Li Fu-Jen, War Guilt in the Pacific, Fourth International, October 1945, pp.166-169. 
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
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 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 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 reports which disclose the policy of the Roosevelt Administration in the chain of events which led to the outbreak of war between the United States and Japan make this absolutely clear.
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:
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. It was, remember – election year! Roosevelt was running for his fourth term. Publication of the Pearl Harbor reports shortly before the election would have furnished the Republican opposition some telling political ammunition. The Republicans could have portrayed Roosevelt (much more effectively than they were in the circumstances able to do) as an arch-hypocrite and.betrayer of the peaceful desires of the people. Without doubt, it was by Roosevelt’s command that the Pearl Harbor reports were kept under cover.
The war-making power supposedly resides in Congress. A constitutional provision prohibits the United States from engaging in any hostile military act against another Power unless and until the Congress has declared a state of war. There is, however, no legal bar to prevent the executive arm of government from pursuing policies and taking hostile steps of a non-military character against a Power with which the United States is formally at peace. This was just what Roosevelt did in relation to both Germany and Japan between the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, and the formal American entry into the war with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. First, he had Congress repeal the arms embargo clauses of the Neutrality Act, enabling the United States to supply implements of war to the future military allies of American imperialism. Then he instituted the system of Lend-Lease. Next he authorized the arming of American merchant ships and ordered them and their naval escorts to attack German submarines whether or not they were themselves attacked. He had Congress enact military conscription (Selective Service Act). Finally, in the Pacific, by a succession of acts, he drew a noose of economic strangulation around the neck of Japan.
It was impossible for Roosevelt to gear the country fully to war so long as formal peace prevailed. Military preparations could go so far and no further. Moreover, and more importantly, the imperialist aims of the United States could be realized only through war. Since the imperialist government in Washington did not, as a matter of tactics, intend to take the initiative in formally breaching the “peace,” the opponent had to be forced into making the first hostile move. This was Roosevelt’s problem. It was necessary for him, however, to surround the steps taken with a typical aura of idealistic and pacifist declarations. Thus in one breath Roosevelt would sonorously proclaim: “I hate war! “ In the next he would invoke economic sanctions against Japan, knowing that these would lead ultimately to war.
The situation that prevailed prior to the formal entry of the United States into the war, and the nature of Roosevelt’s problem, are well described in the second chapter of the report of the Army Pearl Harbor Board, which it is worth quoting at length:
There existed during this critical period much confusion of thinking and of organization, of conflict of opinion and diversity of views. The nation was not geared to war, either mentally or as an organization. It was a period of conflicting plans and purposes. The winds of public opinion were blowing in all directions; isolationists and nationalists were struggling for predominance; public opinion was both against war and clamoring for reprisal against Japan; we were negotiating for peace with Japan, and simultaneously applying economic sanctions that led only to war; we were arming our forces for war and at the same time giving away much of such armament. The Administration, State, War and Navy departments in their policies, plans and operations were likewise being pushed here and there by the ebb and flow of war events, public reactions, diplomatic negotiations and newspaper attacks.
The War Department by its actions and its organization was still on a peacetime basis; neither its management nor its general staff had perfected its organization for war or for the conduct of a large enterprise. The whole machinery of Government was geared to a different purpose and tempo than war. Valiant and brilliant men were struggling to bring order out of chaos, rather as individuals or as small groups attempting simultaneously both to establish policies and to accomplish practical things. As a result a few men, without organization in the true sense, were attempting to conduct large enterprises, take multiple actions, and give directions that should have been the result of carefully directed commands, instead of action taken by conference. We were preparing for a war by the conference method. We were directing such preparations by the conference method; we were even writing vital messages by the conference method, and arriving at their contents by compromise instead of by command; that was the product of the time and conditions due to the transition from peace to war in a democracy.
Such was the confusion of men and events, largely unorganized for appropriate action and helpless before a strong course of events, that ran away with the situation and prematurely plunged us into war.
Everything in this passage is revealing, including the evident impatience and frustration of the brass hats with a “democracy” that interfered with their preparations for war. The “conflicting plans and purposes” were in essence the conflict between Roosevelt’s set course toward war and the restrictions which a state of formal peace necessarily imposed on the war preparations. It was precisely this conflict which created difficulties for General Short and Admiral Kimmel and contributed to the magnitude of the Pearl Harbor catastrophe. Roosevelt was striving to resolve this conflict by “negotiating for peace with Japan, and simultaneously applying economic sanctions that led only to war.” When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, he had achieved his purpose. Only from the very limited point of view of military preparedness at the time was the United States “prematurely plunged into war.” From the larger point of view of the imperialist destiny of the United States, of which Roosevelt was the most keenly conscious, entry came none too soon. Moreover, as we have already pointed out, further military preparation was possible only on a wartime basis. It is, of course, not true that public opinion was “clamoring for reprisal against Japan.” Poll after poll of public opinion showed a tremendous popular opposition to any act that might plunge America into war. The capitalist press – and that is what the brass hats mean by “public opinion” – was indeed clamoring for action against Japan, but this press spoke only for a tiny minority, the imperialist brigands of Wall Street who feared that the rich Far East would come under the permanent domination of their Japanese rivals.
The formula under which military preparations went forward at Pearl Harbor is stated in the Army’s report: “... to take defensive measures but in so doing he (General Short) was told not to alarm the population (of Hawaii) nor to disclose intent.” The effect of this directive was felt in the thoroughness with which the Japanese accomplished their purpose at Pearl Harbor. The evidence shows that General Short followed the directive. Moreover, he was not kept sufficiently informed as to the critical state of relations with Japan and the imminence of war. Therefore he did not give an all-out war alert as the critical hour approached, but contented himself with an anti-sabotage alert. He was bound by general orders “not to alarm the population nor to disclose intent.”
Secretary of State Hull was asked by the Army Board for an expression of the State Department’s views touching on the influence of foreign policy upon military directives. Hull replied that “it was not the policy of this Government to take provocative action against any country or to cause Japan to commit an act of war against the United States.” But the record is clear: economic sanctions of a most stringent character were imposed against Japan in systematic order, and these, as the Army Board attests, “led only to war.” If we were to believe Hull’s statement (and we should not forget that he was an imperialist diplomat) we would also have to believe that Hull’s chief and mentor, Roosevelt himself, was so stupid as not to understand the provocative nature of economic sanctions and the consequences to which they lead. According to Hull, he must have thought that the Japanese imperialists would tamely submit to economic strangulation and abandon their plans of empire without a fight. But there is nothing to support any assumption that Roosevelt was so stupid. On the contrary, he proved himself a master strategist of imperialist politics. He knew what he was doing and why. He knew the consequences to which his acts would lead. This is not a matter of unsupported assumption. Hull’s contention that it was not Washington’s policy “to cause Japan to commit an act of war against the United States” is decisively refuted by other testimony written into the report of the Army Board.
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. 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 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. Hull had already delivered the American ultimatum. He was instructed and guided by Roosevelt who understood better than the generals and admirals that the limits of military preparedness under peacetime conditions had been reached and that further delay in plunging into war could have only adverse effects on the grandiose plans of American imperialism. It was now necessary to effect the sharp transition from “armed neutrality” to active belligerency and to pursue the imperialist destiny of the United States on the decisive plane of military operations. 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) was at an end. Perry’s mission inaugurated the period of Japan’s modernization which was marked by the Meiji Restoration (1868) and set its ruling class on the road of capitalist growth and imperialist expansion.
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. Those were the days of sailing ships. Steam-powered vessels had scarcely begun to make their appearance. Trim clippers sailed out of the ports of New York and San Francisco carrying trade goods to Shanghai and Canton and bringing back the tea, silks, porcelains and spices of the Orient. It was a long voyage. Under favorable weather conditions the trip from New York to Canton around Cape Horn occupied a full five months. The small sailing ships could scarcely carry enough food and fresh water to last that long. It was hard to get crews for this Oriental run because of the fearful hardships often endured on such long and hazardous voyages. Sailors often had to be “Shanghaied” on board the sailing ships.
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. 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) 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. At the Portsmouth Conference, where the peace treaty was signed, the United States played the role of mediator and succeeded in limiting Japan’s demands.
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. Frank Glass was no longer in China but in the United States at this time.
Last updated on 22.8.2004