As 70th anniversary nears, historian looks at why Japan bombed Pearl Harbor

Here and Now

Wednesday marks the 70th anniversary of the Japanese bombing of the American Naval Base at Pearl Harbor.

The surprise attack marked the entry of the United States into World War II on the side of the Allies. Jeffrey Record, professor of strategy at the Air War College, said Japan’s attack on the United States was inevitable because of Japanese ambition, and their dependence on the U.S. for oil and other goods.

Record recently published a book, “A War It Was Always Going To Lose: Why Japan Attacked America in 1941″ looking at the motivation behind the bombing as well as the factors that made it impossible Japan would wind up winning the war it started.

“The Japanese felt the United States was a soft, consumer-oriented society, racially mongrelized and lacking the kinda of martial virtues the Japanese believed they possessed,” Record said. “They were under no illusions about how big and powerful we were, but they thought their martial virtues and greater spirit would offset our material superiority.”

In 1941, the United States produced almost two-thirds of the world’s oil. Nearly 80 percent of Japan’s oil came from the United States. In order to lessen that dependency, they wanted to secure oil in Southeast Asia, modern day Indonesia. In order to do that, though, they had to try and make sure the United States wouldn’t stop them.

“They believed they were divinely destined to rule all of Asia,” Record said. “They pointed to the British empire and America’s domination of the Western Hemisphere as models of what they should have in East Asia.”

For the Japanese to do that, though, the Japanese had to clash with the United States and the British Empire.

Record said the Japanese didn’t have a strategy for what it would do with the United States after Pearl Habor, but rather wanted to believe that the prospect of fighting all the way across the Pacific Ocean, with awful casualties, would lead the United States to enter negotiations and recognize some existence of the Japanese Empire.

“I think the Japanese view was it’s better to go down fighting, even if we lose, then to submit to the humiliation of being dictated to by the United States,” Record said.

Ultimately, though, that’s exactly what they endured after losing to the United States in 1945.

“In my view, it didn’t make any difference what the Japanese did after Pearl Harbor,” Record said. “They were doomed the minute the first bomb hit the Arizona.”

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