After more than 75 years, the question remains for students of the history of World War Two: Why did Japan attack Pearl Harbor?


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The Attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 directly caused America’s entry to WW2 which led to the eventual launch of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, an outcome that spelled disaster for the Japanese. The Japanese managed to damage almost 20 U.S. naval vessels, of which 8 large battle ships, 200 airplains and killing over 2,000 American, but why did the Japanese attack America in the first place? And what were they trying to achieve by attacking Pearl Harbor, specifically?

 

 

 

Why Did Japan Attack Pearl Harbor?

The U.S. and Japan had been butting heads for decades and it was inevitable that things would eventually culminate into a war. Japan had imperial ambitions to expand to China to solve some demographical and economical problems and to take over the Chinese import market. When in 1937 Japan decided to declare war on China, America was very against this aggression and responded with trade embargoes and economic sanctions. Specifically, the oil embargo that America organized with the British and the Dutch was a thorn in the side for Japan, which imported 90% of its oil. Without oil Japan’s military could not function and all war efforts would come to an end. Negotiations had been going on for months between Washington and Tokyo, without any resolution, so Japan decided to attack first.

Why Attack Pearl Harbor?

As war was inevitable, Japan’s only chance was the element of surprise and to destroy America’s navy as quickly as possible. Japan wanted to move into the Dutch East Indies and Malaya to conquer territories that could provide important natural resources such as oil and rubber. By destroying a large portion of the American fleet, they hoped to conquer the Philippines and Malaya while America was still recovering from its own damages – simultaneous attacks were launched on these places while Pearl Harbor was taking place.

Let’s return to our main question: why did Japan attack Pearl Harbor? Ultimately, Japan hoped that America would accept defeat and that Japan could create a fortress that would stretch across the whole Pacific Rim.

 

 

 

 

This article is part of our larger selection of posts about the Pearl Harbor attack. To learn more, click here for our comprehensive guide to Pearl Harbor.