Pearl Harbor could it be Avoided

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A date which will live in infamy, according to President Franklin Roosevelt has changed December 7, 1941from any ordinary day to the day that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and reluctantly drew the United States into World War II. Until that attack, the United States was sending reinforcements and supplies to Britain to help with their defense against the German advancing lines. The allies consisted of Britain, USSR, and United States, but the axis consisted of Germany, Italy, and Japan. Japan perceiving Germany had advanced their fronts through Belgium, the Netherlands and into France; but Japan was also irate at the United States for implementing the embargo. The United States suspected Japan’s intentions but did not foresee the Japanese plan. Pearl Harbor could not have been prevented due to failure of diplomacy, the American embargo, and the Japanese intransigence with regard to occupation of Manchuria.

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But like previous efforts, these negotiations collapsed on the rock of irreconcilable interests. Japan would not totally retreat from the Asian mainland and return to a pinched and poverty-stricken existence in its overpopulated islands. According to the article Pearl Harbor The First Energy War, it stated that The United States could not accept to a compromise that left Japan in possession of any part of China. However, a three months moratorium, a modus vivendi, leaving all forces in place, was left on the table. But on November 26th, after Japan took more locations in Indo-China (Vietnam), Secretary Hull shocked the Japanese envoys with an abrupt change to earlier demands, including complete Japanese withdrawal from all of China. This was known as The Ten-Point Proposal.

Throughout these events, the President and close advisers – the secretaries of State, War and Navy, and the Chief of Staff of the Army and Chief of Naval Operations – had been observing every update of Japanese policy through signals intelligence. American cryptographers had broken the Japanese diplomatic code, and thereafter, these decoded messages to Japan’s overseas posts, styled MAGIC, were on Secretary Hull’s desk within a few hours of receipt and translation. As such, the President and his advisors knew of Japan’s intention to take drastic measures if negotiations fell through. The Japanese military codes were still un-deciphered, but troop movements implied an invasion of Malaysia, the Dutch East Indies, and perhaps the Philippines on the weekends of December 1st and 7th. However, there were no signs of an attack on the United States.

The American military had received word about the Japanese on the early afternoon of Pearl Harbor with a warning, but they ignored it.

it reached General Short right away, who in turn sent a copy to Admiral Kimmel. It was a cable from General Marshall in Washington, filed at the Army Signal Center at 12:01 (6:31 A.M., Hawaii time) and received by Honolulu RCA at 7:33 A.M., just 22 minutes before the attack. It said that the Japanese were presenting an ultimatum at 1:00 P.M., Eastern Standard Time (7:30 A.M. in Honolulu) and helpfully explained, Just what significance the hour set may have we do not know, but be on the alert accordingly Admiral Kimmel told the Army courier that it wasn’t of the slightest interest any more and threw it in the waste basket.

Without any other reconsideration, the admiral did not believe it was possible, but it became reality without any recourse from the military.

Japan took steps to lower its oil dependence on the United States. Civilian consumption was cut from 6-7 million barrels per year to 1.6 million. By diversifying their supply sources from the United States, they managed to reduce the proportion of oil imports to 60 per cent by the end of 1940. But disruptions of the oil market due to competing demands of neutral and warring countries alike, and without the accessibility of remaining sources, a search for alternatives was essential. For years Japan had cast a covetous eye on the oil reserves of the Dutch East Indies.

The U.S. policy was to avoid war with Japan. If this policy changed, the steps could become a means of provoking Japan to attack the United States. US leaders considered an oil embargo the heaviest of sanctions short of war. Roosevelt had first been advised to order one after Japan’s invasion of China in 1937. Analysis of an oil embargo’s likely effects was mainly the responsibility of the State Department. US Ambassador Grew warned that an oil embargo was hazardous to our national policy and economic pressure could drive Japan to war.

Roosevelt agreed that some embargoes were too risky, and did not consider and oil embargo seriously.

During the summer of 1940, his son Elliott urged and embargo on scrap iron and he replied: If were suddenly to stop our sales of scrap iron to Japan, she would be within her rights in considering [it] an unfriendly act, that we were choking off and starving her commercially. Even more, she’d be entitled to consider such sufficient cause to break off diplomatic relations with us. I’ll go even further. If she thought we were sufficiently unprepared she might even use it as an excuse to declare war.

The president added that the navy and army were unprepared at the time. Nonetheless he proceeded to embargo scrap iron and steel to Japan that September.

Meanwhile, in September 1940, the Konoye government dispatched a large mission to Batavia (Dutch East Indies) with ‘proposals’ for access to raw materials on a greatly increased scale, with oil to be given top priority. The Japanese reliance on the export of oil from the Indies and America is demonstrated by this statement from Charles Maechling Jrs article: Before the outbreak of the war, Japanese imports from the Indies had been running at about 4.5 million barrels annually. Japan now demanded a guarantee of 22 million barrels- a figure almost exactly equal to Japan’s oil dependence on the United States. America had to become concerned when the increase in the demand for oil from the Japanese, but the invasion of French Indochina had pushed the United States too far, causing them to enforce the Embargo Act of 1941 in an attempt to stop the Japanese in their efforts to control the Pacific.

A series of economic embargoes, by the British and Dutch, reached a climax in July 1941, when the Japanese army moved into French Indochina. These embargoes cut off 75 percent of Japan’s foreign trade and 90 percent of its oil. President Roosevelt announced that only when Indochina was evacuated and the fighting halted in China would the embargoes be lifted. This was a hard line, far too hard for the Japanese militarists to swallow.

Since the Japanese creation of Manchukuo in 1932, the United States became the primary opponent of Japanese expansion in Asia. Under the Stimson Doctrine, the United States had refused to acknowledge the puppet regime in Manchukuo and looked on the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere scheme with hostility and moral outrage. These attitudes were reinforced by the crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Japanese army in Manchukuo (Manchuria). As it was stated in Maechling’s article, Japan’s advance into Manchuria in the early 1930s, then into China and South-East Asia, was based in part on a relentless search for raw materials that were not available at home. The Japanese occupation of Manchuria had fueled a fire that would eventually result in Japan invading French Indochina and the attack on Pearl Harbor that had changed the tide of World War II with the arrival of the United States.

The Japanese understood that the Western powers viewed them and other Asians as inferior and suitable for exploitation. To improve their position, they sought, and eventually won, alliances with Western powers. For example, in a 1905 agreement, Japan accepted U.S. control of the Philippines in return for US recognition of Japanese domination of Korea. This resembled those agreements between European nations, recognizing each other’s spheres of influence.

In addition, acting as an ally of the United States and Great Britain, Japan sent troops to China, helping suppress outbreaks of resistance to Western oppression. Then she began to seize pieces of China for herself. Her aims were acquiring additional lands for her growing population, fulfilling dreams of empire, and emulating Western nations in colonial expansion.

The Japanese possibly thought that the embargo would leave the economy of Japan in the negative since the United States had been supplying food and other important items that they needed. The view of President Roosevelt on the war was not including Japan since they were not considered a threat that until that day, even when they said something was going to happen at a specific time. It seemed America would have been going to Europe and fighting when really, Roosevelt did not imagine that Japan would want to do something to the United States. The diplomacy when it came to the embargo was not truly discuss between the two countries though Roosevelt saw that the Japanese siding with Hitler and his domination rule of taking over other countries around him. This aggressive attitude needed a swift decision that would be perceived as a correction and they would cease any more advancement. The Japanese did not see it that way. They aggressively came after the United States by hitting a target that would get the attention of America, causing the events that would draw the Americans into the war. Before the events of Pearl Harbor had happened, the United States had been on the sidelines as a neutral country since the start of World War II.

The Japanese did not think that this surprise attack would be executed without any resistance and be a complete success on their part. America suffered a lot of causalities during the attack on Pearl Harbor. As it was stated in the book Remembering Pearl Harbor, Most importantly, 2,403 Americans were killed, lost, or mortally injured during the attack; 1,178 received non-fatal wounds. The Japanese included in their raid the naval ship and installations such as the airfields. They did not attack any non-fighting ships. It will always remember these brave soldiers on Memorial Day in May and Veteran’s Day in November for their sacrifice for freedom for America. This display of carefully crafted strategy demonstrated how much time America would have had if they had prepared for the possibility of a surprise attack of enormous magnitude beforehand. The United States choosing to ignore the warning from the Japanese about the possibility of an attack on Pearl Harbor was one of the reasons why Pearl Harbor had ended up with a lot of causalities for the expense of foolish confidence in the idea that the Japanese were just trying to play a trick on them.

Pearl Harbor could not be prevented due to failure of diplomatic strategies, the American embargo, and the Japanese refusal to end their Manchurian colonization. According to President Roosevelt’s speech to Congress on December 8th, 1941, The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Japan had warned the United States in advance about a possible attack on Pearl Harbor, but the Americans ignored the warning with catastrophic results. Japanese Prime minister Konoe attempted to meet with President Roosevelt to discuss the Embargo Act of August 1941; however the President refused to meet with him until Japan left Manchuria. The Japanese were so desperate in their demand for the removal of the oil embargo that they chose to attack America when they least expected it. Meanwhile, Japan was implementing their Southern Operation that would target Great Britain’s facilities in Singapore and American installations in the Philippines and at Pearl Harbor, thus clearing a path for the conquest of the Dutch East Indies for its oil reserves. The Japanese choosing to invade Manchuria, French Indochina, and Dutch East Indies, the Oil Embargo Act of 1941, and the failure of diplomacy on both the American and the Japanese sides were the reasons why the attack on Pearl Harbor could not be prevented.

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Pearl Harbor could it be avoided. (2019, Jun 26). Retrieved January 31, 2023 , from

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