The U.S.-Japan negotiation and the subsequent Pearl Harbor attack were the culmination of Japan’s nanshin ambitions. It encompasses the economic struggle Japan experienced from the China War, the racial ideology instilled in civilians, and the animosity toward the Western powers. The negotiations allow us to see a nuanced view of U.S.-Japan relations. What kind of damage was Japan inflicting on the Asian people, and what responsibility did the Americans have to interfere? How did the Japanese perceive American intervention? These questions will guide us in concluding our inquiry into how nanshin-ron led to the Pearl Harbor attacks. The U.S. was what Japan aspired to be, a self-sufficient nation rich in food, raw materials, and people. It was the U.S. that forced Japan in 1853 to change its course from isolationism to industrialism. A mostly self-sufficient Tokugawa Japan had to become trade-dependent to sustain its modern empire. American exports were, and still are, one of Japan’s primary providers of raw materials. In turn, Japan relied on its own production to maintain its economy, notably exporting silk and fabrics made from imported raw cotton. Expansionism was viewed as a possible solution since the Sino-Japanese War, but it only became officially implemented following the Great Depression. Suddenly, Japan could not rely on the wealthy Western nations to sustain its economy. Radical army members turned to Manchuria, a resource-rich territory that possessed the South Manchuria Railway Company, to compensate for these losses. Civilians also became convinced that Manchuria was the answer to Japan’s quest for autarky. Americans, on the other hand, were not happy about Japan’s decision. However, they could not afford to take any decisive action during an economic depression. Even after Japan’s withdrawal from the League of Nations, the U.S. maintained its non-interventionist policy.
Route followed by the Japanese fleet to Pearl Harbor and back. Source Wikipedia
The end of WWI sparked a program toward peace and demilitarization. The U.S. was a leading figure in this process because Woodrow Wilson founded the League of Nations and proposed the Washington Naval Treaty. The U.S. adopted a non-interventionist stance to prevent any American involvement in the conflict. Thus, when the Germans and Japanese began their course of militarization, the U.S. remained neutral. However, events in China led the American government to interfere. Notably, the atrocities committed in Nanking and the Japanese bombing of the USS Panay, an American gunboat sent to rescue civilians, led to public outrage. The American public argued that the government had the moral obligation to help the Chinese and punish Japan. Despite the government’s hesitation, they decided on a “moral embargo,” designed only to target Japanese actions toward civilians, as opposed to the China War as a whole. However, members such as Secretary of State Cordell Hull were aware that small economic sanctions were not enough to prevent further Japanese aggression. Thus, when Japan began advancing into Southeast Asia, the U.S. knew it was time to take further actions. News arrived in Japan that the Americans were planning to place further economic sanctions. Thus, the Japanese began stockpiling American goods, especially raw materials for military use. To prevent further stockpiling, in July of 1940, the U.S. placed an export licensing system on aviation fuel, lubricants, and high-grade scrap iron. Following the Tripartite Pact and the events in Indochina, the licensing system was extended to all iron, steel, and pig iron scrap. Matsuoka’s plans of preventing U.S. intervention were failing, and it was time to enter into negotiations. Back in August of 1939, the Konoe cabinet selected retired admiral and former foreign minister Nomura Kichisaburō as the new ambassador to the U.S. Nomura was not an experienced diplomat. He had been a Navy member for most of his life but was selected due to his time working with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and his good relationship with the U.S. He initially refused the offer, however, after pressure from Vice Navy Minister Toyoda Teijirō, he accepted.
The Pearl Harbor Attack
Konoe resigned following the meeting, and Tōjō Hideki succeeded him as Prime Minister. Most officials, including Tōjō, had pushed for Prince Higashikuni Naruhiko, an army general, known for his liberal and Pro-American attitude. He was respected by both the Army and the pro-peace faction, making him the best candidate under the circumstances. However, Emperor Hirohito and his advisors did not want a member of the imperial family to become Prime Minister because it risked tarnishing their legacy. Thus, Hirohito appointed Tōjō, placing him as both Prime Minister and War Minister. In November, the Tōjō cabinet decided on two final proposals. If the American’s did not accept, Japan would declare war.
Furthermore, on November 26 of 1941, the Japanese began a new expedition from Shanghai towards Indochina. Roosevelt was furious at Japan’s act of “bad faith” during the negotiations. Hull rejected the proposal and instead presented the “Hull Note.”
The note included the following. 1) Reiterated the “Four Principles” from the revised “Draft Understanding.” 2) Pacific non-aggression pact between Japan and the Allied powers. 3) Complete Japanese withdrawal from China and Indochina. 4) Japanese recognition of Chiang’s sovereignty over China. 5) The U.S. and Japan give up extraterritorial rights in China. 6) A provision voiding any obligations under the Tripartite Pact.
The note came as a great shock to the Japanese. Although Hull did not state that the U.S. would declare war against Japan if they did not accept the proposal, both sides acknowledged it as an ultimatum. Japan abandoned the negotiations and began its final plans for its attack on Pearl Harbor.
Photograph taken from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attack on ships. Source Wikipedia
The Pearl Harbor attack was similar to Japan’s surprise attack on Port Arthur in the Russo-Japanese War. Many leaders were hopeful that the strategy used against the Russians would succeed against the U.S. If the Japanese Navy attacked the Americans hard enough, it would give Japan time to secure Southeast Asia, and its raw materials, to create a force strong enough to defeat the Americans. Pearl Harbor, the naval station of the Pacific Fleet, was the best location to attack and stall the Americans. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese Navy launched its air raid. They managed to destroy two battleships, hundreds of planes and damaged several other ships. However, Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, the leader of the attack, noticed three missing aircraft carriers. He canceled the third wave of planes, ordered to bomb the fuel reserves, fearing an American counterattack. Little did Nagumo know that these ships were nowhere near.
A Clash of Empires at Pearl Harbor How Nanshin-ron, Japanese Nationalism, and Militarism Exacerbated the Imperialization of Asia
Despite the Pearl Harbor Attack being a well-known incident, its build-up is still unfamiliar to many. In hindsight, the attack was a complete blunder, as it led to Japan's downfall. Hence, many people avoid seriously asking the question, "why did Japan attack Pearl Harbor?" In this publication, this question is investigated through the lens of nanshin-ron, the Southern Advance Doctrine.
Along with the rapid economic growth during the Meiji era came the rise of imperialism. Japan began to expand its territory to protect itself from European and American threats. Following their victory in the Sino-Japanese War, the question arose whether to advance toward the north or south. Thus emerged nanshin-ron as many political writers began pushing for economic expansion into Southeast Asia. Colonial ambitions formed during WWI when Japan conquered several German territories in the Pacific. However, Japan's efforts did not last long. Following the Treaty of Versailles, the Allied powers enforced disarmament agreements to prevent another global war. It was only in WWII did nanshin-ron regain its former popularity.
The Second Sino-Japanese War was draining Japanese resources. Following the American economic sanctions, Japan became desperate for raw materials. So they turned to the resource-rich islands in Southeast Asia. We examine the political and economic consequences of the Japanese expansion. How did it change Southeast Asian tradition and culture? What did it mean to "liberate the South" to form the "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere"? These questions are the gateway to understanding the Pearl Harbor Attack from Japan's perspective.