After explaining that World War II could have been avoided, if only the allies had been a little more patient with Hitler, Pat Buchanan tops himself in his latest column in which he puts the blame for the Pearl Harbor attack squarely where it belongs, on FDR. That’s right, Franklin Delano Roosevelt provoked the attack by his hostile actions toward the Japanese.
Edited by historian George Nash, “Freedom Betrayed: Herbert Hoover’s History of the Second World War and Its Aftermath” is a searing indictment of FDR and the men around him as politicians who lied prodigiously about their desire to keep America out of war, even as they took one deliberate step after another to take us into war.
Yet the book is no polemic. The 50-page run-up to the war in the Pacific uses memoirs and documents from all sides to prove Hoover’s indictment. And perhaps the best way to show the power of this book is the way Hoover does it – chronologically, painstakingly, week by week.
Consider Japan’s situation in the summer of 1941. Bogged down in a four-year war in China she could neither win nor end, having moved into French Indochina, Japan saw herself as near the end of her tether.
Inside the government was a powerful faction led by Prime Minister Prince Fumimaro Konoye that desperately did not want a war with the United States.
The “pro-Anglo-Saxon” camp included the navy, whose officers had fought alongside the U.S. and Royal navies in World War I, while the war party was centered on the army, Gen. Hideki Tojo and Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka, a bitter anti-American.
On July 18, 1941, Konoye ousted Matsuoka, replacing him with the “pro-Anglo-Saxon” Adm. Teijiro Toyoda.
The U.S. response: On July 25, we froze all Japanese assets in the United States, ending all exports and imports, and denying Japan the oil upon which the nation and empire depended.
Stunned, Konoye still pursued his peace policy by winning secret support from the navy and army to meet FDR on the U.S. side of the Pacific to hear and respond to U.S. demands.
U.S. Ambassador Joseph Grew implored Washington not to ignore Konoye’s offer, that the prince had convinced him an agreement could be reached on Japanese withdrawal from Indochina and South and Central China. Out of fear of Mao’s armies and Stalin’s Russia, Tokyo wanted to hold a buffer in North China.
On Aug. 28, Japan’s ambassador in Washington presented FDR a personal letter from Konoye imploring him to meet.
Tokyo begged us to keep Konoye’s offer secret, as the revelation of a Japanese prime minister’s offering to cross the Pacific to talk to an American president could imperil his government.
On Sept. 3, the Konoye letter was leaked to the Herald-Tribune.
On Sept. 6, Konoye met again at a three-hour dinner with Grew to tell him Japan now agreed with the four principles the Americans were demanding as the basis for peace. No response.
On Sept. 29, Grew sent what Hoover describes as a “prayer” to the president not to let this chance for peace pass by.
On Sept. 30, Grew wrote Washington, “Konoye’s warship is ready waiting to take him to Honolulu, Alaska or anyplace designated by the president.”
No response. On Oct. 16, Konoye’s cabinet fell.
First of all, what Buchanan somehow does not understand is that the militarist government of Japan was every bit as vicious and nasty as the Nazis in Germany. The “Asian Holocaust” does not get nearly as much attention as the European one, perhaps because the victims were Asians and not European, but the Japanese war crimes in China and elsewhere were as bad as anything the Germans did. The Japanese may have killed as many as ten million people. This was an evil regime that had to be ended.
In one sense, Buchanan is correct. The sanctions that Roosevelt placed on the Japanese did indeed induce them to attack. But he seems to sidestep just why the sanctions were placed on Japan, namely because of the aggressive war they were waging in China. Roosevelt probably also understood that an east Asia dominated by the Japanese Empire would not be in America’s strategic interests. Denying Japan the oil their empire needed seems like a good idea to me.
I do not believe that it is clear that Prince Konoye was negotiating in good faith or that he could have delivered on any agreement if he was.The militarist government had seized power in Japan through a policy of assassination and intimidation. The army in Korea had invaded Manchuria in 1932 without bothering to consult with the civilian government. They were not very interested in following the laws of their own country. They were much less willing to follow international norms treaties
I don’t doubt that there was a faction in the Japanese government that wanted to avoid war with the US. They had a good idea that Japan would not win such a war. But I find it difficult to imagine that the Japanese would simply withdraw from China after spending so much in men and material to conquer it for four years. I think that the Japanese would have attempted to draw out the negotiations as long as possible, perhaps making motions of withdrawing while consolidating their defenses. An actual withdrawal and admission of defeat would have been an unacceptable loss of face. I don’t believe the army would have followed an order to withdraw. Most likely, Prince Konoye would have been murdered and the negotiations with the US ended.
Pat Buchanan ends his column.
Out of the war that arose from the refusal to meet Prince Konoye came scores of thousands of U.S. dead, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the fall of China to Mao Zedong, U.S. wars in Korea and Vietnam, and the rise of a new arrogant China that shows little respect for the great superpower of yesterday.
I don’t see how an east Asia dominated by an aggressive Japan would have been any better.