Wilhelmina Helena Pauline Maria was the longest-serving queen of the Netherlands, having reigned from 1890 to 1948. Her keen business instincts made her the first female billionaire (in US dollars), while her political astuteness helped keep her country together during WWII. Unfortunately, she was also responsible for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Well, not directly. But she did play a crucial role.
To understand this, we have to go to Southeast Asia. Starting in the 1500s, the Dutch East India Company began monopolizing trade over the Indonesian archipelago. Then they colonized it. In the 1800s, the company was nationalized, making the Netherlands even richer than it already was at the expense of the Indonesians.
And since Indonesia is oil-rich, the Dutch became the fourth-largest exporters of oil after the US, the USSR, and Iran during the first half of the 20th century. As for Saudi Arabia, its oil deposits weren’t discovered till 1938 and no one knew how much they had till after the war.
Now back to the queen. Wilhelmina was determined to keep her country neutral during WWII, but the Germans weren’t having any of it. Which was why they invaded on May 10th, 1940.
Although the Dutch and the British weren’t exactly the best of friends due to territorial squabbles in South Africa, Britain came to her rescue. Despite heavy German aerial bombardment, the HMS Hereward reached the Netherlands on May 13th and evacuated the Dutch royal family back to Britain.
So now there were two Dutch governments. The one in the Netherlands became a civil administration called the “Reich Commissariat for the Occupied Dutch Territories,” headed by Arthur Seyss-Inquart.
The other was based at Stratton House in London’s Piccadilly neighborhood. Occupied by Queen Wilhelmina and her cabinet, it was headed by Prime Minister Dirk Jan de Geer… which is where the problems began.
Though their queen had left, the Dutch formed resistance groups against Nazi occupation. This upset de Geer because he was convinced that Germany would win. He, therefore, wanted to negotiate a peace treaty and expressed his views in public. Then he drafted a leaflet telling those back home how best to cooperate with the invaders.
Furious, Wilhelmina called him a traitor and fired him. She then appointed another prime minister with backbone – Peter Sjoerds Gerbrandy. It was his idea to set up “Radio Oranje” (Radio Orange, because the queen belonged to the House of Orange-Nassau), using the BBC to broadcast news back home which included speeches by Wilhelmina.
But Germany wasn’t the only problem. The Japanese had been wreaking havoc in China, so in 1938, the US imposed trade restrictions on them. This hurt the Japanese because 74.1% of their scrap iron, 93% of their copper, and over 80% of their oil came from America.
Japan, therefore, made an alliance with Germany in 1940 and invaded French Indochina – which was then under Nazi-occupied France. The US responded by banning Japanese ships from using the Panama Canal (the main conduit between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans).