an attack on pearl harbor was expected -- 1/11/17

Today's selection -- from At Dawn We Slept by Gordon W. Prange with Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon. By early 1941, Japan had already invaded China and French Indochina (Vietnam), and diplomatic and economic conflict between the United States and Japan had reached a fever pitch. America denounced Japan's aggression, yet Japan countered by expressing resentment of European and American colonial presence throughout Asia. The situation had deteriorated to the point that by 1940 America had implemented a partial embargo on Japan, which had few natural resources to support its industry and was highly dependent on U.S. imports. The climax came when the U.S. took the dramatic additional steps of freezing Japanese assets on July 26, 1941 and establishing an embargo on oil and gasoline exports to Japan on August 1, 1941. Japan had little choice but to capitulate to American demands or retaliate. U.S. military analysts understood this and warned of a potential attack on Pearl Harbor. Furthermore, legendary Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall had warned all Pacific military installations to be prepared for an attack from Japan. And yet on the morning of December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor's commanders Admiral Husband Kimmel and Lt. General Walter Short were unaware of Japan's approaching aircraft and were preparing to play a round of golf together:

"Relations between the United States and Japan left tremendous room for improvement. ... Riding the winds of conquest, Japan invaded North China in 1937. ... Japan turned southward in 1939. On February 10 it took over Hainan Island off the southern coast of China. In March of the same year Japan laid claim to the Spratlys -- coral islands offering potential havens for planes and small naval craft, located on a beautiful navigational fix between Saigon and North Borneo, Manila, and Singapore.

"With the fall of France in 1940 Japan stationed troops in northern French Indochina. its key stepping-stone to further advancement southward. And dazzled by Hitler's military exploits, it joined forces with Germany and Italy, signing the Tripartite Pact on September 27, 1940. ... By 1941, that fateful Year of the Snake, Japan poised for further expansionist adventures into Southeast Asia -- Malaya, the Philippines, and the Netherlands East Indies. The Japanese convinced themselves that necessity and self-protection demanded they take over the vast resources of these promised lands to break through real or imagined encirclement and beat off the challenge of any one or a combination of their international rivals -- the United States, Great Britain, and Soviet Russia. ...

Signing of the Tripartite Pact

"Throughout the early years of Japan's emergence, the United States cheered on the Japanese, whom they regarded in a measure as their proteges. But ... [b]y New Year's Day of 1941 knowledgeable people in both countries already believed that an open clash would be only a matter of time. Even Ambassador Joseph C. Grew, a friend of Japan, could find no silver lining. 'It seems to me increasingly clear that we are bound to have a showdown some day, and the principal question at issue is whether it is to our advantage to have that showdown sooner or have it later,' he lamented in a 'Dear Frank' letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt on December 14, 1940. ...

"Japan had a long list of grievances against the United States, the foremost being the recognition of the Chiang Kai-shek regime and the nonrecognition of Manchukuo. The very presence in Asia of the United States, along with the European powers, was a constant irritation to Japanese pride. The press lost no occasion to assure such intruders that Japan would slam the Open Door in their faces. 'Japan must remove all elements in East Asia which will interfere with its plans,' asserted the influential Yomiuri. 'Britain, the United States, France and the Netherlands must be forced out of the Far East. Asia is the territory of the Asiatics. ...'

Photograph of Battleship Row taken from a Japanese

plane at the beginning of the attack. 

"Japanese anger also focused on the embargoes which the United States had slapped on American exports to Japan. By the end of 1940 -- Washington had cut it off from all vital war materials except petroleum. As far back as 1938 the United States had placed Japan under the so-called moral embargo. The termination on January 26, 1940, of the Treaty of Commerce and Navigation of 1911 removed 'the legal obstacle to actual restrictions. Beginning in July 1940, Washington placed all exports of aviation fuel and high-grade scrap iron and steel under federal license and control. In September 1940, after Japanese forces moved into northern Indochina, Roosevelt finally announced an embargo on scrap iron and steel to Japan. Thus, by the end of that year Japan had begun to experience a real pinch and a shadow of genuine fear mingled with its resentment of these discriminatory measures.

"Tokyo also had an old bone to pick with Washington -- the immigration policy which excluded Japanese from American shores and refused United States citizenship to those Japanese residents not actually born there.

"Above all, Japan considered America's huge naval expansion program aimed directly at it. Since the stationing of a large segment of the Fleet at Pearl Harbor in the spring of 1940, the United States Navy had stood athwart Japan's path -- a navy which Japanese admirals thought capable of menacing their nation's very existence."


Gordon W. Prange with Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon


At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor


Penguin Books


Copyright Anne R. Prange


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