Why Did Japan Attack Peal Habour? How Did It Even Happen?

why did japan attack pearl harbor

Before Japan’s December 7th, 1941 attack against the U.S. naval base in Pearl Harbour, the U.S. was neutral and in isolation during World War II which was ongoing at the time. The attack led to devastating counterattacks from the U.S. and its official entry into the war. But why did Japan attack Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941? Read on to find out.

What Events Preceeded the Pearl Harbor Attack?

Before Japan launched its attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, it was already engaged in talks with the U.S. over the fate of the Pacific regarding who had control over the region.

During the negotiations, the Japanese, who were already at war against China, demanded that the U.S. withdraw the backing it provided China in the Second Sino-Japanese War, grant Japan access to the Dutch East Indies, and end its ongoing sanctions against Japan.

Japan had earlier attacked two neighboring countries, Russia and China as it pushed for natural resources such as iron ore and coal as well as more foodstuff and other raw materials.

It first invaded and took over Manchuria in 1932, then attacked strategic cities and regions in China starting in 1937. This led to the U.S. issuing criticism and policy statements against Japan. 

Following the statement releases were economic sanctions on Japan such as prohibiting the export of steel, iron ore, and scrap iron into Japan. The U.S. did these hoping that such deprivations would weaken Japan’s imperialistic invasion of Indochina and China.

In July 1941, the U.S. severed all trade with Japan, freezing all Japanese assets in the U.S., Great Britain, and China. The Netherlands also banned oil exports to Japan. 

Following the sanctions, Japan was deprived of multiple resources that were vital to prevent a national economic breakdown. Japan had to replenish the restricted resources and establish its economic influence in the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere.

To achieve this, it had to assume a position of influence over several Pacific Islands and parts of Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, the Philipines, and the Malay Peninsula. 

However, the strong presence of the U.S. Navy in the Pacific appeared to pose a threat as it had the potential to interfere with the shipping routes on the East China Sea which Japan intended to utilize.

Why Did Japan Attack Pearl Harbor?

Given the above scenario, Japan needed to minimize or if possible, completely eliminate the U.S. Navy presence in the Pacific Islands. So, why did Japan attack Pearl Harbor?

Japan attacked Pearl Harbor as a preventive measure to keep the U.S. Navy fleet present in the Pacific from disrupting its planned military operations in Southeast Asia.

Japan launched its surprise attacks on the U.S. Navy stationed at Pearl Harbour around 7:48 a.m. Hawaiian Time (6:18 p.m. GMT) in a fleet of 353 Imperial Japanese Aircraft.

During the attack, a total of 1,178 Americans were injured and 2,403 others were killed. More than 180 U.S. aircraft were demolished, four of the eight present battleships were sunk, and the remaining damaged.

What Did the U.S. Do After Pearl Harbor?

After the bombing at Pearl Harbor, the U.S. declared war on Japan, fully entering the Second World War a few days later. The British government followed suit upon hearing about the attack on its territory.

Due to their Tripartite Pact with Japan, Italy, and Germany each declared war on the United States on December 11.

During the war, the U.S. rounded up Japanese Americans, Italian Americans, and German Americans and held them in internment camps. Others held at these camps included Bulgarians, Romanians, and Hungarians. 

The U.S. launched several devastating attacks against the three enemy nations, including the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings. More than 330,000 American soldiers were killed in the war.

More Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945. Japan later surrendered on September 2, 1945, after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, bringing the Second World War to an end.

Final Words

Why did Japan attack Pearl Harbour? While the explanation above gives a detailed answer to this question, differing information may be found in other materials.

One such notion is that Japan attacked Pearl Harbor because of oil. In a sense, this explanation may pass since Japan’s move included replenishing its depleted resources, including oil.

Generally, it all boils down to political interests, America’s embargo policy, and perceived opportunity. The Hiroshima bombing resulted in about 80,000 instant deaths.

By the end of the year, the death toll increased to about 140,000. A report confirms that the Japanese prime minister apologized for the attack in 1991, 50 years after the Pearl Harbour bombing.

At present, Japan and the United States are close allies who share strategic interests and fundamental values. They are currently under an alliance known as the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security.