World History 2 220 - 13.1.4 The Attack on Pearl Harbor

Trying to pressure the Japanese into ceasing their aggression, in August 1941 the United States imposed sanctions including an embargo on oil and gas sales to Japan. This action further reinforced Japan’s plan to turn to the South Pacific to absorb the natural resources of the crumbling European imperial regimes and the Philippines, a U.S. colony. Seeing the United States as a soft enemy unwilling to make the sacrifices needed to win a war, Japan planned a surprise assault on the naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, while last-ditch efforts at a diplomatic settlement between Tokyo and Washington were taking place. The United States wanted Japan to ultimately withdraw from China, to which it would not agree, and Japan felt the United States would not be open to further negotiations. Its leaders decided they had to move against the United States while they still could.

U.S. intelligence services had broken various Japanese codes, and by late November 1941, warnings were being sent to U.S. forces that war with Japan was likely, with the Philippines as the probable target. Early in the morning of December 7, a Japanese task force successfully eluded detection in a surprise attack that devastated the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, sinking or damaging eight battleships and damaging other smaller craft, destroying or damaging approximately three hundred aircraft, killing more than two thousand people, and injuring more than one thousand others. Near-simultaneous attacks were launched on U.S. bases in the Philippines, Guam, and Wake Island. The following day, Congress voted unanimously to declare war on Japan. A few days later, following Germany’s and Italy’s declarations of war against the United States, the country entered the war in Europe as well on the side of the Allies. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, China also joined the Allies, but it did not join in the fighting in Europe.

U.S. military planners had estimated that it might take nine million troops organized in more than two hundred divisions to secure victory in Europe and Asia. A massive recruitment and draft program had to be instituted to expand the army and prepare it for combat. Eventually, recruitment efforts expanded to African Americans, women, Native Americans, and thirty-three thousand Japanese Americans. Leadership of the troops fell to Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was rapidly promoted through the ranks to become a key aide to Chief of Staff George C. Marshall and commanding general of the European theater of operations.

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The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 2: from 1400 textbook by Openstax