Why Japan Attacked Pearl Harbor

August 27, 2015
by Jason Alghussein

Japan attacked Pearl Harbor for a few reasons. The reason for the attack and the goal of the attack are not the same.

The Reason Japan Attacked Pearl Harbor

Japan had seen successes in previous years by attacking  and colonizing Korea, and defeating Russia, and China. With goals of expansion in Asia and the Pacific, Japan saw an increased need for natural resources (steel, oil, minerals). They looked towards China, Indochina, and the Pacific to meet these needs.

Of course, the United States also had an interest in these areas and their natural resources. In response to the Japanese aggression, the U.S. Congress placed restrictions on business with Japan and Japanese assets in the United States were frozen.

In 1939, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ordered the US Pacific Fleet to move from California to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  This move was seen as a threat to Japan and her desire for expansion in the Pacific.

A Pacific War had been discussed for decades by both Japanese and U.S. Militaries. During this period within the Japanese government, there were many hawkish politicians and military leaders. Many of them saw a war between Japan and the United States as inevitable.

Their solution to this inevitable war was to attack first. Their target was the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. But Why?

Japan's Goal in Attacking Pearl Harbor

USS California sinking

Japan's goal was to destroy the US Pacific Fleet and crush the will of the American people.

Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in hopes that it would destroy the US Pacific Fleet and weaken the resolve of the American people. They hoped that the defeat at Pearl Harbor would be so devastating, that Americans would immediately give up. The goal was a quick US capitulation allowing Japan to continue imperial expansion.

The Japanese assumption about the feelings of the American people was completely wrong. The attack on Pearl Harbor had the opposite effect. It served to unite Americans. Before the attack on Pearl Harbor there was large number of isolationists that had prevented the United States' involvement in WWII.  After the attack on Pearl Harbor the country came together to defeat the Axis powers.  

Was the Attack Successful?

Map of Pearl Harbor attack force

The routes used by the Japanese fleet to approach and attack Pearl Harbor.

The aspect that was successful, was the surprise. Kido Butai, the Strike Force of the The Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN), successfully traveled 3,000 miles undetected and attacked without warning.

They managed to destroy the battleships at Pearl Harbor, but did not destroy the Pacific Fleet, did not destroy Pearl Harbor, did not invade Hawaii, and certainly did not destroy the will of the American People.

We often hear historians call the attack on Pearl Harbor successful. In our opinion it was not. It did not serve the purpose of expansion of the Japanese Empire, nor did it scare the American people into capitulation. The attack on Pearl Harbor was a failure and a mistake.


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