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Pearl Harbor, "A Day that will live in Infamy"

web posted December 7, 2013

NATION – The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise, but Japan and the United States had been edging toward war for decades. The United States was particularly unhappy with Japan’s increasingly belligerent attitude toward China. The Japanese government believed that the only way to solve its economic and demographic problems was to expand into its neighbor’s territory and take over its import market; to this end, Japan had declared war on China in 1937.

American officials responded to this aggression with a battery of economic sanctions and trade embargoes. They reasoned that without access to money and goods, and especially essential supplies like oil, Japan would have to rein in its expansionism. Instead, the sanctions made the Japanese more determined to stand their ground. During months of negotiations between Tokyo and Washington, D.C., neither side would budge. It seemed that war was inevitable.

But no one believed that the Japanese would start that war with an attack on American territory. For one thing, it would be terribly inconvenient: Hawaii and Japan were about 4,000 miles apart. For another, American intelligence officials were confident that any Japanese attack would take place in one of the (relatively) nearby European colonies in the South Pacific: the Dutch East Indies, for instance, or Singapore or Indochina.

Because American military leaders were not expecting an attack so close to home, the naval facilities at Pearl Harbor were relatively undefended. Almost the entire Pacific Fleet was moored around Ford Island in the harbor, and hundreds of airplanes were squeezed onto adjacent airfields. To the Japanese, Pearl Harbor was an irresistible target.

Read more at The History Chanel



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