Saturday, June 07, 2008

Why did Japan attack Pearl Harbor?

A Question from anonymous
"So why did they attack? I've heard it suggested that they didn't want Hawaii interfering with plans for the Pacific, but the US and Japan were still negotiating at the time, so why the preemptive strike? I do remember reading about the US opening the Japanese ports in 1850, but that was a long time before WWII." (quoted from comments of this blog on Dec. 8 2007)

Why did Japan decide to fight the US?
Before replying to the above question, I will divide it into two questions. One is "Why did Japan decide to fight the US?" The other is "Why did Japan attack without a declaration?"

About the former question, I introduce a radio lecture that aired in December 1941, about reasonings behind the start of the Pacific War by Dr. Shumei Ohkawa who was asked by the Japanese government. According to the lecture, he said the reason why was "The US got in the way of Japan's Asian management." In detail: Opening Japan ports in 1853 by the US was fortune, she kept polite and opened Japan with negotiations, not plundered. After Spanish-American War in 1898 (the US got the Philippines), she realized that the Asia-Pacific interests were important. The US persuaded Japan to sell the half interests of Manchuria (northeast China) Railway (the US failed), planned to construct a rival railway company to the Manchuria Railways with the UK (they failed), and so on. After that, the Washington Conference was held from 1921 to 1922. During that conference, participant nations set Japan's navy battleships weight as 60% of the US. In 1941, the US froze Japanese capital in the US and stopped exporting oil to Japan. Japan considered the above actions as obstacles of Japanese Asian management.

The US and other nations regarded "Japan's Asian management" as an invasion. So did the Asian nations invaded by Japan. It is the reason why the US 'got in the way of" Japan. Japanese people in those days, however, seemed to think that Japan's Asian management was relief to Asian nations from white people's plundering. When I read the radio lecture, I was surprised that Dr. Ohkawa's logic lacked a pang of conscience for Japan's ruling other Asian nations. In my opinion, generally, colonialism had many problems for colony nations, for instance plundering, discriminations and so on. Of course, Japanese colonialism included. Ruling "primitive" Asian nations, however, seemed "common sense" for Japanese people in those days.

I think that the reason that Japan started to fight the US was a collision of imperialism between Japan and the US. At the time, imperialism for Japan was justice and important to develop Japan. For the US, Japan's invasion was an obstacle of getting interests from Asia.

I have a second question "Why did Japan decided to fight the US even there was the vast gap between Japan's nation power and the US's?" In 1941, the GNP of the US was as many as 11.83 times larger than the one of Japan.
According to the book "Asia Pacific War"(Yutaka Yoshida, 2007), 1941 Japan had the largest budget for preparing for the war. It was 56 times larger than the war budget in 1931(the beginning year of China invasion). The Japanese Navy was a little bigger than the US Navy in the Pacific Sea in 1941. Depending that, some Japanese Army leaders mistakenly thought that Japan could win the US if the Japanese Army could end the war in a short time.

Why did Japan attack without a declaration?
The Pearl Harbor Attack is recognized as a surprise attack. The US people think it was an unlawful and dirty act. Why did Japan start the war in such away?

Do Japanese people think that the surprise attack was not a dirty act? I feel that most Japanese feel a little pang of conscience about the Pearl Harbor Attack, in spite of them knowing about it. The reason why is they believe in some explanations that justify the Attack (in detail: see my blog "How do the Japanese think about the Pearl Harbor attack?") Generally, they recognize that a surprise attack is evil. So why did Japan attack without a declaration?

I have no idea. I checked some books about the Pearl Harbor Attack whose authors approve the Pearl Harbor Attack, but even they couldn't show the validity of the surprise attack. The Attack was one of the big mistakes that the leaders of the Japanese Army decided, I think. The Attack not only was against the rule but also provoked the US people's wrath and union to fight Japan.

My opinion
I think that the surprise attack was the biggest mistake and the Japanese can't justify it. It was an unlawful and dirty act, in addition to, uniting the US people to beat Japan.
What about Japanese decision to fight the US? I also think that the war was a mistake. Even with pressure by the US, the Japanese government should have sought an alternative way because the war left a vast number of victims and destructions. In the first place, fighting against an enemy twelve times larger (GNP) enemy was unrealistic.
What should Japan have done? I have no idea, maybe she should have reconsidered her colonial plan of Asia. Japan can learn many things from this Attack and the War.

I think the US also can learn many things from this Attack and the War. One of them is that the strong pressure as to act "the world police" sometimes possibly provokes the unlawful and unrealistic counterattack.

Related posts

-How do Japanese think about the Pacific War?
-How do Japanese think about the Pearl Harbor attack?
-The Great Tokyo Air Raid - More Victims than the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb
-Which was the best era in Japan? An interview with my grandparents who were born in the early 20th century


Anonymous said...

Actually, Japan intended to leave a declaration. The Japanese government sent a long, detailed document to the Japanese Embassy in Washington DC prior to the attack. The intention was to notify the US government that negotiations (about the Japanese leaving China for removal of the trade embargo) were not working and that the Japanese were declaring war. Because Embassy staff had to decode and translate the document, the document was delivered to the US government after the Pearl Harbor attack.

In terms of the "strike attack," it is actually a wonder that US intelligence was not expecting one. Japan's surprise attack against the Russians in 1905 was widely acclaimed by scholars as an ingenious tactic. Having had success with this type of attack before, it only makes sense that it might work again. However, Japan had planned for the US to receive warning--albeit not enough to prepare for attack. Therefore, Pearl Harbor was not intended to play out as it did.

In terms of why the Japanese attacked, I am still working on this one. It doesn't make sense, and the Japanese military was highly intelligent to the point that it seems unusually erratic to attack the US, bringing them into war. This point continues to not make sense.

For the other points, you can find evidence, further details, and bibliographic support in Andrew Gordon's A Modern History of Japan, in addition to other articles and publications.

Yoshiteru said...

Thanks for your comment.
I agree with your article. I think that the Japanese government sent the declaration too late. If the US government and people blame the Pearl Horbour Attack on the Japanese sending the declaration too late, we Japanese can't defend it.

I alson can't understand the reason why the Japanese government started the Pacific War. So I don't believe the Japanese government very much even now. We Japanese have to watch the government carefully.

Thank you very much for introducing and recommending the book "A Modern History of Japan", many customeres praise this book's Japanese translation, too. I will try to read this book.

Anonymous said...

It is extremely interesting for me to read this post. Thanks for it. I like such topics and everything that is connected to this matter. I definitely want to read more soon.

Tim said...

I'm a citizen of the United States and I'm Hawaiian. This is the first such opinion from a Japanese person that I have read on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

I appreciate what you've shared. It's good to hear.

We, the common people, are all too often left to believe what our governments tell us because, all too often, the governments have been our only source of information.

It's good that we, the common people, can talk like this. Thank you so much for sharing.

Yoshiteru said...

Thank you, Tim.
As you wrote, I also feel that Japanese people's opinions about Pearl Harbor Attack like mine are rare. All of them know that the Attack was surprise one and they think that surprise attack is evil, however, they think the Attack isn't evil... I agree your comment, I believe that it is important to check several sources of information.