authors and the Hollywood directors? That question was embedded in my mind, and I always thought that I would research it when I had time, or to speak the truth, be motivated to.

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After sitting a few classes in lower sixth history, which was based upon our personal studies; I had realized that this was the ‘time’ I was looking for. I could answer a question that really made me think, and not only that I would also be doing it as a little study. This furthered my interest in such a crucial time during World War Two.

I went to the library and took out a couple of books regarding Pearl Harbor. Once I had read the books; I assumed I would now know the reason for Japan bombing Pearl Harbor, but the books I read had something in common, it told me how the bombing took place, how many were killed or injured etc, but never once mentioned why this all had taken place. The bombing by a few historians was seen as a ‘focal’ point in that era, which helped secure a win for the Allies, so why was only half of the story published? In fact, I possessed the same amount of knowledge on this particular topic, as I had done previously. This was when I decided to take it a step further and took out a selection of books regarding the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and also did some research on the internet.

At first, it was overwhelming having so much information in front of my eyes and now knowing how I should analyze it all. This was when I decided that I would read each book/site at different times of the day so I did not get confused. After each book or site I had read, I took a notepad and jotted down all the crucial sentences, phrases, and even copied pictures which would give me a jump start. Now knowing that the question was answerable, I submitted it to my history teacher. Whilst I was awaiting her acknowledgment, I for some unknown reason had left everything unfinished.

It was only during the Christmas holidays, did I really start to think about a basic plan for my personal studies. I knew that in total I should be aiming to have at least three chapters (which did not include my conclusion). I would separate them into three separate categories; the time leading up to the bombing, the day the bombing had taken place, and finally a key reason for the atrocity following a conclusion to tie up the loose ends.

After receiving a confirmation on the title, all I had to do was to read my notes which had been previously written a little while before. I would say that making my notes before writing the study had helped me a lot. I did not have to waste my time finding and analyzing facts, as I had already done so.

By the end of January, I had completed my first complete draft. It seemed to me that I had covered all the relevant issues which had to be mentioned which would help me get an answer.

In total my first draft was made up of two-thousand one-hundred words, around a little more than a thousand words short than the maximum allowed. I took advantage of this and decided that I would use this gap to analyze each fact I presented. This was a good idea as I could comment on whether I thought a source was reliable or not.

Overall I was satisfied with what I had achieved, in the space of time I had left. In future, if I were ever given a similar task like this, I would remember to use the time wisely, and not take it for granted. I am sure if I had done that this time around, I would have been able to go through more sources, which would have given me a much better image to discuss. Another aspect of this study, which I am happy about is the fact it has shown me that I am capable of answering such an awkward question and can make a sound judgment on what are relevant facts and what is just unreliable.

This study also gave me a new perspective on the whole topic surrounding the incident at Pearl Harbor; I got an answer to my question and had been implanted a new question in my head. Did America provoke Japan into making the first move, which would secure the fate of America fighting the Nazi regime? Who knows, sometime in the future when I have the ‘motivation’ I may very well be answering that question and am sure I could do a reasonable job of it due to the skills I have picked up from answering this study.

Please Note: The writing in italic is the quote and the writing in bold is my comment on the source. The letter or number beside the quote indicates where I got it from, the list of books and sites can be seen on the last page.

Chapter One – Events leading up to the attack of Pearl Harbor

“The Japanese attack on the American fleet based at Pearl Harbor was less an attempt to provoke the United States into a declaration of war than a final admission that war between the United States and Japan was bound to come.” Through hindsight, I know that this quote is quite reliable; it shows that there was hostility between the two nations which had provoked the bombing. When trying to answer the question (above) and you come across such quotes; you can see the jigsaw taking shape.

On the other hand, I still have to be cautious as this was written thirty-nine years after the bombing, and could have been exaggerated to make Japan look as if they were war mongers. This signalled the end of a long period of increasing bitterness between the two nations. The ‘struggle’ was centred on Japan’s ambitions for an unchallenged hegemony in the Far East.

During the early 1920s, the Americans held a conference in Washington. This was in direct result of Japan ceasing Manchuria. The reason America had condemned and refused to recognize the state of Manchukuo (which was set up to replace Manchuria) was solely due to the fact that the Japanese troops had just marched into Manchuria and took it over, as well as the fact that it “presented a direct threat to the ‘open door’ policy”. Japan was becoming an increasingly crowded country; Manchuria offered around 200,000 square kilometres of land, which to the Japanese looked like an attractive offer. By 1931 Japan had invested vast sums of money into the economy of Manchuria, which at that time was controlled by the South Manchuria Railway Company.

In order to protect the money Japan had invested, they stationed a large army in the South of Manchuria. An explosion on a section of the South Manchuria Railway had given the Japanese an excuse to blame the local population for sabotage and to occupy Manchuria. The Americans in Washington stated that “Great Britain, United States, and Japan” would be allowed to have the number of ships in a naval fleet at the ratio of “5:5:3”. Obviously, the Japanese were the ones to ‘pull the short straw’. As years went by, there were several more treaties signed and enforced, which furthermore restricted Japan and its naval fleet. The same treaties also had an impact on the United States and Great Britain, but it had a deeper impact on Japan, rather than on the western superpowers.

In December of 1936 Japan has urged the United States to be lenient and allow them (Japan) to have “naval parity”, but this was rejected on the grounds of pre-existing treaties. The rejection had given no other alternative, but to withdraw from the London Conference, which was going to be held on January of 1936. Within a year of the withdrawal, the Japanese construction of naval vessels had, exceeded that of France, Italy, Germany and Russia. They were now looking to be a formidable rival to the American fleet in the Pacific. As they were re-arming their forces, they had noticed that many countries in Asia seemed to fear the Japanese. This to Japan looked like a new opportunity for Japan to conquer Asia. “Already Japan’s leaders were declaring a policy of Japanese hegemony over Eastern Asia”.

When President Roosevelt declared “I hate war” in a speech in 1936, Japan must have sensed that they would most probably get away with attacking USA. When President Roosevelt said that he hated war, I would say that it had a hidden agenda behind it. Knowing that the only way he could go to war was is someone from the axis would attack the USA; he knew that Hitler was scared to bring in America, so they had to provoke another member of the axis, as Italy was to far, it would have to be Japan. Knowing that if Japan was provoked they would make a rash move, he set out to trap them. First say he hates ware, then secondly move and rename a fleet to the Pacific, giving a mirage which showed that American troops were sitting ‘ducks’ which was not capable of defending itself from an attack.

This source is quite reliable as it has from the President of America during the period in question, and it also had a direct correlation with the study title, as it shows that America was trying to play a ‘cat and mouse game with Japan. In the month of July of the year 1937, Japan had seized the opportunity and moved its forces to Inner Mongolia, and Northern China. The reason they did this was that they could “extend their control of power.” The Americans had sympathized with the Chinese and public opinion asked for something stronger to be done, rather than moral gestures put forward. President Roosevelt replied with nothing more forceful than his ‘Quarantine’ speech of October 1977. The President saw war as a disease and that the best thing would be to stop the contagion from spreading.

He suggested, “A quarantine of the patients in order to protect the health of the community against the spread of the disease.” The League of Nations in 1932 had condemned the actions that were inflicted by Japan, which violated the “Nine Power Treaty and the Kellogg Pact.” To show Japan and the entire world, that the League of Nations would not accept such atrocities, they offered to hold a conference in Brussels.

As anticipated, Japan bluntly did not attend. Shortly after this, the Americans had decided that they were going to evacuate all their nationals from Chinese territories. The Japanese militarists saw this move as “a sign of weakness”. To test the ever so fragile cabinet and leader of the Americans, Japan had bombed and sunk “Gunboat Panay”, on 13th December 1937 in the Yangtze River. The Americans “immediately protested, demanding reparations. Japan apologized promptly and paid indemnities.”

Japan had taken over most of Northern and Central China by 1938. This led America to urge manufactures to put a “moral embargo” on the shipments of aircraft and other ware attributed material. This did not seem to disturb, nor stop the Japanese from invading. By 1940 they had marched to the French-Indo China region and had taken control. “By now, there was sharp disagreement on United States policy towards Japan in American government circles, with the cabinet itself divided.” Experienced diplomats and statesmen such as Henry Morgenthal and Henry L. Stimson said that some sort of ultimatum should have been given to Japan.

In mounting pressure, Roosevelt issued an order restricting the supply of strategic materials, especially petroleum products to Japan. After much deliberation, he also allowed a naval fleet to re-base itself from San Diego to Pearl Harbor, which was in Honolulu, Hawaii. They were later renamed to the “Pacific Fleet”.

Now tensions between the two nations were going to increase to a new level. The Japanese had to avoid provoking the Americans into war diplomatically, whilst still taking their exploiting their opportunity to the fullest possible. Though Japan was ready to talk diplomatically, their military experts were also preparing plans for an ‘all out’ offensive against the United States of America.

Chapter two – 7th December, “a day of infamy”

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a day which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan”. On the 7th of December 1941 between the hours of 7 am – 9 am, there “two waves” of attack on Pearl Harbor. The first wave was between 7:53 am – 8:55 am and the second wave was between 8:55 am – 9:55 am. A squadron of Japanese fighter planes had bombed the Pacific fleet. “2,403 dead, 188 destroyed planes and a crippled Pacific Fleet that included 8 damaged or destroyed battleship.”

This source helps us to understand the damage caused between three hours of intense battling between the Japanese and American forces; but it has to be noted that this may be an unreliable source due to the fact that the site which I had obtained this source from was written recently and as it was written so many years after the bombing, maybe some figures had been exaggerated, or miscalculated. But it does help in giving a better picture of the chaos caused.

It was as if one blow from the Japanese had decided the debate that had divided the Americans ever since the German defeat of France which left Britain alone in the fight against the Nazi regime. Pearl Harbor was destined to enter the history books, due to the relations between America and Japan. “These had been deteriorating badly since the previous year, as disagreements arose over Japan’s southward expansion on the Asiatic Continent.” The Japanese took the advantage of Hitler’s advance down the coast of China. The pressure of the war had forced the French troops to comply with Japanese troops, which moved into northern Indo-China. They also asked the British to close the Burma Road, which was the last means of getting important supply into China. “By imposing a limited check on the export of war materials to Japan, United States emerged as the principal obstacle to the Japanese advance.”

As mentioned earlier, President Roosevelt had moved the Pacific Fleet from San Diego to Pearl Harbor. This, in an indirect way, gave the impression that the Fleet was a ‘pawn’ in the diplomatic scheme. The Japanese said that it was due to the “ten-point memorandum”, which forced Japan into war. The memorandum opposed and threatened the expansion of Japanese ‘land’. America knew that Japan would not listen to anything that they said, that is the reason Hull said “I have washed my hands of it and it is now in the hands of …the Army and the Navy.” When I read this quote I had realized that the bureaucrats in the White House were looking for a face-off rather than a peaceful resolution. This source was valuable as it showed that America was interested in fighting, and apart from that it was reliable as it was from an American official at the time in question.

Warnings had been issued to the top-ranked personal, that it was not out of the question that Japan could attack the United States. “Admiral Husband E . Kimmel in Hawaii heard that neither Roosevelt nor Hull would be surprised over a Japanese surprise attack”. One note to Admiral Kimmel said, “consider this dispatch a war warning”. The note said that all diplomatic reasoning had failed miserably.

The first attack lasted around 30 minutes and within that 30 minutes, there were 4 separate torpedo-bomber attacks. The first 2nd attacks were meant for the “main” targets, which were the battleships on the southeast shore. The 3rd attack hit the cruiser (Helena) and the 4th was meant for ships on the north side. The second major attack consisted of “high-level bombing runs across the target” with support from dive-bombers and fighter planes.

“The overall impact was devastating.” West Virginia was hit 6 times by torpedoes. Arizona was the worst effected. Both torpedoes and bombs had caused explosions and fires and the vessel sank quickly. Over 1000 men had died on that ship, trapped in the below decks as it sank. The list was never-ending. In a matter of hours, America had sustained a major blow both nationally and internationally.

Although the main targets had been the battleships and other vessels, Japan had not forgotten about the airfield full of American fighter planes. As President Roosevelt said himself “a date which will live in infamy”. 2403 fatalities had taken place, of which 2008 were part of the navy, 3 battleships sank; other vessels were badly destroyed. The Japanese had done a good job of destroying two-thirds of naval aircraft, leaving 16 serviceable Army Air Force bombers.

In contrast, the Japanese had very minimal loss compared to the Americans. Out of an attacking force which consisted of 360 aircraft they had lost, 5 midgets, 9 Zeros, 15 Vals and 5 Kates were lost.

“Viewed from the level of high political policy, the Pearl Harbor attack was a tremendous blunder. It was difficult to conceive any other act which could have rallied the American people more solidly behind the declaration of war on Japan.” People say that this was one of the biggest mistakes Japan had made. If they did not try to hurt the ‘big friendly giant’ (in this case America) all would have been fine. Unfortunately, they had done the opposite. This was also apparent when Churchill said “To have the United States at our side was to be the greatest joy. Now at this very moment, I knew that the United States was in the war, up to the neck and into the death. So we had won after all! … Hitler’s fate was sealed … Mussolini’s fate was sealed. As for the Japanese, they would be ground to powder.”

Chapter three – Key reason for the bombing of Pearl Harbor, was this the excuse America was looking for?

Between the years 1920 to 1940, dictators started to appear in Germany, Italy and Japan. The first who were led under a dictatorship regime were the Italians. Benito Mussolini was their dictator. The next dictator who came to power was Adolf Hitler who led the Nazi party.

Both Mussolini and Hitler had quite good relations, and after time they decided to sign up an alliance, by 1937 they were known as the Axis Power. The Japanese saw and took up the opportunity to join the Axis Alliance. Many people assume that it was due to Emperor Hirohito that Japan joined the Axis. But they were far from the truth. “Cautious as ever, he criticized Japan’s decision to join the Axis powers”. The following year that Japan had joined the Axis Alliance, the government of Japan was under the impression that they were now untouchable. They started to march troops towards neighbouring countries such as China, in the view that they could take it over.

After World War 2 has started, Japan grew impatient and angry towards the USA. This was due to the fact that America was sending China war materials. The reason that Japan did not like this was that they were trying to take China over, and if the Americans helped the Chinese, they (the Japanese) would face tougher opposition. Both American and British Governments had done everything to place obstacles in front of Japan. I went through an old article I had at home which said “both the United States and Great Britain have resorted to every possible measure to … obstruct the establishment of general peace between Japan and China, interfering with Japan’s constructive endeavours towards the stabilization of East Asia.

Exerting pressure on the Netherlands East Indies, or menacing French Indo-China, they have attempted to frustrate Japan’s aspiration to the ideal common prosperity in cooperation with these regimes.” It goes on to show that both America and Britain were desperately trying to provoke Japan into making a stupid move; “Furthermore, when Japan in accordance with its protocol with France took measures of joint defence of French Indo-China, both American and British Governments, willfully misinterpreting it as a threat to their own possessions, and including the Netherlands Government to follow suit, they enforced the assets to the freezing order, thus severing economic relations with Japan … manifesting thus an obviously hostile attitude…” As their plan to provoke Japan was not working successfully at first, they had to implement a new tactic to make Japan make a rash move, and what else would be better than starving Japan of vital money that would inevitably help them become stronger.

As a direct result to this, Japan went to America on the 1st of November 1941 for “peace talks”. During the peace talks, Japan gave three proposals to America. They were as follows; 1 – The Americans were going to cease in aiding China, 2 – America were to stay out of Asian Affairs and 3 The Americans would lift the oil embargo on Japan, and commence trading straight away. President Roosevelt did not acknowledge any of these proposals and dismissed them.

Historians debate that the reason Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor was merely due to the fact that President Roosevelt had turned down the three proposals that were presented by the Japanese. They say that if the Americans had complied with the Japanese in the beginning, nothing of this nature would have taken place. Other historians say that “Pearl Harbor was not about war with Japan. It was about war with GERMANY”. The Americans knew about the Japanese plans to attack Pearl Harbor but did not do anything on purpose. The reason that America opted to stay quiet was that they knew that if Japan were to bomb Pearl Harbor then the American Government would have an excuse to join the European War. One reason that the Pacific fleet was moved to Pearl Harbor was that the Americans were hoping to provoke the Japanese, as it would scare them into thinking that America was moving their naval fleet forward. As a countermeasure, they would have to attack that particular naval fleet to show the Americans that they were vulnerable to the Japanese attack, and would scare the Americans back into the ‘cave they crawled out of’.

In conclusion to this study, I would say that the reason Japan had bombed America could be seen as a ‘two-sided coin’. The Japanese would argue that the British and American economic ‘dictatorship’, indirect or not, had pushed Japan to its limits. The two Western Super Powers had allowed themselves to expand and well equip their naval fleets, whilst Japan had to sit in the ‘back’ seat and disarm. This could be seen by the “5:5:3” ratio of naval fleets, where the two “5’s” were America and Britain and the “3” was Japan. As time went on further rules and regulations had to be observed by the Japanese, even if they had not liked the idea such as the “moral embargos” by manufacturers towards the Japanese.

The Japanese saw this as hypocrisy, why could America and Britain prosper through whatever means possible, but the nation of Japan had to gain prosperity through a route that would have obscure obstacles blocking their pathway to a lot of wealth and power. No country, no matter how much they have been restrained, will sit back and watch countries who supposedly are doing ‘the better for mankind’ acting like um-democratic people, in a so-called democratic world. Japan had tried to be civil and had asked America to be slightly lenient, but as America would never go back on sanctions, they had refused. Japan had now realized that America was stubborn, for this reason, they started to re-arm their naval fleets without compliance from America or Britain. Once the Japanese had re-gained naval parity, it meant they could now withstand any attack, so they could persist in making their nation bigger and better by taking over countries such as China.

They had sent the Pacific Fleet to move towards Pearl Harbor and thought to themselves that there was no better way of showing up America and sending them a message with a hidden agenda, a message that would have shown up America, that they could not dictate a country without the right reason to do so. They thought that maybe America would back out as it would be breaking the countries morale and would make sure that they would not enter the war in Europe; this would have been an excellent tactic if it did not backfire.

Instead of scaring America out of entering the Second World War, it had done the opposite, resulting in an invitation for an extra ‘enemy’ who would be fighting the axis. The logic behind the attack was that if a country sees hundreds of their own men and women die for no reason at all, it would make people think about what more lives would be lost if they were to join the Second World War. As mentioned before it was unfortunate for the Japanese that this tactic did not work.

However, the bombing can also be seen from a different perspective. As mentioned before, some historians believe that the reason America had been so eager to re-name and re-allocate their Pacific Fleet was to intimidate the Japanese into making the first move in starting a war. This would ensure that America could enter the war that was being fought in Europe, without breaking its policies and the ‘horrific’ attack which killed countless Americans in the Harbor, would not go unanswered, and the people who committed this atrocity would not go unpunished.

It was said that both Churchill and Roosevelt were trying to get the United States of America involved as the allies needed a strong group of people to help them. “To have the United States at our side was to be the greatest joy. Now at this very moment, I knew that the United States was in the war, up to the neck and into the death. So we had won after all! … Hitler’s fate was sealed … Mussolini’s fate was sealed. As for the Japanese, they would be grounded to powder.” This shows that there was a lot at stake if America did not join the war. This was shown when Winston Churchill said “Hitler’s fate was sealed … Mussolini’s fate was sealed. . As for the Japanese, they would be grounded to powder.”

So in the end I would say that Americans Provoked the Japanese in bombing Pearl Harbor, and risked a lot of innocent American and other nationality lives. Just to get involved in a war that was so many thousands of miles away. There was no logic to both tactical ads normally speaking, to move and rename a whole fleet to the Pacific. From my own knowledge regarding this topic, I recall reading that ships that had been moved to Pearl Harbor were those which would be ‘sacrificed and others such as the Saratoga (an aircraft carrier) would be left near the West Coast. They had sent two carrier groups and their escorts out of the harbour, which would mean that they would not be hit. The new ships were also moved, leaving mainly those which were used in the First World War, behind. The theory was also further strengthened when Roosevelt had made a phone call to Lord Halifax and said, “Most of the fleet was at sea … none of their newer ships were in the harbour”. That tactic by historians was summed up by saying “the first shot without too much danger to ourselves”.

Books Read

1. The bombing of Hiroshima

2. Days of that shook the world Hiroshima

3. Japan: the years of triumph

4. The rise and fall of Imperial Japan

5. 20th Century







Personal Study: For what reason did Japan bomb Pearl Harbor?

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