From New International, Vol. 11 No. 9, December 1945, pp. 283–285.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
This is a war for mastery of the world, and not for national independence. Japan’s oppression of China has its counterpart in the three centuries of British oppression of India. In these two cases is symbolized the imperialist reality behind all the pretensions of the democratic spokesmen on the one side and the Axis on the other. This is a war of finance capital; this is a war for oil and steel and coal; this is a war for rubber and tin and tungsten; this is a war for stocks and bonds and profits; this is a war for rule over countless millions of colonial slaves. This is a war conceived and bred by world capitalism – not by this or that country alone, not by this or that statesman alone, but by the rotten, decaying, poisonous reaction of the capitalist system which these statesmen represent and defend. – From a statement issued by the Worker! Party immediately following America’s entry into the war, and published as a lead article in Labor Action of December 15, 1941, one week after Pearl Harbor.
The Congressional Committee investigating the Pearl Harbor “incident” is still in session as we write. It is, however, possible to draw conclusions on the findings of the committee before it completes its sessions and issues its report, conclusions both as to Pearl Harbor and as to the investigation itself. Briefly stated, these conclusions are:
Each side in the dispute is faced with a dilemma. Thus the Administration is trying to prove at one and the same time that (1) Japanese “aggression” came as a complete surprise, compelling it to respond by a declaration of war; and (2) that its efficiency was not wanting in any respect, that it was prepared for war except insofar as the isolationists stood as obstacles to national unity.
And the critics of the Administration, notably the GOP and the Patterson and Hearst press, face the dilemma of indicting the criminal without establishing a motive for his crime: Roosevelt forced Japan’s hand, then deliberately kept silent on Japan’s plan to attack Pearl Harbor in order to catapult the American people into war. But the motive? At this point their testimony resolves itself into a quibble over incidental fact and counter-fact because it spells a genuine indictment of imperialism.
It is difficult to establish which of the charges, which of the defenses are true. The Administration is working especially hard to secure an acquittal, and in this it is generally aided by the purveyors of information, the press. Apart from the Hearst and Patterson papers, who are exploiting the situation for their own reactionary ends, the press as a whole has displayed a truly responsible attitude toward American imperialism. It was one thing when Kimmel and Short were hauled before an investigating committee. The issue could still be kept within the confines of military efficiency – did the Army and Navy cooperate? Did commanding officers at Pearl Harbor display sufficient enterprise and initiative? It was still within the realm of permissible news exploitation, depending upon which side of the capitalist political fence they were, when it was merely a matter of investigating negligence in the State Department or making a little Republican capital against Roosevelt. It is something else again when the investigation comes dangerously close to revealing the real background of war, the motives. Thus, in the spirit of their responsibility to the basic interests of imperialism, the pro and anti-Roosevelt press is generally and generously help ing the Administration to dominate the investigation. And so, too, in this same spirit, thirty-nine Republican members of Congress have disassociated themselves from leaders of their party who, in using the investigation as a political football, may find themselves unloosing something they will be unable to control.
What are the principal issues in the dispute? John T. Flynn, pre-war America Firster, who some time ago wrote a largely substantiated exposé of the Pearl Harbor “incident” for the Chicago Tribune, and who is now covering the investigation for the Hearst press, contends that at 10 p.m., December 6, Roosevelt received an intercepted Japanese message breaking off negotiations with the United States and indicating immediate Japanese action, and that Roosevelt deliberately delayed forwarding the information to military commanders in the Pacific Against Flynn’s charge, the Administration is presenting a bewildering number of witnesses to prove that the vital part of the message, the 14th part, was not decoded until 10:30 a.m. of December 7, that steps were immediately taken to notify all commanders concerned but that a series of tragic delays ensued: Army radio could not raise Hawaii that morning, commercial cable was used and the warning to General Short was not decoded until four hours after the attack had already begun. This is big issue No.1.
It is pointless to try to discern the particular truth in the pages upon pages of testimony and denial. And it serves no real purpose. Whether General Marshall was horseback riding when he should have been working is the Army’s affair. The same for whether General Short was sleeping on the job or whether he should have maintained cordial relations with the Navy commander. The same for whether Army Intelligence reported the pending attack and disposition of Japanese forces. It. is, however, of real concern to the people of this country that they know why and how they were dragged into the war.
Big issue No.2 was explored in two and a half days of testimony by Admiral Richardson, who was relieved of his Pacific command early in 1941. Richardson testified that he had informed Roosevelt Pearl Harbor was inadequate to prepare the fleet for war. He had proposed that the fleet be returned to the West Coast to be built up, then deployed for action. Roosevelt felt that it was necessary to maintain the fleet in Pacific waters to present a show of force to the Japanese.
“They (the Japanese) could not always avoid making mistakes and that as the war continued and the area of operations expanded, sooner or later they would make a mistake and we would enter the war.
So Richardson reported the gist of Roosevelt’s position. Welles, testifying after Richardson, justified Roosevelt’s action on grounds of diplomatic expediency.
Be that as it may, entry into the war was a foregone conclusion from the start. Long before Pearl Harbor, Churchill urged Roosevelt to lay his cards on the table in negotiations with the Japanese. Roosevelt, however, preferred something milder than a warning that the United States would resort to war, something like the traditional warning against aggression; he had still to line the American people up for war. Testifying before the committee, Sumner Welles, former Assistant Secretary of State, admitted that as of mid-September, 1941, it was clear to him that there wasn’t “the remotest chance” of peace with Japan. For weeks before Pearl Harbor it was known to American diplomatic and military leaders that Japan was planning to attack at one of several places when the negotiations broke down. Incredible as it may seem with the extraordinary information at the disposal of US Intelligence, the Administration contends it suspected half a dozen points of attack, but none of these was Pearl Harbor.
We have cited only the barest fraction of the evidence. Mountains of it have piled up in testimony, state papers, photostats, exhibits of one kind or another. There is in addition the mountain of evidence accumulated during the two previous Pearl Harbor investigations. We are in no position to examine the testimony for accuracy. And, in any case, we are far from convinced that the hour at which Roosevelt received the decoded Japanese message is the principal issue. We are concerned with the entire pattern, and the pattern unmistakably reveals that both United States and Japanese imperialism were engaged in a plot against their respective peoples.
And this much can be said as a certainty: whether or not Roosevelt, apprised of the situation, could have prepared the Hawaiian command against the Japanese attack, whether or not it came as a “surprise,” he could hardly view it as a disaster. For, whatever ships or men may have been lost, the military cost was well worth the political gain to him.
There is no doubt from the evidence that the Japanese were preparing for war. There is equally no doubt that they would have preferred not to go to war with the United States, but had no choice short of restricting their imperialist ambitions. Japan became an imperialist nation of importance largely through the aid of the United States, which promoted its development as an obstacle to British and Russian influence in Asia. While Japan was developing its expansionist policies, imperialist rivalries for control of the world were sharpening. During the First World War, Japanese and US interests still coincided sufficiently in the Pacific to make her an ally of the United States. By the time of the Second World War, the world had become so much “narrower – that imperialist mastery of the world could not be shared. Having embarked on its program to build a Japanese “co-prosperity – sphere several years earlier in China, Japan moved to establish total domination over the East when the European war engaged the energies of the Allied powers.
The United States entered the war against the Axis power late, but it was actually in the war from the start, and not merely in it, but in it as a principal contestant. Just as its imperialist interests dictated a contest with Hitler Germany for world domination, so, specifically in the East, its interests could not tolerate Japanese domination. Capital investments in the East were involved; so were the resources of the enslaved colonies – rubber, oil, tungsten, tin.
Moral issues were not involved. Aviation parts that were used to replace Dutch slavery by Japanese slavery, and also used to bomb American ships at Pearl Harbor, were sold by Bethlehem Steel Corporation to Japan almost up to the declaration of war. A big patent cartel in the United States schooled the Japanese in how to make high octane gasoline as late as 1939. These and other disclosures were made to the Senate Kilgore Committee by the Economic Warfare Division of the Justice Department at the same time that Pearl Harbor hearings were in session, yet they hardly created a ripple in the press. The scandal of scrap iron sales is well known. Business remained business up to the last moment.
American business did not lose an opportunity to make profits until the larger issue of American or Japanese control came to the showdown of war. Not all the representatives of big business, however, saw the situation in the same light. Where the general interests of United States capitalism dictated Roosevelt’s war policy, there were elements whose individual interests were best served by peace with Japan (or Germany). Hence isolationism; hence too, in, part, the vigor of the Roosevelt “smear” campaign in the current investigation.
Those who are most active in the “smear Roosevelt” campaign know full well that he acted for the general welfare of capitalism – including the Hearst and Patterson and GOP interests. The war, however, is won. Japan as an imperialist rival is crushed. There are differences of opinion in American capitalism as to what foreign policies will best serve their imperialist interests in the East (or, for that matter, Europe). And the Pearl Harbor incident makes, in any case, excellent presidential campaign material.
For it is true that Roosevelt engaged in a conspiracy of deception against the American people. His fireside chats dripped with the syrup of non-involvement while he was not only preparing for war, but deciding the course that war entry would take.
Through the speeches and literature of the Workers Party, through Labor Action, through The New International, we exposed Roosevelt’s policy for what it was: a policy of preparation for imperialist war. Read The New International or Labor Action for the year before Pearl Harbor and you will find that we predicted that Roosevelt, confronted with mass anti-war sentiment at home, awaited only the incident that would make the war palatable to the people. Did we say this to “smear” Roosevelt? No, not then, any more than now. We were not and are not interested in Roosevelt as an individual except as he represents a class and the policy of that class. We are, however, admittedly very interested in smearing imperialism – Japanese, German, Russian, British or American – and the evidence at the Pearl Harbor investigation does smear imperialism, if so mild a word as smear may be used.
What becomes of the moral indignation against the “sneak attack”? Surprise or no surprise, Roosevelt expected exactly such an act – at Pearl Harbor or some other American possession. And what becomes of that most favored hypocrisy, “aggression”? In imperialist wars there are no aggressors. Each side is as an aggressor against its own people and against the peoples of the world. Who strikes the first blow is either a matter of maneuvering or of military or diplomatic strategy, as the case may be.
The United States did not go to war to avenge the massacred Chinese, the enslaved Javanese. It did not go to war against the Dutch because they enslaved the Javanese before the Japanese did, nor against the British because they oppressed the people of Singapore before the Japanese did, any more than it is going to war against them now because the Dutch and British are massacring Javanese today. The United States went to war to pursue its imperialist aims, to crush a rival imperialism that would not confine itself to the rôle assigned to it.
We of the Workers Party are proud that, ALONE among the parties in the United States, we issued a manifesto at the outbreak of the war denouncing it as imperialist, describing Pearl Harbor as the fabricated excuse it was. Turn back to the beginning of this article. Read the quotation from our manifesto. We are confident that a people’s inquiry into Pearl Harbor and the war would arrive at the same summary of conclusions.
Last updated on 17.5.2013