Table of Contents Purpose Statement bluf background Key Decisions Lessons Learned Citations



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Key Decisions:

Directly, the key decision was made by the Japanese military to attack Pearl Harbor because of an oil embargo that was placed on them by the American government. In order to see how this event ultimately caused the Japanese government to decide to attack, it is necessary to look into Japan’s past and analyze the situations that it was faced with upon entering WWII and what happened that put Japan in these scenarios. Why the Japanese military chose to attack can be traced back to 1936. During this time in Japan, the Japanese army had an important position in the political structure of the country. Therefore, the army’s program of expansion became that of the government as well. Ideally, the military/government wanted to establish a “firm position” on the Asiatic continent. However, this was a euphemism for saying that china must be conquered, and expansion into Southeast Asia to secure bases and resources among other things. Though this program was intended to be achieved slowly and peacefully, it was clear that, where possible, military action would be applied and the program would actually be much more aggressive than it sounded. In anticipation for this, Japan poured as many assets as it could into military channels. Almost all of the economy of Japan was controlled and directed towards military spending and expansion. Military production was expanded and increased at a rapid rate and resources were stockpiled in case the Japanese military was unable to obtain them later.

However, a key resource that was needed for this aggressive expansion was oil. Japan was, in fact, faced with an oil shortage despite the rapid expansion. This was one of Japan’s motivating factors for wanting to wage war within Asia. Oil was controlled by the Dutch, British, and Americans. Without oil, Japan’s vision of an expanded empire would have been nothing but a mere dream. Japan began its expansion by moving towards China first. However, Japan did not anticipate the strong reaction that China would have to this. The ferocity of China’s reaction eventually led to a full-scale war which the Japanese military neither expected nor desired. In the eyes of the United States, the only solution to this incident would be the complete withdrawal of Japanese forces from China. But of course, Japan was not willing to pay this price. This ongoing war with China accomplished little other than draining Japan’s resources. In addition, neither the Japanese Army nor the Navy had any concrete plans for an offensive attack on western powers. There were only doctrines that were defensive in nature that pertained to the U.S. and Russia. This can be attributed to the Japanese high command appreciating the economic weakness of the nation. There simply were not enough resources or money to wage a full-scale war with major western powers.



Despite its weakened state that Japan brought on itself, japan set out into Southeast Asia for the oil and critical resources that lay there. Only the U.S. and Russia stood in the way. Japan sought to gain defensive measures against this by forming a nonaggression treaty for Russia for 5 years, hoping that an alliance with the Russians would prevent the U.S. from interfering with Japans affairs in Southeast Asia. During this time, Japan was preparing for general war and simultaneously laying the basis for military action in the south. It was at this time that Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto came up with the idea of a carrier-based air attack on Pearl Harbor. He asked his staff to determine what problems, if any, this would cause. This was just one example of Japan moving far away from its defensive program and becoming offensive as foreshadowed. The Tripartite Pact with Russia had the opposite of the intended effect. Japan was running out of options and many thought that Japanese officials should try to make concessions with the United States. In 1941, negotiations with the U.S. began where the two countries were to lay out the issues they had with the current actions of each other. However, Japan was making plans behind the scenes for the domination of Thailand and Indochina. President Roosevelt offered to guarantee equal access to the raw materials of Indochina to Japan in exchange for neutralization of that country. This proved unhelpful. The very next day, Japan sent troops into Indochina to seize the territory. Japan now had strategically located air and naval bases that could be used to launch further attacks. This was seen as a threat to American interests in the Far East and the U.S. thought it justified to impose further economic restrictions. President Roosevelt chose to freeze Japanese assets in the U.S. against the advice of Admiral Harold R. Stark, Chief of Naval Operations. This prevented Japan from having the monetary power to purchase war materials that it so badly needed. Essentially, the U.S. intended to put an economic blockade on Japan. Admiral Stark took this move seriously enough that he warned the commander of the Asiatic fleet to take “appropriate precautionary measures against possible eventualities.” Not anticipating this sharp reaction, Japan analyzed the decision to wage war. It did not look hopeful. Japan only had enough resources at this point to wage a quick decisive war to gain further resources in the Indies. The Japanese government feared that this blockade would mean the collapse of Japan within the next 2 years. Teiichi Suzuki, president of the Planning Board, advised that Japan should drop the Tripartite Pact with Russia and try to reach agreement with the U.S. However, the Japanese Army did not share this view. They were making decisions under the illusion that there was enough oil and resources to wage war with America. The decision was made to continue to have the negotiations with America while simultaneously preparing military operations so that at the conclusion of the talks, Japan would be ready for war. The conferees decided that if by the end of October 1941 there is no reasonable hope of having demands agreed to, then Japan would make up its mind and go to war.

On November 27, a warning was issued by the U.S. Navy to Army commanders. It was a deliberate alert for war. It read: “This dispatch is to be considered a war warning...and an aggressive move by Japan is expected within the next few days.” A number of possible targets were mentioned, but Pearl Harbor was not among them. Though avoiding war with the U.S. was favored, the Japanese were convinced that if they struck the Pacific fleet now, the U.S. would be unable to retaliate for 18 months to 2 years. In that time, the Japanese would have been able to accomplish their goals of expansion in the south. This was a challenge that General Hideki Tojo felt must be met or the nation would be reduced to a level of secondary importance. A prince of the imperial family wrote “Japan entered the war with a tragic determination and in desperate self-abandonment. If lost, there will be nothing to regret because she is doomed to collapse even without war.” It was a loose-loose situation for Japan now.



Plans were now well in the works for a full attack on Battleship Row at Pearl Harbor. Below is a diagram of Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941. It shows where ships were docked in relation to Hickam Field, Ford Naval Air Station, and Pearl City. Japanese spies were planted in the area to find this intel specifically for the attack plans.

The main reason Pearl Harbor was chosen for the attack was because it was the headquarters for the U.S. Pacific Fleet. The Pacific Fleet posed the greatest threat to Japan’s expansion into Southeast Asia for resources. The most important element in this attack would be that of surprise. Japan would have to make use of aircraft carriers and a completely unprecedented use of naval aviation power in order to make the attack successful. The Japanese navy knew just how risky this plan. However, the Japanese knew that Sunday was a typical rest day for most military personnel at Pearl Harbor. At the time of the attack, most people were still sleeping, eating breakfast, or preparing for church. The men and women stationed there had no idea that a massive raid was about to occur in just a few moments. When the first planes were spotted, many thought it to be a training exercise. However, the explosions and smoke quickly refuted these guesses. The attack lasted less than two hours and by the time it ended, many people thought that it was in fact not over and that another wave was coming. The Japanese lost only 29 aircraft and 5 midget submarines that were to sneak into the harbor and aid in the attack.



The day following the attack, the United States declared war on Japan. President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave a congressional address that included the famous words “December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy.” Shock from the surprise of the attack quickly turned into anger from politicians and the American public. The senate unanimously voted to go to war with Japan. Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. Congress then passed another joint resolution that fully entered the United States into World War II.




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