*** war and social upheaval: World War II Japan road to World War II

World War II: Japan--Road to World War II

Japan road to war
Figure 1.--The Japanese military in the 1930s as it began to take control of the Japanese Government, greatly expanded its role in the educational system, including younger boys. It was less active with girls, but they would also eventually be drafted for war work. Unfortunately we have no information about the school these boys attended. They are not wearing school uniforms, but Japanese Army uniforms. Notice the stars on their caps. Perhaps this was some sort of cadet training. The boys look like the age range from a secondary school, about 13-18 years of age.

"It is a matter of common knowledge that Japan's policy is fundamentally inspired by a genuine desire to guarantee peace in the Far East area to contribute to the peace throughout the world. Japan finds it impossible, however, to accept the report adopted by the Assembly."

-- Yōsuke Matsuoka, Head of Japanese Mission to the League of Nations, Speech rejecting the Lytton Report condemning the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and announcing Japan's withdrawal from the League (February 24, 1933). Matsuoka would be the driving force behind Japan joining the Axis.

Looking back as a historian, it is almost incomprehensible that Japan decided to wage war against the United States. War with Britain and the Netherlands is more understandable. Britain in 1941 looked like if not a defeated nation, at least a severely weakened one. The Netherlands was occupied by Axis ally NAZI Germany. America is a very different matter. The United States was not at war. It had not been weakened by the War. And Japan had no commitment that the Germany would join them if they attacked America. War with America seems like an extraordinarily reckless decision for a country already mired down in a war with China and that had experienced a sharp defeat in a short war with the Soviets. Why would Japan have decided on war with America, a country with a larger population and a much larger industrial and scientific base. The road to war began early in the history of modern Japan. Wars with China (1895), Russia (1904-05), and Germany (1914-18) proved both short and profitable, enabling Japan to build a small empire. The rising influence of the military brought to power men of limited outlook who saw military action as a legitimate use of sate power. They were backward looking men who saw the European empires of the 19th century as to what Japan should seek to establish. And they were men who were strongly influenced by the historic image of the Samurai and Bushido which convinced them that Japanese racial superiority and martial spirit could prevail over the material superiority of America. Despite the power of American industry, they saw Americans as a weak, decadent people who would not fight. Most of the Japanese militarists who made this judgement on which the very life of Japan would hang, knew no Americans and had little or no experience with America.

Racial Superiority

Race played a major role in World War II. Usually the focus is on the NAZIs and their obsession with Aryan racial superiority. The NAZIs were not alone in their obsession with race and carrying it to murderous extremes. The Japanese decided to pursue their goals through war in large measure because of their belief in "shido minozuku"--divine leading race. Some historians believe that the Japanese obsession with this concept exceeded that of the Germans. [Thomas, p. 5.] The German concept led them to believe that racial superiority would enable them to create superior weaponry. The Japanese who had an even smaller industrial base, convinced themselves that "shido minozuku" could overcome the material superiority of America because Americans would not have the will to fight. According to one historian, the Japanese convinced themselves that "Americans would surrender quickly because they were week and decadent, a nation of frightened housewives, labor agitators, and greedy plutocrats." [Thomas, p. 5.] It was the most ill-conceived war plan in modern history. It is difficult today to understand why Japan went to war with such a powerful country as the United States. It is not just American historians that ask this question. So do Japanese historians. And some Japanese authors even suggest that America tricked Japan into attacking Pearl Harbor. There is of course a range of factors that caused Japan to chose war, but central to their decision was "shido minozuku" and their belief that their racial superiority would allow them to overcome America's material superiority. There were elements in Japan, especially Admiral Yamamoto, that understood that this was nonsense. But Japan's drive to war was lead by the Imperial Army and key Army commanders had almost no understanding of America. Of course Americans were also convinced of white racial superiority. But American racism did not drive it to attack other countries. It did, however, have the impact of convincing Americans that the Japanese would never dare attack.

Meji Restoration (1867-1912)

With the coup d'état in 1867, the Shogun abdicated. An energetic new, young emperor for the first time in centuries actually ruled Japan. He took the title Meiji for his reign (1867-1912). He soon showed himself to be both competent and strong-willed. He proved to be especially adept at choosing wise officials to positions of influence. Japan under Meiji rule pursue a consistent policy with considerable success. He installed men from the formerly "outside clans" into the key positions of power. The new Government had taken power in part becauuse of the Shogun's decession to open Japan. They concluded, however, that given Western military superiority that convinced the men who took control in 1867 that anti-Western actions and policies, without the military power needed to defend the country, would be self defeating. They decided to mute their anti-Western attitudes while Japan built a modern military. Officials soon realized that this meant industrialization. (In the West, the Royal Navy played a key role in the Industrial Revolution.) This connection between industry and military power was soon recognized. Thus a deeply conservative who treasured tradition, set about transforming themselves with breathtaking speed and thourgness. Japan quickly made the transition from a medieval to a modern economy. The Japanese followed European models. The country formed a parliamentary government (1889), but the social and political modernization lagged the economic modernization--a development that would lead to the 20th century Pacific War. A rising industrial base allowed Japan to create the most powerful military in Asia.

Japanese Empire (1890s-1930s)

Japan had an emperor for more than a millennium. The term was probably used because China which dominated east Asia was governed by an emperor. Japan did not, however, have an empire in the sense of overseas possessions with non-Japanese populations. This was largely because that China was so powerful that there was no where for Japan to expand. Even Korea was dominated by the Chinese. This did not change until the Meiji Restoration (明治維新, Meiji Ishin) (1870s). As part of the Meiji Restoration, Japan began to modernize through industrialization. They also began to build an European style Army and Navy with modern weapons. Chinese traditional Imperial Government resisted these changes. Thus for the first time, Japan began amassing the military power to begin to carve out an Empire. At the time it was commonly thought that industrial nations needed colonies. This began with the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95). As part of the War, the Japanese seized Formosa (Taiwan) as well as participation in the Treaty Port system which the Europeans had forced on China. As a result of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), Japanese seized Russian territory in Siberia and expanded its influence in Manchuria. Japan also ended Chinese dominance over Korea. Subsequently Japan formally seized Korea (1909). As a result of World war I, China expanded its position in China as well as obtained Mandate Islands in the South Pacific. Japan also enunciated its desire to turn China into a vast colony--the Twenty One Demands (1915). Here the Allies (primarily the United States) resisted as well as Japanese efforts to seize areas of Siberia from Russia. The Japanese seized Manchuria from China (1931). The major step was the invasion of China (1937). This was expected to be a quick campaign that would provide Japan both raw materials and markets. The Chinese Nationalists, however, resisted and proved more effective than the Japanese had anticipated. Despite seizing large areas of China, the Japanese Imperial Army proved unable to defeat the Chinese which the United States and Western Allies began to support both financially and militarily. Rather than benefiting Japan, the war in China proved intractable and very costly. The Japanese Empire thus by the time World War II broke out in Europe was substantial, but still lacked key natural resources -- the most important being oil. And to make matters worse, Japan's principal source of oil was of all countries was the United States--the very country resisting the Japanese conquest of China. The Japanese militarists who had led the expansion of the Empire, especially in Manchuria and China, was determined to further expand the Empire. The Strike North Faction were interested primarily in the bountiful resources to the North in Siberia. Another faction, the Strike South Faction, favored expansion to the south, seeking the resources of Southeast Asia--the Southern Resource Zone (SRZ). And notably here in the Dutch East Indies and British Borneo, oil in large quantities was to be found. With SRZ oil, Japan would no longer need American oil. With the resources of the SRZ, Japan believed they could finally complete the conquest of China.

Similarities and Differences

Japan as an Asiatic power is often thought as different from the Western powers. But in most ways the Japanese military was similar to the Western powers. The Prussian Army and British Royal Navy played a major role in the development of the Japanese military. The Army did not develop the same technical competence as the the Western militarizes, but this was in part because of the limited industrial capacity of Japan. It was also due to The Japanese belief in spirit rather than technology. Oddly enough this was not entirely lacking in the West, especially Germany. Although military historians often focus on German technology, Germany did not have the same industrial base as the countries it attacked. And Hitler strongly believed in will and fighting spirit that would make up for the material advantages of its enemies or perhaps better said, the enemies Hitler made. The America strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan strongly influenced Japanese strategic concepts just as he had influenced American strategic concepts. It is no accident that both the U.S. Navy and the Imperial Navy were wed to the concept of a decisive naval battle. There was also a technological conservatism. both navies were wed to big-gun battleships. The primary difference between Japan and the West was the relationship between the Japanese military and the Government. The Japanese military was always influential. In the inter-War era, they began assassinating civilian officials who sought to limit their power. Here junior officers played a curiously important rule. A military coup was narrowly avoided, but the result was only to firmly establish the military role in Government (1936). By tradition the military chose their ministers and this became actual law in the aftermath of the coup. By the time of World War II, the military actually seized total control of the Government. The military had always had direct access to the Emperor, by the time of the War they fully controlled the Government and virtually every important aspect of Japanese life. And they had very different mindset than Western militaries. Japanese officers believed that they represented a purity and devotion to duty lacking in the corrupt civilian political world. They saw the Japanese Empire as a superior polity and that they were the pure and loyal guardians of that polity--the 'kokutai'. And they claimed a special relationship to the Emperor who as the divine embodiment of the Japanese nation. This relationship was seen as predating and superseding the very modern Constitution.

Background (1910s-20s)

The Emperor Taisho (1912-26) is generally seen as a weak emperor. During his reign the center of power in Japan shifted from the Emperor and the oligarchic clique (genro) around him to the Parliament (Diet) and the democratic parties. Japan with little encouragement joined the Allies in World War I. The country played only a minor role in the War, but gained German possessions in the Central Pacific which they proceeded to turn into fortified bases. Japan as a member of the victorious Allied World War I coalition expected to be treated with considerable deference. Instead they were largely ignored at the Paris Peace Conference. The convent of the League of Nations was part of the Versailles Treaty. Japan proposed adding a "racial equality clause" to the covenant of the League of Nations. This was rejected by the United States, Britain and Australia. President Wilson promoted national self determination at the Conference, but he was not ad advocate of racial equality. Racist attitudes were also common among the other European powers. Japanese diplomats at the Washington Naval Conference (1921) failed to achieve goals and this angered nationalist elements, especially in the Army. Japanese diplomats at the Washington Naval Conference (1921) failed to achieve goals and this angered nationalist elements, especially in the Army. Racist attitudes toward oriental people had plagued Western attitudes toward both the Chinese and Japanese in the 19th and 20th centuries. With the Japanese this began with Commodore Perry's opening of Japanese ports (1850s). Japanese emigrating to America encountered both racism and racist laws. Even so, a sizeable Japanese population flourished in both the Hawaiian Islands and California. These laws were a sore point in American_Japanese relations. Incidents in the 1920s were widely reported in Japan. America after World War significantly restricted immigration. Restrictive quotas were established for European immigration. The United States enacted the Exclusion Act that prohibited further Japanese immigration (1924). Japan in the 1920s and 30s was Asia's only industrial nation. It was, however, an industrial nation with few natural resources. It also did not have an agricultural sector capable of feeding the population. Japan was thus the country at the time most dependent on foreign trade, especially exporting its industrial output to finance raw material and food imports. The country, however, experienced economic difficulties after World War I. The Great Kanto Earthquake did substantial economic damage (1923). The Wall Street stock crash (1929) and resulting Depression caused further problems. The protectionist trade policies in America and Europe in particular adversely affected the Japanese economy. The Japanese military increasingly advocated action to secure markets and raw materials. Japan as part of its late-19th century modernization program began to build modern military forces. The Imperial Army was the dominant service and built on the Prussian model. The Imperial Navy was smaller, but give Japan's island location still of considerable importance. The Navy was built on a British model. After World War I, both services gave considerable priority into building power air wings. In this effort they received invaluable assistance from the Germans.

Pre-War Era: The 1930s

Japan and the United States faced some difficult differences, but much more difficult surfaced at the very beginning of the decade. As in Europe, the Depression had a major impact, strengthening the position of those who saw the answers to Japan's problems as expanding the Empire. And the military responded by first rejecting London Naval Accords (1930) and then seizing Manchuria which it converted in the Manchukuo puppet state (1931). Historians generally view this as the first act of aggression of the World War II era. This began a steady series of actions by the military to seize control of the civilian government. Any one who criticized or opposed them made himself an assassination target, including prime ministers. The military demanded and the Diet responded with steadily increased military budgets. This would allow Japan to amass a military force to carry out an invasion of China, but also launch one of the most successful military campaigns in history against poorly prepared America and Britain. The turning point for Japan was its invasion of China (1937). While Japan achieved battlefield victories, it was surprised with the level of Chinese resistance. Japan achieved victory after victory, but found it impossible to achieve victory in what proved to be a long, grueling and expensive war. The Japanese invasion generated tremendous sympathy for China in America which gradually escalated diplomatic protests to economic sanctions. After the Soviet Red Army smashed a Japanese army on the Mongolian-Manchurian Army (1939), the Japanese Strike South Faction rose in strength and began to target the United States which had begun aiding China. With the outbreak of World War II in Europe, am intense debate emerged in Tokyo as to how Japan could take advantage of the growing international crisis. Japan had entered World War I with minor military forces to achieve territorial gains. Now with a major military force after a decade of massive military budgets, Japan had the ability to achieve major advances. The defeat by the Red Army on the Manchurian border does not seem to have diluted the desire for military aggression, only a decision to avoid another conflict with the Soviets.

Emperor Hirohito's Role

A militaristic party rose to dominate the Japanese government during the early era of his reign. His complicity with the milatarists is a not well researched subject. Not every authority agrees with the widespread belief that Hirohito had no hand in Japan's conduct in World War II. Far from it. One example is Imperial Conspiracy written by David Bergamini (1971) who found that Hirohito was behind all the major decisions in the war, but that his role was covered up, and that General MacArthur knew, but went along with the whitewash for pragmatic reasons. Loyal Japanese officials and military commanders, unwilling to see the Emperor soiled by association with crimes committed in his name, saw their honorable duty as taking the punishment. What ever Hirihito's role, the militarists during his reign pursued expansionism, war with China (1937-45), and military alliance with the Axis powers (1940). The alliance led to Japan's participation in World War II and its attack on the United States in 1941. Toward the end of the war Hirohito sought peace, and in August 1945 he broadcast the unconditional surrender of Japan to the Allies.

World War II: The 1940s

World War II erupted in Europe when Hitler ordered his Panzers to invade Poland (September 1, 1939). Two days later Britain and France honored their commitments to Poland and declared war (September 3). The world was stunned at the strength of the German Blitzkrieg of Poland. The Japanese were, however, shocked. After being humiliated by the Soviet Red Army on the Mongolian-Manchuko border, Hitler without consulting with the Japanese signed an alliance with the Stalin. This undermined the Strike North Faction and the centerpiece of Japanese diplomacy--a German-Japanese alliance against the Soviet Union. The resource-poor Japanese for years had coveted the vast resources of Soviet Siberia. Once the shock of Hitler's surprise move wore off, the Japanese began to see advantages to be reaped from the war in Europe. For the Japanese, there were potentially huge advantages--the possibility of seizing the Dutch West Indies and other colonies in Southeast Asia, they would have to confront Britain and France, two countries with powerful navies and substantial military forces. War in Europe meant that neither country would be in position to resist Japanese aggression with great force. Of their had been any remaining doubt, the Strike South Faction in the Imperial Army was now in firm control. It also meant that the only force capable of resisting the Japanese seizure of the Southern Resource Zone was the United States Pacific Fleet.

Four Corners of the World/Hakkō ichiu (January 1940)

Hakkō ichiu (八紘一宇 --'all the world under one roof') was a Japanese World War II political slogan popularized by Prime-Minister (Prince) Fumimaro Konoe in a speech (January 8, 1940). The term was not created by Prime-Minister Konoe. He took it from the writings if Nichiren Buddhist activist and nationalist Tanaka Chigaku (early-20th century). Chigaku based it on the statement the chronicle Nihon Shoki which attributed it to the legendary first emperor Jinmu when he ascended to the throne. Japanese militarists had been advancing the concept for some time, but without using the term Hakkō ichiu. [Nakajima, pp. 129–30.] Emperor Jinmu legendary statement was "Hakkō wo ooute ie to nasan" (八紘を掩うて宇と為さん) or in the original Sino-Japanese (掩八紘而爲宇), meaning "I shall cover the eight directions and make them my abode". The term hakkō (八紘), meaning 'eight crown cords, was a metaphor for happō (八方) or "eight directions". The more familiar modern tern is four corners or directions (north, east, south, and west. The statement is not only legendary, but rather ambiguous. Early rulers often had expansive titles more boasting than meaning a world ruler. Tanaka took the statement to mean that imperial had been divinely ordained to expand until it ultimately encompassed the entire world. Tanaka was not a militarist, actually more of a pacifist. He thought that the world would be united by the emperor's moral leadership and competence. His followers were less impressed with pacifist ideas than the idea that Japan was divinely destined to rule the four corners of the world. The militarists and parliamentarian right wing eagerly adopted the idea that the revered Emperor Jinmu himself had envisioned Japan's divine right to rule the war. The fact that Prince Konoe who was considered a moderate would adopt the term signals how far Japan had advance toward war by 1940.

Southern Resource Zone

Japan was Asia's first industrial power. Ironically it was an Asian country with very limited natural resources. From the onset of the Meiji Restoration, Japan aspired to emulate the European approach and seize a colonial empire to acquire the needed natural resources. The problem was that most of Asia except for China was already an European colonial possession. The major exception was China. So after seizing Formosa (Taiwan) and Korea, and Pacific islands, the Japanese went after China. China was militarily weak, but its immense size and stubborn resistance of its people prevented a total Japanese victory. And Japan rather than obtaining the raw materials it needed found itself in need of more raw materials to continue the war effort. After the out break of the War in Europe, the Strike North Faction gained support, but eventually collapsed and the Strike South Faction gained the ascendancy. Southeast Asia and the adjacent Dutch East Indies, offered Japan all the resources it needed, but meant war with Britain and the Dutch. This was not a major impediment. The Dutch were weak militarily and occupied by the Germans. The British were fully occupied in Europe and the North Atlantic. The United States was a very different matter. The Philippines had important resources, but could have been passed over, except for its location. The Philippines sat astride the sea lanes from the SRZ to Japan. The United States from the Philippines could have prevented the SRZ resources from reaching the Home Islands. Japan was almost totally dependent on imported oil, primarily from the United States which at the time was the leading producer. Japan imported about 90 percent of its oil. Japan had very limited oil fields and a small synthetic petroleum industry. And with an industrial economy and a large navy and merchant marine, Japan required large quantities of oil. The ongoing war in China also required oil. Japan's major source of oil was the United States. Before the invasion of China, Japan had been purchasing 80 percent of its oil in the United States (1937). The United States through its moral persuasion policy had succeeded in convincing American ship owners to reduce shipments to Japan without any formal action. Thus on the brink of war the Japanese were only obtaining 60 percent of their oil in America (1941). The Japanese were importing American oil (along with Latin American and DEI oil) in Japanese and neutral country tankers. Oil was by far the most important product needed by the Japanese, but the SRZ offered much more, including rubber, nickel, tin, rice,and much more.

Japanese Political Developments (July 1940)

A major shift in the Japanese Government set Japan on a course for war. Japanese militarists watched the spectacular German successes in Europe. Yet they were bogged down in China with a costly war and there was no end in sight. The military had to admit that they had made a mistake and withdraw from China or expand the war and finally defeat China. American support of China was a problem because Japan was so dependent on the United States for oil and other raw materials. The militarists concluded that with the resources from the Southern Resource Zone that Japan could pursue the war in China to a successful outcome. It may seem illogical that a country like Japan unable to win the war in China would decide to pursue an even wider war with the Western powers, but the fall of France and the ascendancy of NAZI Germany emboldened the Japanese to do what they had wanted to do for some time. Japan's relatively moderate government was replaced by a new government headed by Prince Konoye with closer ties to the military. General Hideki Tojo who headed te war party within the Army was appointed War Minister. The new government began to put Japan on a full war footing. The government's New Structure was essentially a totalitarian structure along the lines of the Soviet Union and NAZI Germany. The Government moved to suppress political parties and labor unions. The government took greater control of the new media. The hours of workers in war industries were lengthened. Government prohibited several luxuries to increase military production.

American Two Ocean Navy Expansion Act (July 1940)

President Roosevelt's Congressional ally, Congressman Carl Vinson, helped push through the the Vinson-Walsh "Two Ocean Navy Act". The President signed the Act which authorized a major increase in the U.S Navy (July 19). The U.S. Navy at the time had 358 ships in service and 130 under construction. The Act authorized the Navy to build 200 more ships including 100 destroyers needed for North Atlantic convoy duty. Also important was the construction of carriers, battleships, and cruisers. The importance of the carriers was not yet fully understood in the era before Pearl Harbor. The Act resulted in the construction of the powerful Essex Class carriers that would overwhelm the Imperial Navy when they began reaching the fleet in late 1943. The act authorized over 1.3 million tons of combat shipping as well as 0.1 million tons of auxiliary shipping. It also authorized te construction of 15,000 aircraft. The Two Ocean Navy Act expanded the Fleet 70 percent. The passage of the act was viewed with considerable concern in Japan. As a result of their larger naval construction program, the Japanese had achieved naval superiority in the Pacific. This was an achievement that was not fully appreciated at the time even within the U.S. Navy. One of the reasons that led the Japanese to strike at Pearl Harbor was their concern that the American building program approved in 1940 would redress the balance of naval power in the Pacific.

French Indochina (July-August 1940)

The French after the Japanese invasion of China permitted Nationalist China to land oil, trucks, and other war materiel in Haiphong and ship it to rail to Kunming in China. The Imperial Navy at the time was blockading Chinese ports not already in Japanese hands. Using the port of Haiphong in neutral French Indochina permitted the Chinese to evade the Japanese naval blockade. Japan complained to the French government about the shipments to no avail. The Japanese had steadfastly refused to declare war on China, referring to the conflict as the China Incident. The French thus rejected the Japanese diplomatic notes. The frustrated Japanese military bombed the rail line (1939-40). Shipments through Haiphong were substantial, about 10,000 tons of material, largely from the United States as of early 1941 were being shipped. The small rail link and the Japanese bombing limited actual deliveries. A pileup of material at Haiphong totaled 125,000 tons (June 1940). NAZI victories in Europe, especially the fall of France (May-June 1940), fundamentally changed the balance of power. This presented opportunities for the Japanese. France was removed as a potential adversary. After the fall of France to the NAZIs (June 1940). Japan saw an opportunity to establish a position in the French colony of Indochina. As a result of France's defeat by their Axis ally, the Japanese had the opportunity to move south without an actual invasion. The Japanese government presented the French Ambassador in Tokyo with a series of demands (June 19). Tokyo demanded that France immediately cease shipment of all war materiel to China and to admit a Japanese Control Commission to regulate the border with China. Japanese troops massed on the Chinese border with Indochina and Imperial Navy ships sailed into the Gulf of Tonkin to demonstrate that these were no longer requests. The Japanese Government gave the French 48 hours to comply. The Japanese at the same time demanded that the British cease deliveries of war material to China over the Burma Road. An agreement was finally reached with the new Vichy Government which did not have the capability of resisting the Japanese (August 30). This allowed the Japanese to move military forces into the northern area of French Indochina (1940). A major goal of the Japanese was to cut off the flow of military supplies to China. The Japanese not only achieved that objective, but now could use French airfields to bomb Chinese targets.

American Export Control Act (July 1940)

Congress passed the Roosevelt Administration's Export Control Act (July 5, 1940). The Act provided the authority for the President to turn American moral embargoes into real embargoes. It authorizing the President to license or prohibit the export of essential defense materials. Under the authority of this new law, President Roosevelt within weeks in response to Japanese actions in Indochina prohibited exports of aviation motor fuels and lubricants and No. 1 heavy melting iron and steel scrap, and various strategic materials (July 31). [Morgenstrern, pp. 322–23, 327–28.] The Administration did not take the ultimite step, however, of embargoing crude oil. This was the step that would force Japan's hand and the President held back hoping that diplomacy could still divert the Japanese militarists from the path of war. The Act provided the legal basis for controlling exports of any product that could aid aggressor nations. The prohibition was possible because the United States has withdrawn from the 1911 Commercial Treaty with Japan. The U.S. Government until the Export Control Act had been able to persuade exporters to limit sales to aggressor nations. The Export Control Act provided the legal authority to require compliance. The immediate problem resulted from the German defeat and occupation of France (June 1940). This not only escalated the NAZI threat, but opened Japanese advances in French Indochina. And the State Department was not only guessing. American code breakers had cracked the Japanese diplomtic Purple Code. The resulting Magic decrypts provided the President detailed information on Japanese intentions.

Axis Alliance (September 1940)

The Tripartite Pact was signed September 27, 1940. The agreement allied Germany and Italy (which were at war with Britain) and Japan (which was at war with China). Germany and Italy has since 1939-40 been at war with Britain. Japan since 1937 had been at war with China. The alliance did not require the partners to join these wars, but it did require them to come to each other's aid if attacked. The alliance became known as the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo Axis alliance, or commonly the Axis. The three Axis partners German hegemony over most of Europe; Italian hegemony in the Mediterranean, and Japanese hegemony in East Asia. After the Axis agreement was signed, several German allies joined the Axis, notably Vichy France and Fascist Spain refused to do so. Japan had no Asian allies, except or the puppet state of Manchukuo and Thailand. The Axis provided allies and very powerful allies indeed. Joining the Axis was seen in Japan as a way of pressuring the United States. The Japanese militarists were in effect latching on to Hitler's star. Based on the phenomenal NAZI success, it made considerable success. The Japanese also made the calculation that the vast distances separating Germany from Japan in effect protected them from the new NAZI world order. Membership in the Axis, however, did not have the desired affect on the United States, either the American public or the Roosevelt Administration. Rather it confirmed in the American mind the criminal nature of the Japanese militarists. And with the Roosevelt Administration in hardened views toward Japan. America became less willing to offer diplomatic concessions in the on going negotiations.

Axis Alliance (September 1940)

Japan, Germany, and Italy signed the Tripartite Pact (September 27, 1940). The agreement allied Germany and Italy (which were at war with Britain) and Japan (which was at war with China). Germany and Italy has since 1939-40 been at war with Britain. Japan since 1937 had been at war with China. The alliance did not require the partners to join these wars, but it did require them to come to each other's aid if attacked. The alliance became known as the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo Axis alliance, or commonly the Axis. The three Axis partners pursued German hegemony over most of Europe; Italian hegemony in the Mediterranean, and Japanese hegemony in East Asia. After the Axis agreement was signed, several German allies joined the Axis, notably Vichy France and Fascist Spain refused to do so. Japan had no Asian allies, except for the puppet state of Manchukuo. While the Axis powers sought to seek national goals through war and German and Japan especially lionized war, there proved to be remarkably little cooperation in waging war. It would prove to be the Allies that waged war in a coordinated manner. The Anglo-American alliance, the two powers that had sought to avoid war would forge the most remarkable and successful alliance in the history of warfare. Ironically, the Axis despite the considerable military power of its member states proved to be a rather feeble alliance. The major purpose, especially for Japan was to deter the Unites States. Here it failed utterly. And although there was one common enemy, the Soviet Union, the partners never made common cause. And here Japanese participation in the upcoming war with the Soviet Union almost certainly would have been decisive. Just as the NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact (August 1939) had left Hitler free to deal with the Allies, Japan signed its own Non-Aggression Pact, the Japanese-Soviet Neutrality Pact (April 1941). This left the Japanese free to redeploy Manchurian forces south, but fatally for the Axis, it would allow the Soviets to redeploy Siberian forces west when the NAZIs struck.

American Knowledge of Japanese Intentions

American officials and military planners were concerned about Japanese behavior and objectives beginning with the Manchurian invasion (1931) and even more so with the invasion of China (1937). The move into northern Indo-China (1940) confirmed the fact that the Japanese ambitions were not limited to China. And the cracking of the Japanese diplomatic (Purple) provided confirmation and details. American code breaking efforts played a major role in the Pacific War. The Japanese Foreign Office began using the Alphabetical Typewriter 97 (1938). American code breakers referred to it as Purple. Purple was not an actual code, but an electronic-mechanical coding system. It was a rotor machine like the Germans were using and like the Germans, the Japanese were convinced that the system could not be cracked. The U.S. Army Signals Intelligence Service (SIS) began to work on breaking into the system. Frank Rowlett directed the project. Finally Genevieve Grojan made a critical discovery. The SIS team was thus able to build a duplicate of a machine that they had never seen (September 1940). The American code breakers referred to the Japanese encryption system as Purple and thus called the duplicate device the Purple Machine. The system was called Purple because of the color binders that were used for the decrypts. The messages were sent through machines and the American cryptologists managed to build their own Purple machine to read the Japanese diplomatic messages. The information gained from Purple decryption came to be called Magic within the U.S. government because the Foreign Office used it for only their most important messages. [Curtin] The location of the Magic operation in Washington meant that information from the decrypts were not sent to Pearl Harbor unless the War Department decided to send some of the intelligence obtained. The Purple machine was a successor to earlier machines used to read Japanese diplomatic messages. The Japanese code system was designed by a Japanese Navy captain. Thus American officials were provided an insight into Japanese plans, albeit not military operations. American code breakers cracked Purple (September 1940), a phenomenal achievement. American officials could thus read Japanese diplomatic dispatches in near real time. This is often misunderstood. Military plans were not transmitted in Purple. Decisions in Japan were made by the military and the highly nationalistic military officers did not entirely trust the Foreign Office and certainly did not entrust them with military secrets. Much more important was the naval code which American cryptologists called JN-25. It was an enciphered code, producing five numeral groups which was what was actually broadcasted. It proved more difficult to break than Purple. It was not until months after Pearl Harbor that the cryptologists at Pearl (Station Hypo) began breaking into JN-25. While it was only partially cracked. JN-25 decrypts played a major role in the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway. Further information was provided when Admiral Mineo Ōsumi, Japanese Navy Minister was shot down and killed by Chinese guerrillas in Guangzhou (February 5, 1941). Chinese soldiers seized a treasure trove of documents from him. The Chinese guerrillas got awards from the Nationalist government and were reported in newspapers and magazines, including Time Magazine. The documents found reportedly revealed some details about Japanese plans to seize British, Dutch and American colonies in southeast Asia.

America Expands the Embargo (October 1940)

The Roosevelt Administration in reaction to Japan joining the Axis, further expanded the list of embargoed items. He added scrap iron to the now growing list of embargoed items (effective October 16). The actual wording did not mention Japan, it was worded "all exports of scrap iron and steel to destinations other than Britain and the nations of the Western Hemisphere". The measure, however, was clearly aimed at Japan. The President still held back from the ultimate step, embargoing crude oil.

Japanese Strategic Weakness: Oil

Japan was almost totally dependent on imported oil, primarily from the United States which at the time was the leading producer. Japan imported about 90 percent of its oil. Japan had very limited oil fields and a small synthetic petroleum industry. And with an industrial economy and a large navy and merchant marine, Japan required large quantities of oil. The ongoing war in China also required oil. Japan's major source of oil was the United States. Before the invasion of China, Japan had been purchasing 80 percent of its oil in the United States (1937). The United States through its moral persuasion policy had succeeded in convincing American ship owners to reduce shipments to Japan without any formal action. Thus on the brink of war the Japanese were only obtaining 60 percent of their oil in America (1941). The Japanese were importing American oil (along with Latin American and DEI oil) in Japanese and neutral country tankers.

Japanese Thought Police: War News

The Japanese Thought Police carefully controlled the war news released to the Japanese people. The Japanese war in China dragged on into 1941. The Japanese had occupied large areas of coastal China and won battle after battle, but were unable to fight the war to a conclusion. The newspapers printed misleading articles about the stalemate. There were also reports that Army officers were staging contests to find who could sever the most heads of Chinese prisoners. [Thomas, p. 19.]

Japanese-Soviet Neutrality Pact (April 1941)

Japan and the Soviet Union were bitter enemies as the Manchurian Border War (May-September 1939) has shown. Both countries had reason by 1941 to avoid war. Stalin in signing the Non-Aggression Pact with Hitler had anticipated a war in the West in which the Allies (Britain and France) and Germany would fight along debilitating war as in World War I. He thought that with these countries weakened that he would be able to expand west. The unexpected collapse of the French Army meant that instead he faced a triumphant NAZI Germany without allies or buffer states. Thus defusing the situation along the Siberian-Manchurian border with Japan was very important. The Japanese having deciding on the Strike South option also wanted a quiet northern border so it could move south. This both countries had strong reason for diplomatic accommodation. The Neutrality Pact was was signed in Moscow by Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka and Ambassador Yoshitsugu Tatekawa for Japan and Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov for the Soviet Union (April 13, 1941), Foreign Minister Matsuoka was returning from an Axis conference in Berlin. The Soviet Union committed to respecting Japanese control of Manchukuo (Manchuria). Japan made the same commitment to the Soviet dominated Mongolian People's Republic. The NAZIs did not inform the Japanese of their plan to invade the Soviet Union. And the Japanese did not inform the NAZIs of their plan to sign the Neutrality Pact with the Soviets. This was one of many instances showing the weakness of the Axis Pact. It is difficult to comprehend how Germany and Japan at this crucial moment could have failed to coordinate policy concerning the Soviet Union.

American Demands: Hull's Four Principles (April 1941)

Japanese diplomats met with German officials to discuss matters associated with the Axis Alliance. On the way back to Tokyo they stopped in Moscow to finalize a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union. Only a few days after the signing ceremony in Moscow, Sectary of State Hull presented Ambassador Nomura a list of the four conditions necessary to restore normal trade relations. They included: 1) respect for the territorial integrity of other countries, 2) noninterference in the internal affairs of other countries, 3) equal commercial opportunities, and 4) no territorial changes other than through peaceful negotiations.

Southern Indochina (July 1941)

The Japanese occupation of southern Indo-China was the turning point in the move toward war in the Pacific. A casual look at the map explains just why. Southern-Indo-China points directly to the Southern Resource Zone that Japan coveted (Malaya, Borneo and the Dutch East Indies. Bases in southern Indo-China could support an invasion of these areas which is precisely what occurred after Pearl Harbor. Brushing side American remonstrations, the Japanese conducted secret talks with the French colonial authorities in Indochina (July 1941). American officials learned of these talks through Purple intercepts. French diplomats also informed Washington of the Japanese demands. Japanese and Vichy French authorities reached an understanding regarding the use of air bases and ports in Southern Indo-China July 24). The Japanese threatened a military invasion if the French did not comply to their demands. And of course Axis ally German occupied France. The Japanese immediately began to occupy southern Indochina. For the Roosevelt Administration, the Japanese move into southern Indochina meant Japanese rejection of Hull's Four Principles and a major military move. President Roosevelt had not been willing to take the key step, embargoing oil. The Japanese move made up the President's mind. One historian writes, "Much to the surprise of the Japanese leadership, within days of the occupation of southern Indochina, the US froze Japan's overseas asserts, thereby denying the later of the funds for purchasing raw materials from abroad .... As a result, the Imperial forces were denied the resources they needed to prosecute their war effort in China. Policy makers in Tokyo were faced with the choice of either fulfilling America's conditions for lifting the embargo, which was to withdraw the army from the Chinese mainland, or occupy the southern regions in order to secure new source of raw materials. Even then, the navy and the army disagreed over when to commence hostilities ...." [Ford]

America Embargoes Oil and Freezes Assets (July 1941)

With the Japanese occupation of southern Indochina and the revealing Purple intercepts indicating that the Japanese were intent on seizing the Southern Resource Zone, the Roosevelt Administration began debating how to respond. The Cabinet was divided. Secretaries Morgenthau, Stimson, and Ickes argued for a real embargo that would really affect Japan--namely an oil embargo. The British were pushing for such an embargo. State Secretary Hull argued against an oil embargo. He was supported by the Navy Department which would have to fight a war in the Pacific. They argued that an oil embargo were tantamount to declaring war. They were right, but did not fully understand that the Japanese were moving toward war even without such an embargo. President Roosevelt, understanding that an oil embargo meant war, vacillated, not yet ready to make such a momentous decision. Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Harold Stark dispatched a formal memorandum to President Roosevelt clearly stating that an oil embargo meant war (July 24). That same day in the afternoon, Ambassador Nomura, President Roosevelt, Admiral Stark, and Under-Secretary of State Welles met in the White House. Roosevelt not yet aware that the Japanese had forced Vichy to consent to the occupation of southern Indochina, suggested to Nomura that an a diplomatic accommodation could be found on the basis of the neutralization of Indochina. He emphasized the key was that no Japanese occupation must take place. Roosevelt spoke openly to Nomura who he respected. He explained that the United States had abstained from imposing an oil embargo because he had no desire to give Japan an excuse for seizing the oil fields of the oil-rich Dutch East Indies. He also explained that he could not justify continued oil deliveries to Japan if Japan was to continue its aggression. He said American public opinion would not accept this, especially with gasoline rationing. When Ambassador Nomura returned to the Japanese Embassy, he cabled Tokyo expressing his opinion that American embargoes were eminent if the Japanese didn't accept the President's proposal on the neutralization of Indochina. The Japanese Government never responded. The Japanese move into southern Indochina finally convinced America that stronger action was needed. Southern Indochina brought the Japanese within striking range of the American Philippine Islands, British Malaya and Singapore, and the DEI. The final American action was President Roosevelt issuing Executive Order 8832 (July 26, 1941). This froze Japanese funds in America. [Anderson] Britain and the Dutch Government in Exile followed suit. This essentially meant a total trade embargo. Not only could Japan not buy oil and petroleum products (aviation fuel) in the United States, but it now did not have the foreign exchange reserves to buy oil from other sources, even the DEI. To make the the American position crystal clear, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order ?????? (August 1). This order specifically banned the export of petroleum products to Japan. The embargo went into effect (August 1). At the State Department Summer Wells directed customs officers to revoke Japanese oil export licenses. Britain, the Dutch, New Zealand, and the Philippines followed suit.

American Military Moves (July 1941)

President Roosevelt realizing that economic persuasion was not affecting Japanese policy and had no prospects for doing so, ordered a series of military moves. He named General Douglas MacArthur the head of American-Filipino forces (July 26). And he began a military buildup in the Philippines. He ordered squadrons of fighters and bombers to the Philippines. The United States had limited military resources at the time. The military draft was less than a year old and still only involved a small number of men. In addition while Congress had approved increased military spending, the United States was not yet on a war footing and the military spending was not yet at the level of the massive amounts that would eventually win the War.

Atlantic Charter (August 1941)

The Atlantic Charter is one of the key documents of the 20th century and remains still relevant today. President Roosevelt and Prime minister Churchill meet aboard the Prince of Wales on August 9-13, 1941 at Placenta Bay. The Prince of Wales had been badly mauled by Bismark in May. It was to be sunk by a Japanese aerial attack in December. Roosevelt and Churchill issued the Atlantic Charter. The two were acting as war time allies despite the fact that America was not yet at war. Britain had weathered the worst that the NAZI Luftwaffe could throw at it. America and Britain were fighting the U-boats in the North Atlantic to keep Britain alive. It was clear that America would soon be drawn into the War. America had already played an important role in keeping Britain alive and the two countries were the only hope of the occupied European and in fact Western civilization itself--threatened by the evil tide of NAZI tyranny. The two leaders, the two most important men of the 20th century, agreed to a simple, but elegant eight-point statement of their aims which today still stands as the central credo of the Atlantic Alliance. This meeting and charter was in essence a strategic alliance against the Axis powers on the basis of these eight key principles. For the Japanese it was a clear statement that the war they were preparing to wage would be with both America and Britain.

Japanese Oil Requirements

Japan was using about 30 million barrels of oil (1941). This included domestic industry as well as military operations in China and very substantial naval training operations. The military usage was balanced in part by severe civilian gasoline rationing. The military estimated that if war broke out that the country would need larger supplies, perhaps 33-35 million barrels. As with so many military assessments, they were widely off on what war requirements would be. Japan after launching the Pacific War, consumed 52 million barrels (1942). The Japanese Navy alone consumed 30 million barrels. The American oil embargo was this a considerable threat. The Japanese had some time to work out the problem. They had built up a reserve of 50 million barrels which was equivalent to 1.5 years of their oil requirements. Without American oil, another source would be required and the source nearest Japan and within the ability of the Navy to seize was the DEI--the most important prize in what the Japanese called the Southern Resource Zone (SRZ).

Japanese Decision Making

The decesions for war made by Japan's European Axis partners were snap decisons made by Hitler and Mussolini without any study are careful assessment. They were simply ordered by the two leaders. Hitler for the most part did not even consult Mussolini. Japan was different. The Japanese made very detailed assessments. [Cook] Tojo and the other militarists had access to these studies and debated them. As it transpired, Tojo and the others military leaders simply ignored the studies and decided to gamble and go to war. They reasoned that once in possession of the SRZ, America would negotiate rather than fight a bloody war. The Roosevelt Administration forced Japan to decide on peace or war when they enbaroged oil. The result would have been an oil shortage in Japan. The Japanese militarists were unwilling to change their policy of war in China and the oil embargo had the affect of convincing them that they needed to seize the oil-rich Dutch East Indies (DEI) (Indonesia) to guarantee future supplies of oil. The DEI was virtually defenseless, but the small Dutch garrison there was loyal to the Dutch Government in exile. The only major force standing between the DEI and the Japanese was the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor and the British garrison at Singapore. Of course the manner wuth which Japane chose to launch the War, a surorise attack on Peael Harbor--meant that America woukd never negotiate and Japan did not have the capability of forcing it to do so, just as they could not force Chang to make peace. And incidebts like the Bataan Death March mean that the Unired States would wage the sane pittyless war that Japan conducted.

Japanese Carrier Forces (1941)

Japan in 1941 had the largest, most advanced carrier force in the world. The commander of the Imperial Fleet, Admiral Yamamoto, was a proponent of naval aviation. The Imperial Navy had 13 carriers. It was not just that the Japanese had more carriers, but they had higher performance aircraft and more experienced pilots. The carriers had Mitsubishi Zero fighters which out performed any fighters available to either the U.S. Navy or the U.S. army Air Corps had. Japanese carrier pilots went through a rigorous training program. Many had combat experience from operations over China. The Japanese pilots were the most skilled naval aviators in the world. The U.S. Navy Pacific fleet had two carriers, Lexington and Yorktown. Rising tensions in the Pacific caused the Navy to shift Enterprise to the Pacific to join them. The significance of this disparity in forces was not fully appreciated in 1941 because most naval planners still considered the battleship to be the capital ship. Also most Americans did not consider the Japanese to be capable of building high quality ships or planes or the Japanese to be effective fighters.

Imperial Conference (September 6, 1941)

The Japanese Imperial Council was held on September 6 in the presence of Emperor Hirohito. The most important members of the Council were Prime Minister Prince Konoye, War Minister Hideki Tojo, and Chief of the Naval General Staff Admiral Osami Nagano. American actions in response to Japanese aggression, especially the oil embargo, was the immediate cause of the Japanese move toward war. The Japanese had rightly assessed through diplomatic contacts with the United States that there was no real likelihood that America could be convinced to end the embargo without not only a Japanese withdrawal from not just Indochina, but China as well. Prince Konoye understood how the war in China had bogged down and the costs involved as well as the fact that it was becoming unpopular with the Japanese public. He also recognized the potential danger for Japan in a war with the United States. He was prepared to negotiate a settlement. It was the Army, however, that dominated Japanese politics. And the Army was adamantly opposed to any concessions to the United States. Not only did the Army feel that the path to empire was Japan's destiny, but they considered the American pressure as an insult to national honor. General Tojo saw this as nothing short of national humiliation. And for Tojo and much of the military high command this was intolerable. If Prince Kinoye had attempted to resist the Tojo and the Army, the Army would have resorted to a familiar tactic--assassination. And Prince Konoye of course realized this. Admiral Nagano with the full knowledge that war with the United States would be a naval war fought in the Pacific, argued for the war. The Japanese Imperial Council decided on a "southern advance" policy with the understanding that this could mean war with the United States and the British Empire. This was not a rash decision. Japan had been preparing for such a war, both diplomatically and militarily. Japan had joined the Axis (September 1940). Japan had also acted to safeguard its northern territories by signing a neutrality pact with the Soviets (April 13, 1941). The NAZI invasion of the Soviet Union (June 22) provided further assurance that there would be no danger of interference from the Soviets if Japan moved south. The Japanese Cabinet decided to make the final preparations. The Imperial Navy was ordered to convert contingency plans to actual operational plan.

Japanese Strategic Debate

The Imperial Japanese Army was the senior serrvice had been the main force pushing for war to expand the Empire. A strategic debate emeged ewith a Strike North nd Strike South Fction. The Army from an early point after the Meiji Resoration promoted a course of expansion which would make Japan the unchallenged leader of Asia. [IMTFE] The Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) was just as nationalistic, but somewhat more realistic given that while the Army at first faced the weak Chinese forces, the Navy faced the British Royal Navy and the United States Navy. Emboldened by victories in China, the Strike North Faction dominating the Army which was prsised on the belief that they had NAZI backing. The Japanese Kwantung Army clased with Soviet forces on the Manchurian-Mongolian border and were decisvely defeated at Khalkhin Gol (July 1939). Soon after Hitler without consilting the Japanese signeda n alliance with Stalin--the NAZI-Sovirt Pact (August 1939)). The result was the dominance of the Strike South Faction and a major role for the Imperial Navy. As early as the Russo-Japanese War 1904-05 Japan and the United States began toi view each other as potential antagonists. President T. Roosevelt helped negotiate a peace treatty. Japanese Nationalists saw America as intervening to prevet ever greater Japnese gains. A Japanese author writes, "The began to manage naval education and training , fleet formations, and armaments all with an American enemy--an overwhelmingly powerful one-- in mind." [Hirama, p. 63.] Naval officers were further outraged with Washingtin Treaty (1921) which limited naval construction. The Treary was actually in Japan;s favor because Japan did nit have the capacity to buikd more than they dua and the Aeriucans did. Japan virtually barupted itself building a modern navy that could go toe to tie wuith the Amrican Pacific Fleet. The Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) was the third most powerful navy in the world at the start of World War II, and came to dominate the Pacific in the early months of the war. [Stille] The Axis Alliance was useful if Japan was attacked by the Soviets. Stain was, however, razor focused on his western border and the NAZIs. Neither the Germans or Italians, however, could offer much assistance for a naval war with the United States in the Pacific. The Navy realizing they would have to fight the American and British fleets were less enthusiastic about the Axis Alliance or the possibility of fighting a naval war with the Unites States and Britain. Once the decision was made, however, the Navy dutifully prepared for war. Captain Mitsuo Fuchida describes how his bombing group unleashed 'devils of doom' on Battleship Row. [Evans] The naval battle plan was meticulously prepared and carried out. It was premised on the assumption that the Americans like the Russians once suffering a heavy defeat would make peace, both brcausde of the cost of invading island foirtresses and the need to concentrate on the Eurooean theater. No thought was given to the possibility that the United States would not sue for peace. Nor did the naval plnners consider what would happen when the Arsanal of Democracy began converting to war pridyction.

German Invasion of the Soviet Union: Operation of Barbarossa (June 1941)

Hitler set in motion the largest military campaign in history--Operation Barbarossa (June 1941). He hurled the might of the Wehrmacht against the only other comparable army in the world. The invasion was of breathtaking proportions along an immense battlefield stretchering from the Baltic to the Black Sea. The German campaign was enormously successful. The Red Air Force was destroyed in only a few days. Soviet divisions were obliterated and whole armies surrendered in mass to the NAZIs. Wehrmacht generals watching seemingly endless columns of Red Army POWs, thought they had won the War. Then because of a combination of Hitler's interference with the Wehrmacht commanders, the huge distances, adverse weather, and the dogged resistance of the Red Army soldier, the NAZI campaign slowed. The Wehrmacht had triumphed in the relatively small-scale battlefield of Western Europe where it quickly defeated unprepared opponents. The campaign in the East proved to be a very different matter. As Soviet resistance stiffened, Hitler expected Japan to join his anti-Bolshevik struggle. They did not.

Japanese Decision for War

The final step toward war occurred when Prince Fumimro Konoye resigned as prime minister (October 1941). Konoye had been seen as the principal spokesman for peace. This may be an overly simplistic assessment. [Hota] It probably is true that Prince Konoye wanted peace. There is no indication, however, that he favored withdrawing from China the Unites States demanded. He essentially wanted a peace that recognized Japanese conquests in China. Of course another factor is that he probably realizing that giving in to Americans demands on China would be to invite assassination by the military and even another coup attempt. General Hideki Tojo replaced Konoye in a cabinet already full of army and navy officers. Tojo had commanded the Kwantung Army in China and played an important role throughout the 1930s in the rise of the Militarists. He emerged as spokesman for the ardently pro-Axis elements in the Army. Konoye stepped aside to avoid a military coup. With the rise of Tojo, the Militarists were now in full control of the Japanese Government. Tojo was not like Hitler and Stalin an absolute dictator, but rather a kind of bureaucratic chairman of the board for the military establishment which was determined to secure for Japan the natural resources the country lacked. He pursued a hard line in the ongoing negotiations with the United States and his Government authorized the attack on Pearl Harbor that had long been under preparation. Tojo was to lead the Japanese Government through most of the War (1941-44). He finally resigned after America seized Saipan and brought the Japanese home islands within range of long range B-29 bombers.

Japan and Barbarossa (June 1941)

The Japanese decision to strike America rather than Russia, allowed the Soviets to shift Siberian reserves west to stop the Germans. Unlike the Allies, the Axis made no real effort to coordinate their war effort. Hitler did not inform the Japanese or Mussolini about his plans to invade the Soviet Union nor did the Japanese inform the NAZIs of their plans to strike Pearl Harbor. Mussolini in part out of pique surprised Hitler with his invasion of Greece, a decision that complicated Hitler's Barbarossa preparations. A German journalist (Soviet agent) in Tokyo informed Stalin well before the actual attack on Pearl Harbor. Most historians agree that the Japanese decision to strike America rather than join in the NAZI assault on the Soviets was the critical decision of World War II. America was not yet in the War, but President Roosevelt's diplomatic resistance to Japanese operations in China and Indo-China and decision to move the Pacific Fleet to Pear Harbor appears to have caused the Japanese to confront America rather than the Soviet Union. Their experience in the 1939 border war with the Soviets was probably another factor. The failure of the Axis to coordinate strategy doomed Barbarossa and in the end was a central factor in the eventual Allied victory.

Japanese Political Dynamic

There is no doubt that the Japanese were mesmerized by the stunning German victories in Europe. This was certainly true of the military. It should not be thought that civilian leaders were immune from the seductive call of war and all the Germans were gaining from it. We had thought that the Japanese saw the huge successes of Barbarossa and assume this would force the United States to focus all of its prodigious industrial power on the NAZI threat in Europe. One Japanese-American analyst familiar with Japanese political developments insists that while this may have been a factor influencing some of the senior leadership, it was not the primary dynamic that lead to war. [Hota] She points out how the decision for war unlike Hitler's personal leadership was a collegial decision. There were over 70 meetings (liaison conferences) of military and civilian leadership that led to the war decision. And she believes that the mid level officers may have been more important than the senior leadership. The competition between the services and cliques also played a role. The civilian and senior leaders made demands on the United states to appease the junior and mid-level officers. The senior officers apparently believed that the international situation would force the United States to yield on its central demand that Japan withdraw from China, the leadership was cornered. If it agreed to the American demands, it would be inviting another coup as occurred in 1936. [Hota] There is considerable reason to believe this. Both the Manchurian invasion (1931) and the invasion of Chin proper (1937) were not ordered by the Government in Tokyo, bit by mid-level generals in the field. Rather than discipline them, the civilian government backed them. To have failed to do so might well have generated an assassination or coup. The Japanese term is something like 'Geko kujo', meaning direction from below.

Karusa Peace Mission (November 1941)

With pace talks at a standstill, the Japanese dispatched a special envoy to the United States--Ambassador Saburō Kurusu. The choice of Karusa hardly suggested that peace was a high priority. He served as the Japanese Ambassador to Germany for 2 years. It was Kurusu who signed the Axis Tripartite Pact in Berlin on behalf of the Japanese Empire (September 27, 1940). Karusa arrived in Washington to join Ambassador Kichisaburō Nomura with considerable fanfare (November 15). He informed the awaiting press, "I am indeed glad to be here in your nation's capital. I extend greetings to all from the bottom of my heart." Secretary of State Cordell Hull accompanied Kurusu to the White House for a personal meeting with President Roosevelt (November 17). The all important exchange of notes followed. Kurusu presented Japan's demands that the United States cease all aid to China and resume the bilateral trade relations that the United States had frozen in December 1939. Hull then provided a diplomatic note, now known as the Hull Note, detailing President Roosevelt's demands that Japan end its aggression in China and withdraw its troops. The President also demanded that Japan with draw from the Axis alliance with with Germany and Italy. Ambassador Kurusu reviewed the demand and replied, "If this is the attitude of the American government, I don't see how an agreement is possible. Tokyo will throw up its hands at this." The Hull Note was, however, dispatched to Tokyo. For 2 weeks, Kurusu and Nomura continued to confer with Hull while awaiting a response from Tokyo. It arrived in the evening of December 6, but was so long that it took considerable time to translate. By the time Karusa and Nomura delivered it in person to Hull in the State Department, bombs were already falling on Pearl Harbor.

Week of Decision (December 6-7, 1941)

The outcome of World War II and in large measure the trajectory of modern history was determined in one week in early December 1941. Japan crossed its Rubicon when it moved into southern Indochina (July 1941). This triggered the United States oil embargo which meant that Japan had to go to war with the Britain and the United States before it ran out of oil. At the time it seemed a risky, but well-calculate gamble. German Panzers were rushing toward Moscow and most military analysts were predicting an eminent Soviet collapse. With the German victory in Europe, the United States and Britain would be faced with such an enormous struggle that their ability to fight a Pacific War with Japan would be compromised. And the success of the German U-boat campaign even brought unto question Britain's survival. The Soviets did, however, hold before Moscow. They not only held, but mounted a stunning offensives that damaged the Wehrmacht so severely that NAZI Germany was no longer capable of winning World War II. The Soviets offensive began only 3 days after the Japanese carrier strike force attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, bringing America into the War. While brilliantly executed, the Pearl Harbor attack was one of the greatest military failures in history, dooming Japan to an unequal war and catastrophic defeat. Ironically, Japan entered World War II just at the time the Red Army launched the decisive offensive of the War.

Soviet Offensive Before Moscow (December 6, 1941)

Not only had the German offensive in the Soviet Union grown to a halt because of Red Army resistance and the winter weather, but the Soviets launched a massive offensive before Moscow (December 6, 1941). The decisive battle of Barbarossa and arguably the entire War was fought before Moscow during the Winter 1941-42. The Japanese decision to strike America, allowed the Soviets to shift Siberian reserves. A Japanese spy in Tokyo had informed Stalin well before the actual attack on Pearl Harbor. These troops, well trained in winter warfare, on December 6, 1941 launched a winter offensive stopping the Wehrmacht at the gates of Moscow--inflicting irreplaceable losses. The Wehrmacht was stunned at the extent of the Soviet offensive, assuming that the staggering victories in the Summer had crippled the Red Army. There were no preparations made such as winter clothing or assessing the performance of weapons in extremely cold winter conditions. Hitler had assumed that the campaign would defeat the Soviets in a summer campaign before the onset of Winter. Hitler demanded that the Wehrmacht stand and fight. This probably saved the Wehrmacht from an even greater disaster than what occurred. An entire Germany Army, the 16th Army of more than 90,000 men, was essentially cut off and only supplied with an enormous effort by the Luftwaffe. A land corridor was not reestablished until April 1942. The massive Axis army that invaded the Soviet Union had by January 1942 lost a quarter of its strength and huge quantities of tanks, artillery, and supplies. These losses of men and material by the Wehrmacht were especially grievous and Germany did not have the manpower resources or industrial capacity to fully replace and reequip a new army.

Why the Japanes Thought they Could Defeat the Americans

This question is commonly asked in a different way, why did Japan lose the Pacific War? But the answer to that is so obvious that is hardly worth discussing. At the time World War II began, the United States had a economy about five the size of the Japanese economy. By the end of the War, the American economy was ten times as large. In purely industrial power the disparity was even greater. And naval war is by definition an industrial war. This in a nutshell is why Japan lost the war. At the time of World War, Japan was essentially bankrupting itself while America was devoting less than 2 percent of its GDP to military spending--yet the two navies were comparable. So why did Japan think they could win a war with the United Srates? First, the Japanese had defeated one gret power in the past -- Russo-Japamese War. Second, no on not even the American military understood just how rapidly the American Arsenal of Democracy could convert to military production and how much it could actually produce. Third, the decisons were being made by poorly educted military men with little experience outside of Japan itself. Fourth, the value system of the Japanese milarists did not rank economics and commerce very highly. What was impotant to them was martial spirit and they saw very little of that in America. Few had been to America, but they had seen Hollywood films and the take away was any country that let their women dominate them could not produce warriors. They were asstonished when coinfronting the Marines on Guadalcanal. Their initil reactiin was that the Americns were emplying out their prisons and lunatuc asylums. Fifth, they saw German Panzers racing toward Moscow and thought that the Red Army was defeated. Thus the United Syates would have to focus its resources on Europe. (The stunning Soviet counter offensive before Moscow showing that the Red Army was not defeated was launched on virtually the sane day as Pearl Harbor.) Sixth, the Peace Preservation Laws (1894) were designed to curtail any critiscism of the military and to supress the Freedom and People's Rights Movement. [Ienaga] By peace the Government meant internal order. Seventh, censorship and the supression of academic freedom.meant that there were no real discussion of wageing war outside of military circles. [Ienaga]

Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941)

Rather than join the NAZI war with the Soviet Union, the Japanese instead struck south with a devastating carrier attack at Pearl Harbor (1941). A Japanese carrier task force composed of six carriers on December 7, 1941, executed a surprise attack on the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. It was a brilliant tactical victory for Japan, but perhaps the greatest mistake in modern military history as it brought a suddenly united America with its vast industrial capacity into the War. The Japanese launched 360 aircraft which in 2 hours struck Peal Harbor just as the American sailors were waking up on a sleepy Sunday morning. The strike sunk or heavily damaged six of the eight American battleships, three cruisers, three destroyers, and most of the Army Air Corps planes on the island. America was at war. While seemingly a devastating blow, the Japanese failed to land a decisive blow. The battleships sunk were obsolete vessels. The major goal of the attack was to sink the three carriers of the Pacific fleet. None were at Pearl. But not only were the carriers not destroyed, but Pearl was not crippled as a forward American base. The oil storage tanks, shipyards, and submarine pens were largely untouched. At the cost of sinking obsolete battleships, Japan was now at war with the mightiest industrial power of the world. And even as the bombs were falling on Pearl Harbor, the United States was building Essex-class carriers, designing new modern aircraft including the B-29, and preparing to build the atomic bomb.


A fair assessment of the historical record clearly shows that Japan set out on a course for empire with the Sino-Japanese War (1895). The attack on Pearl Harbor was just the latest step in Japanese expansion. America in the 1930s and early 40s attempted to use diplomacy and economic sanctions to dissuade Japan from its path toward war. Some Japanese scholars maintain that the United States forced Japan to go to war by making unreasonable demands. But generally they down play the unreasonable demand was that Japan stop its invasion of China. (America further expanded its demands when Japan occupied Indochina.) America's demands were succinctly summarized in four points--Secretary Hull's Four Principles. All were related to Japanese aggression. Japan planned to build a museum on World war II to mark the 50th anniversary and this issue surfaced causing a furious controversy. One of the planners resigned "... when he concluded that the Government was trying to use the museum to justify Japan's entry into the war. For example, he said, the Government planned a display suggesting that economic forces in the 1930's compelled Japan to start the war. This is a standard argument of those Japanese who refuse to apologize for the war. They say American economic sanctions and unreasonable demands left Japan little choice but to engage in all-out war. The argument has not been accepted by mainstream historians, nor is it well received by the countries where people were massacred during Japanese rule. In China, 10 million people-the Chinese Government says 35 million-died as a result of the Japanese invasion." [Kristof] The issue has also been picked up by the hate-America academic crowd and the conspiracy nuts in the United States. Of course, a full examination of President Roosevelt's diplomacy is an important issue that needs to be be discussed. When assessing these authors, readers look to see if they are fairly presenting the facts or cherry picking facts to build their case. There are several important facts that these critics often leave out. 1) Japan;s policy of building empire beginning with the Sino-Japanese War (1895). 2) Japan's exploitative policies toward its colonies. 3) Japan's suppression of political and social rights in colonies like Korea. 4) while Japan was expanding its empire, America was in the process of granting independence to its principal Pacific possession--the Philippines Islands. 5) Japan invaded Manchuria (1931). 6) Japan withdrew from the Washington Naval Treaty limitations (1937). 7) Japan invaded China (1937). 8) Japan committed horrendous atrocities in China, including the Rape of Nanking and the bombing of civilians. 9) Japan's prepared for a naval war in the Pacific beginning in the 1920s and intensified in the 1930s. 10) The militarists seized control of the government and began to introduce militarist and expansionist ideals to the school curricula. 11) the principle demand that the United States made on China was to stop making war in China. Any author that excludes these facts from his discussion is not fairly presenting the issue.


Anderson, Irvine H. Jr. "The 1941 De Facto Embargo on Oil to Japan: A Bureaucratic Reflex," The Pacific Historical Review Vol. 44, No. 2 (May, 1975), pp. 201-231. Published by: University of California Press.

Cook, Theodore. "Japanese perspctive on World War II," C-Span 3 (December 6, 2019).

Curtin, Matt. Brute Force.

Evans, David C. ed. The Japanese Navy in World War II: In the Words of Former Japanese Naval Officers , Second Edition (2017), 592p.

Ford, Douglas. The Pacific War (2012), 288p.

Hirama, Yôichi. "Japanese naval Preparations for World War II," Naval War College Review (Spring 1991) Vol. 44, No. 2, pp. 63-81.

Hota, Eri. Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy (2016).

Ienaga, Saburo. The Pacific War, 1931-1945 (1978). Ienega's book is extensivly documented.

International Military Tribunal of the Far East (IMTFE), Exhibit 216 "Political Strategy Prior to the Outbreak of War", Part I, App. I.

Jones, F.C. Japan's New Order in East Asia (London, 1954).

Kristof, Nicholas D. "Japan's Plans for museum on World War II mired in dispute," The New York Times (May 20, 1995).

Morgenstern, George. “The Actual Road to Pearl Harbor,” in Harry Elmer Barnes, ed. Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace: A Critical Examination of the Foreign Policy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Its Aftermath (Caldwell, Id.: Caxton Printers, 1953). Critics of President Roosevelt charge that he was provoking the Japanese. This is probably a fair characterization, but the critics often do not provide a nuanced assessment including the extent of Japanese aggressions and what the President knew aboit it as aesult of the Magic decripts. They rarely mention that the President refrained from the key action, an embargo on crude oil until after it was clear that Japan had decided on war. They also do not mention that the President gave Japan an option, they could stop making war and withdraw from Indochina and China. Those were hardly aggressive demands.

Nakajima, Michio. Tennō no daigawari to kokumin (Aoki Shoten: 1990).

Stille, Mark. The Imperial Japanese Navy in the Pacific War (Osprey: 2014), 392p.

U.S. Department of State. "Peace and War: United States Foreign Policy, 1931-1941," Publication No. 1983 (U.S. Government Printing Office: Washinton, D.C., 1943).

Williams, Benjamin H. "The coming of economic sanctions into American practice," The American Journal of International Law Vol. 37, No. 3 (July 1943), pp. 386-396. Published by: American Society of International Law


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