Showing posts with label pearl harbour. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pearl harbour. Show all posts

Monday, February 25, 2013

Trade Wars

The Pacific War against Japan was never a contest between democracy and fascism, as we have been taught. Neither the British nor the U.S. or the Dutch had ever entertained democracy for Asian peoples. Chiang Kai-shek remained a U.S. ally throughout the war and British historian Christopher Thorne has commented that, “if the term ‘fascist’ is to be employed in a non-European context for the 1930s, to no regime is it more appropriate to attach it than that of the Kuomintang in China.”

Leaving aside the conspiracy theory that the American government knew of the Pearl Harbor attack would take place and chose to allow it to happen, there is no question that an attack from Japan was probable. Contrary to U.S. political folklore, Japan’s subsequent attack was launched on a U.S. naval colony in Polynesia not U.S. territory (Hawaii only became a US state in 1959). And it cannot properly be described as a surprise.

In 1932, the Ottawa Conference cut off Japanese trade with the British Commonwealth, including India. Three years later Japan was forced to curtail shipments of cotton textiles to the Philippines while U.S. imports there remained duty free. (At the same time, U.S. tariffs on many Japanese goods surpassed 100%.) Japan protested about American, British, Chinese, and Dutch encirclement strangling its economy. So in 1937 Tokyo began its conquest of China in earnest, wiping out 140,000 Chinese civilians at Nanking while proclaiming a desire to promote economic development and prevent Communist domination of Asia.

Four years later negotiations between Admiral Nomura and Secretary of State Cordell Hull broke down over the Japanese request for equal trading rights in Latin America in return for allowing U.S. capital penetration of China.

On July 2, 1941 the Japanese decided to move troops into southern Indochina. Washington, having broken Tokyo’s purple code, immediately knew of the decision. On July 21, 1941 Japan signed a preliminary agreement with the Vichy government of Marshal Henri Petain, leading to Japanese occupation of airfields and naval bases in Indochina. Almost immediately, the U.S. and Britain froze all Japanese assets in their countries. Radhabinod Pal, one of the judges in the post-war Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, later noted that the U.S. embargo presented a “clear and potent threat to Japan’s very existence.”

On July 24, 1941 FDR informed the Japanese Ambassador that if Japan would refrain from putting troops in southern Indochina Roosevelt would use his influence to have Indochina neutralized. But this message failed to reach the Japanese Foreign Ministry until July 27.

On July 26, 1941 Tokyo disclosed its intention to move troops into southern Indochina. The U.S. promptly froze all Japanese assets in the U.S. With Japan importing 90% of its oil, half of that from the United States, Admiral Richmond Turner, Director of the War Plans Division of the Navy Department, stated that it was “generally believed that shutting off the American supply petroleum [to Japan] will lead promptly to an invasion [by Japan] of the Netherlands East Indies.” FDR publicly stated that this reaction would be a justification for war. The New York Times characterized the U.S. move as “the most drastic blow short of war.”

For the Japanese military, it was “now or never.” The Western powers controlled and were choking off access to the raw materials on which Japan's national existence depended. With Washington refusing to lift its embargo unless Tokyo surrendered Chinese territory it had fought for years to conquer (Note: Washington objected to being shut out of the China market, not Tokyo's atrocities there), Japan was left to choose between submitting to U.S. demands or going to war to obtain the oil and other vital raw materials available in the East Indies and Southeast Asia.

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