December 7 will forever be known as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day due to Japan attacking Pearl Harbor in 1941. As every
student in the United States is taught, after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor theUnited States entered World War Two, leading the Allies to victory. Adolf Hitler’s concentration camps would be discovered, atomic bombs would destroy Japan’s cities, and the United States would enter into another war with its former alliance, the Soviet Union. But not every American student can recall why exactly the Japanese attacked a neutral country; it would be mistreatment of Japanese citizens by the United States and Japan’s global ambitions that would lead to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
In 1879, President Ulysses S. Grant visited Tokyo; he had such an enjoyable experience he vowed to strengthen the United States’ relationship with Japan, but he never had a chance due to losing his re-election. After the 1904 Russo-Japan War, President Theodore Roosevelt would support Russia’s decision not to pay indemnities to Japan, even though Japan won the war. As Japanese immigrants’ numbers began to grow, the United States banned immigration from Japan in the Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1908. Throughout the 1920’s, the United States ignored its Japanese citizens’ wishes to be equal. In 1932, the United States ignored Japan’s acquisition of Manchuria because it viewed Japan as an evil conqueror while Japan viewed itself as owning a colony, like France, Great Britain, and the United States did. As Adolf Hitler began to spread his dominance across Europe in the 1930’s, Japan was inspired and began to conquer Southeast Asia.
When Japan began invading Southeast Asia, threatening European and American colonies, the United States began placing embargoes on Japan. On July 26, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt banned certain types of iron, steel, and gasoline to Europe. Since 80% of Japan’s petroleum came from the United States, Japan began setting its sights on the oil fields of the Dutch East Indies. On September 6, Prime Minister Prince Fumimaro Konoye was given one month to negotiate with the United States. Konoye met with Ambassador Joseph Grew to arrange a meeting with President Roosevelt. Though Grew warned Washington how important this meeting was, he was ignored because Washington believed President Roosevelt would be too accompanying to Japan and the public would not approve. On September 25, the United States loaned $100 million to China and two days later, Japan joined the Berlin-Rome axis, forming the Tripartite Pact. On November 3, Secretary of State Cordell Hull warned that “Japan may go all-out in a do-or-die effort” as the United States continued to cut their resources off. On November 20, the United States created the Modus vivendi – it would give Tokyo six months to cool down, withdraw its troops from surrounding countries, and the United States would begin to trade with Japan once again. For some reason, the Modus vivendi was never presented to Tokyo – no one knows whose fault it was or if it would have done any good.
At the end of November, President Roosevelt said “We are likely to be attacked perhaps as soon as next Monday because the Japanese are notorious for attacking without warning. The question is how to maneuver them into firing the first shot without too much danger to ourselves.” Roosevelt and his cabinet knew that Japan was going to attack, but they had no idea when or where – it could be Thailand, Malaya, Singapore, Dutch East Indies, or the Philippines. They also knew if Japan attacked them, then the public would support entry into the war. On November 26, Hull met with Nomura and Kurusu and gave them an ultimatum (Hull Note) demanding that Japan leave China and the Tripartite Pact. By then, the strike force that was heading to Pearl Harbor had already shipped out. On December 1, Japan wanted war with the United States. Since 1940, Japanese Marshal Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto had been planning the attack on Pearl Harbor. For the past year, the Japanese had been participating in mock attacks in Japan’s Kagoshima Bay.
Though the United States knew the Japanese were going to attack, the army assumed the Navy was conducting distant reconnaissance off the islands while the Navy thought the Army was manning Oahu’s early-warning radar. Early morning on December 7, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The attack lasted two hours, killing 2,403 servicemen (1,103 were killed on battleship Arizona, which sank after a bomb exploded) and about 68 civilians were killed. Roosevelt learned at 1:40 (45 minutes after the first wave of attack) of the attack of Pearl Harbor. Great Britain Prime Minister Winston Churchill later wrote “To have the United States on our side was to me the greatest joy… To have the United States at our side was to me the greatest joy. Now at this very moment I knew the United States was in the war, up to the neck and in to the death. So we had won after all! …Hitler’s fate was sealed. Mussolini’s fate was sealed. As for the Japanese, they would be ground to powder.” Roosevelt met his cabinet at 8:30 that night – “This is the most serious meeting of the Cabinet that has taken place since 1861” he said. It was also the same Oval Study where President Lincoln and his cabinet met after the attack of Fort Sumter. The next day Roosevelt met with the joint-session of congress, giving his Infamy Speech “Yesterday, December
7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” Within an hour, the Senate and Congress voted and agreed – the United States was at war.
Smith, Jean. FDR. New York: Random House, 2007. 506-538. Print.