8. Hitler’s Insane Declaration of War Against the US
As seen above, Japan might have made a terrible decision when it chose to go to war with the US, but at least it was a reasoned decision. Perhaps poor reasoning, but there was nonetheless some coherence in the argument linking Japanese interests and the decision to pick a fight with the US. It was the kind of decision that historians could examine, and think: “I see what they were trying to do. They got it wrong, but I see where they were coming from, and where they thought they were going with this“. Such coherence and a rational connection between decision and goals was decidedly absent when Adolph Hitler declared war on the US soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was as if he saw Japan doing something utterly dumb, then did the equivalent of going: “oh yeah? Well here, hold my beer!”
In the 1930s, Germany and Italy signed an anticommunist pact directed against the USSR, forming the Berlin-Rome axis – from which WWII’s Axis Powers derived their name. Japan’s militarist rulers, vehemently anticommunist in their own right, eventually signed the treaty, forming the Tokyo-Berlin-Rome axis. The pact’s clauses included a defensive treaty, binding the signatories to aid any member that came under attack from a foreign aggressor. Notably, the treaty did not bind its signatories to aid any member waging an offensive war in which it was the aggressor. That was illustrated in the summer of 1941: after attacking the USSR, the Germans pled with Japan to join in finishing off the Soviets by attacking from the east. The Japanese refused: since Germany was the aggressor, Japan was not treaty-bound to come to its aid. In short, Germany was under no obligation to go to war against the United States.