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Why did the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor?

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jeremydodson | Student, Grade 10 | Salutatorian

Posted May 2, 2013 at 10:50 PM via web

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Why did the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted May 2, 2013 at 11:01 PM (Answer #1)

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Japan attacked Pearl Harbor because it wanted to have an empire in East Asia and it feared that the United States would prevent that from happening.

Japan had, at least since the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, thought of itself as a major power.  It felt that it should have an empire like those of the other major powers.  However, it was prevented from getting an empire because much of the area around Japan was already colonized by other countries. 

Once World War II started in Europe, this changed to some degree.  The Germans, who were allied with the Japanese, had defeated France and the Netherlands.  This meant that Japan could hope to take French colonies in Indochina and Dutch colonies in Indonesia.  The Germans were fighting the British, and the Japanese could also hope to take British colonies in the area.  The main problem was that the US did not want that to happen. 

For example, when Japan took French Indochina, the US stopped selling oil and scrap iron (we were Japan’s major source for these important commodities) to Japan.  Japan calculated that it would run out of oil in about two years.  Therefore, it needed to take the oilfields in Indonesia or else it would run out of oil and be at the mercy of any country that wanted to push it around.

Japan decided to go ahead and take an empire.  But first it needed to make sure the US could not interfere.  Therefore, it attacked Pearl Harbor to try to destroy the US fleet and make it impossible for the US to interfere.

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