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

Why Japan Attacked Pearl Harbor

Over the Atlantic, the Germans were busy pushing east, from Poland all the way to the Soviet Union. Japan felt that it should do the same in the Pacific. There were enough reasons to do so, considering all the embargoes the U.S. was placing on it. The Japanese were super-confident in pushing way up east. Also, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines all seemed like good targets for the Japanese. Therefore, their aggression continued because they felt it was an opportune time. They risked no attack from the Soviets because the Soviets were busily defending Hitler’s march eastward. The Soviets were, therefore, unlikely to strike Japan. Neither was any European country likely to do so. The majority of Europe was scrambling to defend their shores against Hitler. For example, the British, the Dutch and the French were far too stretched to bother about their interests in the Pacific. Other specific reasons as to why Japan attacked Pearl Harbor are:

  1. They lacked resources to fuel their expansion in the Pacific.
  2. They sought to dominate the Pacific and capture all the resources so as to fully conquer China.
  3. The U.S. sanctions and restrictions really antagonized the Japanese. The U.S. had frozen the assets of many Japanese officials. These measures, as well as the embargoes on Japan, were beginning to bite deep into the country.
  4. Pearl Harbor had become the hub of the U.S. Pacific Fleet by 1939. The Japanese saw this as a very ideal target.
  5. Japan also assumed that by neutralizing the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, the U.S. would be unable to put up any resistance in the Pacific.

Japan Prepares to attack the U. S.

It was all hands on deck for the Japanese as they meticulously hatched up a plan to destroy the U.S. Pacific Fleet. That made a lot of sense because, with the U.S. fleet gone, the entire Southeast Asia would be up for grasps by the Japanese. The empire began making preparations such as information gathering in and around the Kuril Islands. As at November 26, 1941, the Japanese had started building a sizable force 275 miles north of Hawaii. They had 6 aircraft carriers, 3 cruisers, 11 destroyers, and 2 battleships. All of these were under the command of Vice-Admiral Nagumo Chichi. He used this place as a base to launch what will later become the Pearl Harbor Attack. With their plans, all set, the Emperor of Japan, Hirohito, approved the plan on November 6. His final authorization came on December 1. There was pretty much nothing the Emperor could do. He was arm-twisted by several powerful military officers in the country. The Japanese army was the one literally calling the shots now.

More: Isoroku Yamamoto: The Japanese Admiral who planned Pearl Harbor Attack

Did the U.S. see the attack coming?

The U.S. probably did not see it coming directly to Pearl Harbor. They did, however, suspect that Japan was going to attack. Obviously, the particular place was unknown to them. A number of conspiracy theorists believe that Washington knew exactly were the Japanese were aiming at. Whatever the case might have been back then, Washington, along with several military officials, extremely underestimated the resolve and abilities of Japan’s military. Some high-ranking officials thought the Japanese were not even equipped enough to carry out a strike on neighboring Islands such as Guam, let alone Hawaii!

What preparations did the U.S. make prior to the Pearl Harbor Attack?

Ever since World War II broke out in 1939, the U.S. had done everything in its power to stay out of the war. However, this pacifist resolve did not blunt the United States’ preparedness for war. As far back as a decade before the Pearl Harbor Attack, the U.S. military had started bolstering its defenses at some of its vital military installations. The U.S. had a Pacific Fleet placed at Pearl Harbor as early as April 1940. Commanding Pearl Harbor was Adm. Husband E. Kimmel and Lieutenant Gen. Walter C. Short.

Also, the army intelligence had issued out numerous warnings of the risk Pearl Harbor faced from being struck. There was the October 16, the November 24 and the 27 warnings. As at when the 27 November war warning was issued, all negotiations between the U.S. and Japan had come to halt. Both countries were now in the process of gathering information and trying to find out how to strike each other. In the U.S., the military intelligence had specifically tasked Adm. Kimmel and Gen. Short to embark on several reconnaissance missions. They were asked to take appropriate actions to stall any possible attack on the harbor.

Gen. Short placed fighter planes on Wheeler Field to prevent them from being struck. He installed five mobile radar sets that were operated from 4:00 AM to 7:00 AM. Some historians believe that the actions taken by Kimmel and Gen. Short were not adequate to prepare the base for an attack. Perhaps it was because Short and Kimmel never really believed (based on the information that they were given access to) that Pearl Harbor was going to be bombed by Japan.

What transpired from 27 November to 7 December?

Absolutely nothing happened. Short and Kimmel were both playing doubting Thomases. No significant preparations were made apart from the ones earlier taken. To be fair to them, both of them claimed that there was nothing extra that they could do because the intelligence from Washington was vague.

What was the mood like at Pearl Harbor on December 7?

Pearl Harbor

Why and how Japan attacked the U.S.

It was pretty much the same as the previous 10 days. However, some senior officials got wind that something massive was about to occur. The Japanese ambassador (Kichisaburō Nomura) had also requested a meeting with the U.S. Secretary of State, Cordell Hull. The request was made in the early hours of December 7. Although those officials took receipt of the Ambassador’s request early Sunday morning, the U.S. staff took some time to decode the message. At 10:30 AM, the message eventually got to the chief of naval operations. And because the U.S. Army chief of staff, Gen. George C. Marshall was horseback riding by then, he did not get hold of the message until 11:15 am. At that point, it was too late. The Japanese army had already started bombarding U.S. soil with torpedoes and bombs. The war had begun, and Pearl Harbor was far from prepared. Quite literally, Pearl Harbor was a dock that got taken out like a sitting duck.

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