Pearl Harbor: Why and How Japan Attacked the U.S.

The Pearl Harbor attack was unquestionably the most critical moment for the U.S. in the lead up to World War II. It was an attack that lasted for slightly above two hours. However, in those two-nightmarish hours, the U.S. had to ward off two very malicious waves of attacks from the Japanese Imperial Navy. What did the Japanese seek to achieve in such a brief moment? And what factors triggered this attack on U.S. soil? The article below presents a very balanced account of what happened before, during, and after the Pearl Harbor attack.

Why and how Imperial Japan attacked the U.S. at Pearl Harbor

The state of affairs before the Pearl Harbor Attack

The 1930s saw the Empire of Japan build up significant military capabilities and strength. As a matter of fact, the Empire was the biggest spender on military hardware and fleets. They did this because they had an ambitious goal of dominating the entire Pacific Rim. Korea was already under their control. Their next target was China. The Americans vehemently opposed Japan’s persistent aggression and provocations against neighboring countries, especially China. However, the Japanese did not cease. They kept poking and belligerently attacking China. Then in 1938, the U.S. delivered its first loan to China. The goal was to shore up the Chinese to properly defend their country against the advancing Japanese. The U.S. also backed out of the 1911 Treaty of Commerce and Navigation with Japan.

American officials harbored fears that Japan might become an unstoppable empire if it continued at the rate it was moving. Therefore, the U.S., along with its European allies, continuously supported China. In spite of all these, Japan was still able to cease control of China’s coast and North China Plain by 1941. Records show that the two countries had been engaged in several dialogs for close to a decade, but to no avail, nothing concrete was ever agreed upon. A political situation to this impasse dwindled with every passing day.

At the same time, Japan kept making in-roads into Beijing. For example, the Chinese province of Manchuria was firmly in the hands of Japan. Even the most optimistic of diplomats back then knew that war was coming. America responded by gradually reducing its exports to Japan. At first, the sanctions mainly targeted materials used by the Japanese military. The goal was to halt Japan’s military moves. The Japanese Imperial Navy saw this as a blatant provocation from the Americans. Tensions continued to escalate and Japan started preparing to take on the U.S.  To do this, Japan signed a pact with the Axis powers (Germany and Italy) in September 1940.  Militarily, Japan embarked on large-scale reconnaissance exercises across the length and breadth of the Pacific.

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