Japan: Rising Sun Notes

for The U.S. War Against Asia
by William P. Meyers

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Notes from The Rising Sun, The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945 by John Toland

Book Club Edition, Random House, New York, copyright 1970

United States of America President Franklin Delano Roosevelt reacted with a public speech to the Japanese invasion of China on October 5, 1937, threatening to “quarantine” Japan. Roosevelt had long believed that Japan, in wanting to become an Asiatic power, threatened the U.S.’s desire to be an Asiatic power. Ambassador to Japan Grew believed the quarantine threat was a mistake, jeopardizing relations between the nations. The Japanese reacted negatively to the Roosevelt speech; Yosuke Matsuoka, for instance, said “Ask the American Indian or the Mexican how excruciatingly trying the young United States used to be.” [58-60] Typical Japanese rationalizations of the invasion were that it was necessary to prevent Asia from being totally controlled by white people, and to prevent China from becoming communist.

On December 12, 1937, during the Japanese advance on Nanking, they sank the U.S. gunboat Panay in the Yangtze River. A week earlier the Japanese had seized the British gunboat Ladybird. [60]

Roosevelt’s reaction to Panay was to ask the British to “join in a naval blockade which would cut Japan off from raw materials.” The British saw that as an act of war, and demurred.  However, the attacks on the Panay and Ladybird had not been pre-approved by the Tokyo government, so they apologized and offered full restitution. The Japanese even dismissed their officer who had ordered the Panay attack. [61]

At this time (December 1937) “Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the navy Vice Minister, who had no relish for doing battle with the U.S. fleet, since he had spent considerable time in America and was cognizant of her potentialities,” supported the decision to punish those responsible for the Panay and Ladybird attacks. Although Roosevelt accepted the apology, he remained intent on putting together a quarantine of Japan. [61]

Although Japan apologized for the Ladybird attack and Britain accepted the apology, the officer who ordered the attack Colonel Kingoro Hashimoto, was not punished. [62]

Japanese troops entering  Nanking in December 1937, on the orders of General Iwane Matsui “to protect and patronize Chinese officials and people, as far as possible,” instead “roamed the city, looting, burning, raping, murdering.” When Matsui learned of the atrocities he ordered them ended, and they at least were minimal while he was in the city, but resumed after he left. Perhaps 200,000 to 300,000 civilians were slaughtered in all. Japanese troops “could only have been incited by some of the more radical officers, in the belief that the Chinese should be taught a lesson.” [62-63]

The Japanese Prime Minister at the time, Konoye, had sent his oldest son Fumitaka to U.S. schools (Lawrenceville for high school, Princeton for college).  He was personally very close to Hiroshito, and generally opposed to militarism. [64-65]

Not wanting to continue the war with China, Konoye wanted Britain to help negotiate a peace, but the army wanted Germany, “which was friendly to both parties. Hitler had sent Chiang Kai-shek arms and military advisers and was bound, if tenuously, to Japan by the year-old Anti-Comintern Pact. The terms were so reasonable that when the strongly pro-Chinese German ambassador to China, Oskar Trautmann, presented them, Chiang Kai-shek seemed to accept them.” But three things derailed the peace. The Japanese had a major victory over the Chinese army, so War Minister Sugiyama “raised the price of negotiation.” A new regime, independent of China, was announced in Peking, “against the specific orders of Konoye and the General Staff." Most importantly, President Franklin Roosevelt urged Chiang Kai-shek to hold out for better terms. “Concluding that Chiang Kai-shek really didn’t want to negotiate,” Konoye made a fateful decision, announced on January 16, 1938. “The imperial Government shall cease to deal with the National Government of China, and shall rely upon the establishment and growth of a new Chinese regime for co-operation.” [65-66]

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