Pacific February 1942 – July 1945
Episode 23 – The World At War
Before the start of the war in the Pacific, Japan attacked Peal Harbor, the American military base located on the island of Oahu in Hawaii, because America had stopped trade of oil and other materials to Japan. After this surprise attack, the US declared war on Japan on December 8, 1941 – one day after the attack – and joined the conflict. This marked the beginning of World War II in the Pacific Theatre.
In 1942, the Japanese Empire was operating at the peak of its powers, attacking and occupying positions throughout the Pacific Ocean, ranging from Alaska to India. In a bid to stem the Japanese advance, the US military decided on a strategy of ‘island-hopping’ – fighting for control of strategic islands along a path toward the Japanese home islands, bringing American bombers within range and preparing for a possible invasion. The battles were bloody and conditions for prisoners-of-war were woeful. Japanese soldiers fought the island landings fiercely, killing many Allied soldiers and sometimes making desperate, last-ditch suicidal attacks. By early 1945, leapfrogging US forces had advanced as far as Iwo Jima and Okinawa, within 340 miles of mainland Japan, at a great cost to both sides. On Okinawa alone, during 82 days of fighting, about 100,000 Japanese troops and 12,510 Americans were killed, and somewhere between 42,000 and 150,000 Okinawan civilians died as well. Eventually the war would cease after the US detonated two nuclear weapons over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945, respectively. It was the first time atomic weapons were used in warfare and resulted in the death of about 200,000 people (although estimates vary widely).