On December 7, 1941, Japan staged a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, decimating the us Pacific Fleet. As soon as Germany and Italy claimed war top top the United states days later, America discovered itself in a global war. 




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Top Image: Propaganda poster emerged by the Office of war Information complying with the strike on Pearl Harbor. (Image: Library of Congress, LC-USZC4-1663.)

On December 7, 1941, Japan staged a surprise assault on Pearl Harbor, decimating the united state Pacific Fleet. When Germany and Italy claimed war on the United claims days later, America discovered itself in a an international war. 

The roots of the Conflict

While Japan’s deadly assault on Pearl harbor stunned Americans, its roots extended back an ext than four decades. As Japan industrialized during the late 19th century, the sought come imitate Western countries such together the unified States, which had established swarms in Asia and also the Pacific to secure organic resources and also markets for their goods. Japan’s process of imperial expansion, however, put it on a collision course with the unified States, specifically in relation to China. To a specific extent, the conflict between the unified States and Japan stemmed native their completing interests in Chinese markets and also Asian herbal resources. If the joined States and also Japan jockeyed peaceably for influence in east Asia for countless years, the situation adjusted in 1931. That year Japan took its first step toward structure a Japanese empire in eastern Asia by invading Manchuria, a fertile, resource-rich district in north China. Japan mounted a puppet federal government in Manchuria, renaming it Manchukuo. But the United states refused to acknowledge the new regime or any kind of other compelled upon China under the Stimson Doctrine, named after Secretary the State and future Secretary of war Henry L. Stimson. 

The ineffectual Stimson doctrine guided US plan in Asia for the following decade. Top top the one hand, the doctrine took a principled was standing in assistance of Chinese sovereignty and versus an increasingly militaristic Japanese regime. ~ above the various other hand, however, that failed come bolster the stand through either material aftermath for Japan or systematic support for China. In fact, us companies ongoing to supply Japan v the steel and petroleum it required for that fight against China long after the conflict in between the countries escalated right into a full-scale battle in 1937. However a powerful isolationist activity in the United claims countered that the nation had no company at every in the international problems developing about the world. Even the Japanese military’s killing of in between 100,000 and 200,000 helpless Chinese military prisoners and also civilians and also the rape of tens of countless Chinese women throughout the 1937 Rape of Nanking failed to immediately change US policy. The strong isolationist movement also influenced the initial US approach to the battle in Europe, where by the finish of 1940 Nazi Germany controlled most the France, main Europe, Scandinavia, and also North Africa, and also severely threatened an excellent Britain. Prioritizing the war in Europe end Japan’s intrusion of China, the joined States permitted the sale of army supplies to good Britain beginning in 1939. But neutrality laws and also isolationist sentiment severely limited the level of that assist prior to 1941. 


The battle in Europe had actually another far-reaching impact on the war in the Pacific since Germany’s military successes unsettled the various other European nations’ oriental colonies. Together Japan seized the chance to come to be the dominant imperial strength in Asia, unified States-Japan connections soured. As chronicler David M. Kennedy, PhD, explained, “Each stepped with a collection of escalating moves the provoked but failed come restrain the other, all the while lifting the level of confrontation to ever-riskier heights.”


The imminent Crisis

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made among those escalating moves in July 1940 when he reduced off shipping of scrap iron, steel, and aviation fuel come Japan even as he allowed American oil to proceed flowing to the empire. Japan responded by beginning resource-rich French Indochina, through permission native the federal government of Nazi-occupied France, and by cementing that alliance v Germany and also Italy as a member of the Axis. In July 1941, Japan climate moved into southern Indochina in preparation for one attack versus both brothers Malaya, a resource for rice, rubber, and tin, and the oil-rich Dutch eastern Indies. This triggered Roosevelt come freeze every Japanese assets in the United states on July 26, 1941, i beg your pardon effectively reduced off Japan’s access to united state oil.

That relocate pushed Japan come secretly prepared its “Southern Operation,” a substantial military strike that would target an excellent Britain’s huge naval facility in Singapore and also American installations in the Philippines and also at Pearl Harbor, hence clearing a path for the conquest of the Dutch east Indies. When diplomatic talks continued between the joined States and also Japan, neither side budged. Japan refuse to cede any of that is newly acquired territory, and the United says insisted the Japan instantly withdraw the troops indigenous China and Indochina. 

The Attack

On November 26, 1941, as united state officials presented the Japanese with a 10-point explain reiterating their long-standing position, the Japanese imperial Navy bespeak an armada that contained 414 planes aboard six aircraft carriers to set to sea. Adhering to a plan devised by Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku, who had previously studied in ~ Harvard and also served together Japan’s marine attaché in Washington, DC, the flotilla aimed to ruin the us Pacific Fleet base at Pearl Harbor. 

To record the american by surprise, the ships preserved strict radio silence throughout your 3,500- mile trek indigenous Hitokappu Bay to a predetermined launch sector 230 miles north that the Hawaiian island the Oahu. At 6:00 a.m. ~ above Sunday, December 7, a an initial wave of Japanese airplane lifted off from the carriers, complied with by a 2nd wave an hour later. Led through Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, the pilots spotted land and assumed their strike positions about 7:30 a.m. Twenty-three minute later, v his bomber perched above the unsuspecting American pearl moored in pairs along Pearl Harbor’s “Battleship Row,” Fuchida broke radio quiet to shout, “Tora! Tora! Tora!” (Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!)—the coded message informing the Japanese fleet the they had caught the american by surprise. 




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For almost two hours, Japanese firepower rained down upon American ships and also servicemen. When the attack inflicted significant destruction, the fact that Japan failure to ruin American repair shops and fuel-oil tanks mitigated the damage. Even more significantly, no American aircraft carriers were at Pearl Harbor the day. The Japanese, however, instantly followed their Pearl Harbor assault with attacks against US and also British bases in the Philippines, Guam, Midway Island, wake Island, Malaya, and Hong Kong. Within days, the Japanese to be masters of the Pacific. 

In Washington, a decrypted message had actually alerted officials that an strike was unavoidable moments prior to Fuchida’s planes took to the skies. However a communications hold-up prevented a warning from reaching Pearl port in time. The americans missed one more opportunity once an officer discounted a report native an Oahu-based radar operator that a big number of planes to be headed your way.