Title banner: Pearl Harbor * Why, How, Fleet Salvage and Final Appraisal

Chapter II
The Trends Toward War


Warfare with its tremendous sacrifice in lives and treasure is abhorrent to all civilized people. Some wars of the past have been considered justified when waged for religious or idealistic purposes, such as to right the wrongs imposed upon a people. But here we are concerned with warfare based primarily on aggression and greed. History tells us that armed conflict is and always has been a fact of life whenever covetous governments desire their neighbors' property, or whenever thirst for power dictates the purpose and aim of officials in control. In such circumstances the relative weakness of the intended victim is a contributing factor. It has been proved that it is impossible for a nation to run away from a bad situation, to believe that a serious situation does not exist, or that freedom is not involved.

Peace-loving people teach and preach that national aggression and military force do not pay. But that would depend, it seems, whether or not the aggressor is met and repelled by a more powerful force in which hopefully righteousness adds to the power. This fact is true among nations even as among citizens who are menaced by criminals and bandits.


One of history's outstanding examples of wanton aggression and thirst for power is Hitler's Germany. Following his coming to power in 1933 Hitler initiated an armament build-up and psychological aggression which were awesome to all peace-loving nations. Even so, the various acts of aggression were gradual and limited, as if to make them somewhat natural and more acceptable to the victims and to onlookers. In effect, Germany pursued the "Nibble Theory" by taking a little here and later a little there, but always professing a fervent desire for peaceful practices and an end to expansive


ventures. Coupled with this were the appeasement policies of the leading world powers interested in world stability, but nonetheless trying desperately to avoid coming to grips with a formidable aggressor.

It is of immense importance to review the germination of the European War because it became a direct threat to American security, and certainly an indirect cause for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In addition, the experience of European nations with Nazi Germany was in many ways parallel to America's experience with pre-war Japan.

The record shows that Hitler became Chancellor in Germany's government in 1933. In 1934, he took the title of Fuehrer, which means in effect "all-powerful leader," and set out to build up the peoples' desire for expansion and the establishment of a so-called "New Order" in Europe.

Some of the significant steps taken before and after the declaration of the war in Europe were the following:

a. In 1933 Hitler denounced and quit the League of Nations. Violation of several provisions of the Versailles Treaty which ended World War I followed in short order.

b. In 1936 Germany violated the Locarno Treaty of 1925, which guaranteed the status quo in Western Europe, and reoccupied the Rhineland.

c. In 1936 Germany joined Italy in entering the Spanish Civil War.

d. In March 1938 Germany annexed Austria in violation of its pledge made in July 1936.

e. In September 1938 Hitler demanded control of part of Czechoslovakia. This aroused all major nations to the danger of general war, whereupon England's Prime Minister Chamberlain journeyed to Munich to confer with Hitler in order to avoid war in Europe. The result was that Great Britain, France, Germany, and Italy met and agreed to Hitler's demand for taking over that part of Czechoslovakia called Sudetenland.

f. Six months later, in March 1939, Germany took over most of Czechoslovakia in violation of the agreement made at Munich.

g. By this time Hitler had put in high gear the persecution of the Jews in Germany and the annexed territories, such that President Roosevelt "could scarcely believe that such things could occur in a twentieth century civilization." 1

h. At this point the United States appealed to Hitler and Mussolini


for assurance of no further attacks on independent States of Europe and the Near East. Neither replied directly. The American Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, stated that all other nations were confronted with the "tragic alternatives of surrender or armed defense. 2

i. In August 1939 Hitler demanded the return to Germany of Danzig, which was declared a free city in the Versailles Treaty. Following this demand Great Britain and France warned Germany that in compliance with their treaties with Poland, aggression against Poland would mean war.

j. At this point the President of the United States appealed to Germany, Italy, and Poland to agree to settle their differences by direct negotiation or by arbitration. While Poland replied favorably, no direct reply was made by Germany because, the German Ambassador explained, the invasion had already begun due to the uncooperative attitude of Poland. 3 Thus with the invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939 the European War began.

k. As the tempo of war developed, Germany asserted its power in every direction, especially its aggression toward neutral and unoffending nations.

l. In April 1940 Germany took over Denmark without opposition, and soon occupied Norway after overcoming Norway's spirited but futile resistance. This was denounced by the United States.

m. Then Belgium and the Netherlands were invaded and subjugated, as well as Luxembourg, in May 1940.

n. Early in 1941 Germany went to the assistance of Italy in its faltering invasion of Greece. By April 1941 the German forces overran both Greece and Yugoslavia and persuaded Rumania, Bulgaria, and Hungary to join the Tripartite Pact.

o. In June 1941 Germany attacked Russia in violation of their nonaggression pact.

p. Following its declaration of war in 1939, Germany carried on a vigorous submarine campaign against merchant ships, and gradually expanded its campaign against ships of neutral nations with little or no consideration for the safety of the crews.

q. By September 1941 Germany had sunk numerous American owned merchant ships in the Atlantic, and had attacked U.S.S. Greer. The first shots were fired in the Battle of the Atlantic.


USS Greer was attacked by a German submarine on 4 September 1941
USN 427096
USS Greer was attacked by a German submarine on 4 September 1941.

r. On 17 October 1941 Germany torpedoed U.S.S. Kearney in the North Atlantic causing severe damage and killing eleven men. Later in the month, destroyer Reuben James was sunk by a U-boat and lost 115 officers and men.


Although Germany's aggressions covered a larger field of action, Italy's predatory acts were even more devoid of presumed justification. Whether Mussolini copied Hitler, or vice versa, is not clear, but both came into office originally as purported socialist reformers and developed into absolute dictators in the fateful years between 1934 and 1941. Both exercised emotional leadership over their populations to a degree which bordered on hypnosis, and thus they had full and loyal civilian support in their nefarious ventures.

a. As early as 1934 diplomatic circles were aware that Mussolini was making preparations to take over some territory in Africa. Defenseless Ethiopia was selected as his first victim, and in October 1935 Italian armed forces invaded that country. Emperor Haile Selassie resisted valiantly, but his primitive forces were no match for Italy's army and navy. The conquest of Ethiopia was completed by May 1936.


b. The League of Nations became interested in this aggression and declared that Italy had violated her obligations under the Covenant and recommended commercial and financial sanctions against Italy. The imposition of sanctions by world powers was regarded with some fear and indifference; consequently the limited sanctions that were imposed proved wholly ineffective.

c. The United States held that Italy violated the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 which renounced war as an instrument of national policy.

d. Together with Germany, Italy participated in the Spanish Civil War in 1936, contrary to commitments previously made.

e. Together Germany and Italy formed the Berlin-Rome Axis and Germany and Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact against Russia in late 1936.

f. In November 1937 this Pact was expanded to include Italy, the same having been under negotiation among the three powers since 1934-35.

g. In March 1939, when Hitler took Czechoslovakia, Mussolini's Fascist legions occupied Albania on Good Friday, 7 April 1939.

h. When Germany invaded Belgium, The Netherlands, and France in May 1940 the United States appealed to Italy to refrain from participation and thus extending the war. Mussolini replied: "Italy is and intends to remain allied with Germany and that Italy cannot remain absent at a moment in which the fate of Europe is at stake." 4

i. In September 1940 Germany, Italy, and Japan announced to the world that they had signed a treaty of alliance which provided mutual assistance -- political, economic, and military -- and recognized the leadership of Germany and Italy in establishing a "New Order" in Europe, and the leadership of Japan in establishing a "New Order" in Greater East Asia.

j. When the German Army was at the gates of Paris in June 1940, Italy declared war on France and Great Britain. Then it was that Winston Churchill called Mussolini "a jackal for plunging a knife into the back of his prostrate neighbor."

k. Italy invaded Greece in October 1940 but was unable to overcome its brave defenders. When the Italian Army was forced to retreat into Albania, Germany came to Italy's assistance. The result was that Greece and Yugoslavia fell to the Axis Powers in April 1941. Then Rumania, Bulgaria, and Hungary joined the Tripartite Pact, thus extending the war.



Japan's program of belligerency and expansion had been in operation for nearly ten years prior to signing the treaty of alliance with Germany and Italy. However, Japan made common cause with Hitler and Mussolini as early as 1934. Japan's pattern of expansion, conquest, and terrorism was quite similar to that of Germany, especially with regard to expressing idealistic motives and promises while still moving forward with new invasions and increased demands. Japan's record of treaty violation and aggression exceeds those of either Germany or Italy. This fact should be comprehended and understood by any person interested in the basic causes of the war which was started at Pearl Harbor. Let us therefore list some of the important items:

a. Following World War I Japan was granted a mandate over the islands formerly held by Germany in the Marshalls and Carolines. Contrary to stipulations in the Treaty of Versailles the Japanese proceeded to fortify certain islands and to build military bases in those islands, and to deny entry to the islands by foreigners. It might be noted parenthetically that the later capture of these formidable bases in World War II cost the United States thousands of casualties.

b. In 1931 the Japanese Army invaded Manchuria and set up a puppet government under the name of Manchukuo. The United States protested this action as an act of war in cynical disregard of Japan's obligations under the Kellogg-Briand Pact and the Nine Power Treaty of 1922 regarding the principles and policies to be followed concerning China. 5 The United States declared that it would not recognize any arrangement which impaired the rights of its citizens in China . 6

c. For several months in 1932, Japan occupied Shanghai and refused to consider the proposals for peaceful settlement put forth by Great Britain, France, Italy, and the United States.

d. In 1932 Japan developed an internal campaign of public animosity towards foreign nations, especially the United States, even proposing war if necessary. Self-confidence was stimulated by the constant reminder that the Japanese military forces had always proved invincible.

e. In 1933 Japan extended the boundaries of Manchukuo by occupying the province of Jehol in North China.


f. When the League of Nations in 1933 adopted a report finding Japan an aggressor in China and acting wrongly in principle, the Japanese delegation walked out and the Japanese government gave notice of withdrawal from the League of Nations.

g. In response to the American protests against aggression and disregard of treaty rights, Japan in early 1934 advised the United States it had no intention of making trouble with any other power, and that no question between Japan and the United States was incapable of amicable solution. 7 During diplomatic exchanges however, when the United States insisted on adherence to treaties including trade and commercial agreements, Japan gradually put forth a claim of super-sovereignty over parts of Asia on the basis of its special rights and responsibilities. 8

h. In 1934 Japan gave notice of its refusal to renew the 1922 Treaty for the Limitation of Naval Armament.

i. By 1935 Japan had considerable domination over China and was building up its military strength. Japanese diplomats repeatedly pointed out that Japan was destined to be the leader of oriental civilization and criticized former Japanese government officials for "signing agreements which could not be carried out if Japan wanted to progress in the world." 9

j. At the London Naval Conference in 1935-1936 Japan asked for naval parity with Great Britain and the United States. When this was not agreed to by the other powers Japan withdrew from the Conference and refused to abide with any limitation on naval armament.

k. During these times the United States emphasized the importance of amicable conferences and such principles as equality in commercial and industrial affairs without resorting to force or threats of force. Japan expressed general agreement, and its diplomats frequently regretted the misunderstanding and misapprehension of the United States as to Japan's intentions, and gave assurance that their armaments were not intended for war against anybody, especially the United States. 10

l. Encouraged by the apparent improvement in the general progress and spirit of the people in Germany and Italy a group of Japanese Army officers fomented a mutiny which was directed toward setting up military control of national policies. The Japanese Army did many things to force the government to pursue a policy of expansionism in China.


m. On 25 November 1936 Japan and Germany signed their Anti-Comintern Pact, which foreshadowed the similar patterns of aggression which each nation was to follow.

n. In July 1937 the Marco Polo Bridge incident occurred. This was a planned clash between troops of Japan and China, which resulted in Japanese occupation of additional Chinese territory including Peiping in North China. At this point the United States addressed a note to all nations regarding the fundamental principles and international policy toward peaceful existence. The United States offered its good offices to compose differences between China and Japan and to negotiate an agreement. The diplomats of Germany and Italy agreed but Japan refused on the ground that the objectives and principles could only be attained in the far eastern situation by full recognition and realization of the actual particular circumstances of that region. 11 As Japan poured more manpower and engines of war into China, the United States warned of the serious consequences to peace, goodwill, and cooperation as compared to the distrust and antipathy being generated among world powers by the brutal policies pursued by the Japanese government. 12

o. The Assembly of the League of Nations on 6 October 1937 adopted a report stating that Japanese activities in China violated Japan's treaty obligations. The United States, though not a member of the League, proclaimed a similar position.

p. The following month nineteen nations assembled at a conference in Brussels to consider peaceful means for ending the Japan-China conflict. Japan refused to attend on the ground that the dispute applied only to Japan and China and was outside the provisions of the Nine Power Treaty. All members of the conference except Italy went on record opposing Japan's position. 13

q. On 12 December 1937 the United States was shocked by the air-bombing and destruction of the United States gunboat Panay and three United States merchant vessels on the Yangtze River, followed by the machine gunning of crews and passengers. The United States demanded formal apologies, complete indemnification, and assurances against future attacks on American nationals and property in China, or any unlawful interference whatsoever with its legal rights and appropriate business. To this


strong representation Japan replied favorably, expressed profound regret, and fervently hoped that friendly relations would not be affected by this unfortunate affair. 14

Image: USN NR&L (MOD) 12594 USS Panay was sunk by Japanese aircraft, 12 December 1937.
USN NR&L (MOD) 12594
USS Panay was sunk by Japanese aircraft, 12 December 1937.

r. In November 1937 Italy became a partner of Japan in the Anti-Comintern Pact.

s. After Germany's subjugation of the Netherlands in May 1940, Japan expressed some concern as to the status of the Netherlands Indies. The United States informed Japan and the world that any alteration of the status quo would prejudice the cause of stability, peace, and security of the whole Pacific area on account of the importance of the area's rich resources of oil, rubber, tin, and other commodities. 15


t. Early in June 1940 Japan delivered a full-scale bombing raid on Chungking, endangering American lives and property. The United States' protest was answered by Japan's request for the removal of our nationals. A few days later 113 Japanese aircraft repeated the bombing. Thereafter, Japan requested all nations to remove from China all troops and war equipment which they might have in that area.

u. During these times the Japanese occupation forces in various parts of China harassed and assaulted American citizens, destroyed their property, and even attacked missions and missionary hospitals. This was part of a terrorist campaign to compel foreigners to evacuate.

v. Upon the fall of France in June 1940 Japan asked the French government at Vichy for rights and military bases in the French possessions in Indo-China. This request was backed by an ultimatum and threats of force, but even while awaiting a favorable reply the Japanese occupied strategic points. The Japanese had occupied the island of Hainan in 1939, which is abreast of Indo-China.

w. On 27 September 1940 Japan signed a treaty of alliance with Germany and Italy which provided for mutual assistance in the establishment of Japanese leadership of a "New Order" in Asia, and for German-Italian leadership of a "New Order" in Europe. This was highly important to Japan's objectives, and it was a clever move on the part of Germany and Italy. It was intended to require the United States to defend itself in the Pacific and thus to reduce her strength in the Atlantic. In case the United States should enter the European conflict its military forces, especially its Navy, would be divided between the Atlantic and the Pacific.

x. At about this time the United States announced discontinuance of steel and scrap exportation to Japan. This was in accordance with the Export Control Act of July 1940. Japan immediately protested this action as an "unfriendly act," whereupon Secretary of State Hull stated that it was "amazing" that, after violating American rights and interests, to question this sort of response, especially when in the subjugation of China the United States is called unfriendly unless we sit on the sideline cheerfully and agreeably as these acts go on. 16

y. Many discussions were held between the diplomats of the United States and Japan to improve a deteriorating situation. The United States pointed out Japan's program of expansion by military force, together with


intensive construction of military and naval armament, and the openly declared intention to achieve and maintain by force of arms a dominant position in the Western Pacific. Secretary of State Hull cautioned that Japan's "best interests lay in the development of friendly relations with the United States and with other countries which believed in orderly and peaceful international processes." 17

z. In January 1941 the United States Ambassador to Japan, Joseph C. Grew, reported rumors that Japanese military forces planned a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in case of trouble with the United States.

aa. Beginning in March 1941 continuous conferences were held in Washington between Japanese Ambassador Nomura and the State Department for the settlement of differences with regard to the Japanese policy which was sloganized as a "New Order in Greater East Asia." As it turned out, this included taking territory by force and violating freedom of trade and freedom of the seas.

bb. In May 1941 Japan proposed a settlement based on recognition by the United States of Manchukuo, recognition of peaceful expansion of Japan to the south, and discontinuance of United States material assistance to China. In return Japan would guarantee the neutrality of the Philippine Islands. The Japanese were not willing to commit themselves unreservedly to a policy of peace, and would not abandon their ties with Hitler and Mussolini. 18 However, the Department of State wrote a comprehensive statement in which important concessions were made to Japanese policy, but with reservations intended to exert a restraining influence. 19

cc. In the summer of 1941 Hitler pressured the French Vichy Government to grant Japan military base rights in Southern Indo-China. These became effective in July 1941 whereupon the President of the United States proposed neutralization of Indo-China so that all nations could carry on trade and commerce. Japan rejected this proposal. Then on 1 August, the United States imposed an oil embargo on Japan.

dd. For several years military control of the Japanese government had been in the ascendancy. Almost full army control had been gained by threat, pressure, and assassination. The conservative elements, even including the Emperor, were shunted aside. Premier Konoye was required to resign in October 1941, and the new premier was Army General Hideki Tojo. Thus


the militaristic element was in full control of Japan and took over the government with the purpose of consolidating their aggressions in China and proceeding with the "Greater East-Asia Co-prosperity Sphere."

ee. In return for discontinuance of the United States' trade restrictions, Japan offered to cooperate in a development of natural resources and trade in the southwest Pacific. There was a Japanese threat to move into Thailand and to dominate the Indian Ocean while efforts of Germany and Italy were aimed at the Near and Middle East. At the same time the survival of Great Britain was in serious doubt.

ff. Japanese diplomats now proposed a conference between their Premier Konoye and President Roosevelt to reach an overall settlement. But they were unwilling to agree in advance on the basic principles which the United States had consistently championed and which Japan had consistently violated. But, as always, the Japanese stated that they "had no intention of using 'without provocation,' military force against any neighboring nation." 20

gg. On 3 November 1941 Ambassador Grew explained to the United States government that the militaristic government of Japan could not be stopped, and that war could not be averted by the imposition of economic embargoes or sanctions. On 17 November 1941 he suggested that vigilance against sudden Japanese naval or military attack was essential. 21

hh. In November 1941 Japan's special envoy, Mr. Kurusu, arrived in Washington and endeavored with the help of the Japanese Ambassador to justify Japan's situation, which was really fully understood by our State Department. He had nothing new to offer on the crucial question of Japan's aggressions. The United States promised that if Japan would indicate some peaceful intentions they would be well responded to. 22

ii. Since Japan's expressions of peaceful intent contained qualifications and restrictions, and did not budge from the fundamental objectives stated by its military leaders, the United States under date of 26 November 1941 made crystal clear its position. The American note was sent when it was fully realized that the long drawn-out negotiations to improve the relations between the two governments were failing.

jj. In early December 1941 there were threatening Japanese troop movements into Southeast Asia. When this was protested by President Roosevelt


Rear Admiral William R. Furlong, USN
USN NR&L (MOD) 39730
Rear Admiral William R. Furlong, USN, Commander Minecraft, Battle Force, was in his flagship, USS Oglala, during the Japanese attack. He became Commandant of the Navy Yard, Pearl Harbor, on 25 December 1941.

on 2 December, Kurusu explained that they were for protection against Chinese troops, and that Japan was concerned lest the allied powers should occupy Indo-China. 23

kk. On 6 December 1941 President Roosevelt transmitted a telegram to the Emperor of Japan appealing for cooperation toward eliminating any form of military threat, and for restoring traditional unity.

ll. Under date of 7 December 1941 Japan's reply to the 26 November message was delivered to Secretary Hull. The message was abusive and condemnatory, and ended with breaking off the negotiations. Secretary Hull said to the Japanese diplomats: "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." 24

The world now knows that when the Japanese note was written their naval task force was on the way to attack Pearl Harbor, and the attack had


already been delivered more than an hour before the note was delivered by the Japanese diplomats. This certainly shows bad faith on the part of the Japanese. Their attack force was assembled and underway before the 26 November 1941 note was received by them; their basis for peace was premised upon an unbending attitude regarding Japanese policies in the Pacific; their continued diplomatic efforts were fraudulent because they knew that the United States would not agree to their demands. Even as late as 30 November 1941, General Tojo as Premier stated that the Japanese purpose was to purge East Asia; with a vengeance, of hostile British and United States influences.



1. Peace and War, United State Foreign Policy 1931-1941, Department of State Publication, United States Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1942, p. 58. Hereafter cited as Peace and War.

2. Ibid., p. 63.

3. Ibid., p. 66.

4. Ibid., p, 72.

5. Ibid., pp. 4 and 5.

6. Ibid., p. 3.

7. Ibid., pp. 18 and (This viewpoint was expressed many times.)

8. Ibid., pp. 38 and 39. (Kurusu, Yoshida, and others put forth this argument.)

9. Ibid., p, 38. (Kurusu's statement to the U. S. Embassy in Tokyo, 23 December 1935.)

10. Ibid., p. 39. (Statement by Yoshida.)

11. Ibid., pp. 44 and 45.

12. Ibid., p. 47.

13. Ibid., pp. 49 and 50.

14. Ibid., p. 51.

15. Ibid., p. 89.

16. Ibid., p. 94. (The above is a paraphrase of Secretary Hull's reply to Ambassador Horiguchi.)

17. Ibid., p. 113.

18. Ibid., p. 116.

19. Ibid., p. 117.

20. Ibid., pp. 124 and 125.

21. Ibid., pp. 130 and 131.

22. Ibid., pp. 132 and 134.

23. Ibid., pp. 139 and 140.

24. Ibid., p. 142. (Secretary Hull's statement of 7 December 1941 to the Japanese diplomats.)

Previous Chapter (1) * Next Chapter (3)

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Larry Jewell & Terry Welshans for the HyperWar Foundation