first published in 2006 as "Japan’s Gift to FDR." Liberty.
20, Volume 1, Issue 1: 19–27.
It was about
9:30 on the evening of December 6, 1941.
Navy Lieutenant Lester R. Schulz, special deputy communication watch
officer, assigned that evening to the White House "to receive
[a] special message for the President," proceeded to President
Roosevelt’s study with a locked pouch containing important documents.
The president had been entertaining, but as soon as he learned that
the courier had arrived, he left his guests to go to his White House
study to await this delivery.
As Schulz would
later testify, when he entered the president was sitting at his
desk, his friend and close associate, Harry Hopkins, standing nearby.
Schulz opened the pouch and handed the president a sheaf of "perhaps
15 typewritten pages" clipped together.
while "the President read the papers." This took "perhaps
10 minutes" during which Hopkins paced slowly back and forth.
"Then he [FDR] handed them [the papers] to Mr. Hopkins,"
who read them and handed them back to the president.
then turned toward Mr. Hopkins and said in substance … ‘this means
war.’ Mr. Hopkins agreed, and they discussed then, for perhaps 5
minutes, the situation of the Japanese forces, that is, their deployment."
The Japanese had landed in Indochina. Roosevelt and Hopkins speculated
as to where the Japanese would move next. Neither mentioned Pearl
Harbor. Nor did they give any "indication that tomorrow was
necessarily the day." Also, "there was no mention made
of sending any further warning or alert."
war was imminent," Hopkins ventured,
intended to strike when they were ready, at a moment when all
was most opportune for them … when their forces were most properly
deployed for their advantage…. Since war was undoubtedly going
to come at the convenience of the Japanese, it was too bad that
we could not strike the first blow and prevent any sort of surprise.
nodded. "No, we can’t do that. We are a democracy and a peaceful
people." Then he raised his voice: "But we have a good
record." FDR implied we would have to stand on that record,
that "we could not make the first overt move. We would have
to wait until it came."
went on to tell Hopkins that he had prepared a message for the Japanese
emperor "concerning the presence of Japanese troops in Indochina,
in effect requesting their withdrawal." FDR had not followed
the usual procedure in sending this cable, he said. Rather than
addressing it to Tojo as premier, FDR "made a point of the
fact that he had sent it to the Emperor as Chief of State."
then tried to phone Admiral Stark, Chief of Naval Operations. Apparently,
"the White House operator told the President that Admiral Stark
could be reached at the National Theater." FDR feared that
if Stark were to be suddenly called out of his box at the theater
"he would surely have been seen because of the position which
he held and undue alarm might be caused." Besides, he expected
he would be able to reach Stark "within perhaps another half
an hour." So he let the matter drop. FDR did not then mention
"telephoning anybody else." He simply returned the papers
to Schulz and Schulz left.
The next morning,
the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, launching the United States into
a war that would cost hundreds of thousands of lives.
did those papers contain that led Roosevelt to say, "This means
war"? And what did Indochina (now Vietnam) have to do with
the United States? The United States had been very much concerned
ever since September 1939, when Hitler’s Germany had invaded Poland,
leading England and France to declare war on Germany. It looked
to some like a repeat of the 1914–1918 World War, and many
thought that the United States should join the fight right away.
Although most Americans were anti-Nazi and anti-Hitler, they were
reluctant to go to war. Besides, a "Neutrality Pact" was
Even as Roosevelt
was signing the "Neutrality Pact," he said, "This
nation will remain a neutral nation, but I cannot ask that every
American remain neutral in thought as well." Roosevelt, himself,
was unneutral in thought and anxious to help the British in whatever
way he could. Generally speaking, the American public supported
him when he proposed supplying England with whatever she needed
– money, planes, tanks, ships, armaments – in order to
keep the war from reaching our shores.
As for Japan,
she had resigned from the League of Nations in 1935 because of charges
against her over the "Manchurian Incident," a suspicious
explosion on a Japanese-controlled rail line, which the Japanese
used as an excuse to extend their occupation of Manchuria. Then
on Nov. 15, 1936, Japan had signed the German-Japanese Anti-Comintern
Pact, making an alliance with Germany against their common enemy,
this period, Japan was at war with China. Japan’s bombings and atrocities
in China were widely reported and criticized. On July 26, 1939,
the United States announced to Japan that she was terminating her
1911 trade treaty in six months; after Jan. 26, 1940, Japan would
have to request special permission to purchase anything from the
United States. This was a severe blow, as Japan depended heavily
on foreign sources for many products, especially oil. Then on Sept.
17, 1940, Japan signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy,
providing that if any one of the three parties was attacked by a
power not then involved in the European war or the Sino-Japanese
conflict, the other two would come to the victim’s assistance. Thus,
sides were drawn – the Axis (Germany, Italy, and Japan) against
the Allies (the United States, Russia, and Great Britain). On July
25, 1941, all Japanese assets in the United States were frozen,
bringing to a halt all financial and import or export trade transactions
in which Japanese interests were involved.
the entire world at war, the United States expanded its production
of ships, planes, tanks, and armaments, and enacted controls and
regulations in an attempt to put the country on a war footing. In
October 1940, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, subjecting
all men aged 20 to 44 to military conscription.
Americans opposed the United States entering the war, President
Roosevelt was personally and emotionally British. He was influential
in arranging for the United States to supply them with money, ships,
planes, tanks, and guns; to establish an Atlantic patrol of US Navy
ships to warn the British of German ships and submarines; and to
escort British ships to Iceland. US ships fired on some German ships.
Yet the Germans refused to respond. Hitler was not looking for a
fight with the United States. He told Admiral Erich Raeder, then
commander in chief of the German navy: "Weapons are not to
be used. Even if American vessels conduct themselves in a definitely
unneutral manner…. Weapons are to be used only if U.S. ships fire
the first shot."
In April 1941,
the Americans, Dutch, and British held secret meetings in Singapore
to explore how to respond to Japanese aggression in Southeast Asia.
The outcome was an agreement on the part of all three powers that
the Japanese should not be allowed to advance west of 100 degrees
east longitude or south of 10 degrees north latitude lest it "create
a position in which our failure to take active military counter-action
would place us at such a disadvantage, that should Japan subsequently
attack, that we should then advise our respective Governments to
authorize such action."
War plans were developed based on this agreement. This US plan was
distributed to American field commanders on July 25, 1941.
The war was
not going well for the British; many ships with supplies of munitions
and food were being sunk in the Atlantic; and London was being attacked
almost nightly by German bombers. In August 1941, Roosevelt and
Churchill met at Argentia off the coast of Newfoundland. Churchill
was anxious for the United States to enter the war against Hitler.
However, Roosevelt resisted Churchill’s pleas. Under the US Constitution,
he said, only Congress could declare war. If he were to propose
going to war, Congress would argue for weeks. Therefore, although
"I may not declare war, I may make war." And he proceeded
to do just that.
the area of the US naval patrol in the Atlantic had been extended
as far east as the Azores. On May 21, a US freighter, the Robin
Moor, was sunk in the south Atlantic. Axis funds in the United
States were frozen and German, Italian, and Danish (the Germans
had occupied Denmark since April 9, 1940) ships in US harbors were
taken into "protective custody." Roosevelt knew that some
of his actions in assisting the British openly and courting war
against the Nazis were not constitutional. One of his writers, Robert
Sherwood, wrote: "Roosevelt never overlooked the fact that
his actions might lead to his immediate or eventual impeachment."
Denmark was occupied by the Germans, Greenland asked the United
States for protection. In July 1941, the US occupied formerly Danish
Iceland, and in August, the United States began escorting merchant
ships to Iceland. On September 4, a German submarine released a
torpedo near the destroyer USS Greer on her way to Iceland;
the Greer dropped a depth charge; the sub released a second
torpedo; neither sub nor destroyer was hit. But the president was
mad! On September 11, he went on radio and issued a "shoot
on sight order" to US Navy ships in the Atlantic. "When
you see a rattlesnake poised to strike, you do not wait until he
has struck before you crush him. These Nazi submarines and raiders
are the rattlesnakes of the Atlantic."
On Sept. 16,
the USS Kearny, another US ship en route to Iceland, was
hit by a German torpedo; 11 men were killed, 22 wounded; but the
Kearny managed to limp into Reykjavik. On October 31, the Reuben
James, also accompanying a convoy, was torpedoed; it split in
half and 100 men died; only 45 were saved.
E. Ingersoll, assistant chief of naval operations, described the
de facto war the United States was conducting in the Atlantic as
"not a legal war." But then he half-apologized: "It
was more in the nature of irregular…. In the Atlantic we were
doing some things which only a belligerent does. There had been
no declaration. We had done a great many things that under international
law, as it was understood before the last war, were unneutral….
It was apparently to her [Germany's] advantage to have us as a nonbelligerent
rather than as a full belligerent."
By the fall
of 1941, the situation in the Far East had begun to assume added
importance in the eyes of top Washington officials. In an attempt
to settle US-Japanese differences – primarily over trade and
Japan’s occupation of Indochina, the United States began diplomatic
negotiations with Japanese Ambassadors Kichisaburo Nomura and Saburo
Kurusu. Roosevelt and Churchill were pressing Japan to end her war
with China and stop expanding in the southwestern Pacific.
7 – a full month before the Pearl Harbor attack – Secretary
of War Henry L. Stimson reported that FDR took
general poll of his Cabinet … on the question of the Far East
– whether the people would back us up in case we struck at
Japan down there [in southeast Asia]…. It was a very interesting
talk…. He went around the table – first [Secretary of State
Cordell] Hull and then myself, and then around the whole number
and it was unanimous in feeling the country would support us.
[FDR] said that … the vote is unanimous, he feeling the same
way. The vote would have been much stronger, if the Cabinet had
known – and they did not know except in the case of Hull
and the President – what the Army was doing with the big
bombers [Le., reinforcing the Philippines] and how ready we [the
Army] are to pitch in [in case of an attack on the British or
Dutch in southeastern Asia.]
At a White
House meeting on November 25, FDR raised the subject of Japanese
relations. He "brought up the event that we were likely to
be attacked [by Japan] perhaps (as soon as) next Monday [December
1], for the Japanese are notorious for making an attack without
warning, and the question was what we should do." Secretary
of War Stimson stated the dilemma succinctly: "The question
was how we should maneuver them into the position of firing the
first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves."
27, Stimson warned the Philippines to expect Japanese aggression
in a few days. The war plans issued to Admiral Kimmel in Pearl Harbor
advised him to prepare to take the offensive by getting his men
and ships ready to launch an attack on the Japanese establishments
in the mid-Pacific Marshall Islands.
The next day,
November 28, Stimson learned from Army intelligence of a "formidable"
expedition of Japanese forces sailing south along the Asiatic coast.
Various alternatives were discussed that day at a war cabinet meeting.
All the participants agreed that if the Japanese were permitted
to land in the Gulf of Siam, it would place them in a strategic
position to strike a severe blow against all three other powers
in southeast Asia – the British at Singapore, the Dutch in
the Indies, and the Americans in the Philippines. The members of
the war cabinet all agreed that the landing must not be allowed.
If the Japanese got into the Kra Isthmus, the British would fight;
and if the British fought, we would have to fight. The cabinet realized
that if this expedition was allowed to round the southern point
of Indochina, this whole chain of disastrous events would be set
therefore, that we could not just sit still and do nothing."
Stimson reported, "After some discussion it was decided that
he [FDR] would send such a letter to the Emperor, which would not
be made public, and that at the same time he would deliver a special
message to Congress reporting on the danger." FDR "asked
Hull and Knox and myself [Stimson] to draft such papers. The consensus
was "that rather than strike at the Force as it went by without
warning on the one hand, which we didn’t think we could do, or sitting
still and allowing it to go on, on the other, which we didn’t think
we could do – that the only thing for us to do was to address
it a warning that if it reached a certain place, or a certain line,
or a certain point, we should have to fight."
State Hull sent the president a draft of a proposed message to Congress.
After rehashing the history of US–Japanese. relations, Hull
presented in strong terms the president’s view of Japanese aggression:
question presented to this country along with many other countries
by the Hitler-dominated movement of world conquest is that of
self-defense…. We do not want war with Japan, and Japan does
not want war with this country. If, however, war should come,
the fault and the responsibility will be those of Japan. The primary
cause will have been pursuit by Japan of a policy of aggression.
1, Roosevelt had a long conversation with British ambassador Lord
Halifax, during which he confirmed the US commitment to its agreement
with the British and Dutch. In the case of a direct attack on the
British or the Dutch, Roosevelt said "we should obviously all
be together." But he
be clear about "matters that were less plain."… (i)
if the Japanese reply to these questions [about where the Japanese
troops were going, and if to Indo-China, for what purpose] were
unsatisfactory, but the reinforcements had not reached Indo-China,
(ii) if the reply were unsatisfactory, and the troops had reached
Indo-China, (iii) if the Japanese moved against Thailand without
attacking the Kra Isthmus [on Thai territory] or if they did no
more than enforce concessions from Thailand of a kind "dangerously
detrimental to the general position."
Lord Halifax, the president said that the British
on American support if we [the British] carried out our move to
defend the Kra Isthmus [on Thai territory] in the event of a Japanese
attack, though this support might not be forthcoming for a few
days. He suggested that we should promise the Thai Government
that, if they resisted Japanese attack or infiltration, we would
respect and guarantee for the future their full sovereignty and
independence. The president said that the United States Constitution
did not allow him to give such a guarantee, but we could be sure
that our guarantee would have full American support.
remarks were "sufficiently encouraging to enable Halifax to
report that in his opinion the United States would support whatever
action we [the British] might take in any of the contingencies outlined
by the President. We could, in any case, count on American support
of any operations in the Kra Isthmus."
Also on December
1, Roosevelt instructed Admiral Hart in Manila to equip three small
ships commanded by a US naval officer with sufficient armaments
– one small gun and a machine gun – to be classified as
"US men of war." The crews could be Filipino. These small
ships were to take up specific positions in the path of the Japanese
convoy then heading south along the Asiatic coast; their purpose
was to report the movements of the Japanese. Admiral Hart was puzzled;
the Japanese movements were already known in Manila from aerial
reconnaissance. Perhaps the three small ships were intended as bait,
as Stimson had suggested on September 25, to induce the Japanese
into "firing the first shot without allowing too much danger
to ourselves." As it happened, only one of the three ships
got into the Japanese convoy’s way before December 7; it was spotted,
and returned to base.
On the evening
of December 3, the president again discussed with Lord Halifax the
British plan to resist a Japanese attack on the Kra Isthmus and
Thailand, again confirming, and even strengthening, his December
1 pledge. He told Lord Halifax that, "when talking of support,
he meant ‘armed support,’ and that he agreed with the British plan
for operations in the Kra Isthmus if the Japanese attacked Thailand."
Halifax then wired his government in London that he "was sure
that we [the British] could count on ‘armed support’ if we undertook
the [Kra Isthmus] operation."
was heating up. Not only were reports of Japanese activity in the
Far East more frequent, but more Japanese messages concerning diplomatic
relations and Japanese affairs worldwide were being picked up, decoded,
and translated in Washington. And their messages were increasingly
urgent. Top Washington officials privy to MAGIC, the intelligence
obtained by intercepting Japanese "Purple" coded messages,
continued to read and scrutinize them carefully for hints as to
what the Japanese were planning.
Among the Japanese
intercepts sent from Tokyo in their J-19 code, decoded and translated
by our Navy cryptanalysts in Washington on December 3, was a "ships
in harbor" message to the Japanese consul in Hawaii. Tokyo
asked that Hawaii report twice a week, instead of irregularly, the
locations of US "ships in harbor" at Pearl Harbor. Pearl
Harbor officials had never been advised that "ships in harbor"
reports were being compiled by the Japanese consul in Hawaii and
sent to Tokyo. Nor were they told of this "ships in harbor"
3, "highly reliable information" was received in Washington
that the Japanese diplomatic and consular posts in Hong Kong, Singapore,
Batavia, Manila, Washington, and London – all in American,
British, or Dutch territory – had been ordered to destroy most
of their codes and ciphers and burn all other important confidential
and secret documents.
officials were increasingly on the alert as conflict with Japan
was becoming imminent. They sent instructions to US naval attachés
in Tokyo, Bangkok, Peiping, and Shanghai to destroy their codes.
And General Sherman Miles, head of the Army’s Military Intelligence
Division, ordered the US military attaché at the US embassy
in Tokyo to destroy his codes.
When the Japanese
could no longer transmit via code over their cryptographic channels,
they communicated with their diplomatic offices worldwide by inserting
messages, each with a hidden meaning, in ordinary weather reports.
On December 4, radioman Ralph T. Briggs at Cheltenham, MD, intercepted
a message containing the phrase Higashi no kaze arne –
"East Wind Rain" in English. The hidden meaning of "East
Wind Rain" was: "War with England (including Netherlands
East Indies, etc.); war with the U.S.; peace with Russia."
Thus Russia was not to be a target of Japanese aggression, but England
(Singapore), the Dutch East Indies, and the United States (possibly
Manila, Pearl Harbor, or the Canal Zone) would be involved at the
start in whatever aggression Japan was planning.
with its hidden meaning – "War with the U.S." –
written in bold, was hand-delivered to the director of naval communications
in Washington. There it vanished, its significance apparently not
recognized. At least no hint of this crucial intercept, or its interpretation
that an attack on US territory was coming, was ever relayed to any
responsible official who would admit receiving it. All trace of
its receipt was lost and none was ever found in spite of a thorough
search during the many post–Pearl Harbor investigations.
the weeks and months that US and Japanese diplomats negotiated in
Washington, the United States had the advantage of being able to
read Japan’s very secret "unbreakable" diplomatic code.
After first deciphering it in August 1940, American codebreakers
and translators eventually became so adept that they often were
able to place the translation of a Japanese intercept on Secretary
of State Hull’s desk before the Japanese ambassadors, to whom it
had been addressed, arrived to discuss it. Thus, US officials were
able to learn many, though not all, Japanese secrets concerning
US trade relations, Japan’s obligations to Germany and Italy under
the Trilateral Agreement, and Japan’s incursion in China and occupation
of French Indochina.
with the Japanese finally reached an impasse toward the end of November
1941. However, the Japanese were told by their government to keep
up the pretense of negotiating. By this time, top Washington officials
were alert for any clues as to what the Japanese were planning.
But their attention
was not on Pearl Harbor; rather, it was riveted on the massive Japanese
convoys in the southwestern Pacific, and the US obligations to the
British and Dutch.
FDR had been
following US relations with Japan very closely through MAGIC. He
realized war was close. He had been particularly impressed by a
December 1 Tokyo-to-Berlin intercept: "War may suddenly break
out between the Anglo-Saxon nations and Japan through some clash
of arms … quicker than anyone dreams." Another Tokyo to Berlin
message intercepted the same day advised Berlin that the United
States had "conferred with England, Australia, the Netherlands
and China – they did so repeatedly. Therefore, it is clear
that the United States is now in collusion with those nations and
has decided to regard Japan, along with Germany and Italy, as an
Lieutenant Schulz delivered to FDR on the evening of December 6
consisted of 13 parts of a 14-part message: Japan’s answer to the
United States’ rejection of the latest Japanese attempt at a compromise.
It announced that the Japanese were breaking off negotiations and
that US–Japanese relations were de facto ruptured.
confident when he told Hopkins that the United States couldn’t "strike
the first blow … [W]e could not make the first overt move. We
would have to wait until it came." After all, under the US
Constitution, only Congress could declare war. And, moreover, Roosevelt
had pledged to the American people more than once during his 1940
campaign that "We are arming ourselves not for any foreign
war. We are arming ourselves not for any purpose of conquest or
intervention in foreign disputes…. It is for peace that I have
labored: and it is for peace that I shall labor all the days of
my life" (Oct. 23, 1940); and again, "We will not participate
in foreign wars and we will not send our army, naval or air forces
to fight in foreign lands outside of the Americas except in case
And yet again,
he had stated,
I am talking to you mothers and fathers, I give you one more assurance.
I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and
again. Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.
They are going into training to form a force so strong that, by
its very existence, it will keep the threat of war from our shores.
The purpose of our defense is defense.
In this way,
Roosevelt had assured the voters many times that America had provided
aid to the British, French, and Chinese purely to help those countries
defend themselves against foreign aggression. The grants of money,
planes, and weapons; the expansion of the area patrolled by US ships
in the Atlantic to keep German and Italian ships away from our shores;
the Lend-Lease program; the exchange of old US destroyers to the
British for military bases in this hemisphere; the conscription
of young men; the build-up of US plants producing planes, ships,
and armaments; the convoying of British ships to Iceland –
all were intended to keep America out of the war by strengthening
must have had some misgivings even as he spoke to Hopkins. He was
well aware that the US was committed to help the British and the
Dutch by the agreement signed in April 1941. And he knew that five
divisions of Japanese troops were heading south in convoys of 30,
40, or 50 ships, and were probably even then rounding the southern
tip of Indochina and sailing toward the Kra Isthmus and the Malayan
peninsula. Moreover, he had just reassured Lord Halifax that the
United States would lend the British military support if the Japanese
proceeded thus. To keep that promise, he must deploy American forces.
But how? The Constitution provided that the Congress, not the president,
must declare war.
got home from the theater later that evening, he found a message
instructing him to call the president. FDR must already have arranged
for the other members of his "inner circle" to come to
the White House that night. In any event, the president’s closest
advisers gathered together late that night, and into the wee hours
of the morning, to discuss the crisis. In attendance were Secretary
of State Cordell Hull, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, Secretary
of War Henry L. Stimson, Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall,
Navy Chief of Staff Harold L. Stark, and Harry Hopkins. They read
the 13 parts of Japan’s 14-part response to FDR’s note of November
26 – which the Japanese considered "an ultimatum"
– and were expecting the Japanese to announce a final break-off
of all relations with the United States. They thought the Japanese
would strike Malaya, the Kra Isthmus, or Thailand, and possibly
the Dutch East Indies. The president’s men must have discussed how
the United States should respond to Japanese aggression thousands
of miles from American shores in view of the commitment the US had
made to the British. This was the dilemma over which they had agonized
request, Hull and Knox worked on statements presenting the rationale
for going to war against Japan without waiting – as the US
commanders in the field had been directed to wait – for the
Japanese to commit the first overt act. Hull’s statement began,
Government, dominated by the military fire-eaters, is deliberately
proceeding on an increasingly broad front to carry out its long
proclaimed purposes to acquire military control over one-half
of the world with nearly one-half of its population. This inevitably
means Japanese control of islands, continents, and seas from the
Indies back near Hawaii, and that all of the conquered people
would be governed militarily, politically, economically, socially,
and morally by the worst possible military despotism with barbaric,
inhuman, and semi-slavery methods such as Japan has notoriously
been inflicting on the people of China and Hitler on the peoples
of some 15 conquered nations of Europe…. [I]t is manifest that
control of the South Sea area by Japan is the key to the control
of the entire Pacific area, and therefore defense of life and
commerce and other invaluable rights and interests in the Pacific
area must be commenced with the South Sea area…. This at once
places at stake everything that is precious and worth while. Self-defense,
therefore, is the key point for the preservation of each and all
of our civilized institutions.
tied up inextricably with the British in the present world
of Singapore and the loss to England of Malaya will automatically
not only wreck her far eastern position but jeopardize her
British lose their position the Dutch are almost certain to
the British and the Dutch lose their position we are almost
certain to be next, being then practically Japanese surrounded.
above be accepted, then any serious threat to the British
or the Dutch is a serious threat to the United States; or
it might be stated any threat to anyone of the three of us
is a threat to all of us. We should therefore be ready jointly
to act together and if such understanding has not already
been reached, it should be reached immediately. Otherwise
we may fall individually one at a time (or somebody may be
left out on a limb).
- I think
the Japanese should be told that a movement in a direction that
threatens the United States will be met by force. The president
will want to reserve to himself just how to define this.
On the morning
of December 7, President Roosevelt received part 14 of Japan’s reply
to the US "ultimatum," as well as the "One P.M. Message,"
intercepted early that morning, advising her ambassadors to deliver
to Hull the 14-part reply to the US "ultimatum" at precisely
1:00 pm Washington time. According to FDR’s personal physician,
Dr. Ross T. McIntire, who was with FDR from 10 am to noon that day,
FDR did not think that, even given "the madness of Japan’s
military masters," they would risk war with the United States.
McIntire wrote later that FDR thought "that they [the Japanese]
would take advantage of Great Britain’s extremity and strike at
Singapore or some other point in the Far East, but an attack on
any American possession did not enter his [FDR's] thought."
writer Stanley K. Hornbeck had just finished a new draft of a speech,
drawing on the suggestions made by Hull, Stimson, and Knox, which
FDR planned to deliver to Congress on December 8 or 9 if he did
not receive a satisfactory reply to his letter of last appeal to
Emperor Hirohito. On the morning of December 7, FDR continued work
on that speech.
He would review the historical background of US–Japanese relations;
remind Congress of the United States’ respect for basic principles,
and for "the sovereign rights of the countries of the Far East";
point out that in 1908, 1921, and 1929, Japan and the United States
had exchanged notes and signed treaties, and declared support for
"the independence and integrity of China," for maintaining
"the existing status quo in that region," and for "the
principle of equal opportunity for the commerce and industry of
all nations throughout China." But he would remind his listeners
that the US–Japanese relationship had deteriorated after 1931.
In that year, the Japanese army had begun a policy of aggression
by seizing Manchuria. In July 1937 she had "embarked upon large-scale
military operations against China," killing many American citizens;
sinking American vessels; bombing American hospitals, churches,
and schools; destroying American property and businesses; and interfering
with American trade.
speech then went on to detail Japan’s transgressions.
In flat defiance
of its covenants Japan has invaded and sought to overthrow the
Government of China. Step by step its armed forces … have invaded
and taken possession of Indochina. Today they are openly threatening
an extension of this conquest into the territory of Thailand …
where they would directly menace, to the North, the Burma Road,
China’s lifeline, and to the South, the port and Straits of Singapore….
While all this is going on, Japan has bound herself to Germany
and Italy by a treaty…. Simply stated, what we are confronted
with in the Far East is a repetition of the strategy pursued by
Hitler in Europe … a steady expansion of power and control over
neighboring peoples by a carefully planned and executed progressive
infiltration, penetration and encirclement.
States recognized Japan’s legitimate interest in seeking access
to resources and to trade for the sake of her large population,
but objected to Japanese aggression and conquest in southeastern
Pacific and the Asiatic mainland are important to our economy;
but they may be even more important to our military position….
[T]he United States is necessarily linked with Great Britain and
with the vital units of the British Commonwealth, as well as with
China, and a number of other countries. Were Japan established
in Singapore or the Netherlands Indies, or were she to dominate
China, the lines of communication between the United States, China
and other peace-loving nations would be cut.
In the speech
the president would remind Congress that the United States and Japan
had been negotiating in Washington for eight months in the hope
of reaching some peaceful solution.
In our negotiations,
we have kept in close contact with the Governments of Great Britain,
Australia, the Netherlands Indies, and China…. [W]e have had
the moral support of these nations. We also have been given assurance
of their material and military support if there comes resort to
We have recognized,
and have offered to defend, Japan’s legitimate desire to provide
her country with the means of peaceful and prosperous life. In
return for this we have asked that Japan abandon the practice
of aggression and conquest which sets up a continuing and growing
military threat to the United States, and continuing and growing
disturbance of those world conditions which alone make possible
the peaceful life of the United States. This Japan has declined
to do…. Though professing a desire merely to establish access
to economic resources permitting her to live, she has in fact
seized territory for the purpose of ruling it – a rule of
merciless sorrow matched only by that of Hitlerized Germany.
issue between this country and Japan is not materially different
from the issue prevailing between this country and Nazi Germany.
The issue is drawn between peoples demanding to be masters over
slave peoples, and to maintain and expand that system indefinitely
by force, as against those countries who desire the independence
of nations, the freedom of peoples, and the working out of cooperation
in economic arrangements by which all can live….
past few days large additional contingents of troops have been
moved into Indo-China and preparations have been made for further
conquest. The question is thus immediately presented whether the
United States is to stand by while Japan goes forward with this
program of lawless conquest – a conquest which disregards
law, treaties, the rights and interests of others, and which brushes
aside all considerations of humanity and morality…. The whole
world is presented with the issue whether Germany, Italy and Japan
are to conquer and rule the earth or are to be dissuaded or prevented,
by whatever processes may be necessary, from pursuit of policies
of conquest and exploitation which is now being carried out in
China has already utterly destroyed … the peaceful and profitable
commercial relations which the United Sates had previously enjoyed
there…. This Japanese procedure of conquest and exploitation
is encircling the Philippine Islands. It threatens the commerce
of those Islands and endangers their physical safety…. If the
Japanese should carry out their now threatened attacks upon and
were to succeed in conquering the regions which they are menacing
in the southwestern Pacific, our commerce with the Netherlands
East Indies and Malaya would be at their mercy and probably be
cut off…. Further extension of Japanese aggression in the Pacific
area menaces seriously the effort which free countries in Europe
and in Asia are making to defend themselves against Hitlerism.
We are pledged to aid those countries. Trade routes important
to Great Britain and to China and to Russia would be threatened,
as would the obtaining by those countries of articles essential
to continued resistance….
permit, and still less can we support, the fulfillment by Japan
of the aims of a militant leadership which has disregarded law,
violated treaties, impaired rights, destroyed property and lives
of our nationals, inflicted horrible sufferings upon people who
are our friends, interfered with our trade, ruined the legitimate
business of many of our nationals, compelled us to make huge expenditures
for defensive armament, made threats against us, put and kept
many of our people in a constant state of anxiety, and, in general,
made Japan a menace to our security and to the cause of peace,
of freedom and of justice.
address to Congress concluded: "As commander in chief, I have
given appropriate orders to our forces in the Far East."
December 7, 1941, Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor. Administration
officials found it difficult to believe the news of the Japanese
attack when it first reached Washington. Hull thought it must have
meant Manila. But Stark knew it meant Pearl Harbor; he knew the
phrase "This is not a drill" heralded a real attack, not
heard of the attack, he was surprised, but several witnesses reported
that he actually seemed relieved at the news – at least until
he learned the extent of the disaster. Secretary of Labor Frances
Perkins said "that night … in spite of the terrible blow
… he had nevertheless a much calmer air. As we went out [of that
evening's White House meeting, Postmaster General] Frank Walker
said to me, ‘I think the boss really feels more relief than he has
had for weeks.’" In Perkins’ oral history, "His surprise
was not as great as the surprise of the rest of us." And Eleanor.
Roosevelt wrote, "In spite of his anxiety Franklin was in a
way more serene than he had appeared in a long time. I think it
was steadying to know finally that the die was cast…. [Pearl Harbor]
was far from the shock it proved to the country in general. We had
been expecting something of the sort for a long time."
If the president
had delivered the speech he intended to give Congress on December
8 or 9, he would have been violating his pledge to the American
people; he would have been sending US boys to fight in a foreign
war even though the United States had not been attacked; he would
have been sending them to defend territory thousands of miles from
our shores – the Isthmus of Kra and Singapore in Malay, and
the Dutch East Indies in the Indian Ocean.
of war on the United States on December 11, and the blitz warfare
by the Japanese during the first few weeks, ensured that the American
people would support the war. And so it happened that hundreds of
thousands of Americans died thousands of miles from their homes,
in a war the president had secretly pursued while publicly promising
attack on Pearl Harbor made war inevitable. But the attack was not
Roosevelt’s reason for going to war. It was his excuse.
The dates mentioned in this article are all a matter of public
record. Unless otherwise indicated, the direct quotations are
all taken from the hearings and reports of the several investigations
into the Pearl Harbor attack, as published by the US Congress
(1946, 39 vols.).
In 1935, Congress had passed the "Neutrality Act of 1935,"
instigated largely out of US sympathy for China in her struggle
with Japan. As Roosevelt signed it on Aug. 31, 1935, he explained
it was intended as an expression of "the fixed desire of
the Government and the people of the United States to avoid any
action which might involve us in war." This 1935 Act prohibited
the trade in arms or implements of war with any country involved
in a war. Then in 1939, Congress repealed the 1935 Neutrality
Act and replaced it with the "Neutrality Act of 1939."
This new Neutrality Act permitted military supplies to be sold
to belligerent nations, if they were paid for in cash and if they
were not transported in U.S. vessels. This "cash and carry"
provision enabled the United States to sell weapons to good nations
and refuse to sell them to bad nations. The 1939 Neutrality Act
was further revised in November 1941, to permit armed US merchant
ships to enter war zones.
Remarks delivered at the Fhrer Conference, May 22, 1941. As quoted
in Patrick Abbazia, "Mr. Roosevelt’s Navy: The Private War
of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, 1939–1942." (Naval Institute
Press, 1975), p. 176.
Quoted from the ADB report, reprinted in the Joint Congressional
Committee hearings, part 15, p. 1564. Editor’s note: The ADB report
is the official report of these 1941 discussions between the Americans,
Dutch, and British.
Robert Sherwood. "Roosevelt and Hopkins," (Harper and
Brothers Publishers, 1948), p. 274.
Joint Congressional Committee hearings, part 9, pp. 4246, 4249.
Llewellyn Woodward, "British Foreign Policy in the Second
World War." Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1962, pp. 186–187.
Ibid., p. 187.
Hull’s "proposed statement" reprinted in Joint Congressional
Committee hearings, part 11, pp. 5439–5440.
Knox’s "suggestion" reprinted in Joint Congressional
Committee hearings, part 11, pp. 5440–5441.
Mimeographed, drafted, signed, and pencil-dated Dec. 5, 1941,
by Special Assistant to the Secretary of State and Advisor on
Political Relations, Stanley K. Hornbeck. National Archives, Civilian
Records Branch, Record Group 59, Entry 398, Box 3, Location 250/46/04/01.
Bien Greaves attended Ludwig von Mises’s New York University seminar,
An Annotated Bibliography, and also edited several collections
of articles. She is a senior scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute
and works at the Foundation for Economic Education. See Bettina
Bien Greaves’s article