Lesson 3: Japan's "Southern Advance" and the March toward War, 1940–1941

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For the Japanese leadership, events in Europe during the first half of 1940 offered new opportunities for resolving the war in China, which had been going on since 1937. A "southern advance" into the British, French, and Dutch colonies of Southeast Asia could serve both to cut off the Chinese from Western aid, and to provide a source for raw materials that otherwise would have to be purchased from the United States. However, such a course ran the definite risk of war with the United States—a risk that Tokyo was ultimately willing to accept.

In this lesson students will examine primary documents and maps to discover why Japan embarked on its "southern advance." They will also consider the U.S. response to this new policy, and how it contributed to war between the United States and Japan.

Guiding Questions

Was the "southern advance" a reasonable attempt to address to Japan's international dilemma, or was it a reckless step toward war?

Learning Objectives

After completing this lesson, students should be able to: Define what Japanese leaders meant by the "southern advance," and explain why they opted to pursue it.

Articulate the U.S. response to the "southern advance," and assess whether it was a reasonable one.

Explain why Tokyo decided in September 1941 to prepare for war against the United States.