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Right after the Spanish-American War in 1898, the US acquired the Philippines from Spain. At that time, local leaders desired Philippine independence. The Philippine - American War was fought around 1899 - 1902, during which the US put down this quest for freedom and the Philippines was still US property at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack. However, if the US had granted the Philippines independence back in 1901, would Japan still have felt the need to go to war?

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    My point is the US didn't go to war against Germany until they declared war on the US in spite of Germany's defeating most of Europe and threatening England. That is why the US would not have gone to war against Japan unless they attacked us. If the Philippines had been granted independence in 1901, then Japan could attack them without it being an attack on the US. Thus, I believe the US would not have gone to war against Japan. The US was still in too much of an isolationist mode at that time. This is why I believe the events of 1901 had a significant effect on the events of 1941. – Barry May 25 '12 at 2:25
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    Interesting question... – Felix Goldberg Dec 17 '12 at 10:15
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    Japan's main aim was the naval domination of the Pacific and US Navy was a threat to any Japanese colonial expansion. So attacking the US was imminent after Japan several times failed and gave up on a war with the Soviets, as the Japanese expansion based on military dominance either on land or on see. – Greg Mar 23 '17 at 3:28
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because its about alternate history – Pieter Geerkens Sep 21 '17 at 2:33
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    Counterfactuals are very interesting, but I agree with Pieter. – KorvinStarmast Sep 21 '17 at 18:19
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As mentioned in this Wikipedia article, Japan's reasons for attacking the US were mostly because of the US stopping oil and other material shipments to Japan and Japanese belief that further Japanese aggression in Asia (which they were intent on pursuing and not just or even primarily in Philippines) would lead to a war with the US anyway. Thus Japan attacked Pearl Harbor to gain the advantage of surprise.

So no, Philippine independence had nothing to do with Japan attacking Pearl Harbor and Japan would probably have gone to war anyway.

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    I don't agree. Going to war with the US was not going to get Japan back the loss of US oil and other materials. In fact, their main intent on further aggression in Asia was to gain them access to raw materials that they could no longer get from the US. They realized that war with the US was risky but the Philippines was part of their plans so war was inevitable. If they could have gotten the Philippines without going to war with the US, they would have done it. Yamamoto was against making war with the US but his opinion was overruled and he eventually planned the attack on Pearl Harbor. – Barry May 24 '12 at 16:06
  • @Barry: I agree with you but I don't see how anything I said contradicts what you said. If the US hadn't stopped raw material shipments to Japan, Japan would never have gone to war with the US. I also explicitly stated that the cause of the war was Japanese belief that the US would attack if Japan continued its aggression in Asia (especially against the British Asian colonies) – Opt May 24 '12 at 17:26
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    My point is the US didn't go to war against Germany until they declared war on the US in spite of Germany's defeating most of Europe and threatening England. That is why the US would not have gone to war against Japan unless they attacked us. If the Philippines had been granted independence in 1901, then Japan could attack them without it being an attack on the US. Thus, I believe the US would not have gone to war against Japan. The US was still in too much of an isolationist mode at that time. This is why I believe the events of 1901 had a significant effect on the events of 1941. – Barry May 25 '12 at 2:26
  • @Barry: I agree that the US would not have gone to war with Japan. Which is why I referred to the "Japanese belief" that the US would go to war with them. – Opt May 25 '12 at 2:59
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    Perhaps seen as a challenge but not enough to go to war. Congress would not have declared war against a country that had not committed any act of aggression against the US which is why the US was not at war with Germany. – Barry Jun 26 '12 at 0:48
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Japan did not attack the US because of the oil embargo. They went to war, in part, because of the oil embargo. But their most important territorial objective was the Dutch East Indies, with their oilfields.

The Japanese chose to attack the US, rather than just the European colonial powers, because the Philippines would have been a bone in their throat in the event that America intervened in a Japanese-Allied confrontation:

  • The entire Japanese strategic concept for a war against the US would have been undermined if the Pacific Fleet could base safely at Manila. They depended on an extended series of harrying attacks to wear down the numerically superior US battle line on the long voyage into Japanese-held waters for the decisive battle.

  • Large areas of the Empire, including Formosa which was practically one of the Home Islands by that point, were within range of heavy bombers on Luzon.

The Japanese reasoning (if you can call it that) for attacking the US would still have held, if the independent Philippine government had not been reliably pro-Axis. A neutral Philippines probably would have gone the way of neutral Norway.

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    But you are making my point. If the Philippines was independent when the Japanese attacked it, then the US would not have gone to war over it because it was not American territory. Witness how the US stayed out of the European conflict because it had no territorial claims there. I believe the main reason that Japan risked everything by going to war with the US was that they wanted the Philippines and it was American territory so that war with the US was inevitable. – Barry Jun 24 '12 at 21:29
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    You can believe that, but I don't know that it has much historical support. The Philippines were attacked because of their position astride Japanese supply lines from the Dutch East Indies, not primarily because they were an objective in themselves.You are also going to have difficulty in coming up with a scenario where the US not only grants Philippine independence, but actually take a "you're on your own, kid" attitude in the event that an attack on the Philippines threatens US strategic interests in the entire Pacific. – Evan Harper Jun 25 '12 at 22:14
  • The US had no interest in the Philippines before acquiring it after the Spanish-American War. Therefore I believe that if the US had granted them independence right after the war, which they wanted, the US would not have cared that much if Japan attacked them in 1941. After all, the US did nothing after Germany ran rampant through Europe. Without being attacked directly, the US Congress would not have declared war on anybody. – Barry Jun 26 '12 at 21:48
  • @Barry, this isn't a discussion forum. – KorvinStarmast Sep 21 '17 at 18:20
  • A neutral Philipines probably would have gone the way of neutral Norway. Norway's port of Bergen was essential for the Reich supply of iron ore. Philippines themselves had no such ressources, so they might as well have gone the (unharmed) way of neutral Sweden : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweden_during_World_War_II – Evargalo Apr 23 '18 at 12:31
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In early 1942, at the behest of the Philippines' Manuel Quezon, the United States offered to accelerate the independence of the Philippines (scheduled for 1946) and leave immediately, if Japan would also leave country, thereby "neutralizing" it. Japan did not accept because its troops were already "on the ground."

There were two reasons why. First, the Philippines were a key "stop" on the way "south" (to the East Indies (modern Indonesia), and ultimately, Australia.

The second was that Japan was opposed to the presence of a U.S. fleet ANYWHERE in the Pacific. Neutralizing the Philippines wouldn't have resolved this issue. It would just have given Japan one less base from which to operate.

Source: James MacGregor Burns, "Roosevelt: The Soldier of Freedom"

  • According to historian James MacGregor Burns, in early 1942. the Philippines Manuel Quezon floated a proposal that the U.S. and Japan both withdraw from the Philippines, which would then declare its neutrality. The U.S. accepted and the Japanese decline this proposal. – Tom Au Sep 21 '17 at 18:35
  • Ah, that one. Might want to slide that note into the answer, due to the "we are already at war" nature of the proposal. – KorvinStarmast Sep 21 '17 at 18:55
3

Hypotheticals belong to what is known as speculative history or allohistory, sometimes as alternate history.

To substantiate a hypothetical you need a theory of causation.

"However, if the US had granted the Philippines independence back in 1901, would Japan still have felt the need to go to war?"

This question asserts that the Empire of Japan went to war with the United States because of US control over the Philippines. Such a causal theory in actuality is demonstrably false. The immediate cause of the war was the presence of a culminating battle grand strategy in the Imperial Japanese Navy combined with the United States immediately hostile behaviour towards Japanese Imperialism in China and the colonies of France, The United Kingdom and Holland.

The intermediate cause of the war between Japan and the United States was competing imperial and neo-imperial interests, mainly voiced over the division of China's economy. Particularly due to the Showa racialist ideology in Japan and the export of Christian liberal-democratic ideology in the United States. (A world-systems / Marxist Imperialist analysis of cause, fairly solid at this level of analysis).

The final cause of the war was the Imperialist stage of capitalism, the development of neo-colonial economics in the United States involving loosely held colonies under nominal self-governance (or development to the same), and the racialist ideology of post-Restoration Japan and the increasing power of the networks of Trusts in the United States and their international imperial ambitions rooted in the Gilded Age.

So no, changing the formal nature of US control over the Philippines in 1901 would not change the conflict of interests between the emerging Showa racialist ideology and US liberalist neo-colonialism. However, it may "butterfly" the specifics of war between Japan and the United States, particularly if Japanese and US imperialist interests can be united against some other force in the area, particularly if the Trusts of the United States gain an interest in seeing Japanese control over China.

  • Whether I agree or disagree with your analysis, this is a very well framed answer. +1 – KorvinStarmast Sep 21 '17 at 18:23
  • I object to characterizing the Japanese as racist or at least not in comparison to western powers. After ww1 the Japanese were ignored in their attempts to reduce racism as a factor in international relations. – Jeff Sep 21 '17 at 19:08
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    Interestingly I didn't use the word "racist." And the comparative isn't to other cultures but to official state ideologies – Samuel Russell Sep 21 '17 at 22:27

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