Why Japan Attacked Pearl Harbor

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Part 1: The Building of an Empire

The "opening" of Japan, as the result of Commodore Perry's visit has been termed, resulted in a relatively rapid industrialization of Japan during the Meiji Restoration, so much so that Japanese military forces were able to assert themselves on the world stage in well noticed victories over China and Russia.

By the beginning of the 20th Century, Japan regarded itself as a major power in world politics and other world powers agreed.

Japan had, in 1914, entered World War I on the side of France, Great Britain, and Russia; Japanese forces declared war on Germany shortly after the war began and occupied German teritories in the Far East, including the Caroline Islands, the Mariana Islands, and the Marshall Islands. One of those land territories was Tsingtao, in China's Shandong province, which Germany surrendered in November 1914.

Japan's military success in China emboldened the island nation enough to make the Twenty-one Demands in January 1915. These Demands were designed to give Japan a near stronghold over China's territory, economy, police, and government. Japan had already seized Korea, during the First Sino-Japanese War, and added Taiwan to the fold in 1895. Japanese influence in Manchuria was growing all the time.

Great Britain, an ally of Japan since 1902, objected to part of the Demands, as did the United States and a few other nations. Japan agreed to excise the most inflammatory of the Demands, but China accepted the rest in a treaty in May 1915.

Japan continued to fight against the Central Powers, sending a squadron of ships to the Mediterranean area to take part in naval operations there. Japan welcomed America's entry into the war, and the two nations signed a peaceable agreement over interests in China in November 1917. Japanese troops took part in an occupation of Siberia, after the Russian Revolution.

Japan at this time was also a major exporter, proving to be a popular source of economic and military materials to its allies. In time, Japan transformed itself from a debtor nation to a creditor nation.

As in other countries, however, the Great Depression hit Japan hard and Japan was again in debt. The prosperity at the end of the war brought sudden inflation, which resulted in rice riots in some cities and towns, as people struggled to be able to afford basic necessities.

Part 2: Military Pre-eminence

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