Sins of Omission

Japan’s Prelude to Pearl Harbor

Was Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor out of character for the chrysanthemum nation?  Her actions at Port Arthur, nearly 38 years earlier, suggest otherwise.

In 1898 Russia began leasing the Liaotung Peninsula, which juts into the Yellow Sea between China and the Korean Peninsula, from the Chinese.  On the southern tip of the Liaotung Peninsula was Port Arthur, named for the skipper of a British merchant vessel, who guided his ship into the harbor during a typhoon in 1860.  Port Arthur was not only sheltered from all winds but ice free throughout the year.  Russia’s only other port on the Pacific, Vladivostok, was choked with ice all winter.  Port Arthur’s only drawback was silting, causing larger ships to run aground.  Russia began dredging and deepened the anchorage enough to accommodate the largest of ships.  After securing a right of way from China’s moribund Qing Dynasty, Russia extended the Trans-Siberian Railway south from Harbin through Manchuria to Port Arthur.

All of this was interfering with Japanese plans for the region.  In an 1894 war with China, Japan had acquired Korea, and she now had her eyes on mineral-rich Manchuria.  By the turn of the century she had begun negotiating with Russia over the fate of the province.  Not yet strong enough to challenge the bear to the north militarily, she used the negotiations to buy time while...

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