because the US Pacific Fleet was posing a threat to the japanese plans for pacific.
PH was the result of a long streak of historical events tracing back to the russo-japanese war of 1905. That war was won by Japan, and turned it into a world class power. As such it started (more likely, reinforced, as prior to it it was already there) a trend of imperialist thinking in Japan.
To sum it up (it would take hours to describe it) Japan wanted to be recognized as a world power internationally. In their view they had the right to own all those sources of raw materials, food, etc, needed to be self-sufficient. That's not small talking given that Japan was (and still is) deficient in almost every strategic matherials ranging from oil down to iron ore, and has to import them.
Back in the early XX century all big powers had a colonial empire that provided them with the needed raw matherials. Under japanese eyes, they had exactly the same right as the european empires to own a colonial empire, or at least to be owners of the sources of the raw matherials they needed. The interest of Japan in Manchuria came mainly from this fact, and the wars with China had a lot to do with it, as the japanese intervention in Siberia in the early 20s.
By the 1930s Japan had developed those beliefs. By then they thought it was unfair for them to not have the access to the strategic matherials they needed. They thought they had the right to adquire them, and that they had a bigger right to have the asian main production centers of strategic matherials than the russians, british, french or dutch.
They had a bad experience with their siberian expedition during the early 20s (reinforced with the **** spanking they recieved at khalkin gol in 1939 at the hands of Zhukov), so they accepted that the access to the "septentrional resource zone" (namelyiberia) was definitively closed. However they still thought that the "meridional resource zone" (namely: SE Asia and Indonesia) was open for their taking. Britain, Netherlands and France were the colonial powers there. In the 30s all of them were pretty weak compared with 20 years before, and the Japanese thought their right to own those lands was bigger than the european's powers. And they wanted those lands with their richnesses, to be theirs.
However there was a main problem in that: Japan thought they could single handedly take those lands from the european hands, but they knew that the USA would not accept it. Here is where the imperialist and economic considerations confront Strategic considerations.
Since the 1905 war, Japan was the main power in the pacific...bar the United States. Japan thought it as something short of an insult, they thought themselfs as the rightful nation to held the title of #1 pacific power. But the USA had also very high interests in the pacific, west of Midway: Guam was theirs, as was Phillipines (tho nominally a protectorate). Japan saw that as a threat to their aspirations, they wanted a secure flank towards the pacific in order to succesfully adquire the lands they wanted in SE Asia and DEI (Dutch Eastern Indies, or indonesia). Besides the phillipines were key: they sat just in the middle of all communication lines from Indonesia and its richness towards Japan itself. An unfriendly USA could interdict all naval traffic in the zone from the Phillipines. And Japan knew that USA would not be friendly at all if they attacked the european colonies in Asia.
More strategic considerations: Japan was a traditional ally (or at least very friendly towards) of Britain. That changed in the 20s with the Washington treaty talks of naval disarmament. Japan pressed for a 10-10-8 in naval tonnage respective to the USA and Britain. They were granted 10-10-6 only, and Britain had a lot to do with that, thus ending all friendship the Japanese felt towards them. It also was a matter of a freezing of relations between JApan and USA.
The hard japanese pression for a 10-10-8 relation seriously worried both USA and UK, it was a direct hint that they wanted total superiority in the paficic (Japan Navy was an one ocean navy, USA was a two ocean navy, UK was a global navy), and that they clearly held expansive aspirations. Those could only be aimed towards british possessions and would directly threat US interests in the Western Pacific. Thus the worsening of the relations.
I'll go over many other considerations here, and jump over to 1936 (leaving a lot of things unexplained, that also contributed to PH). In 1936 Japan conquered Manchuria and retired itself from the Society of Nations. Then they went on to attack China. That was a wrong move in many counts: firstly China had not a really important economic consideration for Japan. Secondly, China offered a stubborn resistance and costed Japan a long, costly war they understood really soon they couldn't win. Thirdly, it worried all the international community. And fourthly and more important: it REALLY **** the US off.
USA had been investing a lot of money in Nationalist China for years, and had put a lot of resources towards it's development. The japanese invasion meant a huge hit to those inversions and interests. Nothing got better when Japanese atrocities at Nanking or Shangai trascended, much less when planes attacked the USS Panay, an american gunboat sailing on the Yangtze in 1937, and killed several americans.
By 1940 France had been invaded by Germany and the French indo-china was loyal to the Vichy Regime. When Japan joined the Axis one of the understood things was that Hitler won't oppose the Japanese taking the french indochina for their own (Even though that was a treason of the armistice terms signed with the Vichy France), so the Japanese simply moved in without any opposition whatsoever.
But that move was the drop that filled the bucket for the USA. Roosevelt and all their assistants saw the imminent danger that this move meant: Indochina had an impressive strategic importance to the next move everyone feared: Japan attacking the Dutch East Indies (loyal to the Dutch government in the Exile), the British possessions at Malaya and Burma, and quite possibly the phillipines. Thus they demanded a japanese withdrawal from the french indochina, the stopping of the war at china and Japan giving up all their conquest there aswell.
Here (and again jumping over many significant issues) there was a problem of miscomunication. Mostly because the Japanese understood Manchuria as part of China, and thought the US was demanding their withdrawal from there, something that never happened. Of course retiring from Manchuria it was unnaceptable for Japan under any circustances.
And even without manchuria in the equation: for Japan leaving their conquests at China was a mixed blessing. There was nothing noteworthy won there, economically wise. In fact China was a pain in the **** of the Japanese high staff, it was a war that they could not win and that it was netting nothing but lots of japanese deaths. So closing that chapter and leaving was a temptin thing to do.
However retiring because of pressures of a foreign power was for them losing face...not as much as accepting surrender, but losing face. And we all know the japanese mentality of the time: backing down because of threats (or worse, surrendering) was short of unnaceptable. So they turned the demand down and kept their conquest in SE asia.
Roosevelt would accept none of that, nor would anyone in his cabinet. The threat of Indonesia in Japanese hands was something too serious to ignore, and they would not ignore it. Even more, the Japanese treaties with Thailand (an independent state) turned that country into nothing short of a japanese puppet state. The direct and immediate threat of both things combined to the DEI, British Malaya and Burma, and phillipines was nothing short of critical. The US losses in China because of hurt interests didn't help aswell.
The US government thus decided to turn up the pressure, they freezed all exports towards Japan. Including Oil (the most needed strategic resource for them as they imported every single drop of it from abroad, and USA was the most important exporter of oil to Japan at the time). Japan could not ignore that at all, as if that freezing of exports was to be held on it's survival as a viable nation was at doubt. So here they had two choices to make:
1- back down, retire from China and Indonesia and give up their imperialistic aspirations in the SE asia and DEI zones.
2- play it hard, launch an invasion of those zones and phillipines, incapacitate the US Pacific fleet in a suprise attack so they could not hit back, and take all the WEstern Pacific islands to create a double concentric layer of defences there to stop any future counter attack by the americans.
the second option won. Japan never planned to win a war vs USA. They wanted to kick it out of the war for enough time for them to take what they wanted and fortify their possesions enough so when the US fleet was ready to hit back, they could not recover anything. They wanted to force USA to accept the new statu quo, not beat it completely (Something they always knew they could not do).
PH was only one of the parts of this sequence of events, but the most important. For Japan was vital to kick the US paficic fleet out of action so the US navy could do nothing to stop the IJN taking Indonesia and most of the W pacific, and the IJ army taking MAlaya, singapore and Burma. They achieved it, but miscalculated in one point: USA would not accept the new statu quo at all, even after the PH crippling blow. They persisted in their counter-attack, and delivered it in an island-hopping strategy the JApanese never foresaw. But thats a whole different matter not to be discussed here.
So...why they attacked PH?...summing up
1- JApan was a world power and wanted to own all SE asia and Indonesia so she could be self-sufficient in raw materials
2- USA was the most direct contestant in those aspirations as the european powers were weakened in the European war.
3- Japan was faced with a decision to fold and retire from China and Indochina, thus abandoning their imperial aspirations, or go to war against the americans and force them to accept their point of view.
4- They decided to go to war, so they had to hit the US fleet the hardest they could in a single suprise attack, so they couldn't oppose the Japanese attacks in SE asia, phillipines and the DEI.
And that's why PH happened.
Wow, that's a lot of information! I love it.
I'll introduce myself.
I'm Lars Smithuis, I'm 14 years old, I'm from the Netherlands. I have to do a practical assignment for school. I have to write a diary of a fictitious U.S.Air Force pilot, stationed at Wheeler Army Airfield near Pearl Harbor, who has survived the Japanese attack. So I've got a few questions:
1.What did the American pilots do on Wheeler Army Airfield at an ordinary day (before the attack)? I want to know what they did on Monday till Friday.
2.What did the American pilots do after the attack on Pearl Harbor? I mean what did they do the same 7th December in the afternoon, and the following days.
I hope you can help me out...
My father was at Singapore when the Japanese landed in Malaya. Recalling what he told me the outside world USA, Dutch French and English were morally outraged by the "Rape of Nanking" when Japan surrounded the city of Nanking in China, systematically raped women and then bayoneted to death all 380 odd thousand civillians without mercy. Several princes of the japanese royal family were there supervising events.
At the League of Nations, Japan ignored demands to withdraw from China and Western nations used their navies to enforce an embargo of oil shipments to Japan.
By late 1941 Japan was about to run out of oil but rather than face the huliation of backing down, Japan gambled everything on a surprise attack to capture Dutch oilfields in Sumatra and Borneo.
To use that oil the Japanese also had to conquer key millitary bases at Singapore, Hong Kong, Manilla and Hawaii.
No one asks that question, and should it be few people know the answer. The official version is a "sneak attack" for no valid reason which infuriated the American public into waging war.
The answer goes back to at least 1935 when the U.S. signed the first of the Neutrality Acts. The overwhelming mood was that we'd been dragged into one world war, but this time they could fight their own without us.
The U.S. declared itself neutral along with other countries such as Sweden and Switzerland. And, had the U.S. conducted itself as a neutral country - the same as Sweden and Switzerland - it would have never become involved in WW2.
Almost immediately, the U.S. began acting as a belligerent by taking sides. For mention there was the Lend Lease Act giving weapons and other materials to one side of the conflict only. No other neutral country did such things --- they simply stayed out of the conflict. The U.S. declared half the Atlantic as its territorial waters and waged war there and conducted convoy escorts for one of the warring sides. No other neutral country did such things either.
The final straw was the very unneutral act of declaring an oil embargo against Japan. Now, that has special significance because Japan is about the most natural resource poor countries in the world. Ever heard of a Japanese oil well? No? Well, that's because there are none. The island relied 100% on oil IMPORTS.
With the embargo in place, Japan had only two choices --- begin living a Stone Age existence, or move militarily against the oil fields of Asia. But, the country which had placed Japan in that situation of dire need would certainly move against the expansion as it had other times. Pearl Harbor was simply a preemptive move by the Japanese to cripple U.S. response to an oil field invasion. Washington may have been telling the public how neutral America was, but Japan knew much better --- literally dozens of anti-Japanese executive orders had been issued from the White House in the past few years leading up to Pearl Harbor.
So, FDR got what he wanted; a "sneak attack" and "day which will live in infamy." And, it all lead to a declaration of war against Japan. Naturally, Germany had to honor its alliance with Japan by declaring war on the U.S. Perfect! The U.S. is now a major warring party in a European and Asian war despite the fact that it is on the other side of the world an no warring power has threatened it.
No one stopped to realize that an oil embargo against a warring power under the cloak of "neutrality" is illegal, or that Pearl Harbor would have never occurred had the embargo not been enacted. The U.S. never had to have adversarial relations with Japan because Japan was never a threat to the U.S. or had intentions to be. In fact, all relations between the two countries had been excellent since Commodore Perry sailed into Tokyo Bay in 1853.
I've always understood why Vietnam was called "Johnson's War" in reference to LBJ, but I'll never understand why WW2 wasn't termed "FDR's War" by the same rules. In fact, it's always been absolute heresy to even suggest that the U.S. deliberately entered WW2 through it's own actions, or that the White House wanted war over the wishes of the people (adds a different light to the "of, by, and for the people" role of government, huh?).
The bottom truth is this --- The U.S. was at war long before Pearl Harbor. All December 7th, 1941 did was make that involvement official.
Eurastas, most of what I have read online and in books and heard on recent documentaries have said that Japan wanted war to expand their empire which is why they courted the Germans and they were very much of the idea that a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor would wipe out so much of American's Navy that the US would never recover in time to stop the Japanese. Therefore the Japanese did expand and take over many of the islands and countries in the Pacific along with China. Not unlike Hitler who thought Germany could handle two fronts and defeat Russia and Europe. Both Germany and Japan did not know their enemy and thought they could defeat them.