Pearl Harbor: A Rational Decision for Japan – Part 2

The motivations and decisions of the military and political leaders to attack Pearl Harbor take root in the Meiji period when Japan was modernizing through Westernization. Japan’s decision to modernize provided it with founding defenses against foreign countries, although to maintain a strong army required a rich nation and the importation of raw materials, which Japan lacked. By having to import raw materials to create a rich nation and thus a strong nation, Japan was dependent on trading with other countries in maintaining national security. This realization prompted the Japanese government to expand into the continent.

With a strong military Japan emerged victorious in the Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War which signified the emergence of Japan as the regional power, and allowed it to extract raw materials from resource-rich Manchuria unchallenged. Japan’s new sense of regional hegemony fueled further imperial ambitions, and so Japan increased its military, political, and economic presence in Manchuria, Korea, and eventually China. Japan was pleased with their new identity as an imperial and modern power, although they never rose to be an equal of the West which developed into an inferiority-complex.

These circumstances, Japan’s new national identity, inferiority-complex, and territorial claims in China and Manchuria, synthesized with the world scenario and external forces to eventually push Japan to prepare for a naval conflict with the United States.

The world scenario saw the rise of Adolf Hitler to power in Germany during the late 1930’s as well the German army’s takeover of Europe under the Blitzkrieg plan. Japan was impressed by Germany’s lightning speed takeover of Europe and saw the potential for a powerful ally in the European sphere and the opportunity to seize the colonies of Great Britain, France, and the Netherlands.

As Japan had hoped, Germany planned to use Japan to destroy the Allied colonies’ military bases, like Japan had done World War I, while also keeping the United States occupied in Asia and out of Europe. However, Japan’s greedy gaze on Southeast Asian resources only induced the United States to help defend Britain’s colonies and gradually drew the United States further into the war. The United States believed its survival entwined with Great Britain’s, and so was determined to defend its ally’s interests in order to ensure its own survival.

Furthermore, the new idea of pan-Asianism, freeing the region from Western capitalism, and the creation of a new world order appealed to Japan who from their inferiority-complex sought to become an autarkic equal, if not superior, to the West. The Japanese military and government fanatically adhered to the idea of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere to which they diminished their dependence on the West for natural resources thereby increasing their national security and autonomy.

Japan’s plans for establishing the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere was met by the United States with a trade embargo on raw materials and oil. Without resources from the United States, Japan knew it needed to invade the Dutch East Indies for oil and the Malay Peninsula for rubber, although an invasion of Allied colonies would lead to war with the U.S. So Japan, weighing the costs and benefits, made the only decision it could—invade Southeast Asia and strike first by neutralizing the U.S. Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor.

The motivations and decisions of the military and political leaders to attack Pearl Harbor take root in the Meiji period when Japan was modernizing through Westernization. Japan’s decision to modernize provided it with founding defenses against foreign countries, although to maintain a strong army required a rich nation and the importation of raw materials, which Japan lacked. By having to import raw materials to create a rich nation and thus a strong nation, Japan was dependent on trading with other countries in maintaining national security. This realization prompted the Japanese government to expand into the continent.

With a strong military Japan emerged victorious in the Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War which signified the emergence of Japan as the regional power, and allowed it to extract raw materials from resource-rich Manchuria unchallenged. Japan’s new sense of regional hegemony fueled further imperial ambitions, and so Japan increased its military, political, and economic presence in Manchuria, Korea, and eventually China. Japan was pleased with their new identity as an imperial and modern power, although they never rose to be an equal of the West which developed into an inferiority-complex.

These circumstances, Japan’s new national identity, inferiority-complex, and territorial claims in China and Manchuria, synthesized with the world scenario and external forces to eventually push Japan to prepare for a naval conflict with the United States.

The world scenario saw the rise of Adolf Hitler to power in Germany during the late 1930’s as well the German army’s takeover of Europe under the Blitzkrieg plan. Japan was impressed by Germany’s lightning speed takeover of Europe and saw the potential for a powerful ally in the European sphere and the opportunity to seize the colonies of Great Britain, France, and the Netherlands.

As Japan had hoped, Germany planned to use Japan to destroy the Allied colonies’ military bases, like Japan had done World War I, while also keeping the United States occupied in Asia and out of Europe. However, Japan’s greedy gaze on Southeast Asian resources only induced the United States to help defend Britain’s colonies and gradually drew the United States further into the war. The United States believed its survival entwined with Great Britain’s, and so was determined to defend its ally’s interests in order to ensure its own survival.

Furthermore, the new idea of pan-Asianism, freeing the region from Western capitalism, and the creation of a new world order appealed to Japan who from their inferiority-complex sought to become an autarkic equal, if not superior, to the West. The Japanese military and government fanatically adhered to the idea of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere to which they diminished their dependence on the West for natural resources thereby increasing their national security and autonomy.

Japan’s plans for establishing the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere was met by the United States with a trade embargo on raw materials and oil. Without resources from the United States, Japan knew it needed to invade the Dutch East Indies for oil and the Malay Peninsula for rubber, although an invasion of Allied colonies would lead to war with the U.S. So Japan, weighing the costs and benefits, made the only decision it could—invade Southeast Asia and strike first by neutralizing the U.S. Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor.