US-Japan WWII Term Paper

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U.S. Japan On December 7, 1941, Japan launched an assault on the U.S. Naval Headquarters for the Pacific Fleet, located at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. This assault led directly to the open war between the U.S. And Japan, which several years later would culminate in the U.S. invaded Japan in the Okinawa archipelago and dropping two atomic bombs on Japan. The events that led to the U.S. invasion of Japan are therefore discussed on the macro, meso and micro levels.

Macro-Level Factors

If the U.S. invasion of Japan was spurred by Pearl Harbor, then one has to look at the causes of that attack to understand how the U.S. invasion came about. Japan was one of the world's great imperial powers during the decades prior to World War Two. After the rise of Emperor Hirohito in the 1920s, Japan embarked on a mission, believing that it could and should control "Asia, the South Seas and eventually the four corner of the world." While civilian Japan was in chaos in the early 1930s, suffering the effects of the Great Depression, the army unilaterally invaded Manchuria and set up a puppet state there. By 1937, Japan occupied Beijing, and won a critical victory at Shanghai. The Japanese then turned their attention to the Dutch East Indies (today, Indonesia), in order to meet Japan's need for oil (History, 2014).

It was against this backdrop that Japan sought to sweet across the Pacific. The U.S. had significant military interest in the Pacific, including a significant military presence in the Philippines. However, the Navy had already deemed Japan enough of a threat to U.S. interests in the Pacific to move its fleet to Hawaii. The U.S. had already enacted an embargo against Japan, a move intended to reduce Japan's access to oil and steel. Japan and the U.S. had engaged in some negotiations about the embargo, but Japan realized that in order to fulfill its ambitions, it needed to get the U.S. out of the way. A strategy was drawn up to attempt to destroy a significant portion of the U.S. Pacific fleet in one go, at Pearl Harbor (Rosenberg, 2014).

Japan had hoped that the attack would cow America, but it did the opposite. America declared war on Japan instead, an easy decision given Japan's alliance with Nazi Germany and the Pearl Harbor attack. The U.S. had been hoping to that point to sit out the war as a neutral, but it was now going to be impossible. Of key importance here is that America's aircraft carriers were not at port on the day of the attacks as they were out on maneuvers. While this made Pearl Harbor more vulnerable, it also spared those aircraft carriers from destruction. Destroying the aircraft carriers was a critical element of the Japanese strategy, so failing to do so was a major problem now that the two countries were going to war.

The U.S. would come to win the war in the Pacific. It had pushed Japan back, island by island, in brutal fighting. The final push came at a point in time when the U.S. was calling for Japanese surrender. The problem was that Japan did not want to surrender. The U.S. invaded Okinawa, a Japanese archipelago, and it was felt that they might have to invade the Japanese mainland in order to secure victory, as the Japanese seemed unwilling to surrender. On April 1, 1945, the invasion of Japan began, to seek a final resolution to the conflict. The Japanese soldiers were decimated by June and the U.S. held Okinawa, but there was still no surrender and an attack on the Japanese mainland would be necessary (Tsukiyama, 2006). This was known as Operation Downfall, but was complicated by a variety of factors, such as the lack of available landing beaches in Japan, which made the mainland easier to defend (HistoryLearning, 2014).

The final push came via the atomic bomb. Despite repeated setbacks, the Japanese refused calls to surrender. The U.S. civilians and forces were weary from four years of war, and the U.S. had now developed the atomic bomb. There were several macro-level factors that led to that final move of the war. The first is that Japan had 2 million man strong army on the Japanese mainland, enough to make anybody think twice about invading. The second was that the U.S.S.R. had just declared war on Japan, and following its capture of all of Eastern Europe, that the atomic bomb was to send a signal to the Soviets. Against this backdrop, the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima first, then Nagasaki, thereby ending the U.S. invasion of Japan and the Second World War (U.S. History, 2014).

Meso-Level Analysis

A meso-level analysis is that of tribe, clan, community or state, so groups smaller than nations. This level of analysis is trickier, because much of the rationale...


There were some interesting meso-level stories surrounding this invasion, however, none more interesting than that of the Japanese-Americans. At the time of Pearl Harbor, there was a large Japanese community in Hawaii and many more on the mainland. There was deep suspicion with respect to the allegiances of Japanese-Americans, to the point where at one Hawaiian airfield, the planes were positioned beside each other in a cluster, as a means of preventing sabotage for an internal agent. That sabotage never came to pass -- Japanese-Americans were loyal to America -- but that positioning allowed the Pearl Harbor invasion force to destroy most of those place rather easily.
There was definitely an element of tribalism in the Japanese imperialism, but it was impossible to separate out Japanese ethnicity from nationality among Japanese living in Japan. The dedication of all Japanese communities to the cause of the battle was something that helped to fuel the conflict, and ultimately can be tied to the strength of the resistance, which shaped the need for Truman to authorize dropping the bomb (U.S. History, 2014).

The shock value of being able to carry out meso-level destruction was another aspect of this invasion. Ground conflict would also do micro-level damage and the pace of this was slow. It took three months just to capture Okinawa. In order to defeat Japan on the macro-level, the U.S. had to demonstrate that it had power Japan could not match. The result was the destruction of two entire cities.

Micro-Level Analysis

A micro-level analysis focuses on the smallest units of society, in this case people, families and households. The individual level is perhaps one of the more fascinating. The Japanese people, individually, had a very high level of dedication to their Emperor and country, and the American soldier were also quite fervent. But the determination of the Japanese soldiers to fight to the death, even when defeat was certain, contributed significantly to the bloodiness of the battles in Okinawa, and again this shaped the decision to drop the atomic bomb, because facing that kind of direct, one-on-one resistance on the mainland was going to cost a million American lives or more.

There was also the personal stakes between world leaders. Hirohito, as basically a god-like figure to the Japanese, could not surrender. It would be catastrophic to his legacy, and to the legacy of the other Japanese leaders, to surrender, especially given that the individual soldiers were unwilling to do so. Truman had an interest in limiting the number of American casualties, given the estimates for 1 million casualties in a land invasion of Japan. There was also a desire to personally send a message to both Hirohito and Stalin about America's nuclear capabilities. Truman felt that by sending a message to both of those leaders, it would reduce conflict in the future, though they were back in Korea only a few years later, fighting again.


The U.S. invasion of Japan at the end of World War Two can be examined on different levels. The macro level explains the most about the geopolitical motivations for the different countries to initiate and engage in this conflict. The American interest in a ground invasion, and later a nuclear assault, on Japan was to end the war and set the tone for the post-war period.

Yet, this invasion did have meso- and micro-level consequences. In particular was the strength of Japanese dedication at the community and individual level that was likely to result in substantial casualties. After the bloody battles across the Pacific, and bloody battle for Okinawa, the U.S. could not afford another, so in a sense it was this lower-level dynamics that almost forced the U.S. To drop the atomic bomb as the final component of its invasion of Japan, and the final act that ended the war and ushered in the post-war era.


History. (2014). Imperial Japan. Retrieved November 22, 2014 from

History Learning (2014). Operation Downfall. History Learning Site. Retrieved November 23, 2014 from

Rosenberg, J. (2014). Pearl Harbor. Retrieved November 22, 2014 from

Tsukiyama, T. (2006). Battle of Okinawa. The Hawai'i Nisei Story. Retrieved November 22, 2014 from


Sources Used in Documents:


History. (2014). Imperial Japan. Retrieved November 22, 2014 from

History Learning (2014). Operation Downfall. History Learning Site. Retrieved November 23, 2014 from

Rosenberg, J. (2014). Pearl Harbor. Retrieved November 22, 2014 from

Tsukiyama, T. (2006). Battle of Okinawa. The Hawai'i Nisei Story. Retrieved November 22, 2014 from
US (2014). The decision to drop the bomb. U.S. History. Retrieved November 22, 2014 from

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