By Patrick J. Buchanan – December 11, 2001
Of all the days that will “live in infamy” in American history, two stand out: Sept. 11, 2001, and Dec. 7, 1941.
But why did Japan, with a 10th of our industrial power, launch a sneak attack on the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, an act of state terror that must ignite a war to the death it could not win? Were they insane? No, the Japanese were desperate.
To understand why Japan lashed out, we must go back to World War I. Japan had been our ally. But when she tried to collect her share of the booty at Versailles, she ran into an obdurate Woodrow Wilson.
Wilson rejected Japan’s claim to German concessions in Shantung, home of Confucius, which Japan had captured at a price in blood. Tokyo threatened a walkout if denied what she had been promised by the British. “They are not bluffing,” warned Wilson, as he capitulated. “We gave them what they should not have.”
In 1921, at the Washington Naval Conference, the United States pressured the British to end their 20-year alliance with Japan. By appeasing the Americans, the British enraged and alienated a proud nation that had been a loyal friend.
Japan was now isolated, with Stalin’s brooding empire to the north, a rising China to the east and, to the south, Western imperial powers that detested and distrusted her.
When civil war broke out in China, Japan in 1931 occupied Manchuria as a buffer state. This was the way the Europeans had collected their empires. Yet, the West was “shocked, shocked” that Japan would embark upon a course of “aggression.” Said one Japanese diplomat, “Just when we learn how to play poker, they change the game to bridge.”
Japan now decided to create in China what the British had in India – a vast colony to exploit that would place her among the world powers. In 1937, after a clash at Marco Polo Bridge near Peking, Japan invaded and, after four years of fighting, including the horrific Rape of Nanking, Japan controlled the coastal cities, but not the interior.
When France capitulated in June 1940, Japan moved into northern French Indochina. And though the United States had no interest there, we imposed an embargo on steel and scrap metal. After Hitler invaded Russia in June 1941, Japan moved into southern Indochina. FDR ordered all Japanese assets frozen.
But FDR did not want to cut off oil. As he told his Cabinet on July 18, an embargo meant war, for that would force oil-starved Japan to seize the oil fields of the Dutch East Indies. But a State Department lawyer named Dean Acheson drew up the sanctions in such a way as to block any Japanese purchases of U.S. oil. By the time FDR found out, in September, he could not back down.
Tokyo was now split between a War Party and a Peace Party, with the latter in power. Prime Minister Konoye called in Ambassador Joseph Grew and secretly offered to meet FDR in Juneau or anywhere in the Pacific. According to Grew, Konoye was willing to give up Indochina and China, except a buffer region in the north to protect her from Stalin, in return for the U.S. brokering a peace with China and opening up the oil pipeline. Konoye told Grew that Emperor Hirohito knew of his initiative and was ready to give the order for Japan’s retreat.
Fearful of a “second Munich,” America spurned the offer. Konoye fell from power and was replaced by Hideki Tojo. Still, war was not inevitable. U.S. diplomats prepared to offer Japan a “modus vivendi.” If Japan withdrew from southern Indochina, the United States would partially lift the oil embargo. But Chiang Kai-shek became “hysterical,” and his American adviser, one Owen Lattimore, intervened to abort the proposal.
Facing a choice between death of the empire or fighting for its life, Japan decided to seize the oil fields of the Indies. And the only force capable of interfering was the U.S. fleet that FDR had conveniently moved from San Diego out to Honolulu.
And so Japan attacked. And so she was crushed and forced out of Vietnam, out of China, out of Manchuria. And so they fell to Stalin, Mao and Ho Chi Minh. And so it was that American boys, not Japanese boys, would die fighting Koreans, Chinese and Vietnamese to try to block the aggressions of a barbaric Asian communism.
Now Japan is disarmed and China is an Asian giant whose military boasts of pushing the Americans back across the Pacific. Had FDR met Prince Konoye, there might have been no Pearl Harbor, no Pacific war, no Hiroshima, no Nagasaki, no Korea, no Vietnam. How many of our fathers and uncles, brothers and friends, might still be alive?
“For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: ‘It might have been.’” A few thoughts as the War Party pounds the drum for an all-out American war on Iraq and radical Islam.