Ashley Queener 10-13-11 HIST 399 INEVITABLE In Pearl Harbor and the Coming of the Pacific War by Akira Iriye, the author explores the events and circumstances that ended in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, an American naval base. Iriye assembles a myriad of primary documents, such as proposals and imperial conferences, as well as essays that offer different perspectives of the Pacific War.
Not only is the material in Pearl Harbor and the Coming of the Pacific War informative of the situation between Japan and the United States, but it also provides a global context that allows for the readers to interpret Pearl Harbor and the events leading up to it how they may. Ultimately, both Pearl Harbor and the subsequent Pacific War between Japan and the U. S. were unavoidable due to the fact that neither nation was willing to bow down to the demands of the other. The essay titled “Japan’s Decision to ‘Go South,'” by Sumio Hatano and Sadao Asada outlined the events that ended with Japan and the U.
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S. in war. They described that “to prepare for hostilities with the Anglo-American powers, Japan would have to march into Indochina to obtain raw materials; the United States would counter by imposing an economic embargo; this in turn would compel Japan to seize the Dutch East Indies to secure essential oil, a step that would lead to hostilities with the United States” (135-136). So, Japan felt threatened by countries like the U. S. and Great Britain for several reasons, the first being that Great Britain was at war with Germany, an ally of Japan, and the U.
S. was as involved in the war in Europe as it could possibly be, without having actually declared war on Germany, by providing aid to Great Britain (7). Additionally, the U. S. provided aid to China in order to prevent the Japanese Empire from further taking over China. Because Japan felt this threat from the Anglo-American powers, they found it necessary to march into Indochina to procure the materials they needed to make weapons, tanks, etc. In reaction, the U. S. stopped providing oil to Japan, which forced Japan to anger the U.
S. even further by expanding even more into the Dutch East Indies so that they could have access to oil. The “escalation of hostilities” (135) between Japan and the U. S. is completely circular because each retaliation that was made only furthered the problems at hand and created an inescapable situation with little room for negotiation. War was fast becoming inevitable. During the Imperial Conference that took place on November 5, 1941, Japan made it clear that they intended to declare war on the U. S. nd were preparing accordingly but was willing to negotiate by means of diplomacy simultaneously, as Prime Minister Tojo described in his statement (18). Togo claimed to believe that “the prospect of success in the negotiations is small” (32) because, although he thought that the two proposals Japan presented to the U. S. were reasonable, he also thought that the U. S. would not agree with either of the proposals. Because of the great doubt that the U. S. would accept Japan’s proposals and Japan’s unwillingness to alter the proposals to better suit the U. S. Japan continued to prepare for war with the U. S. The slight hope for successful negotiations remained at this Imperial Conference, though, because while Tojo said that the U. S. would be unaccepting of Japan’s proposals, he had reason to believe that perhaps the U. S. would not have a choice otherwise. He described U. S. weaknesses that would potentially lead to them bending to Japan’s will: first, “they are not prepared for operations in two oceans,” and “they have not completed strengthening their domestic structure,” as well as “they are short of materials for national defense” (37).
Iriye poses the question of whether or not Japanese leaders were realistic in thinking that they would be able to make a deal with the U. S. to avoid war, and considering that Japan knew of U. S. weaknesses and had a hint of optimism that the U. S. would agree to Japan’s proposals, maybe it was indeed realistic for them to believe that they could avoid war. But on the other hand, Japan was clearly not completely convinced that they would be able to achieve a peaceful arrangement with the U. S. because they continued with preparing for war. Perhaps Japanese officials decided that it was worth trying for peace regardless.
During the Imperial Conference of December 1, 1941, Prime Minister Tojo announced that “The United States not only refused to make even one concession” but that “At the same time, the United States, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and China increased their economic and military pressure against us” (87). This gave Japan no choice but to begin a war with the U. S. , Japan, and the Netherlands. Additionally, Foreign Minister Togo emphasized that Japan could not accept the proposal made by the U. S. because the conditions would hinder and put at risk the success of the Japanese Empire.
In order for Japan to not only continue working towards establishing a New Order for East Asia, but to also maintain their position on an international level, war was the necessary step to take because if they continued to try to negotiate then they would most definitely have regressed. In Iriye’s introduction to the December 1 Imperial Conference, he asked his readers about the change that occurred between the time of November 5, when the previous Imperial Conference was held, and December 1, the last Imperial Conference before the Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor that occurred six days later.
One key difference between the two conferences is the amount of optimism displayed by Japanese officials. In the first conference, they laid out Proposals A and B and the concessions they were willing to make to the U. S. , such as “stationing and withdrawal of troops in China and French Indochina” (16). It can be assumed that Japan made these concessions with the idea that the U. S. would in turn make concessions of their own in order to achieve a compromise and peace.
Prime Minister Tojo’s statement about the U. S. not making any concessions at all in return supported the abandonment of the optimism for peace and favored the decision to go ahead with war. Judging by the opinions voiced in the first conference, negotiating remained the key plan of action for Japan with war being a last resort, whereas the second conference made it clear that Japan had every intention of declaring war. One could argue that there was a power struggle between Japan and the U. S.
Judging by Japan’s unwillingness to completely back down and give up any progress that it made in East Asia, as shown in the Imperial Conferences, it appeared that Japan did not want to be made inferior and wanted to be considered powerful. But while Japan was willing to make concessions without fully acquiescing all of the U. S. ‘s demands, the U. S. refused to make any concessions at all, perhaps to prove a point to Japan or to appear powerful and intimidating so that Japan would give in. The spark of the Pacific War was Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, a U.
S. naval base located in Hawaii. Although the U. S. was a much stronger and powerful country than Japan in terms of population and wealth, Japan “planned only to cripple the main American instrument of war???the U. S. Pacific Fleet???and then wait behind a ring of impregnable defenses until the Americans wearied of the struggle and quit” (165-166). The attack didn’t make sense to Americans because they knew that they believed that they were stronger, but to the Japanese, the Pearl Harbor attack probably seemed like their best option at the time.
Not only would the attack diminish the American defenses on the West Coast, but it would force the U. S. into a two-front war, one in the Pacific and one also in Europe. Logically, a nation whose military is split between two fronts would be weaker than if its military only needed to worry about fighting on one front. Maybe Japan thought that between its alliance within the Axis powers and the U. S. fighting on two fronts, there was a distinct chance at victory and moving up in the world as a powerful nation. And a surprise attack on the fleet could weaken Americans and give the Japanese the power that they craved.
There was, and to some extent still is, a question of whether or not the attack on Pearl Harbor was really a “complete surprise,” (167) as history states it to have been. In David Kahn’s essay, “Pearl Harbor as an Intelligence Failure,” he described how the U. S. , during this time, had the intelligence to be able to intercept and decode Japan’s diplomatic messages that were between the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo and its embassies in Washington and Berlin (158). Although Kahn adamantly disputed the theories claiming that the U. S. new of the impending attack because of intelligence, if the theories were true it would support the idea that the U. S. needed an excuse to enter the war without attacking first and so they let the Japanese attack happen without putting up a strong defense. But on the other hand, Kahn made the point that “even if Roosevelt had wanted war, he would not have wanted to enter it with his fleet badly weakened” (169). In the end, the attack on Pearl Harbor lit a fire under Americans to join together and fight for victory, not only in the Pacific War, but the war in Europe as well.
In Akira Iriye’s Pearl Harbor and the Coming of the Pacific War, the documents and essays emphasize that the events leading up to Pearl Harbor and the Pacific War demonstrate a power struggle between two nations, one of them looking to gain power and unwilling to surrender any power that they already had and the other looking to thrust their power upon the first and unwilling to bend their demands whatsoever. This power struggle proved war to be unavoidable because of each nation’s unwillingness to give in to the other.