Americas, Asia, Defense and Security

Pearl Harbor and the Fallacy of Inevitable War: The Thucydides Trap

Peter Zwack – 12.7.2018

More than 2,500 years ago, Greek historian Thucydides summed up the origin of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) in a single sentence: “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this inspired in Sparta that made war inevitable.”

I contemplated that last word — inevitable — during a recent visit to the Arizona battleship memorial at Pearl Harbor.

The deadly Japanese surprise attack on Dec. 7, 1941, was the culmination of decades of rising resentment against the United States. Japan’s first encounter with the U.S. came in the mid-1850s, when Adm. Matthew Perry boldly sailed into Tokyo Bay. At the time, the U.S. was a brash, wet-behind-the-ears global upstart; Japan was an ancient and self-isolated country. Subsequent encounters during the next 80 years fed Japan’s conviction that the U.S. was intent on curbing the island nation’s ambitions to lay claim to more territory and natural resources.

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