The efforts of the [Japanese] moderates to avoid a war with the United States were unsuccessful, partly because the attitude of the U.S.A. – and also that of London – [which] became more and more obdurate. When, under pressure from the army, the Konoye cabinet agreed to the military occupation of all Indo-China, the British and Americans announced in July 1941 drastic economic sanctions. Japanese funds in the U.S.A., England and various dominions were blocked.”Ernst Topitsch
Wracked with economic problems, overpopulation and riots, Japan embarked on a program of military aggression in the 1930s. The first act of aggression was against Manchuria, which was invaded on 18 September 1931 without orders from the government in Tokyo. The prime minister and the Japanese parliament saw the invasion as an act of insubordination by the Imperial Japanese Army; but they could do nothing to control the generals. From that point forward the military began to dictate aspects of national policy. To make matters worse, fanatical young officers butchered liberal politicians who supposedly threatened Japan’s “honor.”
After various skirmishes, bombings and political killings, war broke out between China and Japan. In 1937 an all-out invasion of China was initiated. China’s most important industrial and agricultural regions were occupied, but the vast interior of China held out against the Japanese invaders. In those days China was divided between a communist state in the north (under Mao) and a nationalist state (under General Chaing Kai-shek). This resulted in a three-way struggle – with the Chinese factions theoretically allied against the invader. By 1941 the war had devolved into a stalemate. The leftist Japanese historian Saburo Ienaga wrote, “In Japan, the few opponents of an imperialistic war against China never had enough popular support to prevent the conflict and were easily silenced.”
Japan’s military was divided into two hostile factions: Strike North and Strike South. The Strike North faction was dominated by the powerful Chosu clan which controlled the Imperial Japanese Army. Strike North saw Soviet Russia as Japan’s natural enemy and prepared for a war on the Asian continent. Strike South was dominated by the Satsuma clan from Kyushu which controlled the Imperial Japanese Navy. Strike South believed Japan’s main enemy was the European colonial powers of Britain, France and the Netherlands. Strike South prepared for a war in the Pacific. As an island nation, Japan naturally developed into a naval power like Great Britain; but the Chosu clan led Japan to the unusual choice of becoming a great land power as well.
Nationalism and militarism in Japan involved the cultivation of myths and the propagation of lies. It had a morally corrupting aspect, and was intellectually limiting. It gravitated toward authoritarianism. A warlike attitude was inculcated in Japan’s elementary schools. In middle school the training intensified. Ienaga wrote, “The ethics, language, and history textbooks, with their written and visual messages, had a significant jingoistic influence. Yet the military songs … hit a deeper emotional level. No amount of rational examination of the past … can erase those stirring tunes of glory from the memories of the prewar generation.”
Japan’s youth were trained for the army, for obedience to authority, and for patriotism. In 1925 military officers were assigned to every school in Japan, from middle school on up. The Western mind can hardly grasp the intensity of Japan’s militarism. Youth magazines carried articles with titles like “The Future War Between Japan and America.” At the same time, the political morality of Japan had always been pragmatic, tending toward a “might makes right” philosophy. This speaks to very old Chinese influences; but also, there was the negative example of Western imperialism. Instead of defending Asia from the “European devils,” the Japanese imitated the policies of the imperialists, taking Korea and Taiwan as colonies after the first Sino-Japanese War (July 1894 – April 1895).
Japanese militarism, however, was only one causal element leading to war in the Pacific. There were two others. First, Stalin wanted to perpetuate Japan’s war with China so that Japan could not turn its armies against the Soviet Union; second, President Franklin Roosevelt saw Japan’s war with China as a back door into World War II. Here we find that Roosevelt’s agenda coincided with Stalin’s agenda, making an interpretation of President Roosevelt’s motives – and the motives of his advisors – almost impossible to distinguish from Stalin’s.
Did Soviet agents trigger the Pacific war?
In April 1941, as Germany and the Soviet Union were preparing for war against each other, a Soviet intelligence officer named Vitalii Pavlov made contact with Harry Dexter White of the U.S. Treasury Department. The meeting took place at the Old Ebbitt Grill in Washington, D.C., with Pavlov pretending to read a copy of the New Yorker as he waited for White to arrive. Harry Dexter White had been identified by Soviet intelligence as anti-fascist and sympathetic to the Soviet Union. According to Whittaker Chambers, White had already provided secret intelligence to the Soviet Union about Japan. He was therefore ideally placed to help with a Soviet plan to trigger a war in the Pacific. To be sure, White was not the only agent in Washington who would be tapped for this assignment. There was, in those days, multiple Soviet spy rings operating in Washington, D.C.
After White arrived at the Old Ebbit Grill he quickly identified Pavlov and sat down with the Soviet intelligence officer. Pavlov told White that the Soviet Union would soon be attacked by Hitler. Moscow was afraid that the Japanese Empire might attack the Soviet Union as well. Could White help neutralize Japan as a threat? White readily agreed to do what was necessary.
“Having received his marching orders from Vitalii Pavlov,” wrote John Koster, “Harry Dexter White sat down at his typewriter in May 1941 to change the course of history. His task was to touch off a war with Japan without being detected as a Soviet agent.” White’s plan was to write a memorandum that would propel Roosevelt onto a collision course with Japan. Already Roosevelt had embargoed Japanese scrap metal after the Japanese Imperial Army moved into northern French Indochina. Roosevelt had decided against cutting Japan’s oil for fear it would trigger a war. White’s memorandum would attempt to change Roosevelt’s mind on this issue – persuading the American president to impose an oil embargo on Japan.
White began his memorandum by comparing American policy with the prewar appeasement policies of France and Britain. He hinted that Britain and the Soviet Union might soon fall to the Germans, leaving America to face the Axis juggernaut alone. He then proposed a strange solution to the growing problem of Japan. He suggested a bizarre agreement in which the United States would “lease” half of Japan’s air force and navy as Japan withdrew from China and Indochina. If Japan did not take this deal, America would bring down Japan’s economy with an oil embargo. Roosevelt initially rejected White’s May memorandum, but some of its ideas undoubtedly remained in the back of the President’s mind.
Then came the invasion of the Soviet Union in June. Japan was then expected to occupy the southern part of French Indochina. A debate began between Roosevelt and his advisors on what to do. Treasury Secretary Morgenthau, egged on by Harry Dexter White, urged Roosevelt to cut off Japan’s oil. Roosevelt allegedly balked, arguing that the Army and Navy were not ready for war. The government’s chief advisor on Japan, Stanley Hornbeck, also argued for an oil embargo. Then, on 21 July 1941, the Japanese occupied the remaining southern part of French Indochina. The U.S. and Britain reacted by freezing Japanese assets and cutting off credit. On 28 July 1941 a Japanese tanker was turned away at the Dutch Indonesian port of Tarakan. Japan was cut off from her principal source of oil (i.e., in Dutch Indonesia).
According to John Koster, “Roosevelt’s plan was to require the Japanese to apply for export licenses, but to grant the export licenses as they were applied for – a hindrance to trade but not strangulation.” It was in Roosevelt’s character to employ petty humiliations of this kind; but it was not a safe game to play with a proud and warlike people like the Japanese. According to Koster, however, the State Department’s Dean Acheson failed to expedite the necessary Japanese export licenses. Japan had no access to oil. The embargo was strangulation, after all. (Oops!)
As a result of the oil embargo, Japanese Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoye asked for a personal meeting with Roosevelt. He would agree to any terms that would not cause the fall of his government. Roosevelt was initially pleased at the idea of meeting Konoye; but Secretary of State Cordell Hull and “Japan expert” Stanley Hornbeck opposed a meeting with Konoye. Brought low by the death of his mother and his personal secretary in early September, Roosevelt lost the desire to override his advisors and meet with Konoye. According to Koster’s interpretation, “FDR, in his bereaved confusion and his preoccupation with the survival of Britain, let three self-serving hacks and a Soviet secret agent provoke a war that he himself did not want.”
On 6 September 1941 Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was told to prepare for war if Prime Minister Konoye’s diplomatic efforts continued to fail. On the same day, in Washington, Japanese Ambassador Nomura made the following offer to the American government: (1) “that Japan will not make any military advancement from French Indochina against any of its adjoining areas”; (2) that Japan would not feel obliged to abide by the Tripartite alliance with Germany if the United States began a war with Germany; and (3) “that Japan would endeavor to bring about the rehabilitation of [a] general and normal relationship between Japan and China, upon the realization of which Japan is ready to withdraw its armed forces from China as soon as possible….”
U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull said the Japanese peace proposal was vague and not acceptable. After the rejection of Japan’s peace offer, Prime Minister Konoye was replaced by General Hideki Tojo on 16 October 1941. Negotiations with the United States would continue, but Japan’s diplomats were not hopeful. They now offered to withdraw from Indochina after negotiating peace with China if access to the oil was restored. On hearing of this offer, the Soviet spy at the Treasury Department, Harry Dexter White, went into action. He wrote another memorandum to the President, with Treasury Secretary Morgenthau’s signature affixed. Writing in Morgenthau’s name, White warned Roosevelt that “persons in our country’s government are hoping to betray the cause of the heroic Chinese people….” Unless something was done, “rivers of oil” would soon flow to the Japanese war machine. White ended his boss’s memorandum by warning Roosevelt against “plotters of a new Munich.” White then wrote a memorandum under his own name, suggesting proposals that might turn Japan into a friendly neighbor. He offered Roosevelt the prospect of a glorious diplomatic victory. White set down ten demands for Japan which were passed on to Secretary of State Hull.
On 26 November 1941 Hull presented America’s demands to Japan, partly based on Harry Dexter White’s memorandum. First and foremost, Japan was told to withdrawal from Indochina and China immediately, with a clause signifying Japan’s abandonment of Manchuria (as a “regime in China” other than that of the National Government in Chungking). Hull was too stupid to see that his “note” to Japan was an ultimatum. The U.S. Government’s “Japan expert,” Stanley Hornbeck, who had adapted some of White’s ideas into the “Hull note,” stupidly proclaimed in the aftermath: “The Japanese government does not intend or expect to have forthwith armed conflict with the United States….”
When news of the “Hull note” reached Tokyo, the Japanese foreign minister attempted to resign. The emperor convened a meeting of Japan’s senior politicians. Even former prime ministers who had opposed Japanese imperial expansion said that America’s demands could not be met without risk of a violent revolution in Tokyo. Many of the Japanese statesmen were baffled by the American demands. When the Japanese cabinet met, the Emperor asked for a vote. The Japanese cabinet voted for war unanimously. Japan’s carrier battlegroup, the First Air Fleet, was ordered to attack Hawaii.
Were the negotiations with Japan intentionally bungled by Roosevelt’s team? Koster thinks Soviet agent Harry Dexter White played a decisive role. Admittedly, Roosevelt was not a man attentive to details. He left things to others, especially given his poor health. But there remains a number of questions about Roosevelt’s behind-the-scenes role; especially regarding Acheson’s refusal to expedite export licenses for the Japanese oil tankers. Did Roosevelt use Acheson to acquire plausible deniability in the event someone blamed him for the war? Koster’s history takes the view that Roosevelt had been hapless and naïve – that he had not intended war. As we shall see, not everyone shares this interpretation of Roosevelt’s leadership.
What was Roosevelt and Marshall’s game?
In 1985 I met James Roosevelt, the President’s son, who had worked closely with his “father” in 1941. I asked the younger Roosevelt about Pearl Harbor and whether Japan was intentionally provoked by the President. James Roosevelt had no problem answering. “Yes,” he said, “we provoked Japan on purpose to get into the war.” I had never expected to hear such a forthright admission from the President’s son.
Koster’s attempt (in his book) to make Roosevelt into an “innocent” does not fit with James Roosevelt’s admission. In fact, James Roosevelt was not apologetic about provoking the war. He was rather self-congratulatory. He thought they had done a good thing. After all, Roosevelt saw Hitler overrunning Europe. Britain lacked the army to fight Hitler. The Soviet Union was being defeated and appeared on the verge of collapse. It is understandable, from a strategic standpoint, that some American strategists would seek for a way to intervene sooner rather than later.
We should also take account of the odd behavior of General George C. Marshall, who delayed sending a warning message to General Short in Hawaii when military intelligence officers discovered that the Japanese were planning to break off diplomatic relations. After seeing Parts 1-13 of a decoded Japanese diplomatic cable on the evening of 6 December, President Roosevelt said, “This means war.” The details follow: At 0238 Eastern Standard Time, on the morning of 7 December, Part 14 of a Japanese coded message was intercepted regarding Tokyo’s reply to the “Hull Note.” At 0730 the document had been translated and was viewed by military officers. It appeared the Japanese were breaking off negotiations. An officer in Admiral Stark’s office pointed to the virulency of Part 14’s language. Perhaps this signaled the start of hostilities. It was then suggested that an additional warning be sent to Pearl Harbor. But nothing was done. Meanwhile, Colonel Rufus Bratton, head of the Far Eastern Section of G-2, was reading his copy of Part 14 when an intercept came through of a much shorter message sent from Tokyo to the Japanese Ambassador: “Will the Ambassador please submit to the United States Government (if possible to the Secretary of State) our reply to the United States at 1:00 P.M. on the 7th, your time.”
Colonel Bratton was stunned by this detail. Why was the Japanese foreign ministry dictating an exact time of delivery on a Sunday? This was not a normal working day for diplomats. No previous Japanese diplomatic cable had specified an exact time for delivery of a note. Bratton thought that all Pacific commands should be immediately warned. Of course, like everyone else in Washington, he was not thinking of Pearl Harbor. As he said later, “Nobody in ONI, nobody in G-2, knew that any major element of the fleet was in Pearl Harbor on Sunday morning the 7th of December. We all thought they had gone to sea … because that was part of the war plan, and they had been given a war warning.”
Bratton went to find a superior officer who could take action. But it was a Sunday morning, and here was the main advantage of attacking on a Sunday. At around 0900 Bratton called General Marshall’s quarters. He was told that the general had gone horseback riding. Bratton told Marshall’s orderly to find the general immediately. It was, said Bratton, “vitally important that he communicate with me at the earliest practicable moment.” But the message was never delivered, because Marshall had not gone horseback riding (though he initially testified to Congress that he had gone horseback riding). In December 1945 General Marshall changed his testimony, claiming to have had a faulty memory. He was not horseback riding after all, but at home with his wife (where Colonel Bratton had originally tried to reach him). The mystery of Marshall’s whereabouts on that eventful Sunday morning was revealed in the biography of Soviet Ambassador Maxim Litvinoff. On page 473 of that biography it states, “On the morning of Sunday, December 7, Litvinoff’s plane arrived at Bolling Field, Washington, D.C. He was received by Brigadier General Philip R. Faymonville … General Marshall and Admiral King….”
According to Bratton’s testimony, General Marshall finally called him back at 1030 that morning. Marshall told Bratton to come to his office, which was a ten-minute drive from Marshall’s residence. Marshal did not arrive at his office until around 11:15. Marshall then sat down to read the first 13 parts of the decoded Japanese diplomatic instructions while Bratton tried to interrupt him with news of the 1 P.M. deadline message. Marshall would not allow Bratton to interrupt. At 11:45 Marshall apparently realized the significance of what Bratton was trying to tell him and wrote out a warning to America’s Pacific commanders. Marshall briefly spoke to Admiral Stark, who offered the use of the Navy’s powerful radio stations to broadcast a warning message. Marshall declined the offer. Marshall’s message to the Pacific commanders read as follows:
JAPANESE ARE PRESENTING AT ONE P.M. EASTERN STANDARD TIME TODAY WHAT AMOUNTS TO AN ULTIMATUM ALSO THEY ARE UNDER ORDERS TO DESTROY THEIR CODE MACHINE IMMEDIATELY STOP JUST WHAT SIGNIFICANCE THE HOUR SET MAY HAVE WE DO NOT KNOW BUT BE ON ALERT ACCORDINGLY STOP INFORM NAVAL AUTHORITIES OF THIS COMMUNICATION. /SS/ MARSHALL
It was now 11:52 A.M. in Washington and 6:22 A.M. in Hawaii. The Japanese attack was little more than an hour away. Marshall had yet to warn General Short and Admiral Kimmel. His warning message had been written out. But who did he send the message to first? To the Caribbean Defense Command in Panama, the least likely to be attacked. The next message was sent to General MacArthur in the Philippines. Next it was sent to the Western Defense Command in San Francisco. The minutes were ticking by, and General Marshall was overlooking Hawaii. Now it was 12:17 P.M. Eastern Standard Time; but for some unknown reason, the radio transmission to General Short failed to reach Fort Shafter in Hawaii. Marshall then sent the message “via the Western Union land lines between Washington and San Francisco, then by RCA radio to Honolulu,” wrote Stinnett. “The transmission delay has never been adequately explained.” Please note: the Western Union telegram from Marshall arrived while the attack was in progress.
Later, Marshall would claim he could not remember talking directly with Bratton on 7 December. Surely, a general should remember a worried colonel frantically trying to get hold of him on the first day of a war. According to Robert B. Stinnett, “Tracing the Army’s delivery of the identical set of [Japanese] … intercepts during the weekend [of 7 December] is labyrinthine. Evasive accounts from some of the Army’s top generals of World War II contribute to the complexity. The trail is obscured by charges of intimidation, perjured testimony, coercion of witnesses, and obstruction of justice. Two of the most famous and respected American generals of World War II – General George C. Marshall and Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith – are involved.” (Keep these two generals’ names uppermost in your mind as we cover the latter two years of the war; for they are at the heart of other “mysterious” events.)
Marshall’s handling of the Pearl Harbor aftermath reads more like an episode of the Sopranos than a “day in the life” of the Army’s Chief of Staff. Did General Marshall intentionally prevent a timely warning from reaching Hawaii? Yes! It seems he did exactly that! In fact, he disappeared, then he delayed, then he dithered and, finally, he made a pig’s breakfast of sending his warning message to Hawaii.
On 6 October 1944 the Army Pearl Harbor Board concluded a three-month investigation with a report that damaged General Marshall’s reputation. The report stated, “[Marshall failed] to get to General Short on the evening of December 6 and the early morning of December 7, the critical information indicating an almost immediate break with Japan, though there was ample time to have accomplished this.”
Why did Roosevelt fail to call an emergency meeting of his military commanders on the evening of 6 December when he realized that war was coming? Why did Marshall lie about meeting Soviet Ambassador Litvinoff’s plane on the morning of 7 December? Why has the truth been hidden all these years? Did the President of the United States sacrifice an American fleet to save Stalin from Hitler? Franklin Roosevelt is considered to be a great man. But was he, really? Many historians believe Roosevelt was primarily concerned with saving Great Britain. What if he wasn’t?
Robert Stinnett’s research suggests that Roosevelt and Marshall knew Pearl Harbor would be the target of Japan’s inevitable attack. Stinnett shows evidence that the United States had broken Japan’s naval codes before Pearl Harbor was attacked – something that has long been denied. After the publication of the initial hardcover version of Day of Deceit, Stinnett “unearthed over four thousand communications intelligence documents – all of them never before examined – that provide additional confirmation of America’s foreknowledge of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor….”
According to Freedom of Information documents obtained in May 2000, “by mid-November 1941, as Japanese naval forces headed for Hawaii, America’s cryptographers had solved the principal Japanese naval codes.” Subsequently, when Japan’s top admirals broadcast a series of radio messages disclosing that Pearl Harbor was the target of their raid, the Americans were reading those messages in real time.
American codebreakers translated four radio messages from 5 November to 2 December indicating that Pearl Harbor was the primary target of a Japanese attack. In his own messages, Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, Commander of the First Air Fleet, “violated every security rule” issuing “radio orders … that Japan would attack America, Great Britain, and the Netherlands in the first part of December (transmitted November 5, 1941).” On 26 November Admiral Yamamoto broadcast a message to Admiral Nagumo, instructing him to head out from Hitokappu Bay into the North Pacific and refuel north of Hawaii. On 2 December Admiral Nagano set the precise date for beginning hostilities.
On the evening of 7 December 1941, radio broadcaster Edward R. Murrow and his wife were invited to dinner at the White House. After dinner Murrow was invited to a special meeting with the President. Also in attendance at this meeting was William “Wild Bill” Donovan, then Roosevelt’s Coordinator of Information and future chief of the wartime Office of Strategic Services (OSS). (Donovan had been summoned to the meeting by none other than James Roosevelt, the President’s son). The meeting was held in Roosevelt’s study and lasted about 25 minutes. What we know about the meeting was confided by Donovan to his assistant, William J. vanden Heuvel, who wrote the details in his diary.
Roosevelt was concerned about public reaction to the Japanese attack. Roosevelt asked Murrow and Donovan if the attack would unite Americans behind a declaration of war against the Axis. They both agreed it would. As the conversation progressed Donovan sensed that Roosevelt welcomed the Japanese attack, and did not seem surprised by it. During the discussion, Roosevelt claimed that he sent an advanced warning to Pearl Harbor that a Japanese attack was imminent. Heuvel records the following words, allegedly spoken by Roosevelt: “They caught our ships like lame ducks! Lame ducks, Bill. We told them, at Pearl Harbor and everywhere else, to have the lookouts manned. But they still took us by surprise.”
Yet seeking reassurance from Murrow and Donovan, the President read a telegram from T. North Whitehead at the British Foreign Office stating that America was now united. But was it? Roosevelt was still unsure. Murrow and Donovan assured him that the country was united. In relation to this strange conversation, Edward R. Murrow publicly denied that Roosevelt had advanced knowledge of Japan’s attack. Yet, in the wake of this meeting Murrow could not sleep. At 1 A.M. on the morning of 8 December, Murrow told his wife, “It’s the biggest story of my life, but I don’t know if it’s my duty to tell it or forget it.” Whatever Murrow heard on the evening of 7 December 1941, he took it to his grave.
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Notes and Links
Ernst Topisch, Stalin’s War, p. 123.
John Koster, Operation Snow: How a Soviet Mole in FDR’s White House Triggered Pearl Harbor, p. 23.
Saburo Ienaga, The Pacific War, 1931-1945: A Critical Perspective on Japan’s Role in World War II (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978), p.3.
Koster, Chapter One.
Ibid, p. 123.
Ibid, p. 112.
The account of the Pavlov-White meeting was put together by John Koster from Lt. Gen. Vitalii Pavlov’s book, Operation Snow: Half a Century at KGB Foreign Intelligence, which has never been translated into Russia. The Pavlov-White meeting is also attested to in Romerstein and Eric Breindel’s book, The Venona Secrets, pp. 29-44, demonstrated by decrypts of Soviet coded message traffic which refer to the Pavlov/White rendezvous.
Ibid, Chapter 9 on the November Memorandum.
Gordon W. Prange, At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor (New York: Penguin, 1981), p. 486.
Arthur Upham Pope, Maxim Litvinoff (New York: L.B. Fischer, 1943), p. 473.
Robert B. Stinnett, Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000), p. 233.
Ibid, p. 235.
Ibid, p. 261.
Ibid, pp. 1-4.