Wednesday, December 12, 2012

America and Japan, Who Wanted War?

It was last Saturday, December 8, 1941 that the United States and the Republic of China (or at least the leading faction claiming power) declared war on the Empire of Japan in reaction to the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The first questionable thing that should jump out to the public about that is that China, which had been engaged in hostilities with Japan for most of the last decade, was not at war with Japan already. Why do you suppose that was? We’ll get back to that in a moment, but the first, preliminary fact which must be addressed is whether or not this was a just action on the part of the United States. To even pose such a question will outrage not a few. The United States had just been attacked and had most of her Pacific fleet bombed to bits. However, I have often been challenged, as a monarchist, on the subject of World War II, specifically as it relates to the Empire of Japan as that was the last time that the United States went to war against a monarchy (and actually more than one of course, but few realize it).

The Showa Emperor
Two of the three main Axis powers in World War II were monarchies but since Mussolini so obviously dominated Italy, the King there is usually ignored, but in the case of Japan, U.S. propagandists early on singled out the Showa Emperor as the great villain, not because he was actually managing all policies in Japan, but mostly because the U.S. propagandists wished to highlight the Japanese monarchy as something backward, foreign and creepy. Since Japan was not a dictatorship like Germany, but was a constitutional monarchy with several changes in government leadership and prime ministers throughout this period, the Emperor was the only consistent figure that the U.S. could label as the “bad guy” comparable to Hitler and Mussolini (though later Prime Minister Tojo would be used to fit the bill). So the war with Japan has often been brought up to me as the challenge against monarchy that cannot be refuted because World War II was the “good war” and President Roosevelt was one of the greatest American presidents and so on and so forth.

In my book, FDR was one of the worst presidents in American history, partly because of the actions listed here. As for World War II being the “good war” I have no sweeping statement on the subject. Some people think no wars are ever “good” but I am not one of them. However, even World War II was not as clear-cut as some people think. The fight against Hitler meant an alliance with Joseph Stalin (who actually killed more people than Hitler did) and ended with half of Europe being consigned to slavery behind the Soviet “Iron Curtain”. Likewise, in the Far East, it meant the expansion of communism and gave rise to many brutal dictators and many bloody civil wars as well as ending with a nuclear attack that took the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. Roosevelt could have made an argument for U.S. intervention in the war in Europe against Hitler. There were circumstances of course, but Hitler had conquered Poland, Denmark, Norway, The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Yugoslavia and Greece so a case could be made that he was a menace to world peace and needed to be stopped. However, Japan was a completely different story.

President Roosevelt -his own cabinet didn't trust him
By that same point, the Empire of Japan had made no hostile moves against any neutral or Allied powers. Japanese forces were occupied in fighting the Chinese, as they had been for years, and even the fact that America, Britain and others were funneling money, weapons and even personnel to help the Chinese had not prompted Japan to take any action. Even China had not admitted that their “trouble” with Japan was an actual war, mostly because no one faction wanted to take the risk. The nationalists and the communists both hated each other as much if not more than the Japanese and when Japanese forces occupied Manchuria the republican government, so bitterly divided among itself, made no official effort to defend the region. In any event, from a legal standpoint, according to China as well as Japan, there was no “war” in the Far East at all. Japan had made no aggressive moves against anyone and even the “occupation” of French Indochina (actually only a few bases in Vietnam) was done with the permission of the French government in Vichy which the United States itself still recognized as the legal government of France. Hitler was attacking countries left, right and center but Japan certainly was not.

Roosevelt, however, did first involve himself in World War II in Europe but only around the spring and summer of 1941. The summer of 41 was of course when Hitler launched his invasion of the Soviet Union. President Roosevelt had been the first U.S. President to recognize the Soviet Union as a legitimate government by the way. FDR took such measures against Germany that he told the American Ambassador to France that conflict with Germany was “certain” and only waited for Hitler to cause some incident that FDR could point to in order to gain public support for the war. However, Hitler refused to bite and there was not much the President could do to “get at” Hitler directly. However, unlike Germany, Japan was an island nation that depended on resources and raw materials imported from abroad to survive. He could wage an economic war against Japan that would back them into a corner and force them to strike the first blow, allowing FDR to be “forced” to take the U.S. into the war against Germany as well as Japan.

What it was all about
In the summer of 1941 FDR enacted a number of anti-Japanese policies which he knew would force Japan to respond. It was a conflict he wanted and not the Japanese who knew full well that any war with the United States would be disastrous at best and most probably end in their defeat. The last thing Japan wanted to do was to fight the United States. Most historians have long agreed that the Japanese were increasingly desperate to negotiate some sort of settlement with the United States but we now know that Roosevelt and Secretary Hull refused to negotiate at all. Japan would offer compromises and concessions which the Roosevelt administration would counter with even more demands. When Japan decided that, after a certain point, war would be their only option, Roosevelt broke off the negotiations, hoping for that very calamity. His own Attorney General said that FDR told him he was hoping for some “incident” in the Pacific that would unite the American people in support of his administration and for going to war (a war he had promised to keep the U.S. out of when running for reelection, but, hey, Wilson had done the same thing in WW1).

There really should be nothing “new” or “controversial” about any of this. Admirers of FDR even praise him for doing this. There is really no room for debate on the point any more that the embargo FDR put on Japan, and he persuaded the British government and the Dutch government-in-exile to do the same, were intended to force Japan to either surrender their national sovereignty and control over their own affairs or to launch an attack on the United States or one of the Allied powers. All of this was undertaken against a country that had made no aggressive move against any foreign power aside from China who they were already fighting and had been for some time. FDR’s soon-to-be ally Joseph Stalin had invaded more foreign countries than Japan had, having occupied Mongolia, attacked Finland, conquered Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and who had joined Hitler in the partition of Poland. None of these facts are in dispute. FDR and members of his cabinet had long advocated the use of sanctions against Japan to thwart their progress and, it must be said, their economic competition with the United States for control of the vast markets of China.

There is no doubt at all that FDR intended to use economic measures to force Japan into an impossible position. There is no doubt that the administration knew that Japan was going to launch an attack and, since they had already broken the Japanese naval codes, there is no doubt that they knew Pearl Harbor would be a target. There is no doubt that Washington DC knew but failed to warn the commanders at Pearl Harbor that an attack was eminent on the morning of December 7, 1941 just as there is no doubt that the Japanese government, including the Emperor, intended for a declaration of war to be given at least half an hour before the attack was to take place. It was only due to a poor typist at the Japanese embassy that this did not happen, yet it was portrayed as a sneaky, underhanded, “surprise” attack by the FDR administration. I cannot stress enough that there is no disputing these facts. Even the BBC did a special documentary recounting how the “surprise attack” on Pearl Harbor was no surprise at all.

Unfortunately, very few people choose to point these facts out. Today it is largely the libertarians who are isolationist and against any intervention under any circumstances, that will even talk about these facts. Some also make the mistake of attributing it to FDR being an Anglophile. If only that were true! On the contrary, FDR made it perfectly clear that he considered the dismantling of the British Empire a top priority, second only to the defeat of the Axis. It seems to me that if FDR admired anyone that was fighting against Hitler at that time it was Joseph Stalin. FDR was always suspicious of British motives but never of Stalin, famously saying that Stalin was at least “not an imperialist”. By the time the war ended the British Empire was on the road to collapse while the Soviet Union was bigger and more powerful than ever, having been handed all of Eastern Europe and Northeast Asia. It should also be remembered that the entire foreign policy of Japan on the Asian mainland was motivated by anti-communism and their desire to protect themselves from communist expansion. I cannot say that I know for certain what the motivations of Roosevelt were in his intentionally provoking Japan into war. What is certain is that he did it. He wanted war, Japan did not. He could have made a compelling case for intervention in Europe against Germany but he could not have made such a case against Japan. Roosevelt is not an admirable figure, he was certainly not honest with the Japanese, nor was he honest with the British and he was not honest with the American people either.

The American troops who went to war on December 8, 1941 did so with courage, valor and righteous ideals. They sacrificed for their country, committed great deeds of heroism and won a hard fought victory. No one can ever, ever take that away from them. The same can be said for all of the British, Canadian, Australian, South African, Indian and other imperial and commonwealth troops who fought for their King and country. None of that is in dispute. Neither, however, is the unfortunate fact that their courage and heroism was matched by the callousness and duplicity of the Roosevelt administration, particularly in regards to the war against Japan which had not wanted war with America, which had enough trouble on hand already and refused to join the German invasion of Russia, which had not wanted to stop being allies with Britain for that matter but which was forced into a terrible conflict that ended with things being worse rather than better for the region as a whole as with Japan standing as the only country in the world (so far) to be subject to a nuclear attack. These things should be considered before holding on to grudges or making sweeping generalizations about the nations involved in World War II. Pleasant or not, facts are facts.


  1. Great Article on Japan and they showed how a monarchy can mobilize and rebuild countries for good of all.

  2. The Nuclear attacks where such rabid nonsense that I'm surprised they were even considered. A test of a weapon they knew nothing about, and when they found out it eradicated not only the military headquarters and industrial area of Hiroshima, but the entire city, what did they do? Bomb a civilian target of course!

    Despite the fact that Japan, as an island nation with more people per square kilometre than Britain has (and Britain, if you remember, had to run convoys to survive) would have NO defence against an embargo, it would lead to not only a lack of food, medical supplies and ammunition, but more than anything else, with the war over in every other corner of the world (and the hungry USSR turning its eyes towards the Empire of the Rising Sun) it would lead to a lack of oil, and as we all know, no army modern by 1945 standards would've managed to defend Fort Knox, much less an entire nation without an oil supply.

    1. I don't know if it's better or worse but the weapon had been tested and they knew exactly what it would do. They could have warned Japan first (air defenses were non-existent at that point so there would have been no danger) and after dropping the first they gave no time at all for Japan to even respond before dropping the second (and right on a Church no less). They also could have dropped it in a place where no one would have been killed just as a warning of what the US was capable of. Usually, however, it is defended as saving all those who would have been killed in the invasion. The problem with that is that an invasion was unnecessary as well. The Allies had total air and sea domination so they could have just blockaded Japan and forced a surrender without taking any offensive action at all.

      As for the embargo, the US could have just stopped military-grade oil to hamper the war effort against China. That would have been pressure enough but by stopping it all they forced Japan into an impossible position. It was like a countdown to death and that, combined with the President refusing to even talk with the Japanese, left no other alternative but to fight a war Japan did not want to fight and which Japan knew could probably not be won.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...