THE FAILED DIPLOMACY: The US-Japanese Diplomatic Relations Before the Second World War

Jose Angelito  Angeles & Edwid John Nomio


Submitted to Dr. Ricardo Trota Jose, Chairman, UP Department of History for History 156 (Diplomatic History of East Asia).




This paper discusses the diplomatic relations between the United States and Japan from the time the latter was opened to the world until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1941, with emphasis on the US-Japanese relations from the outset of the China Incident, US- Japanese trade disputes up to the Kurusu- Hull negotiations in 1941.


The researchers in coming up with this research, used various books and scholarly periodicals pertaining to the topic at the University of the Philippines-Diliman Main Library, UP Asian Center, University of the Philippines- Manila, College of Arts and Sciences Library and at the National Library.


Edwin John Nomio

Two American vessels, Grace and Lady Washington, were on their way to China to have some trading and dispose some sea otter pelts.  In May 1791, these two ships attempted to go forth and appeared of the coast of southern Japan.  Eliza, patrolled by Admiral Stewart entered Japanese waters in 1797.  This ship was originally from the Dutch, whose trading in Japan was ceased due to the Netherlands’ involvement in a war against Great Britain.  During this period, a number of American vessels were in the Dutch’s service and called at Nagasaki on commercial purposes.

In the years covering 1791 and 1807, it is estimated that fourteen American vessels have visited Japan.  But in the years from 1808 to 1837, no American vessels have entered Japanese waters.  This was during the period when Japan closed its contact to the outside world.  By the 1840s a number of American ships were frequenting Japanese waters.  In 1846, American whaler ship Lawrence had been caught by Japanese authorities.  The captives were treated with undue harshness.  Commodore Glynn, upon orders, was instructed to rescue the imprisoned survivors.  The rescued Americans confirmed the brutality they received from the Japanese.

The Perry Visit

Of all the foreigners who tried to “open” Japan, only the American Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry succeeded.  In 1848 gold reserves were discovered in California.  This was followed by  the rapid settlement off the Pacific coast.  With all of these, it resulted in a greatly increased American interest in the Far East.  To add, the whaling industry at this time reached its peak.

In June 1851, American President Millard Fillmore commanded Commodore Aulick to have treaty relations with Japan.  He sailed for Canton in July.  On his arrival, Aulick was informed that the order was withdrawn.  Enter Matthew Perry.  Because of his impressive credentials, he literally fits in for the rigid qualifications required for a man heading an important mission.  Fillmore had second taught on appointing Aulick.

With this, the vision of the American Secretary of State William Seward greatly affected the American interest in the Far East.  He said, “American interest would sink in importance while the Pacific Ocean, its islands, and the vast regions would become the theatre of events in the world hereafter.”

Perry entered Japan at Uraga near Edo Bay in July 1853.  He wants to open a port in Japan and to ebb the trading relations between America and Japan.  He ceased the Japanese officials surrounding him while he’s searching the bay.  Disguised as an admiral who wants to talk to the highest official, Perry was welcomed by a small official pretending to be a lord.  Thru the help of his interpreter, Samuel Williams, he forced the official to accept the letter of the President of the United States to the emperor.  He promised to come back in the coming spring for the reply.

Because they were not ready for an armed struggle, having little ships and obsolete cannons, the disconcerted shogunate tried to get the opinion of the daimyos.  But the result was not overwhelming because it shows the weakness of the shogunate in solving complicated problems.  This started the downfall of the Tokugawa. 

Also, the daimyos’ opinion was vague to the shogunate because they were not use to give opinions.  There were those who disagree in the entrance of the foreigners and propose to use necessary forces when needed.  But there were also who acknowledge the presence of the Americans and Europeans to acquire their resources and military knowledge.  Also, there were proposals to shield the Americans to empower the Japanese military.

To say, the shogunate, were buffooned by Commodore Perry.  He came back too early on what he promised because he fells uneasy on the alarming feelers sent by Vice Admiral Putiatin of Russia.  Putiatin was also ordered by the Russian czar to “open” Japan.  From four ships, Perry entered Japan anew with a squadron of eight ships with huge cannons.      

Together with Perry, the shogunate signed the Treaty of Kanagawa on March 31, 1854.  Under the treaty, the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate were opened.  The Japanese promised to treat the shipwrecked sailors of America.  The American consul was permitted to live in Shimoda.   But the most dubious agreement was the “most favored nation clause.”  Under this clause, whatever Japan gives to other countries, she gives it too the Americans.  After the signing, they exchanged gifts.  From the United States, a locomotive with rail, a set of telegraph, agricultural equipments, and a hundred gallons of whisky were received by the Japanese.  The Japanese meanwhile featured a sumo match; in exchange, the American presented a minstrel show. 

The Critical Transition 


 There were many reports about the role of the Americans in this time in Japanese history.  The truth is, there were only few advisers of the United States in the years 1853 to 1868.  Samuel Brown and J. C. Hepburn at Yokohama and Guido Verbeck at Nagasaki were missionary teachers.  But because teaching Christianity is strictly prohibited, they taught only the English language and study the Japanese Language.  William Elliot Griffis, on the other hand, taught science in a small school in Tokyo which evolved and now known as Tokyo University.  He also act as an interpreter to leading foreign employers in Japan. 

The treaty of 1854 was followed by several treaties which opened the ports of Nagasaki and Kanagawa.  After several weeks, Japan signed the same treaty with Great Britain, France, Russia, and the Netherlands even though these countries never gained territories in Japan unlike what they did in China.  The movement of their leader, seeking advice to the daimyos, waiting the permission of the emperor, and the subsequent joining of the daimyos to organizations were relatively new for the Japanese.

The American-Japanese relations flourished further because of the good upbringing by Consul Townsend Harris who caught the hearts of the Japanese people thru his patience, loyalty, and humility.  As a consul, he opted to live in a Buddhist temple. 

However, there were still Japanese minorities who opposed the presence of the foreigners in the country.  They rallied under the flags of Sonno (Honor the Emperor) and Joi (Overthrow the Foreigners), and also aimed to overthrow the shogunate.

Meanwhile, the Japanese economy bewildered by the movements of the foreigners.  They embank on silver and bring out gold.  They crave for silk, tea, and other Japanese products.  Thru this, they never trusted again the foreigners.  They attacked them.  Others were killed.  The British legation in Edo was burned.  The leadership of those in Choshu and Satsuma arises and they joined forces to topple the shogunate on 1863.

The Sun Rises  

Japan flagTo become a superpower, a country must have occupied a vast tract of territory.  The countries that gained advantage in opening Japan didn’t expected that this country would be in their echelon and sooner or later would be one of their rivals in expanding territories.

Having Korea,  Taiwan, and Manchuria, Japan is now a potential imperial force.  Started from a victory that ended in tragedy, the sudden sprout of imperialism in Japan is a story cannot be leveled.  Imperialism was hastened by fast-moving technology, voice of power, and the changes in the institutions.  This resulted to the sudden growth of international trade and the comeback of military power in 1931.  They’d given emphasis on railroad and shipping transportation on railroad and shipping transportation.  Industries of garments, iron, chemicals, and electronics grew.  The zaibatsu (financial cliques) consisted of millionaire families--Fuji, Mitsubishi, Mitsui, Sumitomo, and Yasuda—who owned 75% of the wealth of Japan.  Small-scale factories sprouted.

There were also changes in the society.  Japanese people came back in old ways honoring their parents and ancestors instead on themselves.  These changes can be viewed thru novels and biographies colored by mixed native and Western ideas.

The Widening Rift   

Despite the criticisms on militarization, the Japanese people saw this as a key for modernization and socialization, especially having inherited the power of the samurai and feudalism.  Militarization in Japan was illustrated by national experiences. 

The government easily ruled out in keeping military troops, a preparation for war.  It later induced when the Meiji Constitution gave the military leaders numerous powers.  Appointing military officials in the cabinet has been accustomed.

These military cliques, together with the ultra-nationalists made trouble for Japan.  This country was badly affected by the Great Depression in the world.  Thousands of Japanese migrated to other countries in search for better life.  A weak parliamentary system, corruption, and scandals in the government worsened the situation. War is the only solution in these problems. 

The Manchurian Incident

To secure new market for their products, Japanese military coveted China.  On September 18, 1931 Japanese army provoked an incident in Mukden in Manchuria.  On the excuse that the Chinese had blown up a section of the Japanese-owned Manchurian Railway, Japanese troops seized the city of Mukden.  The Lytton Commission investigated and advised Japan to stop the aggression in China.  Japan suddenly left the League of Nations and continued to harass Manchuria.  They created a puppet state in Manchuria and called it Manchukuo and made Henry Pu-yi, China’s last emperor, as its ruler.  The Sino-Japanese hostilities ceased with the signing of the Truce of Tangku

Japan provoked another incident near the Marco Polo Bridge in Peking.  By the summer of 1937 it was apparent that the restless Kwantung army was about to embark on new adventures at the expense of China.  Militarists and ultra-nationalists believed that Manchurian resources were not sufficient to support Japan.


Jose Angelito Angeles

a. China Incident

The undeclared war began on July 7, 1937 when Japanese troops clashed with a contingent of Chinese troops in the Marco Polo Bridge.  Most Americans condemned the Japanese as aggressors and sympathized with China but only a small minority was willing to support China in taking a strong stand. On July 16, 1937, State Secretary Cordell Hull, in a statement, called for the peaceful settlement of the China Incident:

“This country constantly and consistently advocates maintenance of peace. We advocate national and international self-restraint. We advocate abstinence by all nations from use of force in pursuit of policy and from interference in the internal affairs of other nations. We advocate adjustment of problems in international relations by processes of peaceful negotiation and agreement. We advocate peaceful observance of international agreements. Upholding the principle of sanctity of treaties, we believe in modification of provision of treaties, when need therefore arises, by orderly processes carried out in a spirit of mutual helpfulness and accommodation. We believe in respect by all nations for the rights of others and performance by all nations of established obligations. We stand for revitalizing and strengthening of international law. We advocate steps toward promotion of economic security and stability the world over….


By the end of September 1937 the attitude of the Roosevelt administration toward Japan had greatly hardened.  This hardening attitude was reflected in instructions given the American minister in Switzerland to the effect that whereas China from the beginning had agreed to conciliation, Japan had been opposed to consultations with any third powers and on the contrary had expanded her military operations in China.  Protests against the alleged inhuman conduct of the war by Japan were made by both the League of Nations and the United States.

On October 5, 1937, President Roosevelt condemned the worsening situation in China and “gave voice to the determination of peace-loving nations to oppose continued violation of treaties and international obligations.  The following day, the American government declared the Japanese aggression violates the provisions of the Nine-Power Treaty and the Kellogg-Briand Pact.  To avert the spread of the conflict, President Roosevelt discouraged the transportation of ammunitions by American vessels to China and Japan.

In November 1937 the United States and eighteen other nations participated in the Nineteen Power Treaty conference at Brussels for the purpose of “studying the amicable means of hastening the end of the unfortunate conflict.” 

Relations between the United States and Japan  soured when Japan indiscriminately bombed American properties in China  in spite of the fact that the American flag has been prominently displayed on this properties and the location of which “has been indicated upon maps furnished to the Japanese authorities.

Relations between the two countries worsened when Japan deliberately bombed and sunk U.S. gunboat USS Panay and several American merchant vessels in the Yangtze River. The American government protested vigorously the flagrant Japanese ruthlessness. The American Ambassador to Japan, Joseph C. Grew, opined:

Joseph Grew


"On December 12, 1937, The United States ship Panay was bombed and sunk in the Yangtze River near Nanking by Japanese planes. From the facts there could be no question but that the act was deliberate, carried out by Japanese fliers for the very same purpose that had led them to bomb and destroy many of our American religious missions – churches, hospitals, schools, residences- in various parts of China. That purpose was to drive all American interests out of East Asia.


The Japanese Government did not then want war with the United States; perhaps the Japanese Army and Navy did not feel prepared for war with us at that time. The Government abjectly apologized for what they alleged was an accident- as they had apologized in so many previous cases – met all of our demands, and promptly paid the full indemnity we asked. The incident was closed.

In spite of American protests, Japan continued its bombing of major Chinese cities such as Shanghai and Nanking, and the slaughter of civilian populations."

On October 6, 1938, Ambassador Grew protested the numerous violations committed by Japan to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to wit:

i. Contrary to the assurances of Japan, the free movement of goods between Manchuria and other nations was not being maintained;

ii. That exchange control by the Japanese was limiting exports from Tsingtao and Chefoo;

iii. That other financial discriminations were invoked against American commercial dealings in such a way that  the traditional “Open Door” in China was being closed;

iv. Monopolies were established in a number of industries and services, depriving American nationals of equal opportunity; and

v. Interference with American mail through censorship, and restrictions upon American residence, travel, trade, and shipping made it apparent the so-called “new Order” in the Far East contemplated a disregard of international commitments.

The Japanese turned a deaf ear to the protests and did not reply. The Americans on the other hand, retaliated by terminating the Treaty of Commerce and Navigation with Japan and revoked its most favored-nation treatment to Japanese commerce.

b. The Hull-Nomura-Kurusu Negotiatons

In 1939 war broke out in Europe when Germany invaded Poland on September 1. A few months later, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and France fell prey to the German blitzkrieg  tactics. German victories in Europe helped Japan to expand aggressively and unopposed from China to the resource-rich Southeast Asia. However the United States remains an obstacle to the Japanese dream of building an empire embracing much of China, Southeast Asia, the Pacific including Australia, and India. The United States exerted pressures to deter Japan from expanding without provoking the Japanese to war. In 1940, The United States terminated the Treaty of Trade and Navigation with Japan and likewise embargoed export of scrap metals. On October 7, 1940, The Japanese Government protested the ban on exports of iron and scrap metals:

The Japanese Government has taken note of the regulations governing the exportation of iron and steel scrap, dated September 30, 1940, amending the construction and definition of the term  “iron and steel scrap” included in the regulations of July 26, 1940, and the announcement of September 26, 1940 to the effect that, under the new regulations, licenses will be issued to permit shipments to the countries of the Western Hemisphere and Great Britain only.

The above-mentioned regulations refer to the Presidential authority derived from the provisions of Section 6 of the Act of Congress approved July 2, 1940, entitled “An Act to expedite the strengthening of the national defense,’ thereby suggesting that it was determined to be necessary in the interest of national defense to curtail the exportation of iron and steel scrap.

In view of the situation of iron and steel markets, the supply and demand of these materials and the volume shipped to Japan, the Japanese Government finds it difficult to concede that this measure was motivated solely by the interest of national defense of the United States.

In the note of the Japanese Ambassador of August 3 the Japanese Government pointed out that the measure announced on July 26, 1940, in regard to the exportation of aviation gasoline, was tantamount to an export embargo as far as few countries outside the Western Hemisphere were concerned. Compared to that announcement under review may be said to have gone a step further toward discrimination by especially excluding Great Britain from the virtual embargo.
In view of the fact that Japan has been for years the principal buyer of American iron and steel scrap, the announcement of the administrative policy, as well as the regulations establishing license system in iron and steel scrap cannot fail to be regarded as directed against Japan, and such, to be an unfriendly act.

The Japanese Government hereby protests against the measures taken by the United States Government in connection with the exportation of iron and steel scrap.

In July 1941 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued an executive order freezing all Japanese assets in the United States.   Great Britain and the Netherlands took similar measures.


On September 6 Japanese Prime Minister Fuminaro Konoye opened the Imperial Conference by reading an “Outline Plan for National Policy,” which disclosed that:

1. The Empire was determined to risk war with the United State, Britain and the Netherlands to achieve its economic ends, and war preparations were to be completed by late October.
3. Until that provisional cutoff date, the empire would try to realize its demands through negotiations.

On September 27, 1940 Japan signed an alliance pact with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, the Tripartite Pact, “in which each signatories pledged to help the others in an event of an attack by the United States. ” Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka praised the said treaty in an address delivered before the Imperial Diet, excerpts:

The Three Power Pact stipulates that Germany and Italy recognize and respect the leadership of Japan in the establishment of a new order in greater East Asia. It is our avowed purpose to bring all the peoples in greater East Asia to revert to their innate and proper aspect, promoting conciliation and co-operation among them, and thereby setting the example of universal concord. The Pact also provides that Japan recognizes and respects the leadership of Germany and Italy in their similar endeavors in Europe. Far from antagonizing any country, the Pact is the embodiment of a peaceful but powerful co-operation directed towards the establishment of a new world order. In accordance with the provisions of the treaty, arrangements have already been made for setting up mixed commissions at the capital of three countries. Friendly relations between the three nations are thus becoming even closer, politically, militarily, economically and culturally. During the month of November, last year, the Pact was adhered to by Hungary, Rumania and Slovakia. It need not be repeated that the keynote of Japan’s diplomacy is the ideal of Hakko Ichiu and that it revolves round the Three Power Pact as its axis: In this connection, I should like to touch briefly upon Article Three of the Three Power Pact. That article provides that the Contracting parties undertake to assist one another with all political, economic and military means if one of the Contracting Parties is attacked by a Power at present not involved in the European war or in the Sino-Japanese conflict [Researcher’s note: the power referred to in this provision is the United States]. In case such an attack should be made, the obligation stipulated by this Article would, of course, arise.

On the other hand, Japan offered unofficially and informally to guarantee that she would employ only peaceful measures in the South Pacific and would aid Germany under the terms of her alliance if that country were subject of aggression.  To resolve the US-Japanese diplomatic rows, Japan appointed Admiral Nomura Kichisaburo as ambassador to the United States and Saburo Kurusu as Special Envoy to negotiate with the American Government for a peaceful settlement.

The Kurusu-Hull talks, though informal and exploratory in nature, stated on April 16, 1941 at Washington. Secretary Cordell Hull enunciated the four fundamental principles, which will be the foundations of the negotiations, namely:

(1) Respect for the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of all nations;

(2) Support of the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries;

(3) Support of the principle of equality of commercial opportunity

(4) Non-disturbance of the status quo in the Pacific except as the status quo may be altered by peaceful means.

In his memorandum dated September 6, 1941, Ambassador Grew informed President Roosevelt that Prime Minister Konoye and the Government of Japan, “conclusively and wholeheartedly agree with the four principles enunciated by the Secretary of State as a basis for the rehabilitation of rehabilitations between the United States and Japan.

On August 6, 1941, Japan made the following proposal to the United States in exchange that it will not further station troops in its mandated territories in the Pacific, to withdraw its troops from the French Indochina, to “remove such causes as might be responsible for the instability of the economic relations between Japan and the United States,  and to guarantee the neutrality of the Philippines:

(A) That in order to remove such causes as might constitute a menace of a military character to Japan or to her international communications, the Government of the United States will suspend its military measures in the Southwestern Pacific areas, and also that, upon a successful conclusion of the present conversations, it will advice the Governments of Great Britain and of the Netherlands to take similar steps

(B) That in order to remove such causes as might be responsible for military, political and economic friction between Japan and the United States, the Government of the United States will cooperate with the Japanese Government in the production and procurement of natural resources as are required by Japan in the Southwestern Pacific areas, especially in the Netherlands East Indies.

(C) That, in conjunction with the measures as set forth in (B) above, the Government of the United States will take steps necessary for restoring the normal relations of trade and commerce which have hitherto existed between Japan and the United States, and

(D) That, in view of the undertaking by the Japanese Government, the Government of the United States will use its good office for the initiation of direct negotiations between the Japanese Government nad the Chiang Kai-shek regime for the purpose of a speedy settlement of the China Incident, and that the Government of the United States will recognize the special status of Japan in Indochina even after the withdrawal of Japanese troops from that area.

In a memorandum prepared by Joseph W. Ballantine of the US  Department of State- Division of Far Eastern Affairs, he described the conversations between Secretary Hull and Ambassador Kurusu regarding the Japanese proposal dated August 6, 1941:

…. The Secretary went on to say that this Government had been prepared to be patient and move gradually and to be of all possible it could to the Japanese Government in order to enable the Japanese Government to assert control over all groups in Japan so that the Japanese Government as a whole and public opinion could be brought into line to support policies such as those which the Ambassador and the Secretary in mind. The Secretary….received word of measures taken by the Japanese Government which made it clear that those elements in the Japanese Government which favored peaceful courses had lost control and accordingly he had directed the Department  to inform the Japanese Ambassador that, in the opinion of the Government, the measures now taken by the Japanese Government had served to remove the basis of an understanding such as the Ambassador and he had in mind.


In October 1941 the military hard-liners staged a coup d’ etat and installed War Minister  Hideki Tojo as Prime Minister. Tojo, who opposed compromise with the United States, set the first week of December as the deadline for Japanese forces to take the offensive if the United States did not capitulate and resume trade relations with Japan.

While negotiations between the two countries were still under way, US intelligence uncovered the Japanese sinister plot to attack the United States after deciphering coded messages sent by Japan to its envoys in the United States.  But as early as January 27, 1941, the United States Ambassador to Japan, Joseph C. Grew, already warned Secretary Hull of a Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor:

A member of the Embassy was told by my ----colleague that from many quarters, including a Japanese one, he had heard that a surprise mass attack on Pearl Harbor was planned by the Japanese military forces, in case of “trouble” between Japan and the United States; that the attack would involve the use of all the Japanese military facilities. My colleague said that he was prompted to pass this on because it had come to him from many sources, although the plan seemed fantastic.

On November 26, 1941, United States Secretary of State Cordell Hull submitted a formal note to Japan proposing a non-aggression treaty between the United States and Japan which outlines the four principles upon which their relations with each other and with all other governments are based:

(1) The principle of inviolability of territorial integrity and sovereignty of each and all nations;
(2) The principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries;
(3) The principle of equality, including equality of commercial opportunity and treatment;
(4) The principle of reliance upon international cooperation and conciliation for the prevention and pacific settlement of controversies and for improvement of international conditions by peaceful methods and processes.

The proposal also endeavors to conclude a multilateral non-aggression treaty among the British Empire, China, Japan, The Netherlands, Siam, the Soviet Union and the United States; and provides for the withdrawal of Japanese troops from China and Indochina; the abandonment by both the United States and Japan of extraterritorial rights in China including rights and interests in and with regard to international settlements and concessions, and rights under the Boxer Protocol of 1901; the renewal of commercial relations between the two countries based on the reciprocal most favored nation treatment; removal of the freezing restrictions on Japanese funds in the United States; and the stabilization of the dollar-yen rate. Ambassador Nomura gave no diplomatic answer except for a memorandum to Secretary Hull a few hours after the Pearl Harbor attack.

franklin_delano_roosevelt.jpgOn December 6, President Roosevelt addressed a personal appeal to Emperor Hirohito in a last minute effort to avert the impending American-Japanese struggle, excerpts:

Developments are occurring in the Pacific area, which threaten to deprive each our nations and all humanity of the beneficial influence of the long peace between our two countries. These developments contain tragic possibilities.

The people of the United States, believing in peace and in the right of nations to live and lives have eagerly watched the conversations between our two Governments during these past months. We have hope for a termination of the present conflict between Japan and China. We have hoped that a peace in the Pacific could be consummated in such a way that nationalities of many diverse people could exist side by side without fear of invasion; that unbearable burdens of armaments could be lifted for them all, and that all peoples would resume commerce without discrimination against or in favor of any nation.

I am certain that it will be clear to Your Majesty, as it is to me, that in seeking these great objectives both Japan and the United States should agree to eliminate any form of military threat. This seemed essential to the attainment of the high objectives.

More than a year ago Your Majesty’s Government concluded an agreement with the Vichy Government by which five or six thousand Japanese troops were permitted to enter into Northern French Indochina for the protection of Japanese troops, which were operating against China further north. And this Spring and Summer the Vichy Government permitted further Japanese military forces to enter into Southern French Indochina for the common defense of French Indochina. I think I am correct in saying that no attack has been made upon Indochina, nor that any has been contemplated.

During the past few weeks it has become clear to the world that Japanese military, naval and air forces have been sent to Southern Indochina in such large numbers as to create a reasonable doubt on the part of other nations that this continuing concentration in Indochina is not defensive in character.

Because these continuing concentrations in Indochina have reached such large proportions and because they extend now to the southeast and the southwest corners of that Peninsula, it is only reasonable that the people of the Philippines, of the hundred of Islands of the East Indies, of Malaya and of Thailand itself are asking themselves whether these forces of Japan are preparing or intending to make attack in one or more of these many directions.

There is absolutely no thought on the part of the United States of invading Indochina if every Japanese soldier or sailor were to be withdrawn therefrom.

I address myself to Your Majesty at this moment in the fervent hope that Your Majesty may, as I am doing, give thought in this definite emergency to ways of dispelling the dark clouds. I am confident that both of us, for the sake of the peoples not only of our great countries but for the sake of humanity in neighboring territories, have a sacred duty to restore traditional amity and prevent further death and destruction in the world. 

The reply to this plea for peace was the treacherous attack on Pearl Harbor the following day.

Afbeelding:Brandende schepen Pearl Harbor.jpgOn the morning of December 7, 1941 “Waves of bombers and torpedo planes from Japanese aircraft carriers strike Pearl Harbor, inflicting heavy damage on U.S. Pacific Fleet.”   The attack was made without previous warning or declaration of war.  An hour later (2:20 p.m. Eastern time), Ambassador Nomura and Special Envoy Kurusu delivered to Secretary Hull a memorandum informing him that Japan “cannot but consider that it is impossible to reach an agreement through further negotiations” with the United States. They gave seven reasons for terminating the negotiations:

1. “The American Government advocates in the name of world peace those principles favorable to it and urges upon the Japanese Government the acceptance thereof. The peace of the world may be brought only by discovering a mutually acceptable formula through recognition of the reality of the situation and mutual appreciation of one another’s position.”

2. The American attempt “to restrain Japan from fulfilling its obligations under the Tripartite Pact when the United States participates in the War in Europe, and, as such, it cannot be accepted by the Japanese Government.”

3. Whereas the American Government, under the principles it rigidly upholds, object to settle international issues through military pressure, it is exercising in conjunction with Great Britain and other nations pressure by economic power.

4. …that the American Government desires to maintain and strengthen, in coalition with great Britain and other powers, its dominant position it has hitherto occupied not only in China but in other areas of East Asia

5. All items demanded of Japan by the American Government regarding China such as wholesale evacuation of troops or unconditional applications of principle of non-discrimination in international commerce ignored the actual conditions of China, and are calculated to destroy Japan’s position as the stabilizing force in East Asia.

6. Since the American Government has made the proposal of November 26th as a result of frequent consultation with Great Britain, Australia, the Netherlands and Chungking, and presumably by catering to the wishes of the Chungking regime in the questions of China, it must be concluded that all these countries are at one with the United States in ignoring Japan’s position; and

7. It is the intention of the American Government to conspire with Great Britain and other countries to obstruct Japan’s efforts toward the establishment of peace through the creation of a new order in East Asia, and especially to preserve Anglo-American rights and interests by keeping Japan and China at war.

The following day, President Roosevelt addressed the both houses of Congress and asked them to declare war on Japan, which they did unanimously. The war would end three years after with the surrender of Japan aboard USS Missouri on September 2, 1945 after two of it cities were destroyed by an atomic bomb.


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