History and Historiography

How U.S. Economic Warfare Provoked Japan’s Attack on Pearl Harbor

World War Two was a long way from being the “just war” or “good war” it is often claimed to be even by many who are otherwise antiwar. World War One was a catfight between the colonialist powers that left many colonialist countries in shambles and created the conditions for extremist, cult-like regimes to come to power in Germany, Italy, Russia, Japan, France, Hungary, and elsewhere, like what happened to Cambodia after the Vietnam War or Afghanistan after the Soviet-Afghan War. World War Two amounted to the Atlantic capitalist powers hiring Russian and Asian communities as mercenaries to put down the Axis alliance, which in turn led to the Cold War, which led to Atlanticist support for Islamism, which led to the War on Terrorism.

By Robert Higgs

Ask a typical American how the United States got into World War II, and he will almost certainly tell you that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the Americans fought back. Ask him why the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and he will probably need some time to gather his thoughts. He might say that the Japanese were aggressive militarists who wanted to take over the world, or at least the Asia-Pacific part of it. Ask him what the United States did to provoke the Japanese, and he will probably say that the Americans did nothing: we were just minding our own business when the crazy Japanese, completely without justification, mounted a sneak attack on us, catching us totally by surprise in Hawaii on December 7, 1941.

You can’t blame him much. For more than 60 years such beliefs have constituted the generally accepted view among Americans, the one taught in schools and depicted in movies—what “every schoolboy knows.” Unfortunately, this orthodox view is a tissue of misconceptions. Don’t bother to ask the typical American what U.S. economic warfare had to do with provoking the Japanese to mount their attack, because he won’t know. Indeed, he will have no idea what you are talking about.


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