Were Germany and Japan Allies in WW2? Yes, and it had to do with the importance of East Asia in global geopolitics starting from the early twentieth century and only growing in the ensuing decades.

The Asian theater of the war was entirely distinct from the European, though Japan did join the defensive Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy in 1940. In the early 1930s, the United States had studiously avoided involvement in Japanese affairs. Herbert Hoover had remained aloof when Japan occupied the northern Chinese province of Manchuria in 1931–32, arguing that no vital American interest was at stake and that he had no intention of sacrificing American lives. Moreover, since the Japanese argued that they needed a security buffer against Stalin’s Russia, it was unlikely that anything short of all-out war with Japan would have dislodged them from Manchuria.


FDR would have a much more interventionist outlook in the Pacific. In 1937, when Japan and China went to war, FDR made his displeasure with the Japanese clear, and even authorized the sale of weapons to China. (He was able to evade the neutrality legislation since its prohibition on the sale of weapons to belligerents went into effect only when the president declared a war to be under way in a particular area; FDR simply refrained from officially finding a war to be in progress in China.)

Were Germany and Japan Allies in WW2?

As Japanese brutalities continued and Japan began to extend her influence throughout the Pacific, particularly in Korea and Indochina, FDR decided to take active measures against Japanese expansion. By 1941 he had not only frozen Japanese assets in the United States but had also coordinated a boycott of key goods, especially oil, that Japan needed to acquire from abroad. By cutting off oil shipments to Japan, FDR had dramatically increased the likelihood that the United States would one day find itself at war with Japan. But he never explained the implications of his policies to the American people.

The Japanese originally had three ways in which they could have dealt with the crippling embargo. One was to surrender to American demands and lose face. Another was negotiation, but FDR refused to negotiate despite the fact that Joseph C. Grew, the American ambassador to Japan, thought that negotiations would succeed. “We in the Embassy,” he later wrote, “had no doubt that the Prime Minister would have agreed, at his meeting [which fell through] with the President, to the eventual withdrawal of all Japanese forces from all of Indochina and from all of China with the face-saving expedient of being permitted to retain a limited number of troops in North China and Inner Mongolia respectively.” Washington had closed off that option. The final possibility was war: The Japanese could strike out further into the Pacific by expanding into British and Dutch colonies where they could acquire the resources they needed. But Japan would first have to take out the American naval installation at Pearl Harbor. The Japanese gambled that swift action on these fronts would pay off. Japanese prime minister Fumimaro Konoye fell from power and was replaced by General Hideki Tojo (who had been minister of war) on October 16, 1941.

War seemed increasingly inevitable to administration officials. Secretary of War Henry Stimson wrote in his diary on November 25, 1941, that the question had now come down to how “to maneuver them [the Japanese] into the position of firing the first shot.” The administration was “doing everything they can to get us into war through the Japanese back door,” said former President Hoover in 1941.

The first shot came, as Americans well know, on December 7, 1941, in the form of a Japanese attack on the American naval installation at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. More than 2,000 servicemen and civilians perished. The following day, the United States declared war on Japan. Several days later, Adolf Hitler rashly declared war on the United States. America had entered World War II.

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