Why Japan Went to War

Topics: World War II, Second Sino-Japanese War, Empire of Japan Pages: 17 (6775 words) Published: January 27, 2013
To what extent was Japan’s desire for natural resources the main reason for its entry into World War Two?
* Prior to the outbreak of World War II, China was heavily supported by Germany (until 1938) and the Soviet Union. The latter readily provided aircraft, military supplies, and advisors seeing China as a buffer against Japan. The United States, Britain, and France limited their support to war contracts prior to the beginning of the larger conflict. Public opinion, while initially on the side of the Japanese, began to shift following reports of atrocities like the Rape of Nanking. It was further swayed by incidents such as the Japanese sinking of the gunboat USS Panay on December 12, 1937, and increasing fears about Japan's policy of expansionism.

US support increased in mid-1941, with the clandestine formation of the 1st American Volunteer Group, better known as the "Flying Tigers." Equipped with US aircraft and American pilots the 1st AVG, under Colonel Claire Chennault, effectively defended the skies over China and Southeast Asia from late-1941 to mid-1942, downing 300 Japanese aircraft with a loss of only 12 of their own. In addition to military support, the US, Britain, and the Netherlands East Indies initiated oil and steel embargos against Japan in August 1941.

Moving Towards War with the US
The American oil embargo caused a crisis in Japan. Reliant on the US for 80% of its oil, the Japanese were forced to decide between withdrawing from China, negotiating an end to the conflict, or going to war to obtain the needed resources elsewhere. In an attempt to resolve the situation, Konoe asked US President Franklin Roosevelt for a summit meeting to discuss the issues. Roosevelt replied that Japan needed to leave China before such a meeting could be held. While Konoe was seeking a diplomatic solution, the military was looking south to the Netherlands East Indies and their rich sources of oil and rubber. Believing that an attack in this region would cause the US to declare war, they began planning for such an eventuality.

On October 16, 1941, after unsuccessfully arguing for more time to negotiate, Konoe resigned as prime minister and was replaced by the pro-military General Hideki Tojo. While Konoe had been working for peace, the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) had developed its war plans. These called for a preemptive strike against the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, HI, as well as simultaneous strikes against the Philippines, Netherlands East Indies, and the British colonies in the region. The goal of this plan was to eliminate the American threat, allowing Japanese forces to secure the Dutch and British colonies. The IJN's chief of staff, Admiral Osami Nagano, presented the attack plan to Emperor Hirohito on November 3. Two days later the emperor approved it, ordering the attack to occur in early December if no diplomatic breakthroughs were achieved.

Japan, largely devoid of natural resources to feed its industries, looked overseas for supplies of strategic materials such as ores and petroleum. Before 1939 the United States was Japan's major supplier. But President Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull shut off American supplies in an effort to force the Japanese to end hostilities against China. The Japanese had long coveted the resource-rich British and Dutch colonies of Southeast Asia, and as the U.S. trade embargo tightened, the Japanese increasingly looked southward for raw materials and strategic resources.

Only the United States stood in Japan's path. The U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor was the only force capable of challenging Japan's navy, and American bases in the Philippines could threaten lines of communications between the Japanese home islands and the East Indies. Every oil tanker heading for...
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