Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor and Its Reasons


Japan’s decision to attack against the United States was a major cause to worry to many people. Having attacked on Pearl Harbor, Japan opted to fight a geographical war with an enemy that was very strong. According to Hamilton Fish, Japan having made an assault upon the United States was the worst decision the country had ever made. The paper will discuss the reasons that made Japan attack on Pearl Harbor.

Pacific War

The Pacific War began because Japan wanted to achieve economic security as well as acquire national glory. However, the United States under Roosevelt leadership decided to outdo Japans decision by putting trade sanctions (Jeffrey 12). Japan struggled against the dependency on the United States. However, the United States used that influence to hold Japanese imperial determinations. In addition, Japan’s key interest was among great countries, for example, Germany, the United States and Great Britain. However, Japan lacked the military capacity as well as the industrial base to become the next superpower country (Jeffrey 17).

Moreover, before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Henry Stimson believed there was no need to go to war with the United States. In addition, just two months before the Pearl Harbor attack Admiral Yamamoto warned that fighting against the United States would have been equivalent to fighting all the countries in the world. He warned the government from starting a war that they had had little chances of success. However, many political leaders, as well as the military, endorsed the decision to go to war.

Decision to go to war

According to theories of international politics, power and interest are the main drivers for any country to go to war. However, they tend to discount other factors. For example, pride, ideology and the rewards, as well as the risks involved. Therefore, Japan’s decision to go to war with the United States was because its economy had been under a threat. In addition, the decision made by the United States to prevent Japanese expansion into Southeast Asia was also a contributing factor (Coates 25).

The United States did this having demanded that Japan withdrew its military from China and Indochina. The United States also declared that Japan had to adapt the American ideologies of the international behavior. According to Japanese chief of staff, President Roosevelt lured Japan to attack on Pearl Harbor (Higgs 6). Japan later considered going to war with the United States. Some Japanese supported going to war, but the others were against it.

A number of beliefs and assumptions came up due to the decision to start a war. The first assumption was that Japan was taking time to declare war against the United States. The other assumption was that Japan would lose the war because it had a weak navy.

United States strategy to prevent an attack

The United States through Roosevelt administration was prepared to act in order to prevent Japan advance into the Southeast. In 1941, Roosevelt decided to freeze all the assets in the United States that belonged to Japan. Roosevelt’s main reason of freezing the assets was to provoke Japan. It was also a warning to Japan. Unless it adhered to the set principles, the United State was ready to impose more sanctions.

It is, however, important to note that the United States was also guilty of how it handled the Pacific. According to Kahn, the decision that the United States made of depriving Japan 80 percent of its oil also provoked the attack (Coates 25). In addition, some people, including Stimson, believed that Germany played a key role in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Japan’s decision to go to war came after a long debate with leaders who acknowledged the US superiority. They further debated on their chances of winning the war. However, after a long period of consultation, they had no other option but to attack the United States.

The United States economic warfare against Japan left Tokyo with two options, namely, capture Southeast Asia or give in to demands of the United States. Unless Japan had reacted fast, its economy would have collapsed. The country was already experiencing a shortage of gas and oil. Hideki Tojo, the Prime Minister of Japan, warned that the country would experience a shortage of petroleum in the next two years (Stinnett 49). The United States was not ready to negotiate with Japan until it terminated its membership with Alliance. However, Japan’s main agenda was conquering East Asia so that it could not continue to depend on the United State economically.


In conclusion, it is right to say that Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor was a result of miscalculations and fatalism. Japan’s ambitions to conquer East Asia made it start a war with the United States. If Japan interests were to conquer North East Asia, the country could have avoided the war. Japan’s decision to attack the United States was because of economic restrictions. Freezing Japan’s assets by Roosevelt administration had a negative impact on its economy and military Threatening Japan’s military and economic destruction was not a valid reason for Japan levy war on the US because it was not prepared militarily.

Works Cited

Coates, Tim. Attack on Pearl Harbor, 1941: Conclusions of the U.S. Congressional Committee, 1946. London: Stationery Office, 2001. Print.

Higgs, Robert. “How U.S. Economic Warfare Provoked Japan’s Attack on Pearl Harbor.” U.S. Senate. 2006. Web.

Jeffrey. “Japan’s decision for war in 1941: some enduring lessons.” 2009. Web.

Stinnett, Robert B. Day of Deceit: The Truth About Fdr and Pearl Harbor. New YorkTouchstone, 2001. Print.

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