Chapter V:
The Decision for War

One would have lingering wars with little cost;
Another would fly swift, but wanteth wings;
A third thinks, without expense at all,
By guileful fair words peace may be obtained.


By the fall of 1941 relations between the United States and Japan had reached a critical stage. American leaders had made it clear that so long as Japan adhered to the Tripartite Pact and to its efforts to conquer China there was little chance for compromise. But they needed time to complete their preparations.

For the Japanese, most of whom were unwilling to pay the American price for peace, time was of the essence. They were convinced that acceptance of American peace terms would only lead to further demands and ultimately leave Japan dependent on the United States and Great Britain. To them the gambles of war seemed preferable to the ignominy of a disgraceful peace.

The necessity for a prompt decision on Japan's future course was pressing, the Japanese leaders believed. The economic blockade was slowly depriving the nation of the power to fight. Signs of military co-operation among the Allies and of their intention to reinforce their Far Eastern bases were too clear to be ignored. Failure to seize the right moment for action might lose for Japan the vital resources of Malaya and the Netherlands Indies without which the nation would be dependent upon the United States and Great Britain. Thus, the Japanese were in the unenviable position -- or thought they were -- of either making concessions or going to war. They could not afford delay. "Time had become the meter of strategy for both governments. But one did not mind its passing, while the other was crazed by the tick of the clock."1

Tojo Takes Over

The six weeks' reprieve Prince Konoye had won on 6 September to


settle the outstanding issues between the United States and Japan by diplomacy went by quickly without producing a settlement. A new proposal, which Ambassador Nomura delivered to Hull on September, was rejected by the Americans. On 10 October, Nomura, who had renewed the request for a meeting between Roosevelt and Konoye, wrote Foreign Minister Soemu Toyoda that there was not "the slightest chance on earth" of a leader's conference "so long as Japan refused to compromise." The negotiations, in the words of Toyoda, had "slowly but surely . . . reached the decisive stage."2

The domestic situation was no better. Even more insistently, the Army and Navy pressed for a quick decision on the question of war. Oil stocks, the services pointed out, were steadily diminishing, the United States was rapidly reinforcing the Philippines, and the most favorable season of the year for operations was rapidly approaching. Failure to act soon, they declared, might result in a delay of many months and expose the Japanese to a Soviet attack in Manchuria. Finally, on 24 September, General Sugiyama and Admiral Osami Nagano, the Army and Navy Chiefs of Staff, submitted a joint letter calling attention to the shortage of supplies, the effect of the weather on operations, and the problems of mobilizing, staging, and deploying their forces. "With all the force of their position" they asked for a quick decision "by 15 October at the latest," so that they could start operations by mid-November.3

With no agreement in sight Konoye sought to win an extension. On 12 October he invited War Minister Tojo, the Navy and Foreign Ministers, and the president of the Planning Board to his home for a final conference on the question of war and peace. At the meeting the Premier argued strongly for continuing the negotiations beyond the deadline, then set at 15 October. The Navy Minister would not commit himself but General Tojo, on the ground that success in the negotiations would require concessions in China, refused to go along with Konoye. The issue had now been narrowed to the withdrawal of Japanese troops from China and on the morning of the 14th the Premier again sought Tojo's consent. "On this occasion," he urged the War Minister, "we ought to give in for a time . . . and save ourselves from the crisis of a Japanese-American war." Tojo again refused, and at a Cabinet meeting later in the day demanded that the negotiations be terminated. Finally, late that night, he sent Konoye a message stating that the Cabinet ought to resign, "declare insolvent everything that has happened up to now, and reconsider our plans once more."4

Without Tojo's support Konoye had no recourse but to resign. The Army, seeking possibly to avoid responsibility for the decision which must soon be made, suggested as his successor a member of the Imperial family, Prince Naruhiko Higashikuni. The suggestion was rejected as contrary to tradition and the Marquis Kido, together with the council of senior statesmen (former premiers),


recommended that Tojo himself be named premier. The Emperor accepted this recommendation. On the 18th Tojo took office with an Imperial mandate to reconsider Japan's policy in relation to the world situation without regard for the 6 September decision. The fate of Japan was in the hands of its generals.

In Washington where every Japanese move was carefully weighed and analyzed, the Cabinet crisis was cause for real concern and Ambassador Grew's cables did little to lessen it. On the 16th when Konoye resigned, Admiral Stark told Pacific and Asiatic Fleet commanders that there was "a strong possibility" of war between Japan and the Soviet Union. Warning them that Japan might also attack the United States, Stark instructed the two commanders to take "due precautions." This message Hart and Kimmel passed on to their Army colleagues who a few days later received quite a different message from Washington informing them that they need not expect an "abrupt change in Japanese foreign policy."5 Apparently the Army did not agree with the Navy's estimate of the international situation, and neither mentioned the possibility of an attack on Pearl Harbor.

The period from 18 October to November was one of mounting tension and frantic preparations on both sides of the Pacific. In Tokyo the Tojo Cabinet and the high command, meeting in an almost continuous series of Liaison Conferences, considered every aspect of Japan's position and completed the plans for war. Finally, on 5 November a decision was reached and confirmed by an Imperial Conference. This decision was substantially the same as that reached on 6 September: to continue negotiations in an effort to reach an agreement with the United States, and, if no settlement was reached, to open hostilities. The deadline first set was 25 November, later extended to the 29th of the month. The significance of this decision was revealed in a message the new Foreign Minister, Shigenori Togo, sent Admiral Nomura on the 4th telling him that relations between the two countries had "reached the edge." Next day he wrote that time was "exceedingly short," and the situation "very critical." "Absolutely no delays can be permitted. Please bear this in mind and do your best," Togo said. "I wish to stress this point over and over."6

The Imperial Conference of 5 November agreed that Japan should make proposals to the United States. The first, Proposal A, was an amendment to the latest Japanese proposal and provided for a withdrawal from China and French Indochina, when and if a peace treaty had been signed with Chiang Kai-shek. In certain areas in China, to be specified in the treaty, Japanese troops would remain for a "suitable period," vaguely and informally estimated at about twenty-five years. Further, the Japanese Government would interpret its obligations under the Tripartite Pact independently of the other Axis Powers. Lastly, Japan would agree not to discriminate



in trade, provided all other nations did the same. In his instructions to Nomura, Foreign Minister Togo emphasized that while other matters could be compromised in his negotiations with the United States, Japan could not yield on the question of China.

In Proposal B, to be made if the first was rejected, no mention was made of the Tripartite Pact or the removal of Japanese troops from China. Japan would withdraw its troops from southern Indochina immediately and from the northern part of that country only after the negotiation of a peace treaty with Chiang Kai-shek, or after the conclusion of a "just peace" in the Pacific. In return, the United States was to agree not to interfere in the negotiations with China, and to co-operate with Japan in the acquisition and exploitation of natural resources in the Netherlands Indies. Finally, the United States was to resume commercial relations with Japan, and to provide that nation with oil.7

With the decision made and the deadline set, the Army and Navy drew up an agreement embodying the objectives of the war and an outline of operations. On the same day the Navy Chief of Staff sent the Combined Fleet orders outlining the Navy's operations for war, with the explanation that "anticipating that war with the United States, Great Britain, and the Netherlands will begin in the early part of December, for self-preservation and self-defense, the Empire has decided to complete the various preparations for war."8 During the remainder of the month, the fleet was assembled, and on the 21st all forces, including the Carrier Striking Force scheduled to attack the Pacific Fleet, were ordered into operational waters. Most of the submarines for the Hawaiian area left Japan around 20 November.

On the 6th, the Army Chief of Staff issued instructions to the Southern Army to prepare detailed plans for operations in the event that the negotiations failed. At a meeting in Tokyo on 10 November, the Army and Navy commanders reached agreement on the details of their plans. At the same time, the major field commanders received orders to proceed with their preparations. On 20 November, the actual order for the attack was issued, but with the proviso that it would be


JAPANESE SIGNS Proclaiming an economy drive in Tokyo.

held until the results of the diplomatic negotiations were known.9

In Washington, the privileged few followed each diplomatic move of the Japanese in the mirror of Magic while observing in reports from all parts of the Far East increasing evidence of Japanese military preparations. Japanese ship movements toward Malaya and the concentration of shipping at Formosa, staging area for an attack on the Philippines, were quickly detected by American observers. Mr. Grew, who had reported as early as 27 January 1941 that there was talk in Tokyo of a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, warned on 3 November that recent troop movements placed Japan in a position to start operations "in either Siberia or the Southwest Pacific or in both," and that war might come with "dramatic and dangerous suddenness." "Things seem to be moving steadily toward a crisis in the Pacific," wrote Admiral Stark to his Pacific Fleet commander on 7 November. "A month may see, literally, most anything. . . . It doesn't look good."10

The Progress of Negotiations

The first proposal agreed upon at the Imperial Conference of 5 November was handed to Mr. Hull by Ambassador Nomura two days later. On the 12th, the Secretary of State told the Japanese Ambassador that the proposal was being studied and that he hoped to have a reply ready within three days. When it came it proved to be a rejection of Proposal A on the ground that the offer to withdraw troops from China and Indochina was indefinite and uncertain, and that the United States could not agree to the Japanese definition of nondiscrimination in trade.

On 20 November, Admiral Nomura, who now had the benefit of the advice of his newly arrived colleague Saburo Kurusu, presented Proposal B, virtually a restatement of the "minimum demands" and "maximum concessions" of the 6 September Imperial Conference. Intercepted Japanese messages had already revealed to Mr. Hull that this was to be Japan's last offer for a settlement. To the Secretary, the Japanese offer "put conditions that would have assured Japan's domination of the Pacific, placing


us in serious danger for decades to come." The commitments which the United States would have had to make were, in his opinion, "virtually a surrender."11

The problem faced by American political and military leaders was a serious one. An outright rejection of Proposal B might well provide Japan with the pretext for war. Full acceptance was out of the question. The only way out of the dilemma was to find a "reasonable counterproposal" or a basis for temporary agreement. In support of this point of view, Admiral Stark and General Gerow pointed out to the Secretary of State that a modus vivendi would "attain one of our present major objectives -- the avoidance of war with Japan." "Even a temporary peace in the Pacific," Gerow, who was acting for Marshall, urged, "would permit us to complete defensive preparations in the Philippines and at the same time insure continuance of material assistance to the British -- both of which are highly important."12

During the next four days, various drafts of a modus vivendi were prepared, and a final draft was completed on the 25th. This document provided that both nations would refrain from "any advance by force" into any areas in eastern Asia or the Pacific, and that Japan would withdraw from southern Indochina, reduce the number of troops in that country, and not send any reinforcements there. In return, the United States agreed to modify its economic restrictions to permit the shipment of $600,000 worth of cotton a month, medical supplies, and oil "for civilian needs." The modus vivendi was to remain in force three months.13

The modus vivendi and the reply to Japan's Proposal B were the subjects of a lively discussion by the War Council on 25 November. The general view was that the modus vivendi should be adopted, but Hull was pessimistic and expressed the view that the Japanese might "break out any time with new acts of conquest by force" and that national security now "lies in the hands of the Army and Navy."14 Nor could the U.S. Government ignore the unfavorable reaction of other powers to the modus vivendi. Great Britain, China, the Netherlands, and Australia felt that it represented a move in the direction of appeasement. The Chinese reaction was especially sharp, and from Chiang came a bitter protest, supported by a cable from Churchill.

The President was faced with a fateful decision. The Army and Navy wanted time to prepare for war, and were willing to buy it with minor concessions. But the slight prospect of Japanese acceptance of the modus vivendi was, in the view of the Secretary of State, hardly worth the risk of lowering Chinese morale and resistance, and opening the way for appeasement. At a meeting in the White House on 26 November, the President and Mr. Hull agreed that the small results expected from the modus vivendi did not justify the risks.


That afternoon, therefore, when the Secretary of State handed the Japanese Ambassador his 10-point reply to Proposal B, he omitted the modus vivendi which had been intended as an introduction to these points outlining the basis for a peaceful settlement.

Though the military leaders were informed on the evening of the 26th of the decision to abandon the modus vivendi, they were apparently not advised of the action taken on the ten points. Consequently, the discussions on the morning of the 26th in General Marshall's office, and in the Joint Board later in the day, were held without knowledge of the final rejection of Japan's last proposal.15 On the following morning, 27 November, Marshall and Stark summarized for the President their view of the situation. A Japanese offensive seemed imminent to them, but the direction of the attack "cannot now be forecast." "The most essential thing, from the United States point of view," they declared, "is to gain time" to complete the preparations for war. Military action before the completion of the reinforcement of the Philippines, they urged, should be avoided "so long as consistent with the national policy," and should be considered "only if Japan attacks or directly threatens United States, British, or Dutch territory."16

In view of the seriousness of the situation, the Army and Navy chiefs felt that commanders in the Pacific should be warned immediately. Already, the Navy had sent out word on the 24th -- to be passed on to the Army commanders -- that prospects for an agreement with Japan were slight and that Japanese troop movements indicated that "a surprise aggressive movement in any direction, including attack on Philippines or Guam" was a possibility.17 Now, on the 27th, Stimson asked General Gerow -- Marshall had left for the Carolina maneuvers -- whether the Army should not send a warning. Gerow showed him the Navy message of the 24th, but this failed to satisfy Stimson who observed that the President wanted a warning message sent to the Philippines. After a number of hurried meetings of the War Council, the 27 November war warning was drafted. Considered by the War Department as a "final alert," the message was sent to Hawaii, the Philippines, Panama, and San Francisco. The commander of each of these garrisons was told of the status of the negotiations with Japan, the imminence of hostilities, and the desirability of having Japan commit the "first overt act." Each was instructed to "undertake such reconnaissance and other measures" as he thought necessary and to carry out the tasks assigned in RAINBOW 5 if hostilities occurred. With the exception of MacArthur, each of the commanders was also warned not to alarm the civilian population or to "disclose intent." At the same time G-2 of the War Department sent an additional and briefer message to Hawaii and Panama, but not to the Philippines, warning against subversive activities.


JOINT BOARD MEETING, NOVEMBER 1941. This is the first photograph taken of the Joint Board. Seated around the table, from left: Brig. Gen. Harold F. Loomis, Maj. Gen. Henry H. Arnold, Maj. Gen. William Bryden, General Marshall, Admiral Stark, Rear Adm. Royal E. Ingersoll, Rear Adm. John H. Towers, Rear Adm. Richmond K. Turner.

The Navy warning of the 27th, which was passed on to the Army commanders, was more strongly worded and was definitely an alert for war. "This dispatch," it read, "is to be considered a war warning. . . . An aggressive move by Japan is expected within the next few days." Navy commanders were alerted to the likelihood of amphibious operations against either the Philippines, the Kra Peninsula, or Borneo and instructed to "execute an appropriate defensive deployment" preparatory to carrying out the tasks assigned in their war plans. The possibility of attack on Pearl Harbor was not mentioned in either of the messages.18

The response to these warnings was immediate. From MacArthur, who had promptly alerted his command, came the report that air reconnaissance had been extended and intensified "in conjunction


with the Navy," and that measures for ground security had been taken. "Within the limitations imposed by present state of development of this theater of operations," he told the Chief of Staff, "everything is in readiness for the conduct of a successful defense." The reply from General Short in Hawaii, where both the war warning and the G-2 message had arrived at about the same time, read simply: "Report Department alerted to prevent sabotage." This clear indication of confusion in Hawaii went unnoticed in the Munitions Building. To General Marshall and his chief aides Hawaii was the only base "reasonably well equipped," its commanders had been fully alerted, and they "felt reasonably secure at that one point." Their eyes were focused on the Philippines and Southeast Asia.19

The Die is Cast

The day 29 November, the deadline set by the Japanese, found the force scheduled to attack Pearl Harbor already on its way and elements of the Southern Army assembling for their various tasks. Since Hull's note of the 26th -- which a Liaison Conference had summarily rejected the next day -- it had been clear to the Japanese leaders that no agreement was possible. But a few more days were needed, so on the 28th Nomura and Kurusu were instructed to do their best to keep the conversations open. The next day the council of senior statesmen met with members of the Cabinet. Tojo presented the Cabinet view for war, but several of the senior statesmen expressed doubts about the wisdom of a war with the United States. Prince Konoye asked why it was not possible to continue "with broken economic relations but without war," to which Tojo replied that the final consequence of such a course would be "gradual impoverishment."20 Later that day, the same group met with the Emperor, and each man presented his views.

The Liaison Conference, which met in Tokyo at the Imperial Palace on 29 November 1941, was the conference at which the final details for the opening of hostilities were decided. Agreement was reached on the form and substance of a note to the United States which, in effect, would end the negotiations. The conferees agreed that a declaration of war would not be necessary. The timing of the note to be delivered in Washington was discussed, and it was finally decided to allow the Army and Navy to fix the interval between the delivery of the note and the opening of the attack.21

The decisions of the Liaison Conference were formalized and sanctioned by the Imperial Conference on 1 December. Tojo, who presided at this meeting, explained the purpose of the conference, and then the Cabinet ministers and the Chiefs of Staff discussed the question of war with the United States, Great Britain,


and the Netherlands. The decision was in favor of war. "Our negotiations with the United States regarding the execution of our national policy, adopted 5 November, have finally failed," reads the record of the meeting. "Japan will open hostilities against the United States, Great Britain, and the Netherlands." The Emperor spoke not a single word during the meeting.22

All was in readiness; only the date for the start of war remained to be fixed and that was quickly decided. The 8th of December ( Japanese Standard Time) was the date selected and on the 2d the Army and Navy Chiefs passed the information on to the forces already moving into position for attack. But on the slim chance that by a miracle the United States would agree to the Japanese terms, the naval Chief of Staff added that should an amicable settlement be reached "all forces of the Combined Fleet are to be ordered to reassemble and return to their bases." From Admiral Yamamoto's flagship went the message Niitaka Yama Nobore 1208 (Climb Mount Niitaka 1208), the prearranged signal to carry out the attacks as scheduled.23

Various considerations underlay the choice of date and the decision to strike without warning. Both the Army and Navy held that delay would be disastrous and that surprise was an essential prerequisite to the success of the plan. The Navy, moreover, feared that America's potential naval superiority would, by March 1942, make the execution of the Japanese plan extremely hazardous, if not impossible. The Army was anxious to start operations immediately, to prevent the United States and Great Britain from completing preparations in the Philippines and Malaya. Weather was a decisive consideration also. December and January were favorable months for amphibious operations, with the tide and moon in favor of landings. Sunday morning was selected with a full knowledge of American weekend activities.24

The first week of December 1941 was one of strain and nervous tension in Tokyo and of suspense and somber watchfulness in Washington. The signs of an early break were too clear to be missed by those who could read the intercepted Japanese messages and intelligence reports. Nomura and Kurusu saw Hull several times, but both sides knew nothing could come of these meetings. On the 4th, Thursday, Congress adjourned for a long weekend. Next day the Japanese Embassy staff began to leave Washington and Nomura reported the partial destruction of codes.

On 6 December, President Roosevelt composed a last-minute plea for peace to the Emperor. On the same day a Liaison Conference in Tokyo approved the decision to have Nomura deliver Japan's final note at 1300 the next day, thirty minutes before the scheduled launching of the attack on Pearl Harbor. This note, in fourteen parts, began to arrive in Washington later in the day. Thirteen of the fourteen parts of the message were in American hands that night, together with reports of two large


Japanese convoys off Indochina, headed south. Unidentified aircraft, presumably Japanese, had been observed over Luzon where by this time a full air alert was in effect and where the troops had already moved into defensive positions along the beaches. In Manila, Admiral Sir Tom Phillips, commander of the British Far Eastern Fleet, was just leaving for his flagship Prince of Wales after concluding arrangements with Hart and MacArthur for concerted naval action in the event of an attack. From Hawaii came a reassuring message that work on the South Pacific ferry route was progressing satisfactorily. Fourteen B-17's left San Francisco that night for Oahu, after a personal inspection by Maj. Gen. Henry H. Arnold, on the first leg of their run to the Philippines. Their ground crews were already on the high seas in a heavily loaded convoy of seven vessels carrying aircraft, artillery, ammunition, fuel, men, and supplies to General MacArthur.

That same day, 6 December, Japanese forces were rapidly approaching their various destinations. The Pearl Harbor force after a voyage across the North Pacific was heading southeast and at 2300 (Washington time) was about 600 miles north of Oahu. On Formosa airfields the planes for the attack on Clark Field were lined up, and the troops scheduled to seize advance airfields in the Philippines had already left staging areas in Formosa and the Pescadores. The invasion force for Guam was in position fifty miles north, on the island of Rota, and the Wake force stood ready at Kwajalein. Advance units of the Japanese 25th Army had left Hainan in two convoys on 4 December on their way to Malaya and on the 6th were nearing southern Thailand and Kota Bharu in British Malaya.

On the morning of the 7th, Sunday, the fourteenth and last part of the final Japanese note was intercepted and decoded. The War Department had its copy by about 0900. Though it did not indicate when or where war would start, its intent was clear. A short time later two additional messages were intercepted. Taken with the 14-part note breaking off the negotiations, they were starkly revealing. One instructed the Japanese ambassador to destroy the code machines and secret documents; the other to deliver the 14-part message at 1300 (Washington time). At 1030 that morning Stimson and Knox went to Hull's office where they were closeted for well over an hour and at 1230 the President received the Chinese Ambassador to whom he read his note of the day before to the Emperor. "This is," he told Hu Shih, "my last effort for peace. I am afraid it may fail."25

General Marshall spent Sunday morning on the bridle path and reached his office before 1100. The intercepted message giving the 1300 deadline (0730 Hawaiian time) for delivery of the 14-part note struck him as significant and he suggested to Admiral Stark that an additional warning be sent to the Pacific. He then composed a message to the commanders in Hawaii, the Philippines, Panama, and San Francisco telling them that the Japanese were destroying their coding machines and would present at 1300 "what amounts to an ultimatum." "Just what significance the hour set may have," he added, "we do not know, but be on alert accordingly."


Declining an offer from Admiral Stark for the use of the Navy's radio, Marshall turned the message over to an officer for transmission over the Army's network and was assured shortly before noon that it would be delivered in thirty minutes. By a series of ironical circumstances and unexpected delays the message to Hawaii was in turn entrusted to commercial telegraph and radio and then to a bicycle messenger who, on his way from Honolulu to Fort Shafter, was caught in the attack with his still encoded message.26

President Roosevelt's personal note to the Emperor reached Tokyo at noon of the 7th (Tokyo time), but was not delivered to Ambassador Grew until 2100 that night. Shortly after midnight (about 1100 of the 7th, Washington time), he called on the Foreign Minister to request an audience with the Emperor, but Togo said he would deliver the message himself. Meanwhile Ambassador Nomura had made an appointment to see Mr. Hull at 1345. He and Kurusu arrived at the State Department a half hour late and were admitted to Hull's office at 1420, only a few minutes after the Secretary had received a telephone call from the President telling him of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese emissaries handed the secretary the 14-part note, which he already had on his desk. "In all my fifty years of public service," he said with feeling, "I have never seen a document that was more crowded with infamous falsehoods and distortions -- infamous falsehoods and distortions on a scale so huge that I never imagined until today that any Government on this planet was capable of uttering them."27 The Japanese left without making any comment.

In Tokyo, Ambassador Grew received from Foreign Minister Togo the Japanese note breaking off the negotiations about four hours later (approximately 0800, Tokyo time) . Later that morning, after Japanese bombs had fallen on Hawaii, Guam, and Wake, after Japanese forces had attacked the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, and Japanese troops had landed in Malaya, Mr. Grew received an announcement that a state of war existed between Japan and the United States. Around noon, Premier Tojo read to "a stunned and silent nation" the Imperial Rescript declaring war. The broadcast closed on the martial strains of "Umi Yukaba":

Across the sea, corpses in the water;
Across the mountain, corpses in the field;
I shall die only for the Emperor,
I shall never look back.28


From the vantage point of hindsight, Japan's decision to go to war appears as a supreme act of folly. By this decision, the Japanese leaders appear to have deliberately committed their country to a hopeless struggle against a coalition vastly superior in potential industrial and military strength. The Pearl Harbor attack, which brought the United States into the war, has been characterized as politically "disastrous" and strategically "idiotic." "One can search military history in vain," writes the historian of naval operations in World


KURUSU and NOMURA in Washington, December 1941.

War II, "for an operation more fatal to the aggressor."29

To the Japanese the decision to go to war was a difficult choice, made only under the greatest necessity and with an awareness of the danger involved. But, after calculating all the risks, the Japanese believed they had a fair chance of success. They fully appreciated the industrial potential of the United States and that nation's ability to fight a major war on two fronts. But they had to accept this risk, as General Tojo said, "in order to tide over the present crisis for self-existence and self-defense."30 They recognized, too, that victory would have to be won quickly and that the longer the war lasted the more disadvantageous would Japan's position vis-à-vis the United States become. Their plans provided for such a victory, but made no provision for the defeat of the United States or Great Britain. The Japanese intended to fight a limited war for limited objectives and having once secured these objectives they planned to set up a defense in such depth and of such strength that the Allies would prefer a settlement to the long and costly war that would be required to reduce these defenses. To the Japanese leaders, this seemed an entirely reasonable view.

Perhaps the major error of the Japanese was their decision to attack the United States when the main objective of the war was to gain the strategic resources of Southeast Asia. Had they bypassed the Philippines and rejected Yamamoto's plan for the strike against Pearl Harbor, it is possible that the United States might not have gone to war, or, if it had, that the American people would have been more favorably disposed toward a negotiated peace. While the Japanese would have had to accept certain risks in following such a course, they would not have forced the United States to declare war. The President and his chief advisers were prepared to ask Congress for a declaration of war if Japan attacked Great Britain. The


Japanese knew this, but they did not know, or seriously miscalculated, the strength of isolationist sentiment in the United States. To a large part of the American people, a war with Japan over Malaya or the Netherlands Indies would have appeared as an effort to pull British and Dutch chestnuts out of the fire. Such a war would have split the country and made difficult the full mobilization of American and industrial might. "I don't know," Hull remarked later to Admiral Stark, "whether we would have been in the war yet if Japan had not attacked us."31

The United States Government was in a difficult position in the winter of 1941. It was committed to a major effort in the Atlantic and the support of the British Isles but had drawn a line in the Far East beyond which it would not permit Japan to go. At the same time, it was preparing for offensive operations against Japan, preparations that would be completed within several months. Had Japan, without abandoning its aims in Southeast Asia, sedulously avoided any overt act against the United States -- a course that was debated in Tokyo until the end of November -- the administration would have been faced with a distasteful choice: (1) to declare war against Japan and risk an unpopular war, or (2) to stand idly by while the Japanese secured the rich resources of Malaya and the Indies which would enable them to push the war in China. The Japanese, by attacking Pearl Harbor, made a choice unnecessary and unified the American people as nothing else could have done. "Like Adam and Eve," says the British military historian, Maj. Gen. John F. C. Fuller, "the Americans discovered they were naked. Their eyes were most unexpectedly opened, and they suddenly realized that they had been living in a fool's paradise. . . ."32

The Japanese placed great reliance for the success of their plans on the situation in Europe. Even if Germany did not defeat England or Soviet Russia they thought there was little possibility of peace. They did not expect an early invasion of England, but did anticipate that Germany would establish control of the European continent in the near future. And even if Germany did not defeat England or the Soviet Union, both those nations would be too preoccupied to make a major effort in the Far East. The possibility of Soviet action in Manchuria or American use of Soviet bases in Asia was not discounted and provision was made in the plan for either contingency. But such action, it was believed, would not come until after the southern area had been seized.


Considering the alternatives, the international situation in the fall of 1941, and the risks, the Japanese plan was not altogether as unrealistic as it has appeared to many. The seizure of Southeast Asia and the time allotted did not seem too difficult, and with the resources of this area the Japanese believed they could wage a defensive war along their outer perimeter for a long time. Certainly this course, even with its risks, was preferable from their point of view to submission.

In the view of the leaders of Japan, there was no honorable choice but war. The United States and Great Britain, they were convinced, were bent on destroying Japan or reducing it to a minor power. Submission was unthinkable and Japan had no alternative, "but to resolutely plunge into war" while it still had the power to do so. The nation entered the war, wrote a prince of the Imperial family, "with a tragic determination and in desperate self-abandonment." If it lost, "there will be nothing to regret because she is doomed to collapse even without war."33


Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter ** Next Chapter


1. Feis, The Road to Pearl Harbor, p. 270. Unless otherwise noted, this chapter is based on this work and upon the Konoye Memoirs, Pearl Harbor Attack Hearings, pt 20; The Japanese intercepts in pt. 12, pp. 1-254; Pearl Harbor Report; IMTFE, Judgment, ch. VII, pp. 935-95; U.S. Foreign Relations, Japan: 1931-41, II, 549-58, 709-16, 766-70; U.S. Department of States, Peace and War, United States Foreign Policy, 1931-1941 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1943). Other works of value for this period are Langer and Gleason, The Undeclared War; Walter Millis, This is Pearl! The United States and Japan--1941 (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1947); Stimson and Bundy, On Active Service in Peace and War; Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins; Hull, Memoirs; Samuel Eliot Morison, The Rising Sun in the Pacific, 1931-April 1942, vol. III, "History of United States Naval Operations in World War II" (Boston: Little, Brown and Company).

2. Pearl Harbor Report, p. 322.

3. Political Strategy Prior to Outbreak of War, pt. IV, Japanese Studies in World War II, 150, pp. 13-15.

4. Konoye Memoirs, Pearl Harbor Attack Hearings, pt. 20, p. 4010.

5. Memo, Gerow for CofS, 18 Oct 41, sub: Resignation of Japanese Cabinet; Rad, CNO to CINCPAC and CINCAF, 16 Oct 41, both in Pearl Harbor Attack Hearings, pt. 14, pp. 1389, 1402. See also Ltr, Grew to author, 19 Jun 49, OCMH.

6. Dispatch, Togo to Nomura, 4 and 5 Nov 41, in Pearl Harbor Attack Hearings, pt. 12, exhibit 1, p. 92.

7. The text of the two proposals in reproduced in IMTFE exhibit 779.

8. USSBS, The Campaigns of the Pacific War, (Washington, 1946), app. 12, pp. 43-46, app. 14, p. 49. The Combined Fleet Top Secret Order 1 is reproduced in Pearl Harbor Attack Hearings, pt. 13, pp. 431-84.

9. Hist of Southern Army, 1941-45, Japanese Studies in World War II, 72,. 4-8; Hist of Army Sec. Imperial GHQ, revised ed., same series, 72, pp. 29-39.

10. Telgs, Grew to Hull, 27 Jan and 3 Nov 41, in Pearl Harbor Attack Hearings, pt. 14, exhibit 15, pp. 1042, 1045-60; Ltr, CNO to Kimmel, 7 Nov 41, G-3 Exec Files.

11. Hull, Memoirs, II, 1069.

12. Memos, Stark and Gerow for Secy State, Nov 41, in Pearl Harbor Attack Hearings, pt. 14, pp. 1104-07.

13. Pearl Harbor Attack Hearings, pt. 14, exhibit 18, pp. 1085-1201. Mr Hull characterized the economic concessions as chicken feed." Pearl Harbor Report, p. 381.

14. Hull, Memoirs, II, 1080.

15. OCofS Conf, 26 Nov 41, WDCSA 381 Phil (12-4-41); Pearl Harbor Attack Hearings, pt. 15, pp. 1641-43; Langer and Gleason, The Undeclared War, pp. 898-99.

16. Memo, Marshall and Stark for President, 27 Nov 41, sub: Far Eastern Situation,, Pearl Harbor Attack Hearings, pt. 14, p. 1083.

17. Rad, OPNAV to Comdrs, Pacific and Asiatic Fleets, 2005, 24 Nov 41, Pearl Harbor Attack Hearings, pt. 14, p. 1405.

18. Memo, Gerow for Marshall, 27 Nov 41, sub: Far Eastern Situation; Rads, Marshall to CG USAFFE, Hawaiian Dept, and Caribbean Defense Comd, Nos. 624, 472, 461, 27 Nov 41, OCS 18136-118 and WPD 4544-16; Brig Gen Sherman Miles to G-2 Hawaiian Dept. no. 472, 27 Nov 41. Most of these are published in Pearl Harbor Attack Hearings, pt. 3, p. 10221, pt. 14, pp. 1382-30. Stimson's account of these eves in pt. 39, p. 84. The Navy message is in pt. 14, p. 1406. See also Pearl Harbor report, pp. 199-201.

19. Rads, MacArthur to Marshall, No. 1004, v 41, OCS 18136-118; Short to Marshall, 27 Nov 41, WPD -13. For testimony of Generals Marshall and Gerow on this question, see Pearl Harbor Attack Hearings, pt. 3, pp. 1036, 1423; pt. 27, p. 2191; Pearl Harbor Report, pp. 150-51.

20. Konoye Memoirs, Pearl Harbor Attack Hearings, pt. 20, p. 4012.

21. IMTFE, exhibits 2954 and 2955, Depositions of Tojo and Tojo. On 4 December, Admiral Ito, Vice Chief of the Navy General Staff, conferred with Mr. Togo, Foreign minister, in regard to the time interval between the delivery of the note and the opening of the attack. The Navy at first insisted on a 15-minute interval, but finally agreed to thirty minutes. Statement by Rear Adm. Tomioka, then Chief of the Operational Section, Navy General Staff.

22. IMTFE exhibit 588, Doc. 1652, Record of Imperial Conferences.

23. These messages are reproduced in USSBS, The Campaigns of the Pacific War (Washington, 1946), p. 51; Morison, The Rising Sun in the Pacific, p. 93. The message went out to all Navy forces at 1730, 2 December, as Combined Fleet Radio Operational Order 6.

24. Hist of Army Sec, Imperial GHQ, Japanese Studies in World War II, 72, p. 36; IMTFE, exhibit 3646, Deposition of Togo.

25. Feis, The Road to Pearl Harbor, p. 340.

26. Pearl Harbor Report, pp. 219-28.

27. Pearl Harbor Report, p. 41.

28. Japanese Opns in Southwest Pacific Area Hist series II, p. 41, OCMH.

29. Morison, The Rising Sun in the Pacific, p. 132. Admiral Stark later recalled a conversation with Nomura, to whom he said, prophetically: "If you attack us we will break your empire before we are through with you. While you may have initial success due to timing and surprise, the time will come when you too will have your losses but there will be this great difference. you not only will be unable to make up your losses but will grow weaker as time goes on; while on the other hand we not only will make up our losses but will grow stronger as time goes on. It is inevitable that we shall crush you before we are through with you." Nomura made no reply. Ltr, Stark to Hoover, 5 Aug 59, OCMH.

30. Political Strategy Prior to Outbreak of War, Japanese Studies in World War II, 150, p. 37.

31. Ltr, Stark to Hoover, 5 Aug 59, OCMH.

32. Maj. Gen. J.F.C. Fuller, The Second World War, 1939-1945 (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1949), p. 133. Evidence on public opinion is not conclusive. A Gallup poll reported in the New York Times for 23 February 1941 found that although 56 percent of those polled were in favor of an effort "to keep Japan from seizing the Dutch East Indies and Singapore," only 39 percent supported risking war in such an attempt. Again, in August 1941, a Fortune poll showed that 33.7 percent of those polled were in favor of defending the Philippines, East Indies, and Australia, and only 22.3 percent favored the defense of unspecified portion of this area. The conclusion of John W. Masland, writing in 1941, was that "powerful commercial interests and articulate isolationist pressure groups" opposed American opposition of Japan. John W. Masland, "American Attitudes Toward Japan," A of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (May 1941), p. 165. See also Public Opinion, 1935-1946, prepared by Mildred Strunk and editorial direction of Hadley Contril (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1951), p. 1077, items 33-35, 38, 39.

33. Statement of Prince Higashikuni, 9 Jun 49, ATIS, G-2 FEC, copy in OCMH.

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