In the years prior to World War II, political tensions had been mounting between the United States and Japan. The Japanese economy had been deeply affected by the worldwide recession that began in the late 1920s. Japanese nationalism was on the rise and they were building a strong military complex. It was, perhaps, not surprising that Japan looked to foreign expansion as a cure for its economic problems. By 1937, Japan was involved in an undeclared but fierce war with China. The United States of America did not act until 1940 when it terminated its existing commercial treaty with Japan, thereby imperiling Japanese access to critical raw materials. Namely, oil, iron ore, and scrap iron.
Elements of the United States Fleet were moved to Pearl Harbor and the command was renamed the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Japan formerly allied with Germany and Italy when it signed the Tripartite Pact in 1940. Partly in response to the agreement, the United States increased its aid to Nationalist China.
Japan continued its military attacks in Souteast Asia while negotiating with the United States to normalize trade relations. In July 1941, Japan effectively seized control of French Indo-China. Two days later, the United States' government froze all Japanese assets, thus eliminating trade with Japan.
During the remainder of 1941, the United States and Japan were in tense negotiations to restore trade and to find some formula for co-existence in the Western Pacific. The Japanese were confronted with the choice of either giving up their expansionist plan in exchange for lifting of the United States embargo, or going to war. In November 1941, the decision was made that it would be a war unless a solution to the embargo could be reached that would not seriously hamper Japan's expansion.
One of the leading Japanese warlords was Hideki Tojo, a general turned politician. Nicknamed "the Razor", he believed the war would bring riches and glory to Japan. Tojo became Prime Minister just before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The conduct of the war was largely in his hands.
One man argued against the war, he was a brilliant naval strategist named Isoroku Yamamoto. He had traveled extensively in the United States and believed Japan was bound to lose a war against such an industrial giant. However, he was overruled. Ironically, he was then commissioned as the Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese combined fleet. He devised a bold plan to simultaneously attack the United States of America and British possessions in the Western Pacific. The war would start with a strike at Pearl Harbor that was intended to cripple and eliminate the U.S. Pacific Fleet, particularly its aircraft carriers. A near simultaneous attack would be launched on the Philippines and Hong Kong, with others following rapidly across Southeast Asia. The Japanese hoped that the United States would be unwilling or unable to support a two-front war. The two-front war consisted of wars in Europe against the Germans and the Pacific war.
On November 26, 1941, six Japanese carriers set sail and reached the Hawaiian Island without being observed. At 6:00am, on December 7, 1941, the first Japanese wave of 183 planes took off through thick cloud cover from aircraft carriers 275 miles north of Oahu. At 7:02am local time, army radar operations on Oahu's north shore picked up the approaching Japanese aircraft, but mistook them for incoming U.S. B-17 bombers. At 7:55am, on Wheeler Field, the first Japanese bomb was dropped.
The attack was sudden and devastating. The U.S. battleships, seven in a neat ow in the center of the habor and another in dry dock, were primary targets. All were seriously dmanged, with four sinking, including the Arizona and the Oklahoma. Almost two hundred Aircraft were destroyed and over twenty-four hundred people were killed. The Japanese losses were far less, twenty-nine aircraft and perhaps one hundred lives. The three U.S. aircraft carriers stationed at Pearl Harbor were at sea and thankfully escaped damage. These carriers played a decisive role in the coming war.
President Roosevelt rallied the country in an emergency join session of Congress, formally declaring was with Japan on December 8, 1941. He called December 7, "a date which will live in infamy." On December 11, 1941, honoring the Tripartite Treaty, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States.
After President Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, Harry S. Truman became the next President. It was after Roosevelt's death that President Truman learned of the Manhattan Project, a massive effort by American and Allied scientists to develop an atomic bomb that could potentially end the war.
President Truman made the monumental decision and ordered the atmomic bomb (which had been successfully tested) to be dropped on a Japanese city as soon as possible. The general accepted estimate that an invasion of Japan would cost America one million more killed and wounded soldiers than the number of people who would die from the atom bomb, and President Truman did not want to make that sacrifice.
On August 6, 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. It is believed that 80000 people were killed by the atomic blast on that first day. Three days later another atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. On August 14, 1945, the Japanese government surrendered unconditionally to the United States. Japanese Emperor Hirohito urged his countrymen to "bear the unbearable" and "accept defeat."
At long last World War II was over. The American occupation of Japan lasted for four years. In that time a surprising bond developed between Americans and Japanese. The two people who had an insane hatred for each other in war became friends in peace. The Japanese benfited from the friendship because they learned production techniques used by American factories. Armed with this knowledge, Japan became the richest country in Asia by the 1950s, and eventually blossomed into an industrial power house.
After having personally visited the Pearl Habor memorial in Hawaii, it is always interesting to reflect on this story as it has been passed down through history books and personal stories many of our families have.