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Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor was one of the turning points in the evolution of the United States’ foreign policy and global presence. Before December 7, 1941, America used to have a good position in international politics and foreign affairs. Before the Pearl Harbor attack, any form of open violence against the U.S. was regarded as either problematic or impossible. The attack on Pearl Harbor reversed the course of foreign policy developments in America and had far-reaching implications for the U.S., Japan, and the rest of the world. As a result of the attack, America was able to mobilize its resources, strengthen its military base, expand its labor and industrial markets, and become one of the most politically powerful global players. By contrast, Japan suffered the tragic consequences of isolation, exclusion, poor economic development, and discrimination. Looking at the history of Pearl Harbor, it is clear that the attack on December 7, 1941 became a force that galvanized the economic and social development of the United States and reestablished America as the major interventionist force in the global political arena.
The Attack on Pearl Harbor: Describing the Event
The attack on Pearl Harbor took place on December 7, 1941, but its roots should be traced to the middle of the 1930s. The Pearl Harbor attack was actually a culmination of the long political opposition between the U.S. and Japan. Before the beginning of World War II, Japan experienced considerable political, economic, and territorial problems. The country had to rely on foreign resources and raw materials, including oil (Merriam 10). Simultaneously, Japan was trying to build a new Asian empire by conquering new territories and peoples. The rapid integration of the Japanese government and the military created a challenging political environment (Merriam 10). In 1937, Manchuria became part of the Japanese state (Merriam 10). The second Sino-Japanese war turned into one of the bloodiest conflicts in the history of humanity (Merriam 10). By 1939, Japan was falling short of the fundamental industrial resources and was looking for the new ways to strengthen its political and military position.
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The beginning of World War II favored the rapid expansion of Japan to Southeast Asia. “Germany’s success included defeats of Poland and France along with a seizure of England. Many of the European nations that Germany now controlled had control over important colonial empires […] that contained many of the natural resources that Japan so desperately needed” (Merriam 10). Japan was willing to join Germany and capture the expansion opportunities that emerged at the beginning of WWII. The United States was against Japan’s expansion (Merriam 10). At the beginning of 1941, Japan began to implement its plan to seizure new territories and resources in Southeast Asia, which was against the military plans of the U.S. Japan’s seizure of southern Indochina raised serious military concerns and, throughout 1941, the U.S. constantly tried to resolve the issue with Japan (Merriam 10). While Japan wanted America to lift the ban on oil exports, the U.S. refused to meet its demands, until Japan changed its aggressive plans against China (Merriam 10). The U.S. had a strong military position in the Pacific Ocean, but the probability of a military conflict with Japan increased, and the U.S. Navy moved to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii (Merriam 10). Failing to reach any reasonable agreement with Japan, the U.S. realized that the war was inevitable. The risks of an attack on Pearl Harbor were realistic, but nobody could expect that Japan would attack the U.S. Navy on December 7, 1941.
The bombing began on an early morning of December 7, 1941, when the prevailing majority of Hawaiians and Americans in Pearl Harbor were having breakfast. The first Japanese airplanes took off from their base at 6 a.m. of Hawaiian time (Merriam 11). There were a total of 183 planes flying 230 miles to the north from Oahu (Merriam 11). U.S. Army operators in Pearl Harbor noticed the first Japanese planes at 7:02 a.m. but did not pay much attention (Merriam 11). The junior officer thought those were U.S. B-17 bombers (Merriam 11). At 7:55 a.m. the first Japanese bomb fell on Pearl Harbor (Merriam 11). That was the time when the crews on the decks gathered for morning colors; they did not move until the last word of the song was sung (Merriam 11).
The attack lasted several hours, leaving thousands of dead and injured. Eight American battleships were damaged (Merriam 11). Five battleships sunk (Merriam 11). Badly damaged were eleven destroyers and cruisers (Merriam 11). 2,335 servicemen were killed, and 1,178 people were injured (Merriam 11). More serious, however, were the political and economic consequences of the attack. While the United States used the attack to renew its military resources and strengthen its naval base, Japan suffered the tragic consequences of its strategic short-sightedness and gradually turned into a political and economic outcast.
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The Pearl Harbor Attack: Consequences for the U.S.
The attack on Pearl Harbor had far-reaching implications for the military, economic, and political position of the United States. Far from being globalized, the political world at the beginning of the Second World War was torn among several powers and divided into several major sectors: Germany, the United States, and Japan formed a triangle of influences and actually determined the course of the future events in the world. Despite the dramatic human and material losses during the Pearl Harbor attack, its effects on the U.S. were more positive than negative. The attack challenged the established beliefs about the U.S.’s military power, galvanized public opposition to Japan as a nation, and motivated America to invest additional resources in its industrial and military development.
The attack on Pearl Harbor predisposed the flourishing of American wartime industry. The demand for labor constantly increased, and millions of men and women entered the American military force (Song 155). Because the attack and its reason became a shock to the nation, Americans felt that it was their primary obligation to make a contribution to the development of the American military force. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the entire American economy experienced a boost in growth, with millions of new jobs created for the formerly unemployed and dozens of war-related plants and factories created in the country (Song 155). However, as more Americans were going to war, the labor market became open for minorities and previously excluded labor categories, such as women. In this sense, the Pearl Harbor attack was an important factor underlying the dramatic transformation of labor relations in America during WWII. The growth of the military industry after Pearl Harbor favored diversity of the labor force and opened the gateway for the inclusion of immigrants (Song 155). It would be fair to assume that the attack, despite its losses and injuries, created the basis for the development of present-day labor relations and principles.
The effects of Pearl Harbor on the United States were strong and lasting, and changes in America’s global presence after the attack can be easily understood through the prism of its relations with other nations and people. The attack on Pearl Harbor pushed the United States to develop friendly relations with China, whereas Japan was thrown to the background of the international political space. Under the influence of the Pearl Harbor events, China not only became one of the U.S.’s strategic allies, but Chinese immigrants living in America improved their social and economic position. The war, and the Pearl Harbor events in particular, brought the Chinese New Yorkers together, with the goal of defending their lands from the risks of Japanese interventions (Song 149). Chinese Americans fought in more than one front, and the U.S. Fourteenth Air Force was created specifically to deal with the anti-Japanese movements in Asia (Song 149). The force soon reorganized into China Air Task Force and later turned into the center of the military events between the U.S. and Japan in Indochina (Song 149). The air force was actually a unique mixture of Chinese Americans, white Americans, and Chinese nationalist services (Song 149). Probably, for the first time in the American history, white and non-white Americans were fighting together towards a common military goal.
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After the attack on Pearl Harbor, a number of discrimination laws were abolished and a number of bans were lifted: at that time, immigrants to America, especially from China, enjoyed a privileged position. Although certain racial tensions continued to persist, changes in Americans’ attitudes toward the Chinese sped up the development of friendly relations between the U.S. and China. The patterns of Chinese employment in the U.S. changed, and Chinese professionals were finally able to find employment in their field of expertise (Song 156). Chinese and other ethnic minorities also used the moment and sent petitions to Congress, requiring them to terminate exclusion laws (Song 159). As a result, while the U.S. worked hard to eat the positive fruits of the Pearl Harbor attack, Japan fell even deeper into the economic, social and military crisis.
Pearl Harbor and Japan: Tragic Consequences
The consequences of the Pearl Harbor attack for Japan were much more tragic than for the United States. The Japanese authorities launched a broad propagandist campaign against the U.S., accusing them and European countries of exploitation and discrimination against Asian people (Song 158). Race was used as the major justification for the Pearl Harbor attack but, in reality, Pearl Harbor became the beginning of the serious political and economic crisis in Japan. Instead of turning the U.S. into an undesirable participant of Asian politics, Japan actually created a good precedent for America: for thousands of Asians, America was not the source of discrimination but a matter of equality hopes (Song 158). As a result, Japan failed to damage America’s global political image.
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The military impact of Pearl Harbor was much more significant for Japan than for the U.S. Objectively, the attack did not offer any considerable benefits to Japan (Stille 71). The principal goal of the attack was “surprise” the U.S. Navy and release the space needed to carry out Japan’s military projects in Southeast Asia (Stille 71). However, bearing in mind the geographic location of the U.S. Navy before the raid and the balance forces, there was no way the U.S. Fleet located in the Pacific Ocean could interrupt Japan’s interventionist plans. As such, Japan spent considerable military and financial resources with no clear strategic benefit, militarily and politically. The attack failed to cripple the U.S. Pacific Fleet but became a serious blow against Japan’s position in the Pacific region. Tactically successful, the attack on Pearl Harbor did not bring any positive long-term results. On the contrary, immediately after the attack, the U.S. declared war on Japan and focused on the subsequent isolation of the Japanese state from the rest of the world.
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The economic consequences of Pearl Harbor for Japan had been far-reaching. The attack not only drained Japan’s budget but threw the country into the depth of a long economic crisis. Reasons why the Pearl Harbor attack shattered Japan’s economy were numerous. First, the United States placed an embargo on oil exports to Japan. Second, when the war on Japan was declared, the country had to shift away from civilian to military production; as a result, by the end of WWII, production of civilian goods was below the unreasonable (Anonymous 2). With time, Japan could not even maintain an adequate level of military production; consequentially, the economic and industrial bases for Japanese resistance were destroyed (Anonymous 2). Most troubles experienced by Japan after the Pearl Harbor attack were due to its economic and political isolation, as well as direct bombing attacks during WWII (Anonymous 2). During the political and economic blockade initiated by the United States, Japan was deprived of any access to the vital economic resources on the mainland (Anonymous 2). However, Japan was heavily dependent on those resources and they were crucial for the country’s economic survival. Japan was limited in its access to oil, iron ore, salt and coal, and even food products. Imports of raw materials were cut to a minimum and Japan could no longer meet the growing demand for civilian products and services in the country. Due to the lack of even the simplest materials, Japan failed to produce enough aircrafts and military ammunition and, by the end of WWII, its military base would have been extremely weak.
Meanwhile, the public hysteria over the attack led to the rise in racism and discrimination against the Japanese living in the U.S. Once the news of the attack was published, all Japanese living in Norfolk, Virginia, were immediately jailed (D’Amato). Many Japanese-Americans were treated as if they were not humans: the humiliation and open abuse against them was escalating (D’Amato). Many of them had to leave their houses and live in facilities meant for animals for a long period of time (D’Amato). The racism against Japanese Americans reached the scope of genocide, and in order to weaken the enemy’s position, the media described Japanese politicians and public figures as insects, animals or reptiles (D’Amato). The Pearl Harbor attack minimized Japan’s presence in the international affairs, giving the U.S. a strong competitive advantage in its movement to global leadership and hegemony.
Pearl Harbor, the U.S., Japan, and Global Presence
The Pearl Harbor attack and U.S.’s reaction to it gave rise to a new, interventionist paradigm in the American foreign policy. Before the attack, America had emphasized the importance of exhausting every effort to maintain peace in the Pacific region (U.S. Department of State). However, throughout its history, foreign policy in the U.S. has been represented by a sequence of changeable paradigms which usually coincided with the replacement of political elites. Simply put, every new generation of politicians implemented a new foreign policy framework: at the times of Pearl Harbor, the interventionist foreign policy philosophy became central in the U.S. (Roskin 563). The interventionism that emerged after the Pearl Harbor attack dominated the U.S. foreign policy until the Vietnam War (Roskin 563). To a large extent, the U.S.’s reaction to Pearl Harbor was in line with its foreign policy ideals, as American understood that only war could resolve the conflict with Japan and “cool down” Japan’s claims for Asian territories.
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Looking back to the history of Pearl Harbor, it is clear that the attack on December 7, 1941 became a force that galvanized the economic and social development of the United States and reestablished America as the major interventionist force in the global political arena. Pearl Harbor became the turning point in the development of the new foreign policy principles in the U.S. The Pearl Harbor attack drove the U.S.’s international and global presence in all political affairs. In their book, Nokeim and Kilroy write that “Pearl Harbor convinced the American government and the American people of the necessity of staying engaged in world affairs in order to forestall the rise of new threats to American interests” (52). In other words, the U.S. was able to use the tragic attack on its Naval Base in the Pacific Ocean for its benefit. The cruel realities of the Pearl Harbor attack aroused the whole nation and, through the pain of discrimination and active aggression against Japan, led America to become the central player in the most important global policy decisions for years.
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The attack on Pearl Harbor became the turning point in the development of foreign policy directions in the U.S. Looking at the history of Pearl Harbor, it is clear that the attack on December 7, 1941 became a force that galvanized the economic and social development of the United States and reestablished America as the major interventionist force in the global political arena. For the United States, the Pearl Harbor attack became the driver of economic and military growth, as well as the beginning of its interventionist foreign policy decisions. For Japan, Pearl Harbor became the beginning of isolation, discrimination, and a deep economic crisis. The U.S. was able to use the attack to its benefit: through the pain of discrimination and active aggression against Japan, the attack led America to become the central player in the most important global policy decisions for years.
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