Pearl Harbor 4 Essay, Research Paper
The United States inflexible foreign policy when dealing with Japan lead
to the attack on Pearl harbor which ended American isolationism.
On December 7, 1941, at 7:55 a.m., loudspeakers aboard warships in Pearl Harbor rang loud with warnings, Air Raid. This is no shit (Millis 354). The bombers streaked in low and filled the sky, marking the infamous Japanese attack on the bulk of the American military strength in the Pacific. The surprise attack was the grand entrance of Japan into World War II and resulted in its subsequent war with the United States. In its aftermath, their was no denying that this debacle was the worst day ever for the United States military. In only two hours the Imperial Japanese Navy had turned America s fortress into a shambles. The attack on Pearl Harbor continues to intrigue today as it was so significant to the international state system at the time of the attack. It represented a failure in deterrence by the United States on the Japanese and represented the end of American isolationism in the world which had stemmed from the conclusion of World War I. Instead of deterring the Japanese from pursuing an expansionist policy, these economic sanctions exacerbated relations between the U.S. and Japan, encouraged Japan s southward expansion, and provoked the Japanese to risk war with the United States. Inevitability, the results would be devastating for both nations.
At the conclusion of the First World War, an avalanche of isolationist sentiments arose within the American public. They felt as if they had been deceived and coerced into entry into in the war. They blamed the American entry on the nation s failure to remain genuinely neutral and felt that false propaganda and greedy businessmen were responsible for the unnecessary sacrifice of many young American men. To the public, for most of its history, the United States had managed to get along very well without allies. Plus, it seemed that in seeking to build popular support for intervention, President Woodrow Wilson had made promises he could not keep and had mislead the people. He conveyed that an Allied victory would end all wars and make the world safe for democracy. However, the defeat of Germany had no such results and inevitably this failure led to bitterness. America s distance from Europe, an asset for as long as the United States could afford to ignore the Continent, had enabled them to get along without a significant military establishment, without allies, and without thinking seriously about world politics. (O Neill 14) This pattern of thought was the reason why avoidance of intervention within the international system had existed throughout America s existence.
The war the Japanese planned had three objectives: to break the stranglehold of the embargo, to end interference with their conquest of China, and to build an overseas empire that would give Japan the supplies and markets it lacked. There was never any attempt to follow up the Pearl Harbor attack with a landing on the Hawaiian islands or the American mainland. Simply put, the Japanese were just trying to establish a headstart giving themselves enough time to complete their conquest of an overseas empire in the Pacific. The Japanese High Command hoped that the attack would allow them to develop an impregnable line of defense, giving them the opportunity to extract the necessary resources they needed in the Southwest Pacific with very little interference. They were fully aware that if their attack was countered with the full attention and capacity of the American forces they would most certainly lose. Admiral Yamamoto, who designed the attack of Pearl Harbor, warned, In the first six months to a year of war against the U.S. and England I will run wild., and I will show you an uninterrupted succession of victories; I must also tell you that, should the war be prolonged for two or three years, I have no confidence in our ultimate victory. (Russet 229)
Pearl Harbor was a staggering blow to America, but by no means a mortal one. The subsequent history of the war was to suggest that the battleships were not as of critical importance than both the Japanese and the United States thought at the time. In fact, the true damage was much less than it seemed to be in that first appalling moment. The carriers and the heavy cruisers were the vessels that afterward bore the main brunt of the Pacific naval war, and these warships were missed by the Japanese. Plus, the airplane losses were considered trivial by comparison to the immense number which were just beginning to come through new assembly lines in the United States. The attack of Pearl Harbor although successful failed to destroy the American pacific operation in one staggering blow. The Japanese did accomplish their goal in rendering the American fleet in the Pacific useless for the upcoming weeks which was they had sent out to do but, could of potentially paralyzed American naval action for months. The more important targets which the Japanese seemed to overlook were the base, the dockyard facilities, and most importantly the exposed oil storage. Had they destroyed the fuel of the Americans instead of going for their ships they might have rendered Pearl Harbor useless as a base for many months causing the ships to be driven back to the California coast for their oil supplies. Yet, it cannot be forgotten that in one attack the Japanese Navy successfully disabled the most feared army. Approximately three-thousand Navy and military personnel were killed or wounded in the airstrike, eighteen ships were sunk or severely damaged including eight battleships, and almost all the aircraft on the island were destroyed. It was a horrific site after the attack as, Warships were swept over by powerful flames, bodies of men were washed up on shore, oil covered the waters, and columns of smoke darkened the sky. (O Neill 6)
Relations between Japan and the United States had been confrontational since the early 1900 s and the expansionist foreign policy of the Japanese. It is clear today, … that the fundamental causes of the Pacific War go back to the turn of this century. International relations were then characterized by power politics, aggressive nationalism, and Western colonialism. (Wray 2) Japan, during this time, was overwhelmed with insecurities and anxieties towards their existence and felt threatened by the encirclement of other powers. To counter these thoughts Japanese strategists, especially military, sought expansion. The United States came to believe that the Japanese government seemed committed to extend its empire regardless of the costs. They believed their actions were aggressive and insincere and this was proved to them with the Japanese withdrawal from the League of Nations in 1930 s. Japan s successful annexation of Manchuria through armed aggression was a direct challenge to the rule of international law and the peace system. This act should of been challenged by the United States and the powers in Europe with stiff economic sanctions or even military strength instead of just protest and condemnation. This is just another example of the unwillingness of the Americans to get involved in the affairs of the World during this time. The Japanese conquests in Northern China between 1935 – 1937 were again just continued to be further criticized and frowned upon with little hint of any military action to follow. Yet, despite the existence of such isolationism exhibited by the United States during expansionist military actions by the Japanese, there was growing American frustration with Japan.
The Japanese assault on China challenged the position of the Western Powers in the Pacific and posed a threat to their security. The signing of the Anit-Cominterm Pact with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy in 1936, proved to the United States that the military in Japan had control. The U.S. government was almost forced to take a stronger stance because of the public outrage for the Japanese atrocities within China. The Japanese had tried the patience of the Americans and pushed them to their breaking point. Their convictions grew that the only way to break the military s control of Japan was to implement economic sanctions. But, the thought of Japan in Southeast Asia was a different one than Japan in China. The loss of China to such autarkic control was not important enough for the United States to fight Japan. But if Japan should extend its autarkic control over Southeast Asia as well, the impact on the world s economy would be intolerable. (Utley 79) To the United States, Southeast Asia, represented a strategically important economic area because many of its necessary raw materials were imported from the region. Therefore the stakes had changed once the German invasions in Europe made Southeast Asia a vulnerable target to Japanese expansionism. The overrunning of the Netherlands, conquering of France, and the jeopardy they put Britain in, broke the British power in East Asia, left the colony of Indochina weak, and left the door wide open for the possible Japanese control of the oil-rich Dutch East Indies. If Japan could dominate Southeast Asia and Germany conquer the Suez Canal, the two powers would be linked thus giving German access to the important raw materials in this region. This possibly could lead to a powerful union of Japanese and German forces of an undefeatable nature.
In July 1938, in response to the demand for economic pressure on Japan, the State Department introduced a moral embargo on the sale of aircraft to nations that were bombing civilians from the air. This embargo was directly aimed at Japan and marked the beginning of a new inflexibility of foreign diplomacy in the United States dealings with Japan. In July 1939, the United States decided that the trade treaty with the Japanese signed in 1911 would be terminated and thus, the United States would be able to place an embargo on any item they exported, specifically, the oil which Japan depended upon for survival. These actions were lead by Secretary of State Cordell Hull who was more responsible for Japanese-American relations than any other person. He continued on a path of perpetuating policy that pushed the two nations towards war. His strategic flaw was his determination of trying to resolve the differences of the two states instead of trying to make concessions and work for a solution. He was not interested in a momentary solution to the problem in Asia but sought a lasting peace. It was this insistence upon a total resolution of differences rather than a partial easing of tension which sent the two nations downhill towards war. In his dealings with Japanese officials he took a very hard line and demanded sweeping reforms. His words were supported as well, when the transfer of the U.S. fleet from its base in southern California to the Hawaiian Islands took place. Yet, Japan was never deterred and continued with its actions further antagonizing the United States. In July 1941, with diplomacy stalled, Japan continued its military expansion into the Southern half of Indochina which lead to the freezing of the Japanese assets by the United States ending all trade. With no possible way to get oil for their war machine Japan had to choose wether or not to accept American demands or to continue to push further south and take the oil of the Dutch East Indies.
To the Japanese under no circumstances would settlement with the United States be acceptable. This put them into quite the predicament. It was the miscalculation of the Americans which put them into this position. They miscalculated the impact of their economic sanctions and warnings on the Japanese as deterrents. Instead, this just reinforced Japanese policy. These policy s played into the hands of the militarists who controlled Japan as they argued that the imposition of economic sanctions by the United States necessitated risk and expansion by Japan. The U.S. government believed that Japan s economic dependence upon them for raw materials gave them a decided advantage in restring the Japanese in their quest for expansion. They felt there implementation of such sanctions would create a sobering effect on Japan. However, on the contrary, these sanctions shocked the people of Japan and motivated them for Southern expansion.
The American policy of dealing with the Japanese problem by enforcing stiff economic sanctions to deter them from invading Southeast Asia failed miserably. It failed because certain assumptions were placed on Japan that never materialized. Firstly, it was thought that the Japanese would choose to avoid war with the United States at all costs and secondly, would eventually succumb to American hard line policy. However the United States, misunderstood the psychology of the Japanese, particularly the middle levels of the military, the Japanese decision-making process, and Japanese economic realities. (Chihiro 51) Months leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor the Japanese had accepted the fact that any attack on Southeast Asia would mean war with the United States. Therefore, the United States were successful in conveying the thought that Southeast expansion by the Japanese would equal war in the Pacific. The Japanese were threatened by one of the largest military forces in the world but, would not be bullied. They were not deterred because they felt that they had been pushed into a position where they could not avoid war the the United States. The Japanese were certain that any expansion would be met with forceful resistance by the United States military and since there was no chance of a settlement all they could do was accept war. Thus, once the decision was made that they would end up going to war with the U.S. it was up to the Japanese strategists to attempt one where there was a high chance of a victory. It was under this notion where they conceived the idea of a preemptive surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. They made their decision fully understanding the risk that was at stake but tried to establish a war where they had the advantage. They belived that they could deter the Americans from a long war with a barrage of quick victories inflicting costly losses that would make the prospects of a prolonged war much too undesirable. However, the attack on Pearl Harbor lead to Japan losing a savage and prolonged war which ultimately lead to the first offensive use of an atomic bomb and the Japanese subsequent defeat soon thereafter.
Another possible theory of how deterrence failed in the Pearl Harbor attack is the possibility that there was never any goal of deterrence. Ever since the attack many rumors suggested that the inflexibility of American foreign policy was due to the fact that the United States pushed the Japanese to attack them because they wanted them to. Deterrence was not a goal of the United States but instead they tried to create a war. The attack was provoked by Franklin D. Roosevelt, who is believed to have known about the attack and covered it up. (Willey) He used the Pacific fleet as bait to enter the war and gain American support. (Willey) Although this theory has never been proven to be true and probably never will be it does add to the mystery of Pearl Harbor and provides another possible reason for the American failure of deterrence.
The attack on Pearl Harbor is viewed as such a tragic strike because of the common belief that it was unnecessary and avoidable. The responsibility for this loss of life seems to lie on the inflexibility of the American foreign policy towards the Japanese leading up to the attack. These dealings with the Japanese mark the end of American isolationism as increasingly the United States were beginning to enforce their will upon other countries with the support of its public. The airstrike tore down the precedent of uninvolvement in the world for the American society and vaulted them to the forefront of power politics in the international system. Politically, the Japanese attack had many benefits for the United States as it silenced isolationists and united Americans. For the Japanese, they had no other option but to prepare for war with the United States. The economic sanctions and ultimatums imposed on them did not break their will but further reinforced their quest for expansion into Southeast Asia. This is just one example of the mistaken judgments which were made by both sides. The Americans felt they could demoralize and weaken the Japanese into submission while the Japanese thought that their airstrike on Pearl Harbor would be a catalyst for a quick decisive war in the pacific with the United States. The Japanese would not give in to the all or nothing warnings and threats which were posed on them and there willingness to make some concessions was never seriously considered by the Americans. It was this inflexibility of American foreign policy that lead to both nations traveling down the road that lead to Pearl Harbor which ultimately ended American isolationism.