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Tuesday, 30 November 2010


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Even without knowing what Roosevelt did or didn't know, it's worth pointing out that US policy towards Japan had been confrontational enough in the run-up to Pearl Harbor to suggest that the US establishment was at the very least prepared for some sort of conflict.

Undoubtedly, 'H', Roosevelt and his aides knew in their heart of hearts that war for them was likely, and in that they were well ahead of American public opinion, to which Roosevelt, quite properly, had to pay strict heed. I'm sure you didn't mean it but the notion that the US was 'confrontational' might give the impression that they were bullying poor, little Japan. Of course, the opposite was the truth, it was Japan that was confrontational because it had decided years before that it wanted to conquer and control the Far East and turn the Pacific into a Japanese ocean, not an American one.

Also, again, I don't think you meant it precisely, but whilst the American leadership was reckoning that war was likely, America as a nation was exceedingly ill-prepared. A 'giant', of course, but hitherto, a slumbering giant. How 'stoopid' were the Japs to go and poke it in the eye with a sharp stick?!

"when it really comes to it, no matter how huge the problem, Man eventually finds a way out or a way through": neither Hitler nor Hirohito did.


When Roosevelt became President, he understood the depression to be a domestic problem and appointed his most capable supporters to domestic policy positions. The State Department got people who’s support justified a political appointment but whose competence or loyalty he doubted. For example, Joe Kennedy, one of nemesis’s, was appointed Ambassador to the Court of St James, but was called home as soon as it looked like relations with the United Kingdom might become inportant. His Secretary of State was called, behind his back, Mrs. Hull. One of the things that effected the war was that the military often outperformed the the diplomates on their on ground.

Most of the conspiracy theories fall apart on the thought that this gaggle of third string yahoo’s could pull off a diplomatic conspiracy worthy of Talleyrand Metternich or Bismarck. The more plausible explanation is that they responded to individual Japanese actions with no realization of the possible consequences except for domestic public relations.

Bullying? No, that would be silly. But the decision to threaten Japan with cutting off its oil supply - which meant that Japan would have either to abandon its effort to subjugate China or go to war with the US - suggests a willingness to go to war.

I see that Hank suggests that Roosevelt had stuffed the State department full of mediocrities who might not realise that this was the case. I suppose one should never dismiss the cock-up theory of history out of hand, but I prefer my reading of what happened.

The Duffmeister suggests the Japanese were unwise to poke the Yanks in the eye. Well, yes, of course and I find it amusing to consider that the Japanese, who often seem quite sensible, managed to go to war with China, the US and Britain simultaneously and be on bad terms with all their other neighbours apart from Thailand (!) whilst being in alliance with just about the only two countries in the world who could render them absolutely no assistance whatsoever. This is the kind of conundrum that makes history interesting, I suggest.

The Japanese felt they had been backed up against the wall and had no alternative. Perhaps a cleverer policy could have let them down gently. There doesn't seem any particular reason why the British, at least, couldn't have reached some sort of accommodation with them. But equally, perhaps, they had just become too dangerous and needed to be confronted, like the Germans, and the aggression against China was going to be a source of instability for the foreseeable future.


It is easy to look back with 22/20 hindsight see the causation of events and say “Ah, [insert favorite villain] planned it so." But remember [insert favorite villain] didn’t have 20/20 hindsight, his information was probably incomplete and possible wrong and his agenda was about other issues. When the oil was embargoed we look back and say Japan only had two choices they must have been forcing a war. But suppose the embargo was ordered for domestic political consumption. Most sanctions embargo’s etc are ordered for just that reason, to show the people something is being done. Most embargo’s have no significant effect. Thus what the target of the embargo will do will be limited to similar counter measures. The evidence to to suggest support that the embargo was ordered to cause a war would require the actual State Department assessment that the embargo, this time, would be effective enough to force Japan to change policy or goto war, and the formal decision documentation of the decision to force a war.

I would call to mind the derivative of Occam’s razor that given a choice be evil intent as a cause, and incompetence ignorance, or stupidity you will very seldom be wrong if you assume incompetence, ignorance, or stupidity. I doubt that even more competent people than were actually there would have had the information and insight to have planned that sort of a conspiracy.


Short of some more evidence, I don't suppose we can say for sure one way or the other. I concede that you may be right, but that the war with Japan certainly did suit some powerful people and that it was mighty convenient that Japan should attack the US, since the US was very unlikely (for those good domestic political reasons) to be able to attack Japan. That said, I am not fond of conspiracy theories and there is a lot to be said for the plausibility of your argument.

Indeed, one could construct quite a convincing case for Roosevelt not wishing to enter the war at all and having had his hand forced quite against his wishes. In which case, wouldn't it have made sense to appoint more far sighted people to key foreign policy positions?

One could also argue that the effect of the embargo was not entirely foreseeable - Japan could have made an attempt to source its oil from the Dutch East Indies by peaceful/less warlike means and, had it been even half way successful, would probably have been able to more or less complete its conquest of China.

Japan also had access to adequate coal supplies and, had the Germans been less tight fisted with their conversion technology, that too could have assisted them in side stepping the threatened embargo.

So, although I still personally think there is a good chance that the US provoked the war deliberately, I concede that there is almost as good a chance that they provoked it inadvertently and misread the Japanese.

The Japanese are of course easy to misread, as they are inscrutable.


I could not argue with the proposition that if someone thought of such a conspiracy and presented it to FDR, he would have had no moral objection to it.

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