Pearl Harbor is a naval base in Hawaii near Honolulu in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in the United States. Pearl Harbor rests closer to the US borders in terms of mileage compared to Japan (Hoyt, 2008). It is 2,000 miles away from the United states mainland but twice as far from Japan.
Pearl Harbor came to the limelight after a surprise military attack against the U.S naval base by the Japanese forces on 7th December 1941 (Hoyt, 2008). The Japanese Navy air Service launched the surprise against the US naval base minutes before 8.00am. Though the attack was unexpected, a war between the two countries had been brewing for years. There had been signs of war for a long time. The Japanese government believed it needed to expand its territories and take over the neighboring country’s import market as a way of addressing its economic and demographic challenges.
Japan lacked natural resources. They relied on the US to supply many essential and natural resources. The two countries had entered into a commercial treaty in 1911, which elapsed in January 1940 (Hoyt, 2008). A foreign and military policy against the States seemed a viable solution for Japan as an alternative way of getting the much-needed supplies. The Northern part of China was rich in minerals and oil. The Japanese superiority complex over other Asian nations also influenced their decision to dominate other Asian countries. Consequently, the Japanese government declared war against China leading to devastating effects including the Nanking massacre. On the other hand, the US was displeased with Japanese government handling of the Chinese issue. The US government responded to these acts by imposing economic sanctions and trade embargoes against Japan. The rationale for this approach was that Japan would have to rethink its expansionism goal once it lacked access to oil and other essential supplies.
On the contrary, the tension between the two countries heightened after the punitive measures taken against Japan. Robinson notes war seemed inevitable even during diplomatic negotiations. The US became increasingly alarmed by Japan’s aggression when the latter signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy (Schroeder, 2017). The treaty meant that Japan had joined an alliance with member countries fighting the European war. Though the US purported to be neutral, it was obvious which side it supported. For instance, Britain had received money and arms from the US government under the lend-lease agreement (Robinson). Up to the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, the United States had taken a back seat on the war. However, after the attack, the U.S actively joined the war.
US intelligence, as well as other nations, never imaged an attack at Pearl Harbor owing to its location. The popular notion was that war was likely to erupt from distant islands of Hawaii. Unfortunately, the less than two-hour attack left over 20 American naval vessels destroyed and more than 2,000 fatalities including civilians. Robinson reports of 1000 wounded people. Japan served less than 100 deaths from the attack. The US government under President Franklin D Roosevelt declared war on Japan the day after the attack.
Pearl Harbor was an easy target for the Japanese because it was relatively undefended. First was the assumption that no enemy would strike a base so close to home. Secondly, the Pacific Fleet had a hundred airplanes, and several battleships squeezed onto the adjacent airfield. The Japanese believed that the US would be crippled if the Pacific Fleet were destroyed. Furthermore, the Japanese forces would have time to spread across the South Pacific attacking other bases without facing any counterattack from the American troops. Japan also intended to invade other Asian countries including the Philippines, Burma, and Malaya (Robinson). Such an invasion meant going to war with the US. Therefore attacking the Pearl Harbor was a means to an end; a means that would allow the Japanese government enough time and space to conquer these targets. Japan expected to garner enough time to secure the resources she needed by destroying America’s Pacific Fleet.
Though America’s battleships on the harbor suffered significant damage, the attack did not entirely cripple the Pacific Fleet. Most of the Fleet’s carriers were away from the base on the day of the attack. The Japanese troops also failed to destroy necessary onshore facilities such as repair shops, oil depots and submarine docks among others. Furthermore, Robinson notes aircraft carriers were the most significant naval vessels at the time as opposed to battleships. These three factors combined made it easy for the US Navy to get back on its feet relatively quickly.
Instead of getting the US to lift the economic sanctions, the attack contributed to America’s decision to join the Second World War. The US entry into the War came barely two years after the start of the war (Robinson). It also contributed to the invasion of Japan by a foreign power. Japan received support from its European allies, Germany and Italy, who declared war on the United States (Schroeder, 2017).
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