The needless US Pacific War with Japan -- Courtesy of Stalin and FDR
By Michael E. Kreca
"East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet…" -- Rudyard Kipling
When Kipling penned those immortal words during the height of Pax Britannia in the 19th century, he believed East and West were so different in their respective civilizations and outlook that there would be no basis for any real understanding between the two hemispheres. True or untrue, at the times they each have met, it has often sadly been in the cauldron of warfare, and at least in the case of the United States, has consequently been expensive and largely fruitless.
Officially, the reason an expansionist, resource-poor Japan attacked the headquarters of the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii without warning on Sunday, Dec. 7th, 1941, was to quickly forestall any US potential interference in Tokyo's drive to seize and retain the resource rich possessions of the USA, Britain, Holland and France in the south Pacific Ocean. On surface, this is true. But to paraphrase famed British statesman Benjamin Disraeli, what lay "behind the scenes?"
Since the 1920s, the Soviets planned and hoped for a USA-Japan war because they believed such a conflict (one that they knew the USA would likely win) would help create a large Asian power vacuum which could then be quickly filled by Communism. The elimination of significant Japanese military, diplomatic and economic influence in the region, which dated back to the 1880s and was expanded by Japan's humiliating and conclusive military defeat of Russia in 1905, would give the Reds the opportunity they wanted. And thanks to FDR and Stalin, they got it.
Benjamin Gitlow was a founding and prominent member of the US Communist Party but was permanently expelled from the organization in 1933 for daring to openly criticize the crimes of Josef Stalin. He soon became a staunch anti-Communist and died at age 74 in 1965. Gitlow wrote in his revealing 1940 book entitled "I Confess: The Truth About American Communism:"
"As far back as 1927 when I was in Moscow, the attitude toward the United States in the event of war was discussed. Privately, it was the opinion of all the Soviet leaders to whom I spoke that the rivalry between the United States and Japan must actually break out into war between these two. The Russians were hopeful that the war would break out soon, because that would greatly secure the safety of Russian-Siberian borders and would so weaken Japan that Russia would no longer have to fear an attack from her in the East. Stalin's hopes, through the activities of the US Communist Party, to create a public opinion in the United States that would favor a war, presumably in defense of democracy against the encroachment of fascism, but actually one against Japan. Stalin is perfectly willing to let Americans die in defense of the Soviet Union even if they are not members of the Communist Party..."
Roosevelt's predecessor Herbert Hoover had successfully resisted pressure to send US troops and military aid to China (other than maintaining the small contingent of US Navy river gunboats present there off and on since the mid-1850s to guard US economic assets) when the Japanese first occupied Manchuria in 1931. His reason was that the Chinese would eventually wear down Japan, just as they had eventually worn down every other invader throughout their history.
The Japanese premier during most of the crucial 1940-41 period was a member of the royal family, Prince Konoye Fuminaro. Konoye--whose power base lay with big business that was suffering under the burdensome costs of the inconclusive land war in China and US economic sanctions--proposed a meeting with FDR in Honolulu in August 1941 (breaking centuries of Japanese tradition and rigid protocol by meeting with a foreigner outside of Japan) in order to get the US to lift its embargo on longtime petroleum, iron ore and scrap metal exports to Japan. In exchange, Konoye was willing to withdraw Japanese troops from Indochina and sharply reduce its military presence in China.
The US and British ambassadors to Japan, Joseph C. Grew (a Herbert Hoover appointee) and Sir Robert Craigie, respectively both urged FDR to confer with Konoye and to agree to his terms. Grew especially was trying to avoid war with Japan and did everything he could to do so. Grew wrote:
"It seems to me highly unlikely that this chance will come again or that any Japanese statesman other than Prince Konoye could succeed in controlling the military extremists in carrying through a policy which they, in their ignorance of international affairs and economic laws, resent and oppose. The alternative to reaching a settlement now would be the greatly increased probability of war and while we would undoubtedly win in the end, I question whether it is in our own interest to see an impoverished Japan reduced to the position of a third-rate power."
Craigie agreed with Grew, stating tersely in a dispatch to London, "Time suitable for real peace with Japan. Hope this time American cynicism will not be allowed to interfere with realistic statesmanship." Churchill (whose own Foreign Office was riddled with Soviet spies, among them the notorious "Kim" Philby, Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess) was incensed with Craigie's conciliatory stance toward Tokyo. He told Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden:
He (Craigie) should surely be told forthwith that the entry of the United States into war either with Germany and Italy or with Japan is fully conformable with British interests. Nothing in the munitions sphere can compare with the importance of the British Empire and the United States being co-belligerent.
Moreover, there were four close Roosevelt advisers who, according to the US Army's 1940-48 communications surveillance of the Soviet Embassy in Washington (a operation commonly known as "Venona"), were Soviet spies or sympathizers. These four spearheaded the ultimately successful attempt to frustrate Grew's and Craigie's negotiating efforts. They were top White House aide and Canadian-born economist Lauchlin Currie, Assistant Treasury Secretary Harry Dexter White (who essentially was Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr.'s puppetmaster) New Deal tax-and-spend fanatic Harry Hopkins and the notorious State Department official Alger Hiss. Hiss had tapped Johns Hopkins University Asia specialist and "adviser" to Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang-Kai-shek, Owen Lattimore, as FDR's "China expert"--one whom Mao Tse-tung's sidekick Chou En-lai warmly regarded as "quite sympathetic to the Chinese Communists."
All of these men, White and Currie especially, actively pressured FDR into waging a war with Japan. They eloquently masked their staunch Soviet sympathies behind facile appeals to the territorial integrity of China under Chiang (a weak, greedy and corrupt leader who was uneasily allied with Mao and would later be overwhelmed by him) and in the interests of a "united front against fascism." FDR thus flatly disregarded the advice of Grew and Craigie and refused any meeting with Konoye.
Meanwhile, German Communist Richard Sorge's high-level Soviet spy ring in Tokyo, which had substantial influence on ranking Japanese military officers and numerous cabinet officials as well as close contacts with several German diplomats, helped steer Japanese strategy toward its existing Navy-based "Strike South" approach--conquest of the fruitful Pacific possessions of the West and away from the Army-based "Strike North" approach which targeted Siberia and Soviet Central Asia.
The "Strike North" strategy had already largely fallen from favor after Japan's massive defeat by the Red Army at Nomonhan, Mongolia in August 1939. This defeat led to a Soviet-Japanese nonaggression pact which ensured the security of the Soviet-Chinese border until the final days of W.W.II and enabled the Kremlin to later immediately transfer some 250,000 seasoned troops from the Far East westward to battle the invading Germans.
Soon, Konoye, the victim of a near-fatal assassination attempt, was forced out as premier in the early fall of 1941 and replaced by the pro-German, openly aggressive General Tojo Hideki. The Japanese militarists were now fully in control of events and cared little about negotiating with the USA or anyone else. The stage was being set in Washington, Moscow and Tokyo for the US-Japan war that Moscow had wanted since the 1920s. All that remained was to drag the USA into World War II, which FDR, Churchill and friends failed to do with Germany after numerous provocations but successfully did with Japan at Pearl Harbor.
On Nov. 18, 1941, Secretary Morgenthau sent to Secretary of State Cordell Hull a long memorandum drafted by Assistant Secretary White describing US terms for peace with Japan. These terms were so severe that White and Currie knew Japan would never accept them. Japanese Foreign Minister Togo Shigenori, one of the most moderate members of the Japanese government, recalled after receiving the Morgenthau-White-Hull memo, "I was utterly disheartened, and felt like one groping in darkness. The uncompromising tone was no more than I had looked for; but I was greatly astonished at the extreme nature of the contents."
An aide to Navy Secretary Frank Knox, Vice Admiral Francis Beatty, revealed in 1954:
"Prior to December 7th, it was evident even to me... that we were pushing Japan into a corner. I believed that it was the desire of both President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill that we get into the war, as they thought the Allies could not win without us and our efforts to cause the Germans to declare war on us failed. The conditions we imposed upon Japan -- to get out of China, for example --were so severe that we knew that that nation could not accept them. We were forcing her so severely that we could have known that she would react toward the United States. All her preparations in a military way -- and we knew their overall import – pointed that way."
Exactly a week after this memo was issued, FDR's Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, wrote in his diary some two weeks before Pearl Harbor, recalling a cabinet meeting discussing the problems with Japan. He wrote:
"There the President...brought up entirely the relations with the Japanese. He brought up the event that we were likely to be attacked, perhaps [as soon as] next Monday, for the Japanese are notorious for making an attack without warning and the question was what should we do. The question was how we should maneuver them into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves."
Sir Oliver Lylleton, Churchill's war production minister, knew all of Churchill's and FDR's plans and decisions to force the USA into the war. In a June 20, 1944 speech to members of the American Chamber of Commerce in London, he stated:
"America provoked Japan to such an extent that the Japanese were forced to attack Pearl Harbor. It is a travesty on history, even to say that America was forced into the war."
Moreover, there was a persistent undercurrent of fear in the Kremlin that Great Britain would make a separate peace with Germany. These fears were intensified after Deputy Fuehrer Rudolf Hess's mysterious May 1941 solo flight to Scotland supposedly to meet secretly with the Duke of Hamilton, (six weeks before the German invasion of the USSR) but Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor seven months after Hess's inexplicable odyssey, among other things, helped scuttle any chances of a separate Berlin-London peace treaty, another major benefit to Moscow.
Even after Pearl Harbor, Joseph Grew, by then Undersecretary of State for Asian Affairs, still hoped for some kind of negotiated settlement:
"At the same time I believe that it is important that we bear in mind that the defeat of Japanese aggression does not necessarily entail, as many Chinese think, our crushing Japan militarily. The complete elimination of Japan as a force in the Far East would not be conducive either to order or prosperity in this area."
Well, we certainly crushed Japan militarily, finally finishing the job with two atomic bombs in August 1945. What did we get for it all? Scores of GIs killed from Oahu to Okinawa, billions of postwar taxpayer dollars spent rebuilding a completely wrecked and humiliated Japan, keeping it militarily weak in the face of an appallingly genocidal and increasingly assertive Red China with both nations eventually becoming the USA's fiercest foreign economic competitors.
Barely eight years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the USA wound up with some 33,000 US dead in a still divided and tense Korea, and some two decades after that, 58,000 troops killed in a still Communist Indochina--the last courtesy of a fruitless eight-year conflict (which some have called the US version of the Boer War) that severely damaged US social, economic and political institutions. We then were treated to Pol Pot's notoriously barbaric Cambodian "Killing Fields," scads of desperate Vietnamese "boat people," thousands of US troops and a string of warships permanently deployed in the Far East, and, finally, Chinese Long March ICBMs aimed at the US West Coast.
All to avenge the loathsome FDR and his pro-Soviet disciples' self-serving and cleverly premeditated "day of infamy" and to fulfill the bloodthirsty Josef Stalin's totalitarian fantasies. Well, hey, winning is everything, right, sports fans?
But what did we win?
Michael E. Kreca lives in San Diego and has been a financial reporter for Business Week, Knight-Ridder and the Financial Times of London. He can be reached at email@example.com
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