On the morning of December 7, 1941 the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in a surprise attack and declaration of war against the United States. The attack was the culmination of growing tensions between the two countries had been developing since the early 1930s. From 1931 to that fateful day in 1941, Japan and America had been maneuvering in a political game of chess. Japan’s motives for entering the war can be summarized to two objectives. The first was Japan’s quest for expansion and the second was defense against western capitalism, which threatened Japan’s prosperity.
During World War I Japan had successfully placed itself amongst the leaders of the Allied nations. Despite this the Japanese struggled against racial discrimination, which plagued Japanese-Western relations. However, racial discrimination was not one-sided, the Japanese strongly believed that they were spiritually superiors to their western counterparts. This superiority complex combined with Japan’s growth during the war fueled imperialistic desires. Japan aspired to be a contender in the global market economy, but Japan lacked vast resources that the United States and other western Allies possessed. During the great depression Japan’s economy was collapsing as exports declined which in turn led to political upheaval. “The American Hawley-Smoot tariff in 1930, followed the next year by British imperial preference, threatened to cause permanent damage to Japanese economy.” (Gordon, p. 140)
Japan believed that political and economic control of China would provide the resources and security that Japan required to flourish. Thus in 1931 Japan invaded Manchuria in a ruthless attack led by the Kwantung Army. “ Manchuria became so important that many economic and military planners linked its preservation to the survival of Japan itself. “ (Gordon p.141) In the following years, Japan attempted to expand throughout China but met Chinese resistance. “Japan held the belief that China was a disunited collection of provinces that could be manipulated one against the other, and ultimately conquered piecemeal.” (Gordon p. 138) Thrusting Japan and China into a never-ending war.
Japanese invasion into China caused the League of Nations and the United States to question Japan’s intentions. The League of Nations appointed a committee to investigate the Manchuria incident. In 1933 the Lytton Commission “reported that the military operations of the Japanese in Manchuria could not be regarded as measures of legitimate self-defense; that the regime which the Japanese had set up there disregarded the wishes of the people of Manchuria and was not compatible with the fundamental principles of existing international obligations.” (U.S. State Department, 1943 p.3-8) Reacting to the report the Japanese withdrew from League of Nations on March 27, 1933 (U.S. State Department, 1943) further isolating their nation from the international community.
In 1937 China and Japan launched into...