Truth about Pearl Harbor - John T. Flynn

Ultimatum Provokes an Attack

Why did the President refuse to do anything towards even testing the possibilities of peace in the Konoye proposal? In view of the fact that the United States and Great Britain were in a pathetic state of unpreparedness, why when an offer, strongly urged by the American Ambassador, was made by Konoye, was it allowed to drag along unanswered? The President might have made this last attempt to avoid war, even though the attempt failed. But he did not and we are bound to ask, why not?

The negotiations with Nomura in Washington were rapidly getting nowhere when Konoye was dispatched to Washington to support Nomura. Nobody knew better than the Japanese the desperate game which lay ahead of them. No-one knew better than they that any hope of success must come almost entirely from the success of one desperate throw of the dice. They were anxious to find a way out of the meshes of the evil net which they had woven around themselves before they made that daring effort.

But by this time the negotiations were being shaped by the President and he had made up his mind to force the issue—to get from Japan a complete and abject surrender or to make war on her. The abject surrender he wanted was not humanly possible, when we take account, as we must, of the character of the Japanese. Ambassador Grew seemed filled with apprehension that the government would miscalculate on this subject. Obviously he feared that the President had made two mistakes: one, that the China war and our embargo had hopelessly weakened the Japanese and, second, that they would not fight if we put on the pressure. He wrote to the State Department the following ominous statement on November 3:

"The primary point to be decided apparently involves the question whether war with Japan is justified by American national objectives, policies, and needs in the case of failure of the first line of national defense, namely, diplomacy, since it would be possible only on the basis of such a decision for the Roosevelt administration to follow a course which would be divested as much as possible of elements of uncertainty, speculation and opinion. The Ambassador does not doubt that such a decision, irrevocable as it might well prove to be, has been debated fully and adopted, for the sands are running fast."

This somewhat obscure paragraph, breathing the spirit of diplomatic circumlocution, means simply stated that: Our first means of avoiding war is diplomacy. If that fails the President must decide whether or not American objectives justify war, and the Ambassador believes that the government has made the irrevocable, the fateful decision that war on Japan is justified by American national objectives. But he goes on to add that his:

. . . purpose is only to ensure against the United States becoming involved in war with Japan because of any possible misconception of Japan's capacity to rush headlong into a suicidal struggle with the United States."

He warned that the idea

". . . that war would be probably averted though there might be some risk of war, by progressively imposing drastic economic measures, is an uncertain and dangerous hypothesis upon which to base considered United States policy and measures."

But the President rejected this counsel. It is unnecessary to follow the last scenes of the negotiations in Washington. It is clear that Japan was confronted with the alternative of making peace with us or going to war against the Dutch and the British and probably bringing us in, or of finding a formula for a settlement of the China Affair satisfactory to us. She offered a formula which would leave her a few shreds of her tattered garments of honor and prestige and on this formula she was willing to yield if the United States would resume shipments to her.

On our part, we refused to make any specific demands on her until finally, on November 26, 1941, Mr. Hull handed to Nomura and Kurusu the last document to pass between these ill-fated negotiators before the attack. It was an ultimatum—an absolute and unequivocal ultimatum. It demanded withdrawal of all Japanese forces from Indo-China, the withdrawal of all military forces from China, the outright recognition of the Chungking government, the renunciation of all extra-territorial rights in China and Japan's renunciation of her treaty of alliance with the Axis powers.

THIS WAS AN ULTIMATUM. The Japanese so Considered it. Mr. Hull considered it such as he advised the Army and Navy on delivering it that negotiations were ended. The British Ambassador Halifax considered it such and said on hearing of it the matter now passed into the hands of the Army and Navy.

Here let me say this:

A supporter of Mr. Roosevelt can make a defense of his course. He might say Mr. Roosevelt was right in supposing that sooner or later the United States would have to fight Japan; and that he was right in concluding that it would be unwise to let Japan get away with any illusion that she had not lost in China or that she had not been forced to her knees by America. If he did it would be only a question of time when Japan would renew her program of aggression in Asia whenever the situation seemed favorable. The time to crush her and to make her see irrevocably the folly of such a course in the future and to discredit the military party for a generation, if not forever, was NOW. Now, when Japan has no allies who can aid her; when Germany is in a death struggle with Russia; when Japan is weakened by five years of war in China and by our embargoes and when the situation in Asia is such that we can count on full partnership of Britain in a Pacific war. This, then, is the time to force Japan to complete surrender, and if she refuses, to accept the consequences of an immediate attack by her on the Indies.

I say a supporter of Mr. Roosevelt can make this argument with some show of reason. But he cannot say that Mr. Roosevelt had not decided on an all-out war. He cannot say that Mr. Roosevelt was seeking a formula for peace in the Pacific when he delivered to Japan an ultimatum which neither he nor his Ambassador nor Mr. Hull believed would be accepted. Mr. Roosevelt cannot claim he was stabbed in the back, without asking us to believe that after giving an ultimatum to a prospective enemy he turned his back to provide a target for the blow. He cannot plead surprise as an excuse for not being fully on guard against a war which he entered with his eyes wide open.

The simple fact is that after Mr. Hull handed the Japanese Ambassador his ultimatum of November 26, that episode was ended. Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Hull sat back and waited for Japan to attack. Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Hull believed they had just carried off a masterpiece of diplomacy. Mr. Roosevelt believed we were ready for that war. Mr. Knox announced "The Navy is ready." About three weeks before Pearl Harbor a distinguished Senator called on him to ask, in view of the withdrawal of so many warships from the Pacific to the Atlantic, whether or not Mr. Knox could assure him that the Navy had sufficient strength to tackle Japan. Mr. Knox assured him that all was well, that the Navy would clean up the Japanese Navy in a few weeks, that the only thing he feared was that it would go off and hide so that we could not get at it and, if that happened, it would take a little longer. Senator Pepper, looked upon as a White House spokesman, had said in the Senate in May:

"If we will just modify the law which now prohibits the recruiting of American aviators in the United States for service with the Chinese Army, and let Chiang Kai-shek have the advantage of some gallant American boys at the controls of some first-class American bombing planes, fifty of them, in my opinion, can make a shambles out of Tokyo."

This represented the attitude in the administration. The strange notion that the job was one for a few planes and a few swift blows by our Navy permeated the thinking of the administration. In the midst of the negotiations which ended so disastrously, the same Senator Pepper told reporters that he would "Draw a line and warn them (the Japs) that if they cross it there will be shooting" (N.Y. Times, October 19. 1941).

The President did not have any notion that he was stepping into so terrible a war. He had assured Americans that he would not take American boys into a foreign war. He therefore wished the attack to come from Japan. As long ago as June, 1941, Alsop and Kintner. White House favored columnists, wrote:

"In the past week, he (the President) has been repeatedly urged to order immediate action. He has been warned that to delay has been to court disaster. He has been able to act, for all the preparations for meeting the German's threat in the battle of the Atlantic have at last been completed. Yet he has not acted because he hopes to drive the Germans to shoot first . . .

"The problem was mentioned in this space in a recent discussion of the Atlantic patrol, in which it was pointed out that the President and the men around him privately hope the patrol will produce an incident. No man can doubt the German high command will do everything possible to avoid shooting first."

The writers explained that the President felt himself checked by his many promises to stay out of war. "He does not feel he can openly violate them. But he can get around them the 'smart way'". This, they explain, is to try to provoke the Germans to shoot at us. Then the President can start "shooting back." He was following the same plan with Japan.

The President had now steered the negotiations with Japan to such a point where he would get his incident. The Army and Navy had a plan which was to be put into execution the moment Japan attacked—but not before. Of course, it was never supposed that Japan would attack as she did. After the ultimatum was handed to Kurusu, which was to force Japan into an overt act, Mr. Roosevelt went to Warm Springs for a holiday. The news of Japanese naval and troop movements later on compelled him to return. But from this moment on, the White House and the State Department were spots of intense expectancy for the blow on Malay or Siam or Singapore or the Dutch East Indies or perhaps Guam or better still the Philippines, which would be the consummation of the great game of diplomacy of Messrs. Roosevelt and Hull. They sat around and waited for the great "surprise." It is certainly not too much to say that the surprise they waited for surprised them very much.

All this is well known here and abroad. Only recently Oliver Lyttelton, British Minister of Production, addressing a gathering of Americans in London, said: "Japan was provoked into attacking America at Pearl Harbor. It is a travesty on history ever to say that America was forced into the war!" Mr. Hull protested against this and Mr. Lyttelton was compelled to make a lame retraction. But that is what he said. And, of course, he spoke the truth.

Here again the President's supporters weaken and complicate his case by denying the obvious truth. Those among them who are more honest say frankly that, of course Mr. Roosevelt wanted the Japanese to strike first. That was an intelligent stroke. That would have the effect of uniting all Americans and in fact it did. He would have been a fool to deprive himself of the moral effect of this manoeuvre. But having done it, it is now impossible to escape its inevitable consequences. He wanted to provoke Japan to attack. But he utterly and pitifully misunderstood the variety of attacks to which he exposed the country. He certainly never looked for an attack which would kill 3000 Americans and knock the American Navy and Army out of the war in a day, and force us to the long and terrible march back over the innumerable island stepping stones of the Pacific and at the loss of so many men and so much material and prestige.