Appendices - Hirohito's War
APPENDIX N: THE ROLE OF OIL IN THE PACIFIC WAR
Conclusion: On 17 July 1913 Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, warned parliament of the essential role of oil to secure trade and geopolitical stability: “If we cannot get oil, we cannot get cotton and we cannot get a thousand and one commodities necessary for the preservation of the economic energies of Great Britain.”18
Arguably the Pacific War was the first war in which oil played a significant determinant part. In the interwar period the growth in oil output and the industries that depended on oil transformed the industrial economies of the west. Russia and Japan too joined in the oil economy. By the end of World War I, the importance of oil, because of its military utility, had advanced apace. The mobility enabled by oil was transformational not only for the new technologies of the automobile and the airplane that surged ahead in the interwar period in spite of the Great Depression, but also for how World War II would be fought and won.
The trench warfare deadlocks of World War I were in the past; thereafter the development of oil powered submarines, aircraft carriers, long range airplanes capable of delivering massively increased bomb loads, tanks and trucks to transport troops restored mobility to the battlefield. Governments could rapidly exert military power over distances that would have been inconceivable in World War I. Hand in hand with the military range extension enabled by the new technologies was a political and commercial world in which the geopolitical possibilities for existential change had been transformed. Military regimes in Germany and Japan could not only dream of a new world order, with the advance of the 20th Century’s new oil economy, they now had the military means to make it happen.
However the Axis powers, neither Germany, Japan or Italy had easy access to oil. As Professor Wakimura of Tokyo University observed during a post-war interrogation, “God was on the side of the nation that had the oil.”19 That nation was indisputably the United States.