Thursday, June 17, 2010

Rise and Fall of the Japanese Empire

I just finished placing my notes on John Toland's The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire on the net. Actually, just the notes on Volume 1. I read volume 2 already, but have note taken notes. It is studded with sticky tabs.

There were a lot of surprises in the book. It mainly covers the Japanese side of the story, but there is a lot of detail about the Roosevelt administration's internal decision making process. At times it seems Franklin Roosevelt (FDR), aided by Cordell Hull and Stanley Hornbeck, was purposefully trying to get into a war with Japan. His uncle, Theodore Roosevelt, had grabbed the Philippines for the American Empire. Ruling Japan and China, either directly or by proxy, had long been a goal of American imperialists. But Roosevelt had another side; he wanted to get what he wanted without a war, and wanted to be seen as peaceful. So he vacillated.

In Japan men vacilated as well. There were militarists who were looking for an excuse for war. There were powerful men who wanted to avoid war at all cost. And there were those who did not want war, but did not want Japan to become a third rate nation like China.

Japan felt encircled by enemies. Russia was a traditional antagonist, and communist to boot. Britain, France, the Netherlands and the United States all had colonies in East Asia; all had looked ravenously at Japan for decades.

To the extent I have heard history debated in the U.S., the most common question is whether FDR knew about Pearl Harbor in advance. Certainly U.S. intelligence services had broken the Japanese diplomatic and military codes, and knew a lot. FDR and George Marshall knew the Japanese were breaking off relations in plenty of time to warn Hawaii, and in fact Marshall sent a message that was delayed, then ignored. But they were sure the Japanese attack would be on Singapore and Malaya; the U.S.-occupied Philippines might also be hit in the first wave. The Japanese really did a good job at hiding their preparations for the attack on Pearl Harbor. Even the Emperor was not informed until just before it happened. American military men were largely contemptuous of Japanese military skills. Douglas MacArthur, commanding in the Philippines, was sure he would have no problems repelling the Japanese. General Homma proved otherwise.

All appearances are that war could have been avoided if Roosevelt had just excepted Prime Minister Konoye's offer to meet for face-to-face negotiations. The Japanese offered to withdraw from Indonesia and all of China except the independent state of Manchukuo (Manchuria). But because Cordell Hull prevented Roosevelt from seriously considering that offer, by the time Roosevelt finally sent a nice, personal note to the Emperor of Japan, the bombers were heading towards Pearl Harbor.

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