Maybe it’s time you took out any history book of WWII and read the Chapter on why Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor. You may have to read several to get at the truth because most blame “Japanese imperialism.” According to these sources, the Japanese were on a mission to conquer the world and America was in the way. The truth, however, is very different. Japan launched its attack because the United States was conducting a campaign of economic warfare against Japan.
Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, by R.G. Smith
There are plenty of honest historians around; I’m going to quote two. First, here’s Robert Higgs, Senior Fellow in Political Economy at The Independent Institute. He writes that U.S. economic warfare provoked Japan’s attack.
The Roosevelt administration, while curtly dismissing Japanese diplomatic overtures to harmonize relations, imposed a series of increasingly stringent economic sanctions on Japan. In 1939 the United States terminated the 1911 commercial treaty with Japan. “On July 2, 1940, Roosevelt signed the Export Control Act, authorizing the President to license or prohibit the export of essential defense materials.” Under this authority, “[o]n July 31, exports of aviation motor fuels and lubricants and No. 1 heavy melting iron and steel scrap were restricted.”
Next, in a move aimed at Japan, Roosevelt slapped an embargo, effective October 16, “on all exports of scrap iron and steel to destinations other than Britain and the nations of the Western Hemisphere.”
Finally, on July 26, 1941, Roosevelt “froze Japanese assets in the United States, thus bringing commercial relations between the nations to an effective end. One week later Roosevelt embargoed the export of such grades of oil as still were in commercial flow to Japan.” The British and the Dutch followed suit, embargoing exports to Japan from their colonies in southeast Asia.
My favorite author on this subject (and on many others) is Patrick J. Buchanan, Here he is on the same issue.
When France capitulated in June 1940, Japan moved into northern French Indochina. And though the United States had no interest there, we imposed an embargo on steel and scrap metal. After Hitler invaded Russia in June 1941, Japan moved into southern Indochina. FDR ordered all Japanese assets frozen.
But FDR did not want to cut off oil. As he told his Cabinet on July 18, an embargo meant war, for that would force oil-starved Japan to seize the oil fields of the Dutch East Indies. But a State Department lawyer named Dean Acheson drew up the sanctions in such a way as to block any Japanese purchases of U.S. oil. By the time FDR found out, in September, he could not back down.
Tokyo was now split between a War Party and a Peace Party, with the latter in power. Prime Minister Konoye called in Ambassador Joseph Grew and secretly offered to meet FDR in Juneau or anywhere in the Pacific. According to Grew, Konoye was willing to give up Indochina and China, except a buffer region in the north to protect her from Stalin, in return for the U.S. brokering a peace with China and opening up the oil pipeline. Konoye told Grew that Emperor Hirohito knew of his initiative and was ready to give the order for Japan’s retreat.
Fearful of a “second Munich,” America spurned the offer. Konoye fell from power and was replaced by Hideki Tojo. Still, war was not inevitable. U.S. diplomats prepared to offer Japan a “modus vivendi.” If Japan withdrew from southern Indochina, the United States would partially lift the oil embargo. But Chiang Kai-shek became “hysterical,” and his American adviser, one Owen Lattimore, intervened to abort the proposal.
Facing a choice between death of the empire or fighting for its life, Japan decided to seize the oil fields of the Indies. And the only force capable of interfering was the U.S. fleet that FDR had conveniently moved from San Diego out to Honolulu.
This article has more nuance than Higgs’ but the facts are the same: the sanctions and oil embargo meant war. Japan was pushed too far. It’s honor-bound military would not back down and so it doubled down.
The reason I’m writing this and reminding you why Japan went to war is that the West is doing exactly the same thing today with Russia and it did yesterday with Japan. This issue is Ukraine rather than China, but the technique is the same; cutting off trade with Russia just as America cut off trade with Japan. We’re told by hawks like Prime Minister Stephen Harper this will force Russia to get out of Ukraine.
How naive can you get? You don’t force a nuclear-armed country with ballistic missiles, nuclear submarines, killer satellites, strategic bombers and atomic cruise missiles. It doesn’t budge. It’s not afraid of you. All these Western sanctions will do is to get Russia angry. If they really start to bite and the Russian economy goes into crisis the next step is war.
Russia, led by a macho ex-KGB agent, won’t back down. He’ll fight first. And so we’ll get what Peal Harbor got in 1941: a surprise attack, only this time it will kill millions.