Lesson 4: The Failure of Diplomacy, September–December 1941

Go to the related interactive

America on the Sidelines: The United States and World Affairs, 1931–1941

comprehensive student interactive giving the user a full scope of America's political and diplomatic responses to world events between the two world wars.

Faced with crippling economic sanctions imposed by the United States, the Japanese government decided in September 1941 to prepare for war to seize the raw materials that they were now unable to obtain from America. Japanese diplomats were still instructed to try to reach some settlement, but Tokyo set a deadline of November 29 for negotiations. If no agreement was reached by then, the Japanese would initiate a war in dramatic fashion—with a surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor.

Students in this lesson will put themselves in the shoes of U.S. and Japanese diplomats in the final months of 1941, earnestly trying to reach a settlement that will avoid war. Through the use of primary documents and an interactive map and timeline, they will consider whether there was any reasonable chance of preventing the outbreak of World War II in the Pacific.

Guiding Questions

Was war between the United States and Japan inevitable after September 1941?

Learning Objectives

After completing this lesson, students should be able to: List and explain the issues that divided the United States and Japan in the fall of 1941.

Articulate the reasons why Japan chose to go to war against the United States.

Assess the overall effectiveness of U.S. foreign policy during this period.