Tuesday, June 15, 2010

With Japan's Leaders

Soon after I posted that long article on Global Talk 21, the end of which implied that Japan and America had actually been working together during World War II, a voice inside my head said, “I wonder why Japan and America went to war against each other in the first place?” Remembering that I had bought the book “With Japan’s Leaders” some time ago, I opened the book and flipped through the pages. Realizing that the book covered the pre-war history of Japan and America, I decided to read the book so I could answer that question.

The book was written by Frederick Moore, an American who at times had worked for the Japanese government. In his earlier years, Frederick Moore defended the actions of Japan.

“I had argued for years that Western peoples were not warranted in denouncing the nation for imperialism that was relatively limited compared with the imperialisms of Britain, France and Russia,” said Moore.

Under the Treaty of Versailles, Britain and France had seized much of the Middle East “under the artifice of ‘mandates.’” Separately, America had seized the Philippines, a nation located six thousand miles away. But when Japan took Korea, a nation located sixty miles away, the American people howled with indignation.

“To many Japanese the white man appeared to assume superior rights,” said Moore.

He justified the actions of Japan by arguing that she had improved the situation in Taiwan and Korea.

“The people of Formosa and Korea were better off under Japanese control than they had been for centuries under the rule of their own Chinese or Korean overlords,” said Moore.

Moore continued to defend Japan after she seized Manchuria.

“I knew they would give the masses of the people a better administration than they had known under the former Chinese bandit, Chang Tso-lin, who made himself ruler of the land by force and handed on the satrapy to his son, Chang Hsueh-liang, an opium addict,” said Moore.

But Moore stopped defending Japan after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, which he referred to as a turning point that “meant disaster for millions upon millions of people.” In this comment, Moore seems to blame Japan for the outbreak of World War II and seems to imply that the war would not have happened had Japan not orchestrated this incident.

Japan used the Marco Polo Bridge Incident as an excuse to invade northern China. Moore argued that Japan had no right to invade that territory, as her previous acquisition of Manchuria gave her all the resources she needed.

To those who worried about how China would fare under Japanese rule, one Japanese official offered this explanation. After the Japanese military “stabilized” China, the “better sort of Japanese” would come in, rebuild, and improve the country, as they had done in Korea and Taiwan.

Domino Theory

Moore had his own explanation of why Japan invaded northern China.

“For two or more generations the goal of the Japanese militarists had been set,” said Moore. “One by one, as the opportunities offered, they planned to drive the Western Powers out of their special lodgments on the Western Pacific. To them it seemed logical that, as Japanese were kept out of the United States, Canada and Australia, Britons and Americans should be made to leave East Asia.”

Over the years, Japan had some success in carrying out this plan. Japan removed Russia from Southern Manchuria in 1904 and then from Northern Manchuria in 1932. During World War I, she removed the Germans from Shantung.

“What nation would be next on the program depended on how the opportunities came,” said Moore.

He noted that Japan had already “stabilized” Taiwan, and then Korea, and then Manchuria. If Japan managed to “stabilize” northern China, Japan would create a new incident to “stabilize” the Yangtze Valley. From there, Japan would proceed to southern China, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and even Australia.

Moore appears to be arguing that the West would have allowed Japan to conquer Manchuria and keep that possession, but when Japan invaded northern China that convinced everyone that Japan would continue on invading other lands until she conquered all of East Asia, and the West could not allow that. To bring this back to his earlier comment on Japan and World War II, perhaps World War II began to prevent Japan from making good on its plans.


Moore did not believe Japan could control China.

“No outside nation could assume control of four hundred millions of people who had proved themselves for a thousand years so efficient – though slow – in overcoming all invaders,” said Moore. “The Japanese would win every battle, I said, but in spite of that the Chinese would in the course of time defeat them.”

To remain in China, Moore believed that Japan would have to continually apply brutal and harsh methods. Apparently, Japan had decided to pursue this course, as she was “deliberately trying to instill in [her] men a ferocity designed to make them dreaded as foes.” Presumably, Japan had hoped to intimidate the Chinese into submission. However, Moore believed Japan would instead produce “a determination to resist” amongst the population.

In December of 1936, Marshal Chang Hsueh-liang detained Chiang Kai-shek and demanded that his Nationalists join with the Communists to fight against Japan. According to Moore, the Japanese Embassy viewed this event with “amused satisfaction” because the kidnapping gave Japan an excuse to attack both Chinese armies before they could unite.

“The Chinese war lords seemed to have done the Japanese a very good turn,” said Moore.

The way Moore explains this incident makes it seem like Japan orchestrated the kidnapping to begin with as a pretext to attack the Chinese military. According to him, Japan thought Chiang Kai-shek would not help the Chinese generals in the north, and so Japan would quickly gain control of the five northern provinces. Though Chiang Kai-shek did not send his army north, instead he gathered his army near Shanghai and prepared to attack the Japanese Army there. Japan believed she could defeat those forces in three to six months and then force China into signing a peace agreement. Instead, the fighting continued, moving from Shanghai to Nanking.

Japan had defeated every Chinese army she had faced, regardless of how many more troops the Chinese had. But Chiang Kai-shek refused to surrender. Both the Nationalists and the Communists used the sheer size of China to hide from and harass the Japanese military. Japan had a million soldiers in China, but they could only hold the larger cities.

Having a million troops in China was not cheap. Japan was spending much of her resources on fighting the war. By the summer of 1939, Japan was having doubts about the wisdom of her current course.

“There was a waning of confidence in Japan,” said Moore.

Japan appeared to be isolated. The American media denounced what Japan was doing in China, proclaiming that Japan had been slaughtering people with a cruelty not seen since the Dark Ages. I imagine the reaction in Europe was no better and I imagine some in Japan were having second thoughts about their adventure in China.

It is remarkable to compare this account of how Japan fared in China to how America has fared in its wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. You would think, at some point, our leaders would learn a thing or two after seeing and having all these prior experiences. This book provides some valuable insight on how insurgencies work, which is probably one of the reasons why someone “made” me read it.

Europe convinces Japan to continue

Everything changed on September 1, when Germany invaded Poland and Hitler began his conquest of Europe. According to Moore, it appeared that the Fates had intervened on behalf of Japan.

“The Fates sent Adolf Hitler into the world to disrupt and dismay the Powers of Europe and warn the great United States to abate its sympathy and withhold its support from China,” said Moore.

With Europe in the midst of a war, the pressure from France, Britain, and Germany to force Japan out of China evaporated.

“When Hitler proved his supremacy in Europe the time long hoped for had come – the time to rid the East of all the European Powers at a blast,” said Moore.

The Fates had “opened the gates of the rich regions of the Indies to the Japanese if they would but recharge their determination.”

After Germany defeated France, Japan could seize Indochina, the French colony in Southeast Asia. After Germany defeated the Netherlands, Japan could seize the Dutch East Indies. And if Japan could persuade America to remain neutral, she could seize the British colonies in Southeast Asia.

“It was not necessary for Hitler to say, ‘I have given the Japanese the chance’; it was obvious that he had,” said Moore.

Originally, Japan wanted to create an East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere which only included China. But after Germany conquered much of Europe, Japan expanded its plans to include Indochina and the Dutch East Indies and renamed their project the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

The prospects of America remaining neutral seemed bright, as America remained on the sidelines throughout Hitler’s conquest of Europe.

“If the country could not go to war in behalf of France and England surely it would not in behalf of China,” said Moore. “Japan’s hands were freed to proceed with her conquest and let the American Government talk. It was obvious the diplomatic pressure was largely bluff. The relief was tremendous.”

Once Germany began its conquest of Europe, the American media shifted its focus from the atrocities Japan committed in China to the higher level of atrocity committed by Germany in Europe.

According to Moore, as Japan saw it, “the day of the old decadent British Empire had passed, and it was doomed to defeat and partitioning.”

“If there had ever been a chance of getting the Japanese Army back out of China it was gone when the conflict in Europe began,” said Moore.

The way Moore describes this sequence of events makes it seem like Europe had orchestrated the rise of Hitler and its own conquest to convince Japan to continue on to Southeast Asia. Apparently, Europe did not want Japan to give up on its path of conquest. Europe probably hoped that Japan would go so far that she would eventually have to fight America and would lose her empire. At that point, Europe could swoop in and pick up the remains.

Foreign Minister Matsuoka

On July 18, 1940, Japan decided that Yosuke Matsuoka would become its new foreign minister. By that time, Moore had known Matsuoka for about three decades. Nine years prior to his appointment as foreign minister, in a conversation with Moore, Matsuoka said the following.

“I want to tell you one thing more before I go. What I am doing now is with a deliberate purpose. But when I get higher up you need have no fear. I'll direct affairs then myself, and I’ll do it wisely.”

Moore described Matsuoka as an actor who loved the limelight. His speech and the manner in which he conducted himself were very American. Matsuoka gained these attributes from his childhood. At the age of twelve, his family dumped him on the shores of America and told him to fend for himself.

“The act was cruel but it made Matsuoka,” said Moore.

His American traits made him valuable to his government. There were not many Japanese who could speak English.

“In the diplomatic service there were not a dozen men who had good and safe command of the language,” said Moore.

Matsuoka aspired to become a peacemaker. To his government, he argued that he knew America, and so he could successfully negotiate with her. As Moore describes it, his principle method of negotiation seemed to be intimidation.


As part of this strategy, on September 27, in what Moore referred to as a “grand coup,” Matsuoka allied Japan with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Matsuoka believed that America, faced with the formidable alliance of Japan, Germany, and Italy, would be deterred from supporting Britain and China.

But instead of deterring America, the act merely seemed to provoke her. On October 13, in a speech delivered in Ohio, Roosevelt declared that America would continue to build up its defenses and armaments.

“Our course is clear,” said Roosevelt. “We will continue to help those who resist aggression, and who now hold the aggressors far from our shores.”

A few weeks later, Roosevelt would face off against Wendell Willkie in the 1940 Presidential Election. Before the election, many Americans told Japan that President Roosevelt would not win a third term, that America would not go to war again after what happened at the Versailles Conference, and that America had “no interests worth fighting for in Asia.” But on November 5, Roosevelt defeated Wendell Willkie in the election.


As part of the rationale for aligning Japan with Germany, Matsuoka believed that the millions of Americans of German descent would prevent Roosevelt from stopping Germany. Matsuoka obtained this information from German agents living in Tokyo.

“He ought to have known from the lesson of 1917 that the Americans of German blood were Americans first, but he was not a man to take lessons that hobbled his stride,” said Moore. “And the German agents were not men to remind him of the Kaiser’s mistake in 1917 or Hitler’s belief that the United States could be hamstrung by domestic disorder.”

At several points in his book, Moore compares the Germany before World War II to the Germany before World War I and he notes the similarities. My government has led me to believe that the West had hoped to do a repeat of what it had done in World War I in World War II. In World War I, the Ottoman Empire aligned itself with Germany. Germany lost the war. The West dismantled the Ottoman Empire. Britain and France seized its territory as mandates. In World War II, the West seems to have had the same hopes for the Japanese empire. With Japan aligned with Germany, things seemed to have gotten off on the right track.

For his part, Moore told Japan that the Germans were secretly trying to “promote ill-feeling toward Japan.” According to him, the Germans “were playing their own game both ways.”

The Germans had their own ideas of what Japan should do. They believed Japan should try to drive a wedge between America and Britain. Moore told Japan that “because of language, literature, religion, similarity of institutions, and above all mutual interests and joint security the two English-speaking peoples would stand together in defense and that no German or Japanese propaganda could alienate them from each other.”

A new ambassador

After the presidential election, Japan decided to replace its ambassador in Washington. Kichisaburo Nomura became the new Japanese ambassador on November 27. Nomura seemed to believe that the age of colonization would come to an end sooner or later. He told Moore that Japan would have to withdraw from China eventually, and Britain would have to leave India. Nomura insisted that Matsuoka wanted a settlement. In addition, Matsuoka hoped America and Japan could work together to resolve the conflict between Britain and Germany. After all, Japan was the ally of Germany and America was the ally of Britain. Perhaps America and Japan could work together as mediators between the two warring factions. But despite her alliance with Germany, Nomura repeatedly told Moore that Japan would take her our course and would not serve other powers, meaning Germany.

Unlike his relationship with other Japanese officials, Moore could speak frankly with Nomura, and he did not hesitate to do so. In one his early conversations, Moore accused Nomura of being a “false front,” meaning that Japan had sent him to America with false information. In response, Nomura replied, “That may be. I do not know. But I don’t think so.”

Insincerity seemed to be a hallmark of the diplomatic relations between Japan and America at the time. In many meetings, Japanese officials would claim that they could not control their Army.

“In effect they came stating that they could not stop their Army at present and therefore appealed to us to do what we could to stop the United States,” said Moore.

Moore believed that Matsuoka sent Nomura, a Navy man, to America because he believed Nomura would impress Washington. Before sending Nomura to America, Matsuoka ordered him to speak firmly to the American government. Matsuoka believed that Japan “was securely entrenched and formidably allied,” according to Moore. This, he believed, was the key to negotiating with America. To me, this sounds like Matsuoka believed that Japan had to “negotiate from a position of strength.” That is a phrase I have heard a lot of in the past few years. American officials seem to swear by it. Presumably, Matsuoka adhered to this strategy because someone in America taught him this.

On December 23, Moore wrote a report for Ambassador Nomura. In the report, Moore said that the U.S. government was preparing its people for war. War with Germany seemed likely, as America wanted to prevent Germany from defeating Britain. On the other hand, America would not go to war to defend China or Indochina. But she would go to war to defend the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies, and possibly Singapore. Moore noted that, in reaction to the alliance Japan formed with Germany and Italy, America decided to increase its aid to Britain, restrict its shipments to Japan, and increase its aid to China, though Moore admitted that providing aid to China would not do much. So instead of deterring America from acting, America used the creation of the Axis Alliance as an excuse to punish Japan. Matsuoka’s strategy seemed to be backfiring.

Ambassador Nomura disagreed with the contents of the report. He had been talking to American military officials and they provided him with a different view. During the election, both candidates said America would not fight “other people’s wars.” Colonel Lindbergh and President Hoover had been traveling across the nation, telling everyone that America should not fight Germany. Nomura believed America had much to lose by going to war.

Japan and America both wanted each other to stay out of the war, but for opposite reasons. Japan wanted America to remain out of the war so that Germany could defeat Britain. America wanted Japan to remain out of the war so that Britain could defeat Germany. To keep Japan out of the war, America continued to supply Japan with scrap iron and oil. America feared that if she stopped providing Japan with those materials, she would invade Indochina, Thailand, and the Dutch East Indies in order to obtain them.

On March 15, 1941, in a speech delivered by FDR, he said that America would provide ships, planes, and other supplies to Britain and China. According to Moore, this was the “first definite evidence” that America might go to war against Japan. Two days after the speech, Moore wrote a memo to Japan.

“The United States is now at war,” declared Moore.

According to him, America would have probably left Japan alone had she not signed the treaty with Germany.

“Demonstrations like these against the United States do not intimidate the American people,” said Moore. “They aggravate American feelings and cause further preparations against Japan as well as Germany.”

Nevertheless, Matsuoka decided to double down. In an apparent bid to bolster Japan’s position further, Matsuoka signed a peace treaty with Russia. After signing the treaty, Matsuoka sent another message to Washington. In that message, Matsuoka said that, while visiting Germany, he had seen the invincible might of its military and he begged America to recognize the changes that were taking place in the world. Unfortunately for him, the world did not stop changing.

In mid June, Winston Churchill warned the world that Germany would soon invade Russia. Moore agreed with that assessment and told Nomura as much. Nomura said that Moore must believe Hitler was a madman, to which Moore responded in the affirmative.

“No, he’s not,” replied Nomura.

The communists in America apparently agreed with Ambassador Nomura. They called Winston Churchill a liar and continued to disrupt the operations of U.S. munitions factories.

On June 22, Germany invaded Russia.

Moore noted the irony of what the American Communists had done.

“The American Communists were helping the Nazis by trying to sabotage American efforts to help the British, but they thought they were helping the Soviet Union!” said Moore.

After the invasion, Japan would quickly replace Matsuoka.

“Evidently he had failed to comprehend Adolf Hitler – if he had not been hoodwinked by him,” said Moore.

This comment suggests that Europe really did fool Japan into aligning itself with Germany.

“I was sorry for Matsuoka, who had so long been a friend of mine, but was glad to see him go out of an office in which he was doing more harm than good, prodding his country into threatening war as a means to promoting peace,” said Moore.

Upon learning that Germany had invaded Russia, Nomura smiled, shook his head, and said, “I cannot speak. I am ambassador.”

The stage is set

In July, Japan invaded the southern portion of Indochina. In response, America stopped trading with Japan. The trade embargo left Japan in a bind. Japan only had enough oil in storage to last a year. To gain access to more oil, Japan could invade the countries of Southeast Asia. To prevent Japan from doing this, America tried to prolong the negotiations as much as possible.

“This had become highly important because a part of the American Navy had been taken out of the Pacific and put into the Atlantic,” said Moore.

Amazingly, Nomura informed Moore that Japan had no intention of ending the negotiations and Japan did not invade the Dutch East Indies or Singapore.

“The delay was valuable to the United States and detrimental to Japan,” said Moore. “The Japanese knew and said this, and our Government must have known it.”

Moore never says this, but at some point, Japan must have decided that she wanted to maintain her relationship with America after the war, and so she behaved in a manner that would allow the two to cooperate afterwards.

In a conversation with Nomura, Moore said Japan had three choices. Japan could maintain the status quo. She could advance further but then there would be war. Or Japan could return most of the territory she had seized. If Japan did so, Europe and America would normalize their relations with her.

“War with Japanese will not be an easy matter,” replied Nomura. “It will not be a war of only six months, as some of your newspapers are saying, nor even only a year.”

On November 20, Japan offered to remove her forces from southern Indochina. In return, Japan wanted America to lift its trade embargo. On November 26, America made its counter offer, demanding that Japan remove its forces from Indochina and China. After Japan received that offer, she began massing her forces near the border between Indochina and Thailand. General Tojo declared that Japan would drive Britain and America out of East Asia “with vengeance.” War seemed inevitable.

But before the war began, Japan sent a special envoy, Saburo Kurusu, to America to continue the negotiations. At one point, he had a conversation with Moore.

“I know what governments say and I know what they do,” said Kurusu. “I was for a long time, as you know, in charge of commercial relations in the Foreign Office, and I know from experience how reluctant other countries were to deal fairly with us.”

“I know, too, and I suppose the United States was one of the worst,” said Moore.

“I can’t say your country was the worst,” replied Kurusu. “The British were the worst.”

Some things never change.

Moore told Kurusu that he hoped World War II would teach everyone a lesson, but Kurusu just shook his head in disbelief.

Japan attacked Pearl Harbor soon after that conversation. Moore was grateful that Japan attacked Pearl Harbor directly. Had Japan attacked the East Indies, the isolationists could argue that America should not go to war to defend European colonies. By attacking Pearl Harbor, Japan had united the American people. I assume Japan attacked Pearl Harbor for that reason and I assume America told Japan to do that.

According to Moore, before Japan could seize the East Indies, the Dutch employed a “scorched earth” policy in “wrathful indignation,” blasting the oil wells and destroying the refineries. Japan would have a hard time restoring those facilities, but Japan would not have a hard time crushing the European forces in East Asia.

“Never in all history had such conquests been achieved in so brief a time,” said Moore. “Within three months a nation believed to be partially prostrate after four and a half years of war in China, where a million of its men were still ‘bogged down,’ had driven the armed forces of the two greatest naval Powers and their allies out of more territory than Nazi Germany had subjected in nearly three years of warfare. The aggregate land expanse of the Japanese conquests, including French Indo-China, was greater than of all Europe, excluding Russia.”

According to Moore, if Japan succeeded in removing Britain from East Asia, its people would rue the day, as Britain had served the people of Asia well.

After reading the book, I couldn’t help but wonder how Moore really felt about Britain and Europe. When he praised British colonialism, was he just trying to be diplomatic, or did he really support the abominable actions of Britain? And I wondered the same thing about the people who ran our government. Had our government been serving the interests of Europe? Based on what Moore said, you could certainly make that argument.

According to him, America did not profit from its dealings with China. America exported about $40 million in goods per year to China. Of that, America made a profit of perhaps $8 million. That money would not cover the cost of maintaining the gunboats and troops we had in China.

By contrast, the Dutch made a ton of money by colonizing the East Indies, according to Moore. They did not have to pay for the defense of that colony, as they relied on the military services of Britain and America. As for the British, according to Moore, on the profitability scale, they came somewhere in between the Netherlands and America. Based on this account, it seems like once again, America was paying for the protection of Europe.

In any event, Moore believed that Britain and America would prevail in World War II (the book was published before the war ended). According to Moore, after the war, those two countries needed to make a “wise but not selfish peace.” Otherwise, mankind would remain cursed with hatred and resentment.

“The problem of peace will test the character and wisdom of these two nations as they have never been tested before,” said Moore.

Other than this book, I haven’t come across any other material written by Moore. Personally, I would like to know how Moore reacted to the way things turned out. On the one hand, Japan did lose World War II, as Moore had predicted. And Japan had to give up its holdings in Taiwan, Manchuria, and Korea. This part was similar to what happened after World War I, when the Ottoman Empire collapsed. But something else happened after World War II. East Asia did what Japan had always wanted (at least according to Moore) – she made Europe leave.

East Asia gave Europe a dose of what Japan had experienced during her occupation of China. After the war, Europe tried to reestablish her colonies in East Asia but the people rose up and launched insurgencies throughout the region.

My government has led me to believe that this was Japan’s plan all along. First, she needed to crush the European forces in East Asia. Then, she needed to lose the war. Finally, when Europe tried to reestablish her presence in the region, the people of Asia needed to rise up and prevent them from retaking control.

In the coming decades, Japan would work hard to build up the economies of East Asia, proving that Japan really did want to improve the nations that she once tried to conquer. Today, thanks in part to the efforts made by Japan, East Asia has become the fastest growing region in the world and the West is now trembling in fear, worried that two centuries of Western dominance is coming to an end.

In his book, Moore wrote that America had been underestimating Japan.

“We Americans had indulged ourselves too long in the saying that the Japanese were only copiers of others,” said Moore. “That they were copiers was true; they copied what others did well – as any wise people would and we Americans have. But they had done, in all history, independent thinking as well. There is no more distinctive people in the world than they. Our fault was in looking upon them too long as a people from whom we could learn nothing. To underestimate the capacity of a potential enemy is a mistake, yet we supinely indulged in it for decades. Our superiority complex had lulled us into over-confidence.”

Perhaps this quote is as true today as it was seven decades ago. For the past twenty years, the Japanese economy has suffered from slow growth and deflation. Many people in the West seem to have written Japan off. Maybe that will turn out to be a mistake. Maybe someone, somewhere will tell the world of Japan’s incredible story. Maybe this story will transform the relationships between the nations of East Asia. Maybe this story will transform the way we view history. Maybe this story will change the way governments behave. Maybe this story will inspire Japan to revitalize its economy and change the way she interacts with the world.


History end here.

Ooh, those sneaky, treacherous guys. They really take the cake.

1 comment:

M.C.Miller (42.287883, -85.587113) said...

This was very interesting. Coming from a point of view of someone fairly knowledgeable on the subject of 19th and 20th century East-Asian history, I would prefer to see a source of references, especially for your personal assertions. There also exist some gaps. For instance... Where is the role of Hirohito mentioned in this discussion? The Marco Polo Bridge incident was retaliatory, and the responsibility of the atrocities can be placed almost completely on the shoulders of General Tashiro. In short, the decades preceding U.S. military engagement with the Japanese are intensely complicated. It requires an understanding of Qing Dynasty history, and most particularly the factors that led to its decline and how this was viewed by leadership in the "East Captial"; as well as the sociopolitical circumstances from which a campaign of industrialization was launched in Japan, generally called "the Meiji Restoration", and its aftermath. While your book report is interesting, there is a plethora of material that you need to include in your analysis so that you might smooth off the sharp flashing still clinging to the edge of your freshly cut understanding. I worry for the future of "East-West Relations" when I find blogs like this linked elsewhere on a news article, and by the way, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/dec/07/pearl-harbor-crucible-greatest-generation some one likes your work.