10/15/09 - before pearl harbor

In today's encore excerpt - Japan, the leading power in Asia in the 1930s, knew from the experience of World War I that it needed oil in order to remain a military power. Japan had the same imperial expansionist desires that European nations had long held, and had recently invaded both China and Korea. But it had virtually no oil. Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor was flanking maneuver for its primary objective - the oil of the Dutch East Indies:

"By the late 1930s, Japan produced only about 7 percent of the oil it consumed. The rest was imported—80 percent from the United States, and another 10 percent from the Dutch East Indies. ... The [Japanese] Navy ... had its sights set on the Dutch East Indies, Malaya, Indochina, and a number of smaller islands in the Pacific, particularly the prime and absolutely essential resource—oil.

"Here was the deadly paradox for Japan. It wanted to reduce its reliance on the United States, especially for most of its oil, much of which went to fuel its fleet and air force. Japan feared that such dependence would cripple it in a war. But Tokyo's vision of security and the steps it took to gain oil autonomy [through a takeover of East Indies oil] created exactly the conditions that would point to war with the United States. ...

"On July 24, 1941 ... a dozen Japanese troop transports were on their way south to effect the occupation of southern Indochina [a steppingstone to the East Indies]. On the evening of July 25 the U.S. government responded ordering all Japanese financial assets in the United States, to be frozen [and] ... a virtually total oil embargo was the result. ...

"Tokyo had worked itself into a corner. Japan's petroleum reserves would without replenishment last no more than two years. ... Foreign minister Teijiro Toyoda wrote on July 31, 1941 'Our Empire to save its very life must take measures to secure the raw materials of the South Seas.' ... [Diplomatic negotiations ensued but on] November 27, the United States had completely given up on negotiations with Japan. ...

"The bombs began to fall on the American fleet in Pearl Harbor at 7:55 a.m. Hawaiian time. ... Senior American officials had fully expected a Japanese attack, and imminently. But they expected it to be in Southeast Asia. ...

"Pearl Harbor was not the main Japanese target. Hawaii was but one piece of a massive, far-flung military onslaught. In the same hours as the attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet, the Japanese were bombing and blockading Hong Kong, bombing Singapore, bombing the Philippines, bombarding the islands of Wake and Guam, taking over Thailand, invading Malaya on the way to Singapore—and preparing to invade the East Indies. The operation against Pearl Harbor was meant to protect the flank —to safeguard the Japanese invasion of the Indies and the rest of Southeast Asia. ... The primary target of this huge campaign remained the oil fields of the East Indies."


Daniel Yergin


The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power


Free Press a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.


Copyright 1991, 1992, 2008 by Daniel Yergin


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