On a scale of 1 to 5, to what extent did US actions lead to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor? (1 = US actions did not cause the attack, 5 = US actions definitely caused the attack.)

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 altered the course of World War II (1939–1945). US actions helped cause the attack, but I would give it a 3. The US and the UK had frozen Japanese assets in June of 1941, and Japan faced a binary choice: withdraw from China or wage war against the West. However, had the US been less confrontational before Pearl Harbor, it probably would have only delayed war with Japan.

Japan emerged as an aggressive imperial power in the late nineteenth century. It defeated China and Russia in war, in 1895 and 1905, respectively. Also, it took advantage of World War I to strengthen its position in China and seize German territory there.

By the 1930s, Japanese aggression was relentless. It occupied Manchuria in 1931 and started a general war with China in 1937. Tokyo wanted to establish its empire in Asia: the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

It was difficult for President Franklin Roosevelt to thwart Japanese aggression. In the 1930s, neutrality laws were passed, and the American public did not want another war. The majority of Americans thought that American participation in World War I (1914–1918) had been a mistake, so they were determined to stay out of World War II. In 1940, the US did embargo oil and scrap steel to Japan, though.

FDR wanted to bring the United States into World War II. His main goal was to defeat Adolph Hitler. The Japanese attack on Pearl harbor enabled him to nullify neutrality sentiments in America and unite the country for war. Imperial Japan committed many horrible atrocities, such as the Rape of Nanking. War between America and Japan was probably inevitable, because Japanese militarists were ruthless and uncompromising.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team