Truth about Pearl Harbor - John T. Flynn

The Managed Crisis

But what of Japan? The President, addressing the Congress the day after Pearl Harbor, said, referring to Japan:

"The United States was at peace with that nation, and at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific."

The veil has not yet been wholly lifted from the diplomatic and military prologue to the Japanese-American war. But enough is now known to make the picture reasonably clear.

Japan attacked China July 7, 1937. Up to January, 1940, this government refrained from any hostile intrusion into that war. The State Department had properly protested against Japan's aggression. But it did nothing to aid China. On the contrary it pursued a policy of aid to Japan. Under our Neutrality Law, when war began between Japan and China, it became the duty of the President to proclaim a state of war and stop all shipments of munitions to either country. The President, however, refused to do this. He was gravely criticized for violating the law. He has suggested that he did not proclaim our neutrality because it would then have been impossible for us to send any aid to China. Actually we were giving far more aid to Japan than to China. In 1939 we sent China goods to the value of $55,600,000 while we exported to Japan goods valued at $232,000,000. We did practically the same in 1940. We sold Japan the immense quantities of iron and scrap and oil and other materials with which she carried on the war in China and prepared herself for war with us. The government sent its sympathy to China and its scrap iron to Japan. It was not until China and Japan became inextricably entangled in the European war that our government manifested its dynamic interest in China's "democracy."

In 1940, after the fall of France, the United States began to move ever more deeply into the European war. The interests of Britain in Asia brought China and Japan within the orbit of the Anglo-German struggle. Japan saw the United States looming as an immediate enemy through her interest in Europe. By the autumn of 1940, Japan became interested in one overmastering objective. She wanted to keep the United States out of the war in Asia. It looked then as if Britain might be defeated, thus cutting her vast Asiatic empire adrift. The fall of Prance had weakened France's hold upon her important colony of Indo-China. If the United States were to end trade with Japan, Japan would have to go to the Dutch East Indies for oil and other essential materials. If the Dutch joined in the embargo, Japan would have to seize the Indies and this would mean war with Britain, and probably, the United States. Therefore in September, 1940, Japan entered the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis. Through this alliance she got:

  1. An agreement from Germany to declare war on the United States if Japan and the United States went to war.
  2. She induced Germany to exert pressure upon Vichy to allow Japan to enter Indo-China whenever she found it necessary to attack the Indies.
  3. She hoped to get a non-aggression pact with Russia, which she did. Germany was winning the war and the bargain looked good to Japan and the militarists who then ruled her affairs.

Actually this fatal program sealed Japan's doom. The circumstances by which this came about are scarcely realized by the American people. They are almost unbelievable. I would not dare to describe them if they were not attested beyond cavil by the official documents recently made public for all to read. Here are the facts.

On December 14, 1940, after Japan had gotten an agreement from Vichy to enter Indo-China. Ambassador Joseph C. Grew in Tokyo wrote a long letter to President Roosevelt. Being an old Groton and Harvard man he felt privileged to write him over the head of the Secretary of State. He addressed him as "Dear Frank." In a letter of great clarity and tact he outlined the picture of affairs in the East. He told the President frankly that after eight years "diplomacy has been defeated by trends and forces utterly beyond its control," and that "our work has been swept away as if by a typhoon, with little or nothing remaining to show for it." No Japanese leader, he said, could reverse the expansionist policy and hope to survive. The Germans are working overtime to push Japan into war with us.

"It therefore appears that sooner or later, unless we are prepared, with General Hugh Johnson, to withdraw bag and baggage from the entire sphere of Greater East Asia, including the South Seas (which God forbid), we are bound eventually to come to a head-on collision with Japan."

The meaning of all this, he summed up as follows:

"It seems to me to be increasingly clear that we are bound to have a showdown with Japan someday, and the principal question at issue is whether it is to our advantage to have that showdown sooner or have it later."

What he is telling the President is that war with Japan is inevitable and the only question to be decided is one of time. Shall it be NOW or LATER. The Ambassador decided that it should be now. This meant, he concluded, taking positive and vigorous action against Japan to halt her. But we cannot afford to take measures "short of war," he said, because Japan will detect it and that will be futile. But if we convince them that "we mean to fight if compelled to do so" then perhaps our measures may prove effective to avert war. Here, as clear as a man can make it, the American Ambassador is advising the President personally on taking a course against Japan which he believes will result in war because it is better to fight Japan now than later, while there is a chance that a show of vigor may force a change of Japanese policy.

To that letter the President made a fateful and historic answer, an answer which the people of the United States knew nothing about. He began his letter:

"Dear Joe: I find myself in decided agreement with your conclusions."

But Roosevelt went much further than Grew. The Ambassador had suggested that perhaps the interests of England might dictate that we avoid war with Japan now because it might handicap Britain. Roosevelt brushed that aside. He was much more impressed with the fear that an attack by Japan on the East Indies and Malay might deprive England of supplies needed against Germany. He was clear that Japan must be kept within bounds. He felt we could not lay down hard and fast plans but he left no doubt that he adopted fully Mr. Grew's "war now" policy. See Ten Years in Japan by Joseph C. Grew (1944), page 359 et seq.

From that moment—January 21, 1941—when the President wrote that letter the die was cast. The President had decided, with Grew, that war with Japan was inevitable, that we must pick the time and that the time was NOW subject to the exigencies of the whole world situation; that we must proceed with vigorous measures against Japan and that we must not fool ourselves with the expectation of moving "short of war."

This decision seemed to quicken the whole tempo of the President's war plans. A few weeks later he asked Congress to pass the Lend-Lease bill. Having decided on war with Japan all of the President's acts after that became easily understandable.

This government began at once to increase its pressure on Japan. Japan seemed to perceive this. She now had to make up her mind either to appease Mr. Roosevelt or face war. War with America would mean that she would be cut off from the supplies of scrap iron, oil and other materials she had been getting from us to fight China. She must look for these materials elsewhere—in the Dutch East Indies. In July, therefore, Japan took complete military control of Indo-China. President Roosevelt immediately retaliated by freezing all Japanese assets—$130,000,000 of them—in the United States and thus ending trade with Japan. Describing this Walter Lippmann said

"This was a declaration of economic war. Along with the other economic and military measures taken at the time by Australia, the Netherlands, and Great Britain, it was what the Japanese called it: 'an anti-Japanese encirclement policy.'"

The preceding month—June—an American political adviser was named by Chiang Kai-shek. Americans were sent to reorganize the traffic on the Burma Road. Most serious of all, General Chennault, of the United States Army, took to China a number of American Army aviators who were allowed to resign from the United States Army to volunteer with the Chinese army—American pilots fighting Japan disguised as Chinese soldiers. The President was actually sending American reinforcements into China, as he sent reinforcements to the British in Iceland. After the freezing order an American military mission under Brigadier-General McGruder was sent to China.

In August, immediately following all this, Roosevelt and Churchill met in the Atlantic at the conference from which emerged the Atlantic Charter. But the conference was not called to frame a charter. Its chief object was to discuss the coming war against Japan. What happened there has been revealed in a White House inspired volume called "How War Came" by Ernest Lindley and Forrest Davis. Churchill wished to meet the issue head-on. He asked the President, as the British, Dutch, Australians had repeatedly besought this government before, "to join in an ultimative declaration to Japan, an admitted provocation of war." Other powers in the Pacific had been urging that the Allies establish a deadline in the Pacific serving notice upon Japan that so far and no farther should she go. The Army and Navy wanted more time to prepare. The President asked Churchill: wouldn't we be better off in three months? Churchill agreed reluctantly. "Leave it to me," said the President, "I think I can baby them along for three months." Churchill thought an ultimatum would force Japan to halt. But Roosevelt had other plans.

When Churchill left the Atlantic Conference he felt he had completely won his point. In a speech in Parliament January 28, 1942, he said:

"It has been the policy of the Cabinet at all costs to avoid embroilment with Japan until we were sure the United States would also be engaged. . . On the other hand the probability, since the Atlantic Conference at which I discussed these matters with President Roosevelt, that the United Slates, even if not herself attacked, would come into the war in the Far East, and thus make the final victory assured, seemed to allay some of the anxieties and that expectation has not been falsified by events."

But something else had happened in the world. Hitler declared war on the Soviet Union and invaded Russia. This was a blow of the first magnitude to Tokyo. Matsuoka, the Foreign Minister responsible for Tokyo's entry into the Axis, found himself in disgrace. The cabinet of Prime Minister Konoye was dissolved to get rid of Matsuoka and those who had supported him. The advantages which Tokyo had sought from the Axis alliance were now lost. Germany, as a partner in Asia, engaged in the vast enterprise of defeating Russia was enormously reduced in value. The defeat of Britain and the dissolution of her Asiatic empire now became more visionary. And with America practically committed to the war in an alliance with Britain and Russia, Japan's whole strategic structure fell about her ears. Japan's supplies of steel, iron, oil, chemicals and a whole catalogue of essential materials were cut off. Her foreign trade was ruined. Ambassador Grew wrote that Japan faced bankruptcy.

The American policy of vigorous action which had so little chance of avoiding war, now, due to the folly of Hitler in attacking Russia, became suddenly almost successful. On September 6, another incident then hidden from the American people and revealed only recently, occurred—as important as Roosevelt's decision in January to make war.

The Japanese Prime Minister Konoye on that day invited the American Ambassador Grew to dinner at the house of a friend. There, with a frankness which astonished the American Ambassador, he revealed the plight of his country and his ministry. The whole story is told in the State Department publication entitled "War and Peace," containing all the documents covering the negotiations between the United States and Japan, and in Ambassador Crew's Ten Years in Japan. They are too voluminous to include here but they are open to the student who wishes to check on this account. Out of that conversation and several subsequent ones between Konoye's secretary and the counsellor of the American Embassy, the following situation grew.

The Japanese cabinet had decided that, in the presence of its mounting difficulties, it must find some means of liquidating the China Affair. The moderate Army leaders wanted to get out of China. The Prime Minister wanted to work out some plan by which Japan could do this without loss of face. The government could not make an outright surrender or retreat because it would be torn to pieces and the military extremists would come into power with every hope of peace gone. Konoye begged the American Ambassador to recommend to the President that he, Mr. Roosevelt, and the Japanese Premier meet in the Pacific at Hawaii, as Roosevelt and Churchill had done in the Atlantic. There, Konoye promised Grew, he was prepared to give to Mr. Roosevelt assurances of such far-reaching character that they were certain to be accepted.

Japan had just made peace overtures to China. They seemed satisfactory save one clause which, provided that all those Japanese forces would retire from China which had been sent in since 1937, reverting to the status quo as of that time, except some troops to garrison certain strategic points in order to maintain order to suppress Communism. With the exception of this clause the proposals seemed feasible to Ambassador Grew. But the Prime Minister's secretary, Ushiba, assured him that even on that point satisfactory assurances would be given. He pleaded also that the existence of the Konoye Cabinet was bound up in the success of such a conference of Roosevelt and Konoye and that if Konoye went to Hawaii he would not dare return without an agreement, however drastic. But that if the President refused to meet him the Konoye Cabinet would fall and peace in the Pacific would be impossible.

Konoye himself declared to Grew that he was determined to bring about a rehabilitation of American-Japanese relations no matter what the cost. Here was a great crack in the black wall of Asia. Grew was profoundly impressed. He felt that circumstances had made the American policy finally successful. He therefore wrote a long letter to the State Department urging the acceptance of Konoye's offer. In Washington, Nomura also pressed the plan. The official reports printed by Grew and his own diary reveal the Japanese authorities, with their hats in their hands, pathetically pleading for this opportunity to get out of the mess they had made without war and with the loss of almost everything they supposed they had gained by the ill-fated China Incident. The Japanese Premier kept a warship ready and held it for instant departure whenever the word should come from Roosevelt. He, his associates, his secretary, kept pressing for an answer, pointing out that if this failed, the Konoye Cabinet would fall and that the hope of peace would never return. Grew added his importunities. But in Washington, Mr. Hull continued to evade an answer. On October 16, the Konoye Cabinet fell.

Even at this point the fat was not wholly in the fire. Ambassador Grew records in his diary an account of the fall of Konoye. The Emperor summoned a conference of the Privy Council and the leaders of the armed forces. He asked if they were prepared to pursue a policy that would guarantee peace with the United States. The army and navy conferees present remained silent. Whereupon Hirohito "ordered the armed forces to obey his wishes." It was for this reason that Tojo was chosen Prime Minister, because, being a general in active service in the army, he was in a position to control, and he was committed to the success of the conversations in Washington. Even after Tojo's appointment Mr. Grew reported that it was the current belief among Japanese leaders that the question of stationing armed forces at certain strategic points in China could be gotten over. At this moment, Germany, displeased with the Konoye Cabinet, was far from satisfied with the Tojo Cabinet. She resented the negotiations going on in Washington as an unfriendly act to herself.