Digital History

America at War: World War II

A Collision Course in the Pacific Previous Next
Digital History ID 3489



After Japan invaded China in 1937, relations between Washington and Tokyo deteriorated rapidly. In 1940, Japan occupied northern Indochina, a step toward its goal of capturing the oil supplies in the Dutch East Indies. To stop Japanese aggression, the United States placed an embargo on the export of scrap metal, oil, and aviation fuel to Japan. Also, President Roosevelt froze Japanese bank accounts in the United States. Harmed by these sanctions, Japan negotiated with the United States throughout 1941. The United States demanded that Japan withdraw immediately from Indochina and China--concessions that would have ended Japan's dream of economic and military hegemony in Asia.

In a last ditch effort to avoid war, Japan promised not to march further south, not to attack the Soviet Union, and not to declare war against the United States if Germany and America went to war. In return, Japan asked the United States to abandon China. Roosevelt refused. In October 1941, the Japanese government fell, and General Hideki Tojo, the leader of the militants, seized power. War was imminent.

Most military experts expected Japan to attack the Dutch East Indies to secure oil and rubber. Before striking there, however, Japan moved to neutralize American power in the western Pacific.

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