"A fatal error" Is this an accurate description of Japan's declaration of war against Britain and the United States?
In this essay I will be explaining why "A fatal error" is an accurate description of Japan's declaration of war against Britain and the United States. Firstly, I will go through the background of Japan's declaration of war against Britain and the United States and the reasons for the declaration of war. Then I will attempt to explain why this was "a fatal error" by using academic sources to help me prove and back up my argument, and finally I will conclude this essay with a summary of everything previously stated.
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Japan officially declared war on Britain and the United States on December 7th, 1941, though Japan attacked British and American forces one hour before this. Japan attacked the American naval base of Pearl Harbor and the British colonial processions of Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong, these attacks happened a few hours between each other. Tensions were exceedingly high between Japan and both Britain and the United States, though tensions were much higher with the US, 'a clash between Japan and the western democracies was always likely and perhaps increasingly inevitable.' (Best.2015, P82) Though the attacks took the British and Americans completely by surprise. The origins of this conflict can be traced to western colonialism and traced back centuries to Tokugawa Japan with Japan's first (and rather hostile) encounter with the United States and European powers. Even during the Meiji era, Japan modernised, industrialised, and expanded its empire because of fear of being dominated by the west, Japan even won a war against Russia which concerned the rest of the western powers. Even though
Japan fought alongside the allies during World War 1 and had an alliance with Britain before World War 1 Japanese relations greatly soured with Britain and the United States. These relations quickly deteriorated after World War 1 and the events which led to WW2, the main reason for this was the expansion of the Japanese empire. From the point of the view of Britain and the US, they were concerned with how quickly Japan was expanding, from the invasion of Manchuria to the Second Sino-Japanese war, they were scared that Japan would become powerful enough to seize their pacific and Asian colonies and would become the Hegemon of the Pacific and East Asia. From the point of view of Japan, they were expanding their empire to prevent being influenced and dominated by the west, they believe that the west would one day destroy Japan itself and they believed that war with the west was inevitable so they expanded for natural resources and to become more powerful than the west so they can win a war with these same powers. During the Second Sino-Japanese war, the US issued an embargo on Japan and freezing Japan's overseas assets, Japan was reliant on oil and steel from the US for the war effort, this led to Japan eventually declaring war on the US. For Japan to gain the resources it needs to fight the US and China, Japan decided to invade British colonies in east Asia for these resources, so this is what led to Japan declaring war on Britain and the United States.
Japan's declaration of war against Britain and the United States was a fatal error for many reasons: Firstly, Japan declared war on an established superpower (Britain) and a future superpower (United States) simultaneously and was prepared to fight on many different fronts. Therefore, Japan completely underestimated both Britain and the United States in terms of their military, economic output, and their reaction to Japan's declaration of war. Japan believed that a surprising and fast attack would demoralise and make both nations agree to make peace and to make concessions to Japan, which Japan wanted in the first place. Japan was too overconfident in this and believed that they would fight better than Britain and the US during the war. This is because Japan believed that Britain and the US were a weak and feeble people who would be easy to fight and would easily win a war against them in the short term. This turned out to be false as both Britain and the US turned out to be powerful and formidable opponents, the militaries of both countries eventually would inflict heavy losses and defeats to
Japan. Most notably during the battle of midway in 1942 where the US navy destroyed many Japanese carriers which was called "the turning point of the pacific war" and the battle of Okinawa 1945 where the allies managed to capture the strategic island of Okinawa where allied bombings could commence much more frequency. These losses led to Japan losing its entire colonial empire and even losing their colonial processions before the second war with china e.g., Manchuria and Taiwan. The economic output of both Britain and the US specifically the military production of both nations completely outproduced Japan: In guns, vehicles, aircraft and boats, Japan knew that in a long-term war they would lose because of how much military equipment both countries would produce. But they believed they could win a short-term war still making the mistake of underestimating the current military production of both countries. The reactions of both countries to Japan's attacks were the opposite of what Japan had hoped for, both countries were prepared to fight the Japanese and wanted revenge. US president Roosevelt described the attack on pearl harbor as "a day which will live in infamy" 'a dastardly, unprovoked surprise attack by a treacherous enemy on the United States' (Bailey and Farber.2019 P1). This same could be said of British prime minister Winston Churchill and his willingness to fight the Japanese, just like Roosevelt and the rest of the American people.
Secondly, the allied air raids on Japan caused catastrophic damage to the cities of the Japanese home islands and to the Japanese war effort more than what Japan would ever envision. Though these air raids would focus more on mainland Japan as the war progressed. As the allies continued their island-hopping campaign during the pacific theatre of WW2 which were the capture of strategic Japanese islands, they were then able to launch continuous air raids over the Japanese mainland. The bombings started with the Tokyo raid in 1942, which was used to prove that the Japanese mainland was vulnerable to air raids. The air raids killed between 250k to 900k people, the allies would use strategic bombing tactics which targeted civilian housing, industrial districts, and cities. "The US clung to shrouding large-scale bombing with particular industrial or strategic objectives" (Maier. 2005.P435) The bombings destroyed much of Japan's industry and Japan saw a huge decline in industrial output, meaning Japan could not produce the military equipment needed for the war effort. The bombings demoralised the Japanese people because the allies would use firebombs on the cities, due to many buildings being flammable, many cities were up in flames killing thousands of people and leaving thousands homeless. "On March 9 and 10 fire storms in Tokyo claimed 120,000 lives and 23,000 homes" (Jansen,2000, P650). Japan would take decades to recover from the bombings and this was when the Japanese realised from the damage the air raids caused that they could not win the war and the bombings were a huge factor in Japan's surrender.
Finally, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was more destructive than anyone could imagine and ultimately led to the surrender of Japan to the allies. The atomic bombings links with the air raids, but the effects were completely different in terms of destructive scale. This was the deadliest consequence of Japan's declaration of war against Britain and the United States and is arguably the main reason why it was "a fatal error". The atomic bombings happened on August 6th & 9th 1945 and killed between 120k to 220k civilian deaths, it was so catastrophic that it destroyed the two cities and led to the surrender and occupation of Japan.
In conclusion the Japanese declaration of war against Britain and the United States was "a fatal error" because Japan declared war on an established superpower (Britain) and a future superpower (US) and underestimated the military capabilities and economic output of both countries and was not prepared for their reactions to Japan's declaration of war. The air raids over Japan destroyed most of Japan's industry leading to Japan unable to produce equipment for the war, destroyed many cities, demoralising civilians and leading to substantial numbers of civilian casualties. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was arguably the worst consequence of the declaration of war and was catastrophic for Japan. Killing nearly 200k Japanese civilians destroying two cities and led to the unconditional surrender of Japan to the allies and the occupation too.
- Best. Antony: 2015: Internation history of the twentieth century and beyond: Chapter 3: Japan, China, and the origins of the Pacific War, 1900-41. Page 82
- Bailey. L Beth. Farber. R. David: 2019: Beyond Pearl Harbor: A Pacific history: Page 1
- Maier. S. Charles: 2005: Targeting the city: Debates and silences about the aerial bombing of World War 2: Page 435
- Jansen. B. Marius: 2000: The making of modern Japan: Page 650
- https://time.com/4593483/pearl-harbor-franklin-roosevelt-infamy-speech-attack/- https://ap.gilderlehrman.org/resources/japan-declares-war-1941#:~:text=On%20December%207%2C%201941%2C%20two,entry%20into%20World %20War%20II.
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