Pearl Harbor and the Coming of the Pacific War

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Ashley Queener
HIST 399
In Pearl Harbor and the Coming of the Pacific War by Akira Iriye, the author explores the events and circumstances that ended in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, an American naval base. Iriye assembles a myriad of primary documents, such as proposals and imperial conferences, as well as essays that offer different perspectives of the Pacific War. Not only is the material in Pearl Harbor and the Coming of the Pacific War informative of the situation between Japan and the United States, but it also provides a global context that allows for the readers to interpret Pearl Harbor and the events leading up to it how they may. Ultimately, both Pearl Harbor and the subsequent Pacific War between Japan and the U.S. were unavoidable due to the fact that neither nation was willing to bow down to the demands of the other.

The essay titled “Japan’s Decision to ‘Go South,’” by Sumio Hatano and Sadao Asada outlined the events that ended with Japan and the U.S. in war. They described that “to prepare for hostilities with the Anglo-American powers, Japan would have to march into Indochina to obtain raw materials; the United States would counter by imposing an economic embargo; this in turn would compel Japan to seize the Dutch East Indies to secure essential oil, a step that would lead to hostilities with the United States” (135-136). So, Japan felt threatened by countries like the U.S. and Great Britain for several reasons, the first being that Great Britain was at war with Germany, an ally of Japan, and the U.S. was as involved in the war in Europe as it could possibly be, without having actually declared war on Germany, by providing aid to Great Britain (7). Additionally, the U.S. provided aid to China in order to prevent the Japanese Empire from further taking over China. Because Japan felt this threat from the Anglo-American powers, they found it necessary to march into Indochina to procure the materials they needed to make weapons, tanks, etc. In reaction, the U.S. stopped providing oil to Japan, which forced Japan to anger the U.S. even further by expanding even more into the Dutch East Indies so that they could have access to oil. The “escalation of hostilities” (135) between Japan and the U.S. is completely circular because each retaliation that was made only furthered the problems at hand and created an inescapable situation with little room for negotiation. War was fast becoming inevitable.

During the Imperial Conference that took place on November 5, 1941, Japan made it clear that they intended to declare war on the U.S. and were preparing accordingly but was willing to negotiate by means of diplomacy simultaneously, as Prime Minister Tojo described in his statement (18). Togo claimed to believe that “the prospect of success in the negotiations is small” (32) because, although he thought that the two proposals Japan presented to the U.S. were reasonable, he also thought that the U.S. would not agree with either of the proposals. Because of the great doubt that the U.S. would accept Japan’s proposals and Japan’s unwillingness to alter the proposals to better suit the U.S., Japan continued to prepare for war with the U.S. The slight hope for successful negotiations remained at this Imperial Conference, though, because while Tojo said that the U.S. would be unaccepting of Japan’s proposals, he had reason to believe that perhaps the U.S. would not have a choice otherwise. He described U.S. weaknesses that would potentially lead to them bending to Japan’s will: first, “they are not prepared for operations in two oceans,” and “they have not completed strengthening their domestic structure,” as well as “they are short of materials for national defense” (37). Iriye poses the question of whether or not Japanese leaders were realistic in thinking that they would be able to make a deal with the U.S. to avoid war, and considering that Japan knew of U.S. weaknesses and had a hint of...
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