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Sunday, September 8, 2013

Why Japan Attacked The US In WW2

Subtitle: Or… How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb(s).

(Yes... Tokyo won the 2020 summer Olympic Games. Congratulations. I have my own views on this particular win, and I'll post them in a blog 12+ hours after this one.)

Have you ever wondered why Japan—a country hell-bent on making Asia its bitch during the 1930s and 40s decided to declare war on the U.S. and attack the U.S Protectorate country of Hawaii and bomb the US naval base at Pearl Harbor?

Also… by getting involved in war, Japan created a larger communist red menace, ushered in the atomic age, and helped bring terrorism to a new level. Maybe…  

The US… for two solid years it had steadfastly refused to enter into World War 2 - despite neighbor Canada joining in with fellow Commonwealth countries like India, Australia and New Zealand (to name just a few)… to help Great Britain fend off the terror that was Nazi Germany.

Germany wanted all of Europe. Italy's goal was to take over Africa… and Japan, as mentioned wanted Asia.

Vee are ze vorld.... vee are ze kinder...

So why on Earth would anyone want to piss of the U.S. and get them involved in the war they always said was "Europe's war"?

Japan would.

But what would make them think they could actually stretch their forces across all of Asia and take on the United States?

Ego? Mental unsuitability?  Yes. But whose?

The Japanese face of the war had always been Tōjō Hideki (surname first), who was the 40th prime minister of Japan from October 17, 1941 - to July 22, 1944.

People always say that Tōjō was the main man responsible for starting the US entry into the war - and perhaps he was - but Tōjō was NOT in office when planning for the war between Japan and the US had first been plotted.

(Tōjō, after the war, was sentenced to death for war crimes by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, and was hung (and how) on December 23, 1948.)

So… if it wasn't Tōjō's idea to attack the US, who the hell thought this was a good idea?Apparently there were a lot of politicians and military persons who thought Japan was strong enough to beat everyone. Now that's ego.

Didn't anyone say it was a bad idea? No. But some did say it wasn't ready - yet.

Remember that old Japanese saying about how you must respect your elders? Or that the nail that stands up gets hammered down?

That is Japan.

So who was responsible for the belief that Japan could take on the US and her allies and win in Asia?

Meet Lt. General Suzuki Teiichi (surname first) of the Imperial Japanese Army. Before the war, and during it, Suzuki was a key Cabinet member of the Japanese government (Minister of State), and was the head of the Cabinet Planning Board—a very, very important Board that dictated the allocation of resources for Japan's Army, Navy and civilians.

Suzuki somehow came to the conclusion that even though Japan was already at war with China (not a small country - but one that was already being occupied by Japan), that even with the bother of China, Japan could also take on (and win) against the U.S., Great Britain and Netherlands… all had islands and lands they claimed as their own in Asia.

(Editor's Note: I would like to say that Japan's incursions into China helped bring about the communist party in China, finally going red on October 1, 1949. Thanks a lot, Japan. You poked the commie panda bear.)

On November 5, 1941, Suzuki read aloud a 16-page document to Japanese Emperor Hirohito, Prime Minister Tōjō and other national leaders during an imperial conference, whereby he explained Japan's logistical strengths.

All well and good, except for one thing: Suzuki lied.

Suzuki had padded a few numbers… some very key numbers... numbers that led Japan to believe its soon-to-be enemies were weak, and that Japan actually had the resources to take on and win a war of this magnitude.

Fudged figures include the projected losses of transport ships carrying oil and and strategic materials from areas in Southeast Asia… key areas that would be hit hard if Japan was at war with the US.

Oil, as it has been for the past 130 years, is one of the keys to running a good war.

Prior to August 1, 1941, Japan got 70% of its oil from the U.S. because they were on friendly terms and good trading partners.

But, on August 1, 1941, US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt decided to punish Japan after it (Japan) had gone into French Indochina by saying it would cut off Japan's supply of oil. At the time, of course, France had been run over by Nazi Germany… and had set up the German-controlled Vichy government in France.It was thought that Germany had requested - or suggested - that Japan might want to do the invasion thing, without any issues from Germany.

Remember… Japan was already heavily involved in conquering Asia in a war it had started years earlier. The US was still not at war with anyone at this time.

With no more oil coming in from the US, Japan had two choices: 1) it could give in to US demands and step out of French Indochina, or 2) it could stay and go to war against the Allies to take over the oil-rich countries in Southeast Asia.

Pinky: What do you want to do today, Brain?
The Brain: Try and take over the world!

As of August 1, 1945, Japan had stockpiled over 7-million tons of oil.

However, since it used 10,000 tons a day, Japanese projections showed that there would be no more oil left (not including costs for an enlarged war) by December of 1942.

Here's where Suzuki comes in.

Japan wondered if it should it take over the Dutch East Indies in Southeast Asia for its oil - and if it did, could it get the oil from there shipped out to places where it would be needed, including Japan proper.

Suzuki told his captive audience the first lie:

Truth: Japan, in a war against the US, would lose shipping capacity of 800,000 to 1-million tons a year… and that its ship building capacity was only 600,000 tons a year. That's a loss. They would lose capacity faster than it could rebuild. Japan would eventually lose all its oil transport ships.

The Lie: Without an explanation, Suzuki provided numbers that indicated that NO, Japan would not have a negative transport capacity.

And… everyone at the Imperial Conference believed him. Why? Because he gave numbers which said so… and everyone believed that Suzuki would only speak the truth.

The Lie Explained: The numbers Suzuki based his conclusions on were based on conclusions supplied by the Japanese Imperial Navy… an optimistic calculation that said it would lose fewer ships the longer the war continued.

Here's the thing… those numbers and scenarios were based on World War I data. Yup. Data that was accurate as late as 1919 (some 22 years later - the irony of that number is not lost on me).

Not only was this data 20 years out of date, it only included damages from other enemy ships. It did not even take into account enemy aircraft because aviation through 1919 was still in its infancy (see my other blog Pioneers Of Aviation for excellent historical background: HERE.)

Consider the Japan built its modern navy thanks to help from former ally Great Britain. Read about that from a story I wrote HERE.

So… for Japan… an ability to have oil with acceptable losses was key… but the numbers supporting a positive outcome were insufficient and outdated, but no one knew the numbers were old and outdated except for Suzuki.


It gets worse. Suzuki had, at one time, been vociferous against attacking the US because he KNEW that the US had greater industrial strength than Japan.

For example, in 1941, the US Gross National Product (GNP) was 12 times larger than Japan.

As well, the US produced 12 times more crude steel; five times more ships and aircraft than Japan.

Twelve times the ability to make war.

So why did Suzuki change his mind and go from being a dove (sort of) to a rah-rah let's go to war guy?

Apparently he was bullied. Pressured, if you will… urged to see the correctness of things by a senior Japanese army officer (perhaps General Tōjō who became Prime Minister on October 17 of 1941).

In fact... Suzuki had spoken out against warring against the US earlier in the summer, but by October 30, 1941, perhaps egged on by his new hawkish friends, Suzuki officially came out and began to side with those who wanted war with the U.S.

And… he was willing to lie to ensure it happened.

Was this due to the urgings of Tōjō, if not directly, then through agents?

Why would Prime Minister Tōjō insist Suzuki change his tune? Because of Japan's Constitution, of course.
The Meiji Constitution Being Read. From:

The archaic Meiji Constitution of 1899 states that: No national leader could get rid of a Cabinet member… and if even ONE Cabinet member resisted the Prime Minster, then entire Cabinet would HAVE to resign.

Knowing that Suzuki would be a thorn in his plans for war, Tōjō somehow got Suzuki to change his stance. Money, power, women? Everyone has a price...

Because Japanese government and army and naval officers did not want to show weakness (ask a samurai if he though he would win a battle - and he would always say he would not lose), it had to agree that it could win a war against the US et al.

In fact, Japan's Imperial Navy had, for years, earned large budgets by convincing everyone it needed to prepare for a possible war for the U.S.  - because you just never knew when the US (or others) would get pissed off at Japan's attitude in Asia.(Recall that Suzuki was also involved in dispersing money to the Military as part of his government job.)

As such… the Imperial Navy, ready or not, had to say it had the resources.

Therefore, with Japan's Army and Navy refusing to admit weakness, plus a hawk Prime Minster who was backed up by a patsy (Suzuki) who was willing to present real data (just not current data) to back-up Japan's military strengths… Japan was ready to go to war against the US.

The military put its own selfish interests above those of its people… and that's how Japan thought it could enter a war with the US and her allies and win.

Everyone was fooled… except for the Japanese who wanted the war… oh, and eventually the US and her allies. And yes… Japan's inability to control it's Asian territories and inability to transport oil to its military components led to its eventual decision to die trying to not lose. It wouldn't win the war, but it would never lose a war. Hence… the kamikaze. Hence… the atomic bombs… hence the nuclear age. Read all about that HERE.

Anyhow… thanks to the lying government and aggressive military (make war and pieces!)… Japan's World War 2 numbers (not including anything prior to December 7, 1941) was a Japanese death toll of 3.1-million people… including 800,000 non-military, common citizens.

Of course… many millions more died fighting with and against Japan.

Now... on the plus side... as stupid as it sounds... Japan getting the US involved did help sway the outcome of the war. No US in the war, and all of Europe (not exterminated in a death camp) would be Deutsch sprechen or Asia would be turning Japanese. The Italians, bless'em, would probably have just created even better soccer teams in Africa.

And now Japan's government wants to create a new constitution that allows it to once again build its own military. Personally, I don't have a problem with Japan creating its own Constitution… as long as it doesn't trample on the rights of others. But… we'll have to wait and see on that. So far it's oh for one (0-1) in creating its own constitution.

As for Suzuki...
When WW2 ended, he stood trial along with Tōjō and 26 others accused of war crimes. While Tōjō and six others were convicted and hanged, Suzuki received a life sentence in 1948, but was released from Sugamo Prison in Tokyo in 1955.

I suppose a life sentence just isn't what it's all cracked up to be.

Although Suzuki did go back and work for the government services for a short while, he soon dropped out of the public eye and refused to meet with anyone from the media.

Suzuki died of a heart attack on July 15, 1989 at the age of 100. Now that would have been one hell of a life sentence.

Suzuki was the last remaining defendant of Nuremberg/Tokyo war trials. Nazi Rudolph Hess had committed suicide two years earlier.

Andrew Joseph


  1. What? Suzuki didn't LIE! Well, let's say he used "Artistic license" for his report... Has always worked for the government when making any sort of report on financials....

    1. Yes - artistic license - that's it. Everyone fudges numbers, I suppose. He didn't lie so much as explain WHERE he got the numbers. I should have explained that many did know the numbers were wrong or old, but didn't have the seniority to contradict his numbers. That was true.

  2. You should write for wikipedia, or do you do that already?

    1. Only if they pay. I do this for free. Andrew can always use more money. But... I did see an article on this topic a few weeks back in the NY Times. I should have stated that.

    2. Should actually be a compliment, but apperantly my german school-english sounds not like it should (maybe just in the first moment).
      I meant becouse of the well researched article. In german school you are just learning about the european part of the story. Maybe becouse we had our own problems due to this idiot with his nose hair at that time. So, for myself very interesting to read.
      And on the other Hand, I don't think your humor would fit into a dry Lexikon. And without the humor your writing Style wouldn't be the same.

      I hope there aren't to many mistakes from my side.

      (Hege is a kind of nick name, I use almost reflexively on the Internet)

    3. You know what, Hege? I took it as a compliment. Thanks again.
      The Germans have been very good at looking at the past, where the Japanese have been reluctant to.
      I've been to Stuttgart for business for five days and I found everyone so open and friendly... it's hard to imagine how things were 70 years ago.
      Cheers, my friend.

  3. You do a very good job researching and getting things right. Thanks for all the hard work and the interesting post. BTW, when was the last time you were in Japan? Also, have you read Saburo Sakai's book? The title is Samurai. He was a fighter pilot in China and the Pacific during the war? I know you like aviation so this might be a good fit for you.

    Keep up the good work!


    1. Thanks, Jon. I appreciate the compliment.
      I was last there 20 years ago around this time. I will go back, but with my son in a few years time when he will hopefully better appreciate it (he's 7 now).
      i have NOT read Samurai. It sounds exciting. I will check it out and let you know what I think (provided I can find it!).