German/Japanese axis
December 22, 2007 8:51 PM   Subscribe

Why were the Germans allied with the Japanese in WWII? Why were the Americans at war with the Japanese?
posted by TigerCrane to Law & Government (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Um, the Americans declared war upon the Japanese after they attacked Pearl Harbor.
posted by mollweide at 8:58 PM on December 22, 2007

You really should start with Wikipedia articles. Then come back here if you have more detailed questions.

Tripartite Pact

Attack on Pearl Harbor
posted by vacapinta at 8:58 PM on December 22, 2007

Homework filter? What type of information are you looking for? Those are kind of broad questions (and as already mentioned, answered by a basic search).
posted by bibbit at 9:10 PM on December 22, 2007

Ironically enough, Japan needed Oil, and at the time the U.S. was the world's largest producer at the time. IIRC, Saudi Arabia didn't surpass us until the 1970s.

this article and this one might be helpful.
posted by delmoi at 9:26 PM on December 22, 2007

and at the time the U.S. was the world's largest producer

actually the Japanese were getting a lot of their oil from the Dutch East Indies, until the ABCD powers did that embargo thing. I read somewhere, perhaps Dunnigan's Dirty Little Secrets of WW2, that the main effecting mechanism of the embargo was to halt the US-owned (& flagged) ships from taking the oil from Indonesia to Japan.

As for why the Germans were allied with the Japanese, Germany was already at war with the UK because the UK supported continental allies against Germany (namely Poland, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Greece).

Once Germany took out France and the Netherlands, and had the UK on the ropes, Japan saw a golden, once in a millenium really, opportunity to seize their respective E Asian colonies (Hong Kong crown colony, the Shanghai concessions, French Indochina, British Malaysia, Singapore, and the Dutch East Indies).

Hitler deeply wanted the Japanese to start mixing it up with the UK (and the US), which while more a nuisance to him in mid-late 1941 could use some distraction while the campaign to knock out Stalin's Red Army from the equation was proceeding.

Outside of Pearl Harbor and the other attacks on US territory (Wake, Guam, the Phillippines), the US was at war with Japan because their expansionism into China and threat to the status quo was no longer tolerable to us. For a while, sometime after Japan left the League of Nations over their occupation of Manchuria, the US considered Japan to be a credible bulwark against Russian adventurism in the N Pacific, and it was difficult to determine what, exactly, the US could do to put Japan on a more . . . civil . . . policy direction vis-a-vis our interests.

The continued Japanese predations in China 1937-1941 were finally enough for FDR to find the political capital to begin warlike moves, eg the freezing of Japanese assets and suspension of strategic materials trade, with Japan.

Throughout the latter half of 1941 diplomacy was engaged in to find a "modus vivendi" between the US and Japan. If Churchill is to be believed, his account indicates that FDR was willing to yield enough to let Japan continue its military presence in China. Only after some exhortation from Churchill that the Chiang regime was receiving a "rather meagre rations" in the proposed settlement, did FDR and Grew decide on a more hardline negotiating stance of requiring Japan to remove its forces from China in order to normalize relations.

That precipitated a crisis in Japan military circles. They could either knuckle under to our demands to pull out of China, or launch on their war of conquest. The latter course of action was fully understandable, given the state of the world in 1941, even if it looked as total folly in the hindsight of the post-atomic world of 1945.
posted by panamax at 9:57 PM on December 22, 2007 [16 favorites]

oh, it was Hull not Grew (who was ambassador to Japan not Sec State).

Churchill's treatment of the "meagre rations" dialogue is here.
posted by panamax at 10:05 PM on December 22, 2007

Japan was a constitutional monarchy which had descended into an army-dominated state after the First World War. As an island nation, Japan lacked oil and many natural resources. It wished to become self sufficient in those resources.

Japan had extensive holdings in continental Asia, controlling Korea and areas of Northern China. Japan wished to conquer all of China and wanted to got into Siberia to get the necessary oil to take the rest of China. It created an incident (the Mukden Incident) to provide a pretext to invade the rest of China.

Japan also felt threatened by the Soviet Union. In 1936, it signed a treaty with the Japanese agreeing to not make poltical agreements with the Soviet Union and in opposition to world communism.

However, Japan could not get the oil in Siberia. In several large-scale skirmishes in Mongolia, the Red Army delivered a suprising defeat to the Japanese Army. Japan thus had to import oil from the oil-rich Dutch and British colonies in Indonesia and Malaysia. President Roosevelt was opposed to Japanese Imperialism and imposed a U.S. embargo in metals and oil against the Japanese.

In 1940, meanwhile, Japan, Italy and Germany entered into a formal alliance, agreeing to declare war on any power that declared war on them.

Japan then became convinced that it must gain oil for its conquests from the Dutch East Indies. These colonies were under the control of the Dutch government in exile in London, which had been displaced by the Nazis in 1940 when the German Army conquered all of Western Europe. It wanted that oil and prepared an invasion of the Dutch East Indies.

Here's where things get confusing. Roosevelt told the Japanese that if they invade the Dutch East Indies, the US would attack it. This was doubtful, as isolationism was a political force in the U.S. Japan then decided that to ensure that they would be able to forestall the US attack Roosevelt promised, they would have to knock the American fleet out. The fleet was forward based at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. It attacked that fleet, ensuring that the U.S. would become involved. Had the Japanese just taken the Dutch East Indies, it would be unlikely that the US would have had the political will to declare war on Japan unilaterally.

The U.S. declared war on Japan.

Meanwhile, Roosevelt had been helping the British in their fight with the Germans. First, using a deal swapping old US destroyers for British naval bases, he gave them ships. Next, he ordered the US Navy to escort convoys to the UK. US destroyers and German submarines got into fights somewhat often.

When the US declared war on Japan, it didn't declare war on Germany. Stupidly, Hitler lived up to his word and declared war on the US. The US followed suit a day later.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:28 PM on December 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Japan then became convinced that it must gain oil for its conquests from the Dutch East Indies

Japan only had oil stocks on hand for a year or so of operations. It was poop or get off the pot for them in late '41.

Roosevelt told the Japanese that if they invade the Dutch East Indies, the US would attack it. This was doubtful, as isolationism was a political force in the U.S.

The Phillippines was supposed to be the place were we interdicted Japanese moves toward the East Indies. Those B-17s stationed there, and more on the way (the B-17s en route to Oahu on 12/7 were being shuttled to the Phillippines), had the range to close off maritime routes to the Japanese.

The American Volunteer Group was also in the process of training up in Burma on 12/7, too.

Also it is easy for the Navy to get itself into a shooting war. There was some plotting to put a US-flagged ship in harm's way to provide the USS Maine -scale cause celebre to

I'm not entirely sure about this, but it's my impression that pre-war Republican isolationism was mostly directly towarded Germany. Henry Luce, with his China roots, certainly was a war-monger as far as Japan was concerned. FDR's Two-Ocean Navy spending bill passed easily after the fall of France in 1940. Americans, naturally enough given the brief but harrowing experience of WW I, and seeing the renewed martial spirit of Nazi Germany, weren't that excited about going another round with the Germans, but AFAICT prior to 12/7 nobody thought much of the "Japs" and assumed the USN and army aviation would plaster them in short order.
posted by panamax at 2:10 AM on December 23, 2007

The Time Magazine Archive is simply amazing and, unbelievably, free. Searching for "Japan" across 1940-1941 can give you great insight into what was happening week by week. Just randomly linking...
posted by loosemouth at 2:35 AM on December 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Um, the Americans declared war upon the Japanese after they attacked Pearl Harbor.

No good. Pearl harbor was the Causus Belli, but it Roosevelt was pushing for war long before that. I believe Pearl Harbor was a pre-emptive strike because the Japanese knew that war was inevitable. I mean its not like Tojo woke up one morning and decided that he was going to make a transatlantic flight to attack a superpower for no reason!
posted by TigerCrane at 3:37 PM on December 24, 2007

Response by poster: Great responses.

Why did Churchill/FDR care about Japanese imperialism in China? Was it because Chiang Kai Shek was opposing Chinese Communism? I know we were sending the Flying Tigers to China before the war broke out.
posted by TigerCrane at 3:56 PM on December 24, 2007

TigerCrane: Why did Churchill/FDR care about Japanese imperialism in China?

In the case of the US, George F. Kennan describes the root cause as being American romanticism towards China (which extends back a long way--American missionaries were active in China for a long time), combined with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, atrocities, etc. "Reflections on the Walgreen Lectures":
In the third [Walgreen Lecture, given in 1951] I talked about our relations, respectively with China and Japan over the half century from 1900 to 1950. My conclusion was that these relations had reflected a curious but deeply-rooted sentimentality on our part towards China, arising evidently from the pleasure it gave us to view ourselves as high-minded patrons, benefactors, and teachers of a people seen as less fortunate, and less advanced, than ourselves. And I could not help seeing in this self-indulgence a form of national narcissism--of collective self-admiration--to which it seemed to me, many Americans were prone. This tendency, I thought, could only conceal deep subconscious feelings of insecurity--a need for reassurance about outselves--something that contrasted very sharply with our pretentious external behavior.

I then turned, in that same lecture, to our negative and critical attitudes towards Japan, which were of course the mirror image of the patronizing and protective attitudes we adopted towards China. Our grievances against Japan seemed to be centered largely on the positions Japan then occupied on the mainland of northeastern Asia--predominantly in Korea and Manchuria. We saw these positions as legally and morally wrong, because in the formal sense these were not Japanese territories the Japanese were occupying. I took issue with this view, charging that we were trying to apply our own legalistic and moralistic standards to a situation to which they were in reality very little relevant, and argued that instead of setting ourselves up as judges over the morality of others, we would have done better to search for a stable balance of power among the various nationalistic forces active in that region--the Russians, the Chinese, and the Japanese--among whom there was really very little to choose from the standpoint of moral quality. In trying to dig the Japanese out of the positions they occupied on the Asian mainland, we were ignoring, I thought, the strong possibility that if we succeeded in doing this, what filled the resulting vacuums might well be some form of power even less to our liking than the Japanese we had removed. This proved actually to be the case.

It is worth recalling, in that connection, that the lectures I am talking about were delivered during the Korean war; and I could not help but see, in the unhappy position in which we then found ourselves on the Korean peninsula, a form of ironic punishment for our earlier lack of understanding for Japanese interests and for our insistence on removing the Japanese from their position there when we had no hopeful alternatives to suggest. I tried to point out, on the strength of this example, that our choices in foreign policy were not always between good and evil, but more often the greater and the lesser of two evils.
TigerCrane: I mean it's not like Tojo woke up one morning and decided that he was going to make a transatlantic flight to attack a superpower for no reason!

The US wasn't a superpower back then! It had disarmed after the First World War; during the interwar period, it was regarded as a small, neutral nation, kind of like Canada today (while the UK was regarded the way the US is today, as the dominant military power). In 1939, when Germany invaded Poland, the US army had only 200,000 men. (I can't find a direct comparison of military sizes, but in 1941, the Imperial Japanese Army was 1.7 million men.)

Samuel Eliot Morison, The Oxford History of the American People, on the leadup to war:
For over a year, tension had been mounting in the Far East. The Japanese war lords, meeting unexpected resistance in China, now planned to swing south and gobble up the Philippines, Malaya, and Indonesia. In order to realize this 'Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere,' as they called it, Japan had to risk fighting Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, and the United States, which between them controlled the coveted territories. In the summer of 1940 Japan wrested permission to build airfields in Indochina from the helpless Vichy government of France. The United States struck back with a small loan to China and a partial embargo on exports to Japan. Congress, in July 1940, gave the President power to restrict export of war materials needed for American defense, or to license their export to friendly nations. In the same month, Congress passed the Two-Ocean Navy Act. Very cautiously, Roosevelt began imposing embargoes on various strategic materials, including scrap iron; and a Gallup poll indicated 96 per cent popular approval.

In July 1941 events began moving toward a crisis. On the 25th, Japan announced that she had assumed a protectorate over the whole of French Indochina. Next day, President Roosevelt took three momentous steps. He received the armed forces of the Philippine Commonwealth into the United States Army, appointed General Douglas MacArthur to command all army forces in the Far East, and issued an executive order freezing Japanese financial assets in the United States. Great Britain and the Netherlands followed suit, cutting off Japan's source of credit and imports of rubber, scrap iron, and fuel oil. The Japanese war lords decided to make war on these three countries within three or four months, unless the flow of oil and other strategic supplies was restored. For Japan was 'eating her own tail' in the matter of oil; her armies must have fuel or evacuate the mainland, a loss of face that the military would not contemplate. This embargo on oil and credit brought Japan to the point of war.

The final negotiations were a mere sparring for time by two governments that considered war all but inevitable. The Japanese wanted time to strengthen their military and naval push to the south; the United States wanted time to prepare the defense of the Philippines and strengthen the navy. Through the summer and fall of 1941 Secretary Hull made it clear that Japan could have all the goods and credits she wanted, if she would begin a military evacuation of China and Indochina. Prince Konoye, the Japanese premier, on 14 October asked General Tojo, the war minister, to begin at least a token withdrawal. Tojo refused, confident that Japan could beat America, Britain, and any other country that stood in her way; and a few days later Tojo became prime minister. On 20 November he presented Japan's ultimatum. He promised to occupy no more Asiatic territory if the United States would stop reinforcing the Philippines; he would evacuate southern Indochina only if the United States would cut off aid to Chiang Kai-Shek and 'unfreeze' Japanese assets in the United States, leaving Japan free to complete her subjugation of China. Tojo did not expect that the United States would accept such terms, which were appropriate only for a defeated nation, and his plans for further aggression were already hardened. On 26 November 1941 the Japanese striking force of six big carriers carrying 423 planes, two battleships, two heavy cruisers, and eleven destroyers, sortied from its rendezvous in the Kurile Islands for the fatal destination of Pearl Harbor.
posted by russilwvong at 6:15 PM on December 26, 2007

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