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Why did the Japanese Attack Pearl Harbour?

On the 7th December 1941, the Japanese launched one of the most surprising attacks of the 20th century. The attack was aimed at the industrially, physically, economically, militarily, and a mighty nation, the United States of America. They attacked the strong Pacific Naval base that was Pearl Harbour, Hawaii. The attack was carefully designed by Admiral Yamomoto. Yamamoto put forward the plan to the other generals and politicians; after a degree of debate, the Japanese Prime Minister general Tojo agreed that the attack would occur. Japan is a small country that was almost totally reliant on imports; its small country’s resources could not continue to feed its dense population. The difficult situation was only worsened by the Wall Street crash of 1929, which hit Japan a lot harder than many other countries, of which some were much more self-reliant.

It was the post-depression period, which saw an even more nationalistic party come into power. With the depression, Japan reverted to the idea of the Samurai code, something that has always been a part of the Japanese culture to an extent. But the Japanese propaganda machine helped in conscription and got society on the Government’s side. The Government needed to have as little opposition on their own ground as possible. A vast amount of Propaganda – those with power who opposed the Government’s aims were often assassinated. During the 1920s, there were tense times when the Japanese, allies of the Germans (American opposition), struggled for Far East Pacific power against the U.S.A. Japan tried to gain control of the majority of trade in the Pacific. They entered trade agreements with countries that had before traded with the United States. It was merely an attempt to increase power and earn her place in the sun.

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In an attempt to stop this, America placed tariffs on Japan and signed a treaty putting a halt to Japan’s increasing Navy. The Japanese were only allowed to build three ships for every five ships Britain and America built; these attempts to squash the increasing power of Japan merely increased tensions. Japan was one of the quickest up-and-coming countries in terms of modernisation. Just 60 years before, they had fought Manchuria, or Manchukuo as it was known, with the medieval technology of swords and warriors. Whilst Britain had achieved plans and Blueprints for the world’s first Dreadnought. Clearly, Japan was a long way behind. Once Japan learned of how technologically advanced the world superpowers were, they introduced a modernisation policy in the mid 19th century. Japan aimed to become a superpower. However, it was in a time of overpopulation and starvation; subsequently, it would not be able to raise the price of a trade and would not compete with other nations in such a ‘Backward state’.

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It needed ‘Living space’; it needed to expand. So in 1931, Japan started her campaign, she invaded Manchuria, Japan went into China and by 1937 controlled the majority of China. Showing great militant strength, Japan’s empire became the Greater Eastern Co-Prosperity sphere. Japan infuriated the League of Nations. When asked about her actions in Manchuria, Japan became the first Nation to abdicate from the League of Nations of her own free will, showing the League Of Nations as weak. Soon others followed Japan’s actions. Soon the League of Nations reputation diminished and subsequently disbanded. For the people of Japan, morale was high; they had defied and shocked the world. Once the War started, the colonies of Britain and France were unprotected, hence Japan’s later capturing of French Indo-China.

The only nation that stood in the way of Japan’s rule of the biggest ocean in the World was the U.S.A., but what could Japan do to stop the will of a much more powerful country? A nation that continued to have increasing unrest at Japan’s Militant actions, America had made plans to stub out Japan’s plans. The power of America to most would be a good enough reason not to attack; this was why Japan’s actions had such a shock value. So Yamomoto devised a plan, which later proved to be one of the greatest uses of Blitzkrieg witnessed. Blitzkrieg on the water had only previously been used by the British in Italy. Their use of Aircraft Carriers showed the world their incredible use and versatility in constructing a powerful attack. For Japan to continue in her campaign, she would have to disable the American fleet. Otherwise, she could never gain control of the Pacific.

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By quickly wiping the American fleet Japan convinced themselves they could capture the needed territories before America could recover. By then, it would be too dangerous for America to backlash. The Japanese attack took place on Sunday the 7th of December; unexpectedly, Japan managed to massacre the American fleet, destroying nine Battleships and a death toll of 2000. So Sunday, a day of Christian values and rest, became a catastrophe for America. But America had one asset left unharmed. Her Aircraft Carriers were out of Dock on manoeuvres. Something as to why is still debated today, as Aircraft Carriers were vulnerable and useless in defence and are only tools of attack. But the fact is that Japan attacked America in a militant, aggressive way to expand her power and living space. To have control of the pacific would undoubtedly be very economically and militarily beneficial. It was the U.S.A that stood in the way. So the actions were that of determination and self-help.

The consequences did not go to plan, even though the attack was as successful as it could have ever been. Japan took on more than she could have bargained for. If America did not fear the increasing power of Japan and tried to stop her in ways like Tariffs, Japan would not have attacked America. By placing the Trade Tariffs, America was running Japan into bankruptcy. Her people would starve. America essentially only left Japan with one option. Otherwise, Japan would be devastated, her people would surprise, and the possibility of a Revolution would increase against the Government. Germany would have also wanted Japan to attack America, as America entering the war became more possible the longer the war went on. If Japan could have success over America, it would only make Hitler’s aims easier.

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America’s actions to try and decrease the power of Japan in a non-physically aggressive way. Put Japan into a corner, and her only option left was to attack. So Japan attacked Pearl Harbour for many reasons: to decrease her Naval power, so she could take control of the majority of the Pacific for economic reasons before America took revenge. To help her allies aims in the European theatre of War. But mainly in self-interest, in that, if Japan wanted to continue in her increase of power, whilst continuing to feed her people without her previous imports, Japan could not rely on her own exports for money and was left with no other option to attack America when the trade embargoes were put in place.

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Why did the Japanese Attack Pearl Harbour?. (2021, Aug 16). Retrieved August 15, 2022, from