Japan: Rising Sun Notes

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

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Page 8 of 20

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

Roosevelt was inclined to follow up on the August 28 Japanese offer and meet with Konoye. Grew took the offer at face value, but Stanley Hornbeck and Cordell Hull believed the Japanese were insincere, based on their reading of secret Japanese cables about the Japanese activities in southeast Asia.  Hull persuaded Roosevelt to demand that a “satisfactory agreement” be reached before he met with Konoye. [120-121][WM – in effect Roosevelt rejected Japan’s best offer]

At a liaison conference on September 3, 2010, the Japanese leadership had received no reply from the U.S. Because of the embargo, it was believed, “With each day we will get weaker and weaker, until finally we won’t be able to stand on our feet.” They believed they were likely to lose an immediate war, but were certain to lose a war if they delayed. Chief of Staff Sugiyama put forward a deadline for diplomatic success, October 10, and there was general agreement to that. All military preparations were to be completed by that date, in case negotiations failed. [121]

On September 3 (or 4, unclear), 1941 the Japanese received Roosevelt’s reply. In addition to refusing to meet Konoye, there was an Oral Statement. “It politely avoided promising anything of import while side-stepping the main issues. It noted with satisfaction Japan’s willingness to abide by Hull’s four principles but … never mentioned Japan’s offer to withdraw all troops from Indochina. Since it seemed to be a deliberate rebuff (which it was not) as well as a belittling of concessions made by the Army at agonizing cost (which it was), the Cabinet approved the deadline policy without argument.” [122]

The Emperor questioned the planned deadline for war. A meeting with the Army and Navy was called on September 5. The military claimed they could win the war in 6 months; the Emperor challenged that. Sugiyama yielded, saying “We’d rather not fight at all,” but that if diplomacy failed and the war did not start quickly, Japanese strength was quickly declining and the war would be lost. In the end all agreed to give “first preference to diplomacy.” [122-124]

The actual Imperial Conference was on September 6. Nagano argued that if negotiations could not gain Japan minimal protections, war would be necessary “despite America’s “unassailable position, her vaster industrial power and her abundant resources.”” Because of the embargo Japan would be out of liquid fuels within ten months. The Emperor spoke for peace, and Sugiyama and Nagano said they would pursue back the peace first policy, with military preparations only for the case where the U.S. remained belligerent. [124-127] Toland comments that this decision “meant, in fact, that hostilities would commence unless the negotiations were successfully concluded by October 10.”

The same day, September 5, Konoye and other leading officials held a secret meeting with Ambassador Grew. Konoye said the 4 Principles were generally acceptable, that he was personally responsible for the bad relations between the U.S. and Japan, and that he needed to have a meeting with Roosevelt to straighten things out. He emphasized a quick settlement was essential, but did not reveal the October 10 deadline. There may have been translation issues during the meeting. [128-129]

Hull received two separate Japanese proposals the same day. Through Grew he received an offer to withdraw from China once peace was achieved, with America to end its embargo and its own Far East military buildup. He also received an old, unofficial statement from Nomura. This genuinely confused Hull, who delayed a response, which convinced the Japanese pro-war faction that he was playing for time to weaken Japan and build U.S. forces in Asia. When he did respond it was with “over a half dozen pages of objections.” [131]

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