Why did Japan attack Pearl Harbor

On December 7, 1941 on a beautiful Hawaiian morning, over 3,500 Americans were killed or wounded in a brutal air strike lasting for two hours. The attacking aircraft were Japanese and in one fell swoop they managed to destroy all eight battleships of the Pacific Fleet. But why exactly would the Japanese go to such extreme lengths with a country that wasn’t even a part of the war? What were the events that led up to this catastrophe? In this article we will take a look at what was happening in Japan and the U.S. before this attack and what the relationship between the two countries was like in order to learn why this terrible event occurred.

Towards the end of 1940 Japan had been rapidly expanding and trying to conquer neighbouring Indochina. The U.S. didn’t like the idea of Japan dominating other countries and growing at this alarming rate and so placed an embargo on Japan which prevented the export of certain materials Japan would need to continue waging war. By the next year, Japan was already predicting U.S. intervention and signed a neutrality treaty with the Soviet Union which would prevent them from attacking if the U.S. brought war to Japan. Shortly after this, Japan moved further into Indochina, and the U.S. along with the Netherlands and Britain immediately put a hold on Japanese assets which cut off their oil supply and would eventually lead to the Japanese armed forces becoming immobile.

At this point, Japan and the US entered negotiations. The U.S. were demanding that Japan stop their expansion, and Japan were trying to get the restrictions on oil lifted whilst still being able to take more territory. Since neither of the two countries wanted to give in, there was very little progress in the negotiations. At the same time, behind closed doors, Japan was plotting to either regain their oil supply by force, or to gain access to the necessary oil some other way.
The Japanese viewed America as a collection of diverse peoples who would never be able to truly act in a unified manner, and thought that if they did join the war that it wouldn’t be for long. They believed that Japan was superior in every way and that the only thing standing in their way was the Pacific Fleet, which may just have been able to rival the Japanese Navy. They began plans to remove this obstacle, estimating that it would take the US around 18 months at least to rebuild their fleet.

After carefully scouting the area with fishing boats and making detailed maps of the harbour, the Japanese launched their attack. Although America had already discovered that a Japanese attack was imminent, they could not do anything in time. They even saw Japanese planes on radar but mistook them for American planes returning from exercise. In the devastation that followed, Japanese planes disabled 18 ships and over 350 aircraft and brought America into the war determined to win at all costs.