Japan's dramatically effective military expansion in the early 1940s, which established a perimeter across the Pacific Ocean encompassing Southeast Asia and most of China, and culminated in the devastating surprise attack on the U.S. Navy in Pearl Harbour, Hawaii gave it an enormous strategic and psychological advantage in its war against the United States. Why was it unable to use this great initial advantage to gain a quick and decisive victory in World War II?
My thesis is that the Japan's attack on Pearl Harbour, however successful in the short run, was ultimately a blunder that caused its defeat, because it could not compete in military production, resources, manufacturing capacity, and technological innovation with the United States in a total war, and was therefore doomed to defeat.
But apart from any specific cause for Japan's failure
to quickly capitalize on its initial successes after such a promising beginning in its prosecution of the war from a military point of view, it is the very unpredictability of a war once engaged upon, inevitably so widely at variance with the most sober calculations and reasonable assumptions made in the planning stages, that is the general cause of the failure Japan's ill-fated attempt to establish hegemony over most of the Pacific rim.
"Would Prussia in 1792 have dared to invade France with 70,000 men if she had had an inkling that the repercussions in case of failure would be strong enough to overthrow the old European balance of power?" asks Clasewitz rhetorically in his famous treatise On War (57). Would Japan have launched its surprise attack on Pearl Harbour if its leaders had known this act of aggression would result in the inconceivable devastation of nuclear war?
According to military historian Cristopher Bassford this confounding of the best laid plans of military strategists is "what Clausewitz called 'friction,' stemming from war's uncertainty, chance, suffering...