Why Did Japan Bomb Pearl Harbor

why did japan bomb pearl harbor
why did japan bomb pearl harbor

On the morning of December 7, 1941, the world witnessed a devastating event that changed the course of history. Japan launched a surprise attack on the U.S Pacific Fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor, causing immense destruction and loss of life. But why did Japan choose to bomb Pearl Harbor? What were their motivations and how did this decision ultimately lead to their own downfall in the Second World War? Let’s delve into the factors that shaped this critical moment in history.

Japan’s Ambitions for Empire

In the early 20th century, Japan embarked on a mission to build its empire, akin to the likes of Great Britain and the United States. To achieve this, they needed vast natural resources such as coal, iron, and, most importantly, oil. However, Japan lacked these vital resources on their mainland, necessitating their acquisition from other countries.

The Northern and Southern Strategies

To secure the resources they required, Japan considered two strategies: the northern and southern plans. The northern strategy involved expanding into China, Mongolia, and Siberia, while the southern strategy focused on British Malaya and the Dutch East Indies. Initially, Japan made progress with the northern plan, but a defeat at the Battle of Khalkhin Gol against Soviet-Mongolian forces and the non-aggression pact between Germany and the Soviet Union forced Japan to reconsider.

The U.S Influence and Response

As Japan pursued its imperial ambitions, the United States, initially embracing isolationism, became increasingly concerned. The outbreak of war in Europe and Japan’s brutal actions in China led to a shift in public opinion towards interventionism. Consequently, the U.S signed agreements with Britain and France, providing them with arms. Japan interpreted these actions as a threat to their goals.

The Impact of the U.S Oil Embargo

By 1941, Japan depended heavily on imported oil, with 80% coming from the United States. Running low on vital resources due to their ongoing conflict in China, Japan faced a crisis when the U.S imposed an oil embargo as a response to their aggressive actions in French Indochina. With 94% of their oil supply cut off, Japan felt compelled to seize the resources they needed by force.

The Decision to Bomb Pearl Harbor

Facing pressure to withdraw from China and dissolve their alliance with Germany and Italy, Japan saw limited options. Unwilling to abandon their imperial ambitions, they concluded that attacking the U.S Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor would weaken American forces, buying them time to consolidate their gains in the Pacific and Southeast Asia. Japan believed that a swift victory would compel the U.S to negotiate for peace, allowing them to retain their captured territories.

The Outcome and Consequences

On December 7, 1941, Japan launched a well-coordinated attack on Pearl Harbor, catching the Americans off guard. Devastatingly successful, the attack crippled the U.S Pacific Fleet, sinking battleships and destroying aircraft. However, their focus on battleships and failure to target crucial infrastructure like fuel depots and repair shops proved to be a strategic misstep. Moreover, the attack galvanized the United States, leading to a formal declaration of war against Japan and the mobilization of its vast resources.

Ultimately, Japan’s decision to bomb Pearl Harbor backfired. The attack awakened the sleeping giant that was the United States, ending their hopes for a quick negotiated peace. The U.S fully committed to a long war in the Pacific and Southeast Asia, mobilizing their military and industrial power. Japan, facing overwhelming opposition, struggled to maintain their position, leading to their ultimate defeat.


Q: How did the U.S respond to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor?
A: The day after the attack, President Roosevelt delivered his famous “day of infamy” speech, leading to a formal declaration of war against Japan. The U.S mobilized its resources, expanded its military, and fully engaged in the war effort.

Q: What were the repercussions of Japan’s decision to bomb Pearl Harbor?
A: Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor marked a turning point in the Second World War. It united the American people and led to the U.S commitment to total war. With their vast resources and industrial capacity, the U.S posed a formidable challenge to Japan, ultimately leading to their defeat.


Japan’s decision to bomb Pearl Harbor was driven by their desire for empire and the dire need for crucial resources. The attack was a high-stakes gamble that sought to cripple the U.S Pacific Fleet and buy Japan time to consolidate their gains. However, it proved to be a miscalculation, awakening the determination and strength of the United States. The attack on Pearl Harbor marked the beginning of a long and arduous conflict that ultimately led to Japan’s downfall in the Second World War.

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