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News Navigator: What was Japan's plan to win WWII after attacking Pearl Harbor?

American battleships are seen being attacked by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 8, 1941 (Dec. 7 Hawaii time). (Mainichi)

The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about Japan's plan to end the war after attacking the U.S. Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor during World War II.

    Question: We learn that Japan started a war with the United States, an event now 79 years past. How did Japan intend to conclude a conflict with a country as big as the U.S.?

    Answer: On Dec. 8, 1941 (Dec. 7 Hawaii time), the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, which dealt considerable damage to American battleships. It was Japan's entry into the war against the U.S. and Britain. But on Nov. 15 of the same year, before the start of the conflict, key members of Cabinet including the prime minister and minister for foreign affairs were joined by top military figures for the Imperial General Headquarters-Government liaison meeting to decide national policy. There, they drew up how they envisaged the war ending.

    Q: What was in their plan?

    A: In an outline referring to conflict with the U.S. and other powers that roughly translates to "Plan concerning moves to encourage an end (of conflict)," they say Japan would first work with the Axis powers of Germany and Italy to force the U.K. to surrender. It then says it would make the U.S. lose interest in continuing to fight the war.

    Q: It's not guaranteed the U.K. would have surrendered though, is it?

    A: Correct. While the German military was powerful, when it came to naval operations the U.K. and America were far superior. It would have been no easy task for them to cross the Strait of Dover that separates Britain from mainland Europe, make landfall, and continue to send in reinforcements.

    Q: Supposing even if Britain had surrendered, we also can't be sure that America would have lost the will to fight, right?

    A: It might have been the reverse, with America finding a heightened resolve to battle on as one nation. Effectively, it seems the Japan of the time set off to war on the basis of an illusory plan layered with hopes and wishes.

    Q: You'd think there was a more thorough review of the process, wouldn't you?

    A: Well, owing to their complacent planning, some 3.1 million Japanese people alone died. Even now, the locations of more than a million people's remains are still unknown. The war-end plan that Japan had tells us that sometimes leaders of countries make unimaginable, fatal errors of judgment, and that the people pay the price for them.

    (Japanese original by Toshio Kurihara, Cultural News Department)

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