American History
A Date Which Will Live in Infamy

*As fascism was rising in Europe, militarism still dominated society in Japan as well.  The Army and Navy could overrule any law passed by the government, and although there was no single dictator like Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, or Franco, the Japanese emperor was believed to be a god and it was felt that the military represented him. 


*Japan, had already beaten China, Russia, and Germany (gaining Korea, Taiwan, and some Pacific islands and being given control over the railroads in Manchuria) and by the 1930s the Japanese wanted to expand further.  Their goal was to create a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere—an Asia ruled by Asians (but with the Japanese over all).


*In 1931, the Japanese secretly blew up one of their own railroads in Manchuria.  They blamed this on Chinese terrorists, and used it as an excuse to take over Manchuria completely.  When the League of Nations criticised this, Japan walked out of the League.


*In 1937, the Japanese invaded the rest of China, where they treated the people brutally, often killing civilians, kidnapping women to work as prostitutes for the army, and stealing all they could. 


*In Nanking (Nanjing), the Chinese capital at the time, the Japanese killed at least 200,000 civilians and burnt most of the city.  This was known as the Rape of Nanking.


*This horrified Americans, and President Roosevelt condemned it.  Even worse, while attacking the Chinese, the Japanese sank an American gunboat, the Panay, killing three American sailors.


*However, Americans had seen the horror of World War I and were still in the midst of the Great Depression, and wanted no part of any hostilities in Europe or Asia.  Instead, most Americans were isolationists


*In 1935, 1936, and 1937, Congress passed the Neutrality Acts, forbidding Americans from sailing on ships owned by any country at war or from lending money or selling weapons to any country at war.  It was hoped that this would avoid the things that had brought America into World War I.


*Roosevelt, however, felt that America needed to prepare for war, and as war began in Europe.  In 1940, Japan, Italy, and Japan signed the Tripartite Pact, joining the three countries in a military alliance.  Shortly afterwards, the US began the first peacetime draft in our nation’s history through the Selective Service Act.  In 1941, the Lend-Lease Act was passed, allowing the US government to lend or lease military equipment to the Allies.


*In August, 1941, FDR secretly met with the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill to design the Atlantic Charter, a plan for American’s involvement in the war against the Axis.  The plan was to focus on destroying Germany first, then defeat Japan.


*Despite the focus on Germany, the US did begin placing trade restrictions on Japan in retaliation for its invasion of China, and later Southeast Asia and the Dutch East Indies.  In July, 1940, the US place an embargo on all sales of oil, rubber, certain metals, and certain other goods to Japan, which was one of the things that led Japan to sign the Tripartite Pact.


*As it became clear that the US and the British were working together, German U-Boats began sinking American ships, turning more and more Americans against the Axis.  However, even this was not enough to make America demand war.


*In Japan, a new prime minister was appointed in October 1941.  His name was Tojo Hideki, and he supported going to war with the United States, and began to make plans.


*The United States had cracked the secret Japanese code, and knew that the Japanese were going to attack the United States somewhere in the Pacific, but expected it to be in the Philippines.


*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.


*On Sunday morning at 7 o’clock, the Japanese launched an attack on the US Naval base at Pearl Harbor just outside Honolulu, Hawaii.  By 9.45, 2,400 Americans would be dead and 1,200 more wounded, and eight of our nine battleships, as well as many other ships, would be damaged or sunk, some with men trapped inside who took days to die of starvation.


*Shortly afterwards, the Japanese ambassador brought a message that was supposed to have been delivered earlier.  It made demands that the US would have been forced to refuse, after which war would have been declared.  Because it got there late, the Japanese were correctly accused of a sneak attack, and the United States Congress declared war on Japan on 8 December, 1941.  Even the America First Committee supported the war now.  Only one person in the entire Congress was opposed:  Jeannette Rankin of Montana.


*On 11 December 1941, Germany and Italy, to help their ally Japan, declared war on the United States.  Over two years after the invasion of Poland, the United States was involved in the Second World War, a war, Roosevelt said, to make the world safe for Democracy. 

This page last updated 14 October, 2015.
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