When you have an enemy committed to goals that go against everything you you stand for, one of the worst things you can do is underestimate just how dedicated they may be to their cause. That Japan wanted to take over territories throughout East Asia and the Pacific was not a secret to the United States. In fact, it’s one of the major reasons why the two nations were at odds.
The Japanese refused to let the United States stand in the way of their ongoing conquest. What the Americans seemingly didn’t expect was just what the Japanese would resort to in order to achieve their goals, and how relentless and seemingly unstoppable they would prove to be.
Considering how ill-prepared it was for an attack by Japan, it can be argued that the United States didn’t take Japan and its tenacity seriously enough.
Underestimating the Japanese
As early as the beginning of the 20th century, the United States had a strained relationship with Japan, a nation that was increasingly adamant about doing what it wanted. When the US started to act against the imperialist nation, it was met with resistance, but not anything outwardly violent.
For months leading up to December 7th, 1941, the United States had thwarted Japanese expansion by enforcing sanctions and trade embargoes, blocking the Imperial Navy from supplies that were imperative to its continued progress. Though some claim the United States did this as a means of provoking Japan, it seems more likely that the United States didn’t expect Japan to be so direct in its response.
On the morning of December 7th, a quiet Sunday when the Pearl Harbor was incompletely manned, Japan launched a deadly attack against the airfields and battleships there. Even as the first bombers flew over the Oahu naval base, some sailors recall assuming it was just an exercise by the US Army Air Corps, only realizing what was happening when they felt the impact of the bombs and torpedoes.
The United States was completely unprepared for the attack; anti-aircraft guns weren’t even manned in anticipation of any sort of possible action. Despite months of interfering with Japan’s ability to advance, the American leadership somehow didn’t think that its bases, even the one closest to Japan, should be fully staffed and prepared for the worst at all times.
The United States badly underestimated its trans-Pacific foe, believing that it would be impervious to an attack from the west, a belief that cost the lives of over 2,400 Americans.