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Japan prior to 12/7/41


15 Mar 2002
Dear Historian,

Would you happen to have the answer to this question posed to me by my child concerning the events that precipitated the actual attack by the japanese on pearl harbor in 1941. Question: What mitigating factor, or factors pushed Japan to the act of war against the U.S. ? What did the United States do to Japan that irritated them to the point of retaliation against the U.S.A. ? I am extremely interested in the japanese version of this historical event ? I hope you can enlighten me so I can explain this to others who ask.

Thank you very much


let me start by saying that we are by no means historians. Furthermore, I assume you have been to cinema recently, I am astonished to see how much controversy the movie "Pearl Harbour" stirs up.

Your question is interesting indeed and has already filled an abundant number of books. We all know the historical events from our textbooks (Japanese militarism and expansion in Asia, "China Incident" etc.), but - in order to cut it short - I would like to list a few issues/unfriendly acts that might have led to anti-American sentiment in Japan and to a significant deterioration of bilateral relations:

=> Large expropriations of farmers of Japanese descent by the State of California in 1913

=> Disarmament Conference 1921/22: Japan was refused to be treated "inter pares" and walked out of the conference

=> Cable Act, 1922: branding Japanese (among others) as "aliens ineligible for citizenship"

=> Exclusion Act, 1924: prohibiting all Asians to immigrate to the U.S.

=> Plan Orange: created after the turn of the century, amended in 1937 by the U.S., depicting Japan as hypothetical enemy in the Pacific, carried out in WWII

=> Oil Boycott in 1941, as a reaction to Japan's aggression in Asia

All of these events, of course, should not hide the fact that Japan was the clear aggressor in the Pacific War.
See, look at that. You learn something everyday. I had no idea that we did so much to them...I would be pissed too.

now theres a few things that I did not know, and yes I would agree those points would have irratated any country, which could and would highten tensions and assist in a reaction of force🙂
The postman just delivered an Amazon parcel containing John Dower's "War Without Mercy - Race and Power In The Pacific War". Although focusing mainly on WWII Dowers also expands on the pre-war period, I expect interesting insights.
Wasn't also a Japanese cruise liner also sunk?

I've always thought that the attack on the US was an in-fight among the army and navy. One feeling they could handle and hold off the US long enough to establish their position in the Pacific. Others feeling that it was logical error.

I doubt if it had to do with minor incidents outside of trying to stop the US to prevent US interfernence in their war.

Did you that the movie with John Blushi (spell ???) 1953 or something like that ... actually happened.

A lone submarine torpedoed the US main land just a bit north of Santa Barbara. The area is now a golf course called Sand Piper. During the war UCSB was a tank training ground and the present day golf course was a oil/gas storage area ... or something like that.

hmmm ... why did Japan attack? why did Hitler attack Russia? I doubt if war makes much sense anyways.
You mean "1942", grrreeat movie!

The Japanese navy had aircraft carried by submarines. One of these seaplanes actually dropped a few small bombs on a Californian forest setting a few trees on fire. I think that was the only Japanese air attack on U.S. mainland.

I can just repeat your words: war sucks. I am sure that most conflicts and resentments could be settled with a nice bottle of red wine.
more about Pacific war

In 1930's the Japanese economy were depths of a depression.
Some people thought they could find the answer in China.

Young japanese millitary complained weak government and carried out coup d'etat on 5.15,1932 and 2.26,1936.
From these events, the millitary's opinion gradually carried
a lot of weight.

1937,Japan entered into war with China.
1939,America tore up the trade agreement with Japan.
It made Japan difficult to get crude oil or resources.

1940,Japan came to south east Asian countries.
They advocated "窶佚・窶愬塚?ク窶ケツ、窶ーhナ停??Greater East Asia Coprosperity Sphere)" and said they came to south east Asian countries so that they would lebetate them from the domimation of America or European countries.
Actually they needed crude oil and other resources.

America,England,Holland and China tried to block for Japan to advance southward.

On Nov.26,1941,Secretary of State Hal(right spell?) demanded Japan to retreat all troops from Manchuria and to tear up Tripartite pact.
And Japan refused them.

Hope I could explain the process of Pacific war...

Both America and Japan had each speculations,
judgements or dicisions on each stages.
But after all, they didn't take the way to peace...I guess.

Sorry I haven't watched the movie!
Miyuki-san, thanks for your explanation.

Hehe, the movie, directed by Steven Spielberg, is actually called "1941", the cast included John Belushi, Dan Akroyd and Christopher Lee. It's one of the weirdest movies I've ever seen.


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It was really funny since it made fun of many things.

@ young military officers
The government and police new what was happening from the start basically. The officers trained by raiding a police Station ... forgot which one but it was pretty big.

The problem was the officers didn't think they could do it. They did do it and then came across the problem that they didn't have a plan to carry out next.
I think that what lots of American don't know is that the US were about to attack Japan right before Pearl Harbor. It was the one that attacked first who got the advantage of the surprise and Japan did it. As a result most Americans believe that the Japanese were the bad ones as they attacked them "without provocation" (that's the propaganda in the US, as we all know America is always right, on the side of God and thence always the good one, even in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan or else). As Miyuki put it, there had been a good deal of provocation and tensions on both sides. Japan was allied to Nazi Germany and facist Italy (what makes it easier for the victors to class them as "evil") and as America had already started the hostilities in Europe, it was only a matter of time before the US-Nippon clash. I am not defending either part. I know all the atrocities comitted by the Japanese army in China, Korea and South-East Asia, but Americans have also dropped 2 A-bombs and flatten down more cities in Europe and Japan (and therfore killing tens of thousands of innocent civilians) than nobody else in the history. Very few cities in Germany and Japan have been spared by the carpet bombing. Some cities had up to 80% of all their building destroyed.
I didn't know that the U.S. were about to attack Japan, but it was obvious that they were well informed about the impending attack on Pearl Harbour (I haven't seen the movie btw), as all U.S. aircraft carriers had been withdrawn from the potential attack zone.

Maciamo, are there any books you've read and recommend?

On a side-note: now we know who shot first:

1941 Japanese mini sub found off Pearl Harbor

=> http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2002/Aug/29/ln/ln03a.html

Japanese mini sub find draws worldwide interest

=> http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2002/Aug/30/ln/ln01a.html
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This is kind of a dead thread but please give proof of U.S. intention to carry out an attack on Japan even with out a provocation like Pearl Harbor.
Follow=>Japan prior to 12/7/41

This attempt to correct or blame, what events pushed who. to bring Japan and United States into battle is interesting,


Is this more of an "academic" issue now !

I just think that the world has moved on. The Koreans and Mainland-China seem to focus on this, and use this as a "politcal" weapon than anything else.

People in the United States really do not.

Their is n-o huge bitterness against Japan in the United States. Actually during the 1980's, Japan-Inc seemed like a dominating force. Most Amercians, deep down, felt Japanese companies succeeded by doing a lot of hard work. The "unfair" trade barriors, did not help. But almost all Americans agreed that Japanese cars were better than American cars, back in the 1980's (and early 90's).
2nd: Japan Prior to

Two issues I like to respond to;
1) united states was about to attack Japan around 1941
2) united sates flattened down more cities in Europe and Japan (and therfore killing tens of thousands of innocent civilians) than nobody else in the history. .

response 1) I have never read that the United States had an "active" plan in place to attack Japan around December 1941. Conflict was "probably" coming and I am sure their were many scenarios prepared by the United States military.

response 2) The fire-bombing of Dresden-Germany was a British operation. This was revenge for Nazi-Germany destroying Coventry-England. Realize Nazi-Germany used air-attacks and Buzz-Bombs against London.

Japan was mostly a fishing and farming society, in 1890-1920's. The "power" centers of Japan wanted to bring Japan into a richer nation. One key to create a richer nation was obtaining access to oil and minerals (steel, tin, rubber exc. exc.) Right wing extremist induced political chaos, and many key "moderate" political leaders were assassinated or neutralized. The right-wing recruited from poor country people and eventually gained more and more power. Again by forcing "political" chaos, the military and the right wing filled a power vacumn. The military was more and more taking over the decision making and went into China (Manchuria). The Japanese political leaders were powerless to stop it.

This simplifies 30 to 40 years of history, but I did my best.
The United States knew that the Japanese were going to attack for quite awile... they planned for the attack, called Plan Orange. Its funny because of the many different orange plans... they mostly followed how the war went. Was the Americans going to attack japan outright?? I've never come across anything that says that... but they were well prepared and ready to fight a war they had a lot to do with creating. The Sucessive sanctions the United States put on Japan had a crippling affect on the Japanese economy. It was only a matter of time until the Japanese attacked south to the Dutch east indies to get the valuable Oil reserves and rubber plantations there needed to fight any war of that era.

Thomas the disarment conference in 1922 was a unqualified american success... it was called the Washington Naval conference, and it was very very interesting. It signalled the end of the Battleship as the king of the seas and would later make carriers the king. It was at that point the United States finally gained equality with the British Navy, and they undercut Japanese ambitions by limiting them to 3/5ths the size of their own navy. It also ended the Anglo-Japanese pact from 1905(?)) which the Americans did not appreciate, therefore isolating Japan. This was largely done by the Americans listening into Japanese diplomatic cables and then calling their bluff knowing that they would not stand up against American pressure.

Really the only attacks on the Mainland North America was two separate incidents in British Columbia Canada where a Japanese Submarine shelled a light houses in the middle of the night (1942?)... its odd because the Japanese Navy had by far the best Heavy Cruiser fleet in the world, and should of let them have free range through the pacific as commerce raiders, instead they were so committed to the old way of Big fleet actions that they didnt utilize their best assets in this way.

The Nuclear bombings on JApan were nothing compared to the devestation wrought by the Firebombing raids on Japanese cities that started with the first one on March 10th 1945 on Tokyo. Japanese Cities, as today were very compact, but were made mostly of wood, with very little concrete. So USAAF stripped down their B-29 bombers to as minimum weight as possible and loaded the things with as many incidiary and napalm bombs as possible. The effect on Japan was horrendous. I believe the first firebombing raid on Japan caused 80000~ 200,000 casualties in one night.
Pat Buchanan wrote an article on what event led Japan into World-War II.

NOTE: This is his opionon, n-o-t mine.

Why did Japan attack us?

Of all the days that will "live in infamy" in American history, two stand out: Sept. 11, 2001, and Dec. 7, 1941.

But why did Japan, with a 10th of our industrial power, launch a sneak attack on the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, an act of state terror that must ignite a war to the
death it could not win? Were they insane? No, the Japanese were desperate.
... it goes on.....


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