Why Was Pearl Harbor Attacked?

It was a war for oil. (A real one? Or was that just propaganda?)

E was told, in Algebra II of all places, that the reason the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor was because the US had the Japanese surrounded and the Japanese could not get any oil. R had a conniption about this interpretation.

So, I went online to find what I could about the reasoning behind the Pearl Harbor attack. I knew that I’ve always heard it was because we were helping the Chinese. (For those with a spotty view of history, this was before Mao took over and Communism became the government of China.)

The most on topic source so far, a UK school essay, says:

After World War II started Japan grew angry with the U.S.A. because they were helping China by sending them war supplies. Japan didn’t like this because China was the main target of Japanese attacks. As a result of this Japan decided to take a “peace” trip to the U.S.A. . They made the trip in November of 1941. During this “peace” trip Japan made three proposals to the government. These proposals were, to stop aiding China, to stay out of Asian affairs, and to begin shipping oil to Japan right away or Japan would attack the U.S.A. . President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the government of the United States didn’t carry out these proposals.

So, oil was involved. The Japanese wanted oil. But, according to this, that was not the single reason why the attack came. The main problem seemed to be that, by aiding the Chinese, we were siding with their enemies. “The friend of my enemy is my enemy.” Of course, our not shipping oil made us an enemy also.

By defeating the Pacific Fleet, the Japanese expected to force us to stay out of their war. According to The Pearl Harbor Day Page:

The prevailing belief within the Japanese military and political establishment was that eventually, with the then expected German defeat of Great Britain and Soviet Russia, the United States’ non-involvement in the European war, and Japan’s control of the Pacific, that the world power structure would stabilize into three major spheres of influence:
1.) The Empire of Japan controlling East, Southeast, and South Asia and the entire Pacific Ocean.
2.) The combined powers of Germany and Italy controlling Great Britain, all of Europe, Western and central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.
3.) The United States, controlling North and South America.

This is also the reasoning from a Charlotte, NC school report. Short and sweetly, A the school report says:

The Japanese attacked for mainly one reason, to rid the United States threat in the Pacific Ocean so Japan could easily conquer all the island nations (Ienaga 135-136).

The source quoted is Saburo Ienaga’s book The Pacific War, published by Random House in 1978.

However, I found some answers at the faqarm which are much more in line with what the teacher said in Algebra II. The only problem with that is, this is much like Wikepedia and depends on the due diligence of whatever random readers came here to leave answers. There were three for my title question.

Japan was somewhat of a power hog, and wanted all the power that they could get. They thought that by bombing Pearl Harbor America wouldn’t have time to react.

There are many reasons as to why Japan attacked Pearl harbour but there is only one major reason which is to do with American intervention in Japanese affairs. One of these was where the U.S. prohibited exports of steel, scrap iron and fuel to Japan because of the takeover of northern Indochina. Another reason was when Japan took over the rest of Indochina and the US once again took action. This time they made oil unavailable to the Japanese, making both their air force and navy completely useless. Because of all of this invention by America, the Japanese military decided that they had to get rid of the Pacific fleet because the Americans would surely intervene and cause them more trouble. Once this was done they could start their war plan to take over Burma, Malaya, the East Indies, and the Philippines.

It is also worth mentioning that both America and Japan had joined the war effort on rival sides prior to Pearl Harbour, though America had not of course declared war. Japan signed a mutual defensive pact with Germany and Italy in September 1940 and the Lend-Lease Act tied America to the Allies from March 1941.

I found a Navy history site which develops a bit more on the “war for oil” argument. (Oh, I couldn’t help it. It was so appropos.)

The United States, which had important political and economic interests in East Asia, was alarmed by these Japanese moves. The U.S. increased military and financial aid to China, embarked on a program of strengthening its military power in the Pacific, and cut off the shipment of oil and other raw materials to Japan.

Because Japan was poor in natural resources, its government viewed these steps, especially the embargo on oil as a threat to the nation’s survival. Japan’s leaders responded by resolving to seize the resource-rich territories of Southeast Asia, even though that move would certainly result in war with the United States.

So, if you go through all these:

The US was upset with Japan for attacking China. So we aided the Chinese and shut down the supplies the Japanese had been getting from us. The Japanese came over in November 1941 and issued terrorist threats saying that they would attack us unless we ceded to their demands. These demands included leaving China alone, in fact, staying out of Asian affairs entirely, and sending Japan the resources they lacked, including oil.

Having a “don’t negotiate with terrorists” policy, we did not. They were angry. They wanted what they wanted, so they decided they had to attack us to get us out of their way.

Therefore, while the “we surrounded them and wouldn’t give them oil” was not quite accurate, it was much more in the ballpark than my husband (and I) originally thought.

You learn something new every day. (Or you ought to.)