Why Did the Japanese Bomb Pearl Harbor? What Led to this Historic Event?

On December 7, 1941, Japan launched a surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor. But what led to this decision? Why did the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor? Read on to find out.

Why Did Japan Attack Pearl Harbor?

Throughout the 20th century, Japan was working hard to modernize its economy and wanted to establish its empire. However, it faced a major hurdle: a lack of natural resources. Japan had to import almost all of its oil, with only 6% coming from domestic sources. 

In 1937, Japan found itself embroiled in a full-scale war with China after capturing Manchuria. This war put a strain on Japan’s resources, and it needed to find alternative sources to sustain its military efforts. 

At the same time, the United States was gradually moving away from its isolationist stance.

In 1941, when Japan occupied French Indochina, the United States responded by freezing all Japanese assets within its borders, effectively cutting off Japan’s access to purchasing oil. 

With 94% of its oil supply gone and unwilling to yield to U.S. demands, Japan decided to acquire the necessary oil by force. However, if it were to strike south into British Malaya and the Dutch East Indies, it would likely provoke a military response from the United States.

To minimize the U.S. response, Japan made the audacious decision to attack the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. The hope was that this attack would prompt the United States to negotiate for peace. It was a high-risk gamble.

Unfortunately for Japan, the attack on Pearl Harbor did not yield the results they expected. Although Japan achieved its objectives in the Pacific and Southeast Asia, the United States responded with determination. 

Instead of retreating into isolationism, the U.S. rallied for total war, and Japan’s fate was sealed.

Impact of the Pearl Harbor Attack

The attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese had a devastating impact. Almost 20 American ships and over 300 airplanes were either destroyed or severely damaged. 

The dry docks and airfields suffered the same fate. Most tragically, more than 2,000 people lost their lives.

However, despite the destruction, the Japanese failed to completely incapacitate the Pacific Fleet. During the 1940s, aircraft carriers had become the most crucial naval vessels, surpassing battleships in importance. 

Interestingly, on December 7, all of the Pacific Fleet’s aircraft carriers were not present at the base. Some had returned to the mainland, while others were on missions to deliver planes to troops stationed on Midway and Wake Islands.

Additionally, the attack on Pearl Harbor left the base’s essential onshore facilities untouched. The oil storage depots, repair shops, shipyards, and submarine docks remained intact. 

This allowed the U.S. Navy to recover relatively quickly from the attack and regain its strength.

How Many People Died in Pearl Harbor?

The attack on Pearl Harbor had a devastating toll, resulting in the loss of 2,403 American personnel, including sailors, soldiers, and civilians. 

Many others were injured, with 1,178 people wounded. On the Japanese side, 129 soldiers lost their lives in the attack.

Among the casualties, a significant number of lives were tragically lost on the USS Arizona. 

This battleship, which now lies sunken at the harbor, serves as a solemn memorial honoring all the Americans who perished in the attack. It stands as a reminder of the sacrifices made on that fateful day.

Final Thoughts

The attack on Pearl Harbor remains an indelible moment in history, forever etched in the collective memory of nations. It serves as a stark reminder of the devastating consequences of war and the profound impact it can have on individuals and societies. 

The events of that day changed the course of history, propelling the United States into World War II and shaping the global landscape. 

As we reflect on the sacrifices made and lives lost, let us strive for peace and understanding, working together to forge a future where such tragedies are never repeated.