Assess the view that U.S and British foreign policies in the Paciﬁc (1937-41) forced Japan to bomb Pearl Harbor in December 1941 At 7.55am on Sunday, the 7th of December 1941; “a day that will live in infamy” 1, the ﬁrst of two waves of Japanese aircraft launched their fatal attack on the US Paciﬁc Fleet, anchored at Pearl Harbor on the Paciﬁc island of Oahu. It is difﬁcult to place blame for this event on one factor, however it is often asserted that the foreign policies of Allies United States and Britain forced Japan into assailing. However, to force is to coerce and leave one no other option, and whilst it can be said that the Allies provoked Japan, they did not, in any way, force them to execute a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese decision for war against the United States in 1941 was dictated by Japanese pride and the threatened economic destruction of Japan by the United States. Tensions between Japan and the United States and Britain had long existed and, over the course of the 1930’s, Japan’s increasingly expansionist policies brought renewed conﬂict. The Japanese expansion into China was condemned by the United States as it was a direct inﬂiction of American interests. Japanese atrocities, including the Rape of Nanking, served further to complicate Japanese relations with it’s Western counter-parts. The Roosevelt administration regarded a Japanese invasion of Southeast Asia, especially the oil-rich Dutch East Indies and tin and rubber-rich British Malaya, as strategically unacceptable. American isolationist policies prohibited a military response and so, President Roosevelt decided to execute a series of economic sanctions of which are often contended to be the main cause for Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1938, the United States inﬂicted a trade embargo on Japan; restricting aircraft exports to Japan. Further, in 1939, Roosevelt announced the cancellation of a commercial US-Japan trade treaty created in 1911 and, in September 1940, an embargo was placed on the export of metals. Finally, in July 1941, all Japanese assets in the United States were frozen and all oil exports were halted. Japan imported over 90 percent of its oil; 80 percent of which came from the United States 2. It was estimated that the Imperial Japanese Navy had less than two years of bunker oil remaining; Prime Minister Hideki Tojo warned that Japan would have absolutely “no petroleum for military use”. According to Roosevelt, the aim of the asset freeze “was to avoid provoking Japan while bringing more and more pressure to bear, not only to impede Japan’s war production, but also to haunt it with the constant threat that more severe measures might be applied.” 3
In an effort to try and resolve relations between Japan and the United States, Japanese Ambassador to
Washington, Kicihisaburo Nomura, and U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull held multiple meetings, however
Franklin D. Roosevelt. Infamy Speech Transcript. 1941 Yuichi Arima, The Way to Pearl Harbor: U.S. vs Japan, ICE Case Studies, December, 2003
James William Morley, Japan’s Road to the Paciﬁc War, The Final Confrontation: Japan’s Negotiations with the United States, New York: Columbia University Press, 1994
23607352 no solution could be agreed upon. Such can be attributed to three factors: Japans alliance to Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy through the Tripartite Pact; Japan’s desire for economic control among Southeast Asia and; Japan’s refusal to leave mainland China. Revisionist historian Charles A. Beard reasoned that Roosevelt had intentionally forced Japan into a position where it had little choice but to attack.4 However, a variety of other factors had contributed to the Japanese decision to bomb Pearl Harbor and sole blame cannot be placed on the foreign policies of the United States. Historian Gordon W. Prange dismissed revisionist arguments, maintaining that...
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