The Third International after Lenin

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The truth about Pearl Harbor

How Roosevelt Provoked Tokyo's Attack On Pearl Harbor


The following are major excerpts from the article "War Guilt in the Pacific: A Political Analysis of the Pearl Harbor Reports." It was first published in the October 1945 issue of the Marxist magazine Fourth International, a predecessor of New International. The author, C. Frank Glass, signed the article with the pen name Li Fu-Jen. We are publishing it on the occasion of the 54th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor by Tokyo, which took place on December 7, 1941.

C. Frank Glass (1901-1988) was a revolutionary socialist journalist and a longtime leader of the Socialist Workers Party. Born in Birmingham, England, he emigrated with his family to South Africa when he was 10.

Glass was one of the founding members of the South African Communist Party in 1921 and was later elected as one of the party's four executive officers. He broke from that organization in 1928 as part of those veteran communists who opposed the growing Stalinization of the party leadership and supported the fight led by Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky to continue V.I. Lenin's communist course.

In 1930, Glass's work as a journalist took him to Shanghai, China. At that time the bourgeois regime of Gen. Chiang Kai-Shek was carrying out bloody repression of a powerful revolutionary uprising by workers and peasants in China that had erupted in 1927.

Glass worked actively to help establish the Communist League in China, whose ranks included veteran militants of the Chinese Communist Party who had continued to fight for a Leninist course in the face of that party's Stalinist degeneration.

Glass reported for the Militant during the 1937 invasion of China by the Japanese armed forces. He was forced to leave the country in 1941 as Tokyo's troops approached Shanghai, and he moved to New York. There he joined the SWP and served on the Militant's editorial staff for the remainder of World War II.

Glass was elected to the SWP's national committee in 1944 and served on that body until 1963. In the late 1940s he moved to Los Angeles, where he became active in the party branch. He lived there for the rest of his life. Over the years he contributed many articles to the revolutionary press, particularly to the early New International magazine, and its successors, Fourth International and International Socialist Review. His articles appeared under the pen names Li Fu-Jen, Ralph Graham, and John Liang.

The Fourth International and the other theoretical magazines of the communist movement in the U.S. are being scanned and will soon be available on CD-ROM. The article below is copyright New International and is reprinted by permission. Subheadings are by the Militant.


After this article was written, striking confirmation of the author's thesis was given by John Chamberlain, in an article which appeared in the September 21 [1945] issue of Life magazine. Chamberlain declared that "long before" the 1944 election Republican Presidential Candidate Thomas E. Dewey learned "that we had cracked the Japanese `ultra' code some time prior to Pearl Harbor and that [U.S. president Franklin D.] Roosevelt and his advisers knew what the Japanese were going to do well in advance of the overt rupture of relations."

But Dewey joined Roosevelt in the conspiracy of silence and deception which made it possible to brand Japan as the "aggressor" and fasten "war guilt" on the Japanese nation. Had the American people known the full truth, even as late as the 1944 election campaign, the "political impact," as Chamberlain says, "would have been terrific and might well have landed Dewey in the White House." But Dewey, concerned like Roosevelt for the interests of U.S. imperialism, kept silent, and by keeping silent sacrificed the chance to deliver a telling and perhaps fatal blow to his opponent's candidacy.

On August 29, 1945, President Truman released for publication lengthy reports by the Army and Navy giving the facts and circumstances of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor which precipitated the extension of the Second World War to the Pacific area. The lengthier of the two reports, that of the Army Pearl Harbor Board, is dated October 20, 1944, and is accompanied by a statement of Secretary of War Stimson. The other is a fact-finding report of a Navy Court of Inquiry with a statement by the Secretary of the Navy and is dated October 19, 1944.

Why were these reports withheld from the public for almost a year? An attempt has been made to represent the suppression as having been necessitated by considerations of military security, since the war was still in progress. It is true that the reports deal largely with matters of a purely military character.

Yet the principal event to which they relate, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, had occurred almost three years prior to the completion of the reports. What they contain in the way of military information was already stale and musty and had no bearing whatever on the further course of the Pacific war. It is impossible to escape the conclusion that the reports were suppressed for political and not for military reasons....

The Army Board and the Navy Court were charged with the task of ascertaining the facts of the Pearl Harbor disaster and establishing the responsibility therefor. The Army investigation centered on the acts and policies of General Short, who was in charge of the Hawaii Command of the Army. The Navy investigation centered on the acts and policies of Admiral Kimmel, who was commander-in-chief of the Pacific Fleet.

These high-ranking officers were removed from their posts after Pearl Harbor and were called upon to defend themselves against charges of incompetence and dereliction of duty. In order to exculpate themselves from blame for the disaster, they were obliged to make reference to the general policies of the Administration by which they were bound, for much more was involved than simply matters of military precaution and preparation. The investigators, too, had to delve into Administration policies, for without doing so there clearly existed no possibility of establishing the full truth or apportioning the blame for what had occurred.

It is precisely here that the reports are highly revealing, for they establish incontestably the following conclusions, even though these conclusions are not drawn in the reports:

  • 1. That President Roosevelt, while proclaiming his love of peace and hatred of war, was embarked on a deliberate course of war with Japan (and Germany) long before Pearl Harbor and that this was the conscious policy of his Administration.
  • 2. That Roosevelt's policy toward Japan was one of systematic pressure to force the Japanese imperialists to commit the overt act which would touch off a war explosion. Roosevelt was obliged to pursue this strategy in order to be able to brand Japan as the "aggressor" and stampede the people of the United States into a war to which a majority of the nation had been steadfastly opposed. The "peace- loving" President had assured the American people that their sons would not be sent to fight in "foreign wars." This made it necessary that the United States should be "attacked" so that the drive of American imperialism for mastery of the Pacific could be presented in the guise of a war of national defense and survival.

When Roosevelt read the reports, he must have realized their explosive political quality. Here, out of the mouths of his own generals and admirals, he was convicted as a war conspirator who under cover of unctuous protestations of his love of peace plotted to plunge the American people into the most terrible of all wars so that the "manifest destiny" of American imperialism might be achieved....

The Roosevelt strategy

The Roosevelt strategy of forcing Japan to become the "aggressor" is revealed unmistakably in that section of the report which relates to messages between the War Department and the Hawaiian Command in the last days before Japan struck. On November 27, 1941, 10 days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Chief of Staff radioed General Short as follows:

Negotiations with Japanese appear to be terminated to all practical purposes with only the barest possibilities that the Japanese Government might come back and offer to continue. Japanese future action unpredictable but hostile action possible at any moment. If hostilities cannot, repeat cannot, be avoided, the U.S. desires that Japan commit the first overt act.

That Roosevelt himself was the author of this policy was stated by General Gerow of the War Department who testified that "the President had definitely stated that he wanted Japan to commit the first overt act." From desiring the commission of an overt act by Japan it was but a short step to provoking one. This is just what Roosevelt sought to do. The vast economic power of the United States, and the economic frailty of Japan guaranteed the success of Roosevelt's strategy of provoking war by tightening an economic noose around Japan. The sanctions imposed on Japan in 1940-41 are referred to in the Army Board's report. The Army's investigators understood their drastic character and had no doubt that the Roosevelt policy "led only to war." The pertinent section of the report reads, in part, as follows:

It was in the fall of 1940 that we cast the die and adopted economic sanctions. And we find it significant that about June 1940 General Herron as Commanding General of the Hawaiian Department upon Washington orders went into an all-out alert into battle positions with live ammunition for six weeks.

In September the export of iron and steel scrap was prohibited. The effect of the United States policy was to cut off from Japan by the winter of 1940-41 the shipment of many strategic commodities, including arms, ammunition, and implements of war, aviation gasoline and many other petroleum products, machine tools, scrap iron, pig iron and steel manufactures, copper, lead, zinc, aluminum, and a variety of other commodities. . . .

Nor was this all. These disastrous embargoes were supplemented by Washington's abrogation of the U.S.- Japanese Treaty of Commerce and Navigation which deprived Japan of "most favored nation" treatment in her remaining trade with the United States, and by the freezing of Japanese credits in this country. Among the most important consequences of these moves was the destruction of Japan's lucrative and vital silk trade with this country, upon the proceeds of which Japan largely depended for the financing of her imports. `

Zero hour' approaching

Finally, in August 1941, after Japan had moved troops into southern French Indo-China, thereby flanking the Philippines on the West, Washington and London joined in delivering a warning to Tokyo against "new moves of aggression." Roosevelt dispatched a military mission to China. Zero hour was approaching. The imperialist conspirators sat back to await the development of the inevitable, and they were under no misapprehension as to what that development would be.

The effect of their pressure against Japan was reported to Washington by the American ambassador in Tokyo, Joseph C. Grew, who on October 9, 1941, two months before the Pearl Harbor attack, said that "the frozen-credit policy of the United States was driving Japan into national bankruptcy and she would be forced to act." Earlier, Grew had stated that:

Considering the temper of the people of Japan (read Japanese imperialists, for that was the circle Grew moved in) it was dangerously uncertain to base United States policy on a view that the imposition of progressive and rigorous economic measures would probably avert war; that it was the view of the Embassy that war would not be averted by such a course. . . . Finally he warned of the possibility of Japan's adopting measures with dramatic and dangerous suddenness which might make inevitable a war with the United States.

Grew may or may not have harbored the illusion that Washington's policy was intended to "avert war." What he thought is of little importance, since he was an executor and not a maker of policy. The important thing is that the high policy makers in Washington, Roosevelt and Hull, working in the closest consultation with the Wall Street barons, had already determined on war and were concerned only to force Japan to commit the first overt act of hostility, while gaining whatever time they could to prepare for war.

They knew Japan was choking in the noose of their sanctions. They knew the Japanese imperialists would try to fight their way out of the noose. They had Grew's warning that Japan would attack with "dramatic and dangerous suddenness." In the light of this last fact, especially, it can be said that Roosevelt transcended all bounds of nauseating hypocrisy when he pretended surprise and shock at the Japanese "sneak" attack on Pearl Harbor.

The 10-point ultimatum

The final negotiations "for peace" before Pearl Harbor put the finishing touch to the plans of the imperialist conspirators in Washington. On Nov. 26, 1941, Secretary of State Hull presented to Japanese representatives in Washington a 10-point proposal as the basis for an agreement.

This proposal required Japan to withdraw her armed forces from China and from French Indo-China. In return, the United States would unfreeze Japanese credits, end all other economic sanctions, and conclude a new commercial treaty with Japan. The Japanese imperialists were asked, in effect, to abandon entirely their plan of empire and surrender their position as a Pacific power.

Although the 10-point proposal was not couched in the form or language of an ultimatum, but took the form of a proposed draft agreement, it was understood by Tokyo as an ultimatum and was intended as such by the Washington conspirators. Hull and Roosevelt certainly regarded the proposal as an ultimatum.

They knew it meant war. For on the morning of November 27, as the Army Board report states, Secretary of War Stimson called Hull on the phone and Hull "told me now he had broken the whole matter off. As he put it, `I have washed my hands of it, and it is now in the hands of you and Knox (Navy Secretary), the Army and Navy.' " The Army Board also reports that on the same day (November 26) that the 10-point proposal was delivered to the Japanese representatives, the Chief of Staff (Gen. Marshall) and the Chief of Naval Operations (Admiral Stark) wrote a joint memorandum to Roosevelt, "requesting that no ultimatum be delivered to the Japanese as the Army and Navy were not ready to precipitate an issue with Japan." They were apprehensive as they saw the quickening drift toward war. They wanted more time to prepare. But their attempt to check the drift came too late in any event....

Irreconcilable imperialist antagonism

Roosevelt had decided to cut the Gordian knot which tied the country to a peaceful status. While, naturally, he was aware of the military deficiencies of the United States, he knew, too, that the American productive capacity, once fully geared to war, would quickly make good any losses sustained in the initial encounters with Japan. That is why, in asking Congress for a declaration of war on Dec. 8, 1941, he could confidently predict "inevitable victory" for the United States.

The 10-point ultimatum to Japan reflected the irreconcilable antagonism between American and Japanese imperialism, an antagonism with deep economic roots, an antagonism that could be resolved only by recourse to war. The question of who fired the first shot in the Pacific war has only an episodic interest.

The rivalry of the two imperialist Powers was lodged in the contest for trade, for raw materials, for colonies, for spheres of influence, for investment opportunities, for the right to dominate and exploit the teeming millions of the Orient.

War between them did not develop suddenly, but over long years. From the beginning, the interests, and therefore the policies, of the two Powers developed in diametrical opposition. The logic of this development made ultimate war between them inevitable.

A consideration of the nature of America's first contact with Japan illumines the whole future course of U.S.- Japanese relations.

In the year 1853, under orders from President Fillmore, Commodore Perry sailed an American naval squadron into Tokyo Bay to demand of Japan the opening of her ports to American shipping and commerce. The use of naval power to conduct a seemingly peaceful diplomatic mission is in itself significant. The frightened feudal rulers of Japan acceded to the American demands.

Japan's two centuries of isolation from the rest of the world (the Tokugawa seclusion, 1641-1853)(1) was at an end. Perry's mission inaugurated the period of Japan's modernization which was marked by the Meiji Restoration (1868)(2) and set its ruling class on the road of capitalist growth and imperialist expansion.

Historical background

The circumstances dictating the forcible opening of Japan were a signpost pointing to the future imperialist policies of both the United States and Japan and the clashing of their interests in the broad basin of the Pacific. As a result of China's defeat by Great Britain in the Opium Wars of 1839-42(3) and the forcing open of China's ports, a profitable Oriental trade began in which American merchants quickly seized their share....

In order to maintain and develop the Pacific trade route to China an intermediate port of call was required, so that ships could replenish their food and water supplies. Japan lay directly on the sailing route, but Japan was closed and forbidden territory. Seamen unfortunate enough to be shipwrecked off the Japanese coast were frequently put to death by Japan's feudal rulers who had decreed the total isolation of the country.

It was Perry's mission to break this isolation and obtain, by force if necessary, the right of American ships to call at such ports as Yokohama and Nagasaki. In subsequent treaties the United States secured extraterritorial rights for its nationals in Japan, as it had already done in China.

To Japan's rulers, gazing out for the first time on the outside world, it seemed as if their country was to suffer the fate of nearby China, which had been humiliated and subjugated by the Western Powers and reduced in all but name to a colony. They escaped this fate by feverish modernization and the creation of armed forces to withstand external pressure. The stage was thus set for the progressive development of a rivalry with the Western Powers which reached its denouement at Pearl Harbor. During the last quarter of the nineteenth century the last vestiges of what has become known as the "American frontier" were rapidly vanishing. The growth of American capitalism was coming to depend more and more upon foreign trade.

The great lands of the Orient, above all China, were the logical scene of American expansion, together with South America. Seizure of the Philippines in the Spanish-American war of 1898 and the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands started American imperialism on its career in the Pacific. Revivified Japan, meanwhile, had fought a war with and inflicted total defeat upon China (1894-95). Japan annexed the rich island of Formosa off the coast of China and established a protectorate over Korea, formally annexing the latter in 1910. Manchuria had become a sphere of interest of Czarist Russia. Britain and France had established similar spheres in China proper.

U.S. doctrine of `Open Door'

Washington, highly conscious of America's own destiny as an imperialist power, was alarmed by the piratical freebooting of its rivals. In 1899 John Hay, Secretary of State in the McKinley administration, enunciated the famous doctrine of the "Open Door" with regard to China. By this doctrine the American imperialists served notice on their rivals that they would not countenance any treaties or agreements which would have the effect of creating closed preserves and denying equal trade opportunities to American capitalists doing business in China.

The "Open Door" policy was vigorously reiterated during the Boxer Rebellion in China (1900-01)(4) which the rivals of the United States, including Japan, tried to use as a pretext for dismembering China. Again and again in the years that followed, the State Department delivered to Czarist Russia, to Britain and Japan and other powers, reminders that it demanded respect for the "Open Door" in China.

In 1904-05 Japan warred on Czarist Russia and seized the latter's "rights and interests" in Manchuria.... In 1915, while the Western Powers were preoccupied with the war in Europe, Japan presented her "21 demands" to China, threatening to take charge of the whole country. She took over the German "sphere of influence" in Shantung province. At the Washington Conference of 1921-22, the American imperialists compelled Japan to withdraw from Shantung and from the Soviet maritime provinces. They negotiated the Nine-Power Treaty under which the policy of the "Open Door" was reaffirmed. All the imperialist powers having "interests" in China undertook to "respect the sovereignty, the independence, and the territorial and administrative integrity of China."

This agreement between the imperialist bandits broke down before the subsequent reality of sharpening antagonism between the Powers. Britain sought merely to maintain the status quo in the Orient, being satisfied with the loot she had already obtained. But Japan, the new and hungry guest at the imperialist table, cast a greedy eye on the trade and possessions of both her British and American rivals and revived her plans for subjugating China.

In 1931, Japan's armies moved into Manchuria. Secretary of State Stimson reminded Japan of the "Open Door" once again and proclaimed the new implementing doctrine of "Non- recognition" under which the United States refused to recognize any "situation, treaty or agreement" which Japan might bring about by force of arms.

Six years later, Japanese imperialism moved into China proper. On October 6, 1938, Ambassador Grew in Tokyo delivered a note to the Japanese Government charging Japan with violation of her promises to maintain the "Open Door" and demanding that these promises be implemented. Japan's answer was to proclaim her "immutable purpose" to establish a "New Order in East Asia." There were other diplomatic exchanges. It is noteworthy that in all of them the expression of American concern for American "rights and interests" is the motif.

The hypocritical pretense that the American imperialists were concerned solely or even mainly with "liberating" the Orient from "Japanese banditry" so that the Chinese and other Asiatic peoples might be free, was to come later, after Pearl Harbor, in order to furnish a cover of disinterested idealism for the predatory aims of the Wall Street brigands.

As we have seen, war between Japan and the United States was prepared step by step over a period of half a century. It was not the result of sudden, unexpected aggression by Japan.

Pearl Harbor was merely the conflagration point of a long-smoldering antagonism lodged in the development of the two imperialist powers and caused by their greedy appetite for profits. For the right to dominate the Orient and exploit China with its millions of inhabitants, the imperialists on both sides of the Pacific sent their nations' youth to the shambles. They have caused unimaginable destruction, killed millions of people, and brought untold grief and privation to the survivors. War guilt? Yes! But it rests as heavily on the Wall Street brigands and their government in Washington as it does on the defeated imperialists of Japan.

1. Feudal lord Tokugawa Ieyasu founded the last shogunate (hereditary military dictatorship) in Japan in 1603. The Tokugawa state lasted over 250 years, until 1867. During most of this period, known as the Tokugawa Seclusion, a succession of dictators from the Tokugawa family literally closed Japan off to the outside world.

2. The Japanese emperor Meiji was restored to power in 1868, following the destruction of the Tokugawa shogunate. Under Meiji, who ruled until his death in 1912, Japan was gradually transformed from a feudal into a capitalist state and an imperialist power without a bourgeois revolution.

3. From the early years of the 19th century, the British government sought to exploit the Chinese market by the forcible importation of opium from India. In 1839 the Chinese government destroyed large quantities of British opium at Canton. In retaliation London launched the Opium Wars, which ended in the reduction of China to the status of a semicolony. They began with the arrival of British warships in Hong Kong in June 1840 and led to the bombardment of the South China coastal ports in 1842.

4. The so-called Boxer rebellion (this name is not used in China) was an anti-imperialist uprising led by the I-ho Ch'uan (Righteous and Harmonious Fists) secret society in 1899-1900. The revolt was crushed after the sacking of Beijing in August 1900 by an eight-power expeditionary force including troops from the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Austria, Italy, Russia, and Japan.

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