Kurt Schuler at Free Banking has an interesting article on the prehistory of Pearl Harbor:
Quite a few libertarians of my acquaintance have trouble thinking straight about World War II in the Pacific. The recent anniversary of Pearl Harbor brings them out with their arguments that U.S. government provoked the Japanese government into starting the war. Let’s review the facts, with a complementary glance at Japanese colonial monetary arrangements.
Japan emerged as an international power with the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-5.
Read on here for the full account of Japan's imperialism.
The author concludes:
That is the background to Pearl Harbor. For more than 40 years Japan had pursued a policy of aggression and conquest. In each case it was the aggressor. As an island nation with a modern military it was [in] no real danger of invasion from neighboring countries. In the territories it invaded, Japanese forces murdered civilian opponents of its rule by the thousands and suppressed them by the millions.
The 1940 U.S embargo of certain materials frequently used for military purposes was intended to pressure Japan to stop its campaign of invasion and murder in China. The embargo was a peaceful response to violent actions. Japan could have stopped; it would have been the libertarian thing to do. For libertarians to claim that the embargo was a provocation is like saying that it is a provocation to refuse to sell bullets to a killer.
Then, in December 1941, came not just the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, but an attack on the whole of Southeast Asia: Hong Kong, Singapore, what is now Malaysia (British colonies), Indonesia (a Dutch colony), the Philippines (scheduled under American law to become independent in 1945), Thailand (independent). In 1942 there followed the invasion of Burma, a bit of India, and a few of the Aleutian Islands, plus the bombing of Darwin, Australia.
With that history in mind, how can anybody think that the United States could have made a durable peace with Japan? It would have lasted as long as would have been to Japan’s military advantage, no longer. Japan was hell-bent on conquest. Nothing since its emergence as a major international power suggested a limit to its ambitions. It only ceded in the face of superior force. Even as Allied forces retook territory, Japanese fanaticism was such that the government did not surrender until after the U.S. military dropped two atomic bombs. To ignore the long pattern of Japanese aggression as quite a few libertarians are wont to do is not just historically ignorant but dangerous, because it closes its eyes to the hard truth that some enemies are so implacable that the only choice is between fighting them and being subjugated by them. It took a prolonged U.S. military occupation to turn Japan from the aggressor it was to the peaceful country it has become.