Trade Embargoes Pushed Japan to the Brink

2-9-19

Some years ago, I was in a trade show in Dallas.  It was my first time in that city. My hotel room windows looked down across boulevards and an overpass and gave me a direct view of the Book Depository and the grassy knoll(s).  Naturally I walked there, wanting to see for myself one of the most jarring and unforgettable locations of my life.  When I reached the sidewalk in front of the infamous building, I was surprised to see several people with posters, signs, diagrams, dvds and the like.  They were Conspiracy Theorists, each one rabidly railing about “what really happened here.”

All these years later, conspiracy theorists of every ilk have so permeated our daily lives and the media with their rantings that I think it has become increasingly difficult for us to “separate the wheat from the chaff”.  I mention all this, because in this last segment looking at the major things that led up to the attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. trade embargoes in the months leading up to the “Day that lives on in Infamy” pushed Japan into desperate measures.  Much of the info available online drips with political overtones suggesting the FDR pushed the embargoes knowing it would cause Japan to retaliate militarily and “force us” into war; thus assuring he would be re-elected.  Writers suggest the FDR knew the attack on Pearl Harbor was coming, and looked the other way so we would have an excuse to declare War on Japan and get re-elected.  My experience in Dallas with “deep state” plot(s) theorists rings all sorts of flashing lights and waves red flags in my little brain at these assertions.  (If you are a “Believer”, I imagine you’ll call me naive.)

Let’s look at the highlights of the trade embargoes against Japan in the years leading up to Pearl Harbor.

In 1938, our government, concerned by the sabre-rattling and mushrooming armament manufacturing in Germany and Japan, began urging aircraft manufacturers to cease selling planes to countries who were using them for attacks on civilian populations. In 1939, the list was expanded to any aviation materials or technology.  The Treasury Dept urged banks to stop extending credit to Japan.

In July, 1939, the U.S. terminated it’s 1911 Commercial Treaty with Japan.

In July, 1940, Congress passed the Export Control Act, which authorized FDR to restrict and prohibit the export of war materials. In September, export of iron and scrap steel to resource-poor Japan was prohibited.  On September 27, 1940, Japan signed the Tripartite Pact, becoming allies with Germany and Italy (“Axis Powers”.)  On October 16, FDR imposed an embargo on all exports of steel ans scrap iron to any destination other than Britain and Western Hemisphere nations.

On July 26, 1941, FDR froze all Japanese assets in the United States. A week later, he embargoed all oil exports to Japan.  British and Dutch oil embargoes from their Asian colonies to Japan were also put into effect.

On Dec 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

The 20’s and 30’s — Presidents

2-15-19 (Almost President’s Day.)

We take a peek at our Presidents between WWI and WWII. Why? Beacuse the tapestry of history is woven with many threads.

1916    Democrat Woodrow Wilson was narrowly elected to a second term.  He campaigned on keeping US out of the War, but by 1917 we could no longer remain neutral and he asked Congress (4/2/17) to declare war on Germany.  After Germany signed the Armistice Treaty (11/18), he went to Paris to work on Peace Initiatives. He later presented the Treaty of Versailles (which included the founding of the League of Nations) to Congress.  The election of 1918 had shifted congressional power to the Republicans.  The Senate did not ratify the treaty of Versailles, thus they rejected US participation in the League of Nations.

1920  Republican Warren Harding was elected President in a landslide after a campaign to “return US to normalcy.” In his tenure a “trade war” resulted in high tariffs on imports, tax cuts favoring the wealthy and corporations were rolled out, and immigration was substantially curtailed.  Harding died of an apparent heart attack while in a hotel in San Francisco on 8/1/23.  Vice President Calvin Coolidge was sworn in.

1924  Republican Calvin Coolidge was elected and continued to lead the country through the Roaring 20’s.  His belief in Small Government and Private Enterprise led to further reducing taxes, rolled-back government spending, and appointing of corporate-minded Department Secretaries.  In August 1927, Coolidge announced he would not run for reelection.

1928   Republican Herbert Hoover was elected in another landslide. He took office in the Great Depression (which started on October 24, 1929).  Hoover, a firm believer in limited government and strong capitalism, vetoed several bills that would have provided direct relief to struggling citizens.  In his 1930 State of the Union address he proclaimed, “Prosperity cannot be restored by raids on the public Treasury.”  He carried only six states in the 1932 election.

1932  Democrat Franklin Roosevelt was elected in a landslide after running on a “New Deal” of reform and economic relief programs. He was re-elected by landslides in: 1936, (and to a third term) in 1940 and (a fourth term) in 1944.

Policy flip-flops between “progressive” and “conservative” Presidencies and Congresses had a powerful impact not only on American lives and domestic policies; they directly affected international developments as the world crept toward the Second World War.  Treaties, promises, “secret pacts and gentlemen’s agreements” and international trade policies between reigning American and Japanese leaders were enacted; only to be flopped by the next administration.  Japan signed the Treaty of Versailles; we did not.  Japan joined the League of Nations (predecessor to the U.N.); we did not.  Our import tariffs directly affected the Japanese economy.

These and many more examples exacerbated the rising tension between America and Japan during the lead-up to World War II.  It is important to note that America leaned into increasing Isolationism in the years after WWI. Japan, meanwhile, was growing as an industrial power with a strong leaning toward Expansionism and Militarism. 

Japan enters WWI

2-9-19

Japan had allied itself with Great Britain in 1902 (to counteract the Russian push into Manchuria). In the early days of WWI, Japan resisted pleas from England for naval help in the Pacific and South China Seas. They offered to help if England agreed that Japan could take possession of German territories in the Pacific.

As the war progressed, Japan did help Great Britain on numerous occasions, including sending a task force of ships to the Mediterranean for convoy escort assistance. (British ships in and around Malta were getting clobbered by German U-boats.) During this time, the rest of the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked and quickly overwhelmed the German occupied Micronesian island nations: the Carolines, the Marshalls, and the Marianas (except for Guam, which the United States won in the Spanish American War of 1894.) (Don’t forget that we also bought the Philippines from Spain – a sore spot for Japan.)

Japan had gained international recognition as a world power for her roles in the War. She joined the League of Nations, which was created by the Allies’ Treaty of Versailles. The Treaty was mostly about punishing Germany and her allies, redrawing political borders, forcing Germany to reduce her military capabilities, and demanding reparations. Japan was awarded by “Mandate” the Pacific Island groups she captured from Germany. All those islands were to become the bloody battlegrounds of the Pacific War just a few decades later.

I’d like to quickly touch upon a complicated (and hot button) issue: Race and Religion played a very touchy role in Japanese and Western (European) relations. Neither the U.S. or Japan is blameless in this on-going, long, slow burn. I could spend a couple of blogs walking us through this, but I think that would be counter-productive. Suffice it to say that the issues of race and religion and immigration helped fan the flames that led up to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Next up: we’ll take a peek at the Turbulent 20’s and 30’s and deterioriating relations between America and Japan.

Steve


Mad Dash for Conquest

2-2-19

I am tremendously over-simplifying all this:

Commodore Perry arm-twisted Japan into signing it’s first-ever treaty (trade agreement) with any country in 1854.  The rest of the 19th century was a mad-dash of western expansion into the East.  Everyone wanted a piece of China, Japan, Korea and anyplace else they could buy, grab or conquer.  Japan, in the period known as the Meiji Restoration of that half-century, began a steady rise of industrial, commercial and military power.  The Japanese were also driven by empire-building and by the end of the century staked claims on Korea and Manchuria. In 1894 Japan declared war on China (First Sino-Japanese War). In 1904, Japan declared war on Russia (over who would claim Manchuria).  (Japan was willing to cede Manchuria to Russia in exchange for Russia ceding Korea to Japan.  Russia was not.)

Japan declared war on Russia on Feb. 8, 1904.  But, three hours before Russia knew they were at war, The Japanese Imperial Navy attacked the Russian fleet anchored at the Manchurian fort Port Arthur. (Sound familiar?) Over the next year, both the Russian Navy and Army were vanquished.  It was a complete victory for Japan.  Thoroughly-shocked Russia sued for peace.

President Theodore Roosevelt offered to host a peace conference mediation between the two countries, which resulted in the Treaty of Portsmouth (N.H.) in 1904. Roosevelt    (who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work), sided with Russia on a major sticking point. (He was threading a needle over which “frenemy” would end up with more power in Asia.) Japan won every land and sea battle and sued for reparations from Russia.  Roosevelt took that off the table, and the Treaty was signed with no reparations.  The people of Japan were outraged by this unforseen turn of events.  The day after the treaty was signed,  the people of Japan erupted in anti-American riots in Tokyo, resulting in widespread damage over the next three days.  Martial law was imposed.

More threads in the tapestry.

 

Japan Meets the U.S. Navy – Round 1

1-27-19

On July 8, 1853, a group of four American warships under the command of Commodore Matthew Perry (brother of the War of 1812 hero Oliver H. Perry), steamed into Edo (Tokyo) Harbor.  Perry had a letter signed by President Millard Fillmore demanding that Japan open up channels of trade (including access to “coaling stations” for our steamships).  Perry spent days at anchor firing cannons and parading hundreds of Marines doing drills on shore. He was finally allowed to the make a presentation to the ruling Shogunate.  He presented the letter and promised he would return shortly for a reply.  Perry returned on February 13, 1854 in a task force of 10 warships and 1600 men.  After weeks of negotiations, Perry and the Japanese Shogunate signed the Treaty of Kanagawa, in which all American demands were agreed-to.  Before leaving Japanese waters, Perry went to the Ryukyu Islands (not yet part of Japan) and got his “compact between the United States and the Ryukyu Kingdom” signed on July 11, 1854.

Eighty eight years before Pearl Harbor.

We’ll continue to look at some of the highlights of U.S. / Japan interactions leading up to the Day that will live on in Infamy.  Fascinating stuff – as the events of just-before WWI, just-after WWI and the years leading up the WWII are all part of the fabric of the attack on Pearl Harbor.