History 104: Western Civilization since 1648
Lecture: World War II

War: Pacific Theatre click here for audio

Japan, though not a fascist country, also used military expansion and imperialistic goals to save herself from global depression. Dependent on outside sources for food and materials, and limited by treaty to a small fleet of ships, modern Japan became increasingly militarized. It was time for a Japanese empire, designed to make Japan self-sufficient and no longer dependent on other nations.

In 1931, as other nations entered the depth of their economic crises, Japan invaded Manchuria on the Chinese mainland. By 1937, Japan was invading China itself, and heading toward Southeast Asia.

Vast resources were the goal, especially oil and iron in Indonesia. British, French and Dutch colonies were easy targets as these countries were dealing with Hitler and Mussolini in Europe. But the United States also had bases in the Pacific which could threaten the Japanese empire.

By this time, Japan was aware of the Axis activities in Europe, and Britain's frantic pleas to the U.S. to enter the war in Europe. The Tripartite Pact was signed in 1940, permitting Japan to join the Axis. The reason was twofold. First, all parties concerned were against the expansion of the Soviet Union. And because the United States was bound to enter the war, it was to the advantage of both Japan and fascist Europe to have the U.S. fighting on two global fronts simultaneously. It was agreed that whoever went to war with the U.S. first, the other party would declare war also.

Knowing the might of the American navy, Admiral Yamamoto developed a plan to eliminate the U.S. Pacific Fleet with a single attack at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. If every ship were sunk, it would give the Japanese at least two years to solidify their empire before having to worry about the U.S. The attack did not go as planned, however, and the remaining two aircraft carriers provided the foundation for rebuilding the fleet.

By 1942, Japan controlled a vast area in the Pacific and threatened India and Australia. Six months after Pearl, the U.S. was counterattacking in the Pacific. The Japanese fought fiercely, often down to the last man with a gun on tiny South Pacific islands. Because of a secret pact between Japan and the Soviets, the Soviet Union did little to help in the Pacific. British troops (including colonials) and the Americans carried the brunt of the work.

The end came as, upon approaching the Japanese mainland, the U.S. government decided to use a new superweapon: the atomic bomb. One was dropped on August 6, 1945 and exploded a mile above target, causing extensive devastation in and around the city of Hiroshima. The other was dropped three days later on Nagasaki, ushering in the nuclear age.


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