U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt called Dec. 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy,” but to many Americans it’s more of an occasion for head-shaking confusion. The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor wasn’t a crippling blow so much as an unprovoked act of imperial suicide. When Japan took on the U.S., it picked a fight with a country with more than five times its gross domestic product and twice its population. From the day the United States entered World War II until the day it ended, Japan produced 17 new aircraft carriers. The U.S. 141.

But it gets worse. At the time it attacked the U.S. — and the British Empire at the same time — Japan was already engaged in an attempt to subjugate the world’s most-populous nation. It was the ill-fated bid to conquer China — a country with 10 times the population and 20 times the land mass of Japan — that prompted the U.S. to place an oil embargo on the Japanese Empire, which was what prompted the attack on the U.S. and Japan’s conquest of Southeast Asia. Japan desperately needed oil, because fighting China meant going up against impossible odds. The empire’s offensives had already started to bog down by 1939.

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