Tag Archives: China

Cordell Hull’s Historic Blunder – A Primer on the Failure of Leadership

This installment of my series on leadership and success is excerpted from my new book, “The Pearl Harbor Congressional Cover-Up – A True Account of How a Partisan Congress Misled the American People on the Pearl Harbor Attack,December 7. 1941. Featuring Historic Lessons on the Failure of Leadership to Foresee the Attack and to Avert War with Japan.” It is available on Amazon.

On November 26, 1941, Secretary of State Cordell Hull stood at the gates of history, a step away from becoming a diplomatic legend. What followed instead was catastrophic. Hull’s failure to avoid the unspeakable horrors of war with Japan and its enormous consequences is described in the book. It was a war marked by a devastating human toll and immense financial costs. Hull’s aborted November 1941 diplomatic efforts in abandoning the modus vivendi proposal to Japan for a 3-month truce is a lesson in the failure of accountability for all those who aspire to leadership, for no one can become a successful leader without being fully accountable for her/her actions.  This failure, marked by Hull’s admission that he was turning the whole thing over the the Army and Navy, effectively amounted to his “throwing in the towel.”  It was a total failure in accountability for America’s top diplomat, a failure to follow through and explore all avenues for peace, played out on a world scale.  His unfortunate lack of vision at this most crucial moment in history may stamp him as one of the most shortsighted, even incompetent, secretaries of state to ever hold office.

The scuttling of the modus vivendi and the substitution of Hull’s November 26 memorandum, considered by the Japanese to be an ultimatum, was followed 11 days later by the attack on Pearl Harbor, a result it may be observed, consonant with the Administration’s previously adopted policy of waiting for Japan to strike the first blow.  This course of events may never have come to pass had there been vision by Hull in those dark days of November, 1941.  There was simply too much at stake in terms of averting the prospect of total war not to have fully explored all possible avenues of peace.

The onus for Hull’s failure also falls on President Roosevelt for not following through on his hand written blue print for a modus vivendi which had been personally delivered to Hull some days earlier, likely on November 20 after receiving the Japanese proposal on that date.

A press release was issued by the White House on December 1, 1943, following a conference in North Africa attended by President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek.  The press release stated in part that, “The Three Great Allies expressed their resolve to bring unrelenting pressure against their brutal enemies by sea, land and air…The Three Great Allies are fighting this war to restrain and punish the aggression of Japan… It is their purpose that Japan shall be stripped … of all territories she has taken by violence and greed…With these objects in view the Three Allies…will continue to persevere in the serious and prolonged operations necessary to procure the unconditional surrender of Japan.”   This press release constituted mute evidence of the daunting task faced by the Allies in 1943 in fighting the war with Japan.

Arnold G. Regardie

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Explore All Options To Be Fully Acclountable

In this installment of our leadership and success series, we explore the fateful November 26, 1941 decision of Secretary of State Cordell Hull to abruptly scuttle what was intended as a 3-month truce arrangement with Japan, and the consequent failure to avert the war which necessarily followed.

The period from August 1941, to December 7, 1941, saw the United States and Japan continue the ongoing discussions to resolve their differences in the face of the growing Japanese threat in the Far East. These conversations had disclosed three crucial points of difference: nondiscrimination in international trade, withdrawal of Japanese troops from China, and Japan’s obligations under the Tripartite Pact, concluded in September 1940 with Germany and Italy.

The growing tension in the course of diplomatic negotiations between the United States and Japan during the months preceding December 7, 1941, led to the modus vivendi proposal, essentially a 3-month status quo arrangement between the United States and Japan to tide the parties over while they continued to talk. Under discussion in November, 1941, it was intended to prevent a breakdown in conversations and pave the way for an agreement covering the entire Pacific area. Securing urgently needed additional time for the United States to rearm was also a vital consideration. It was drafted as a reply to a Japanese proposal of November 20, 1941, but was abruptly abandoned by Secretary of State Cordell Hull and never submitted to the Japanese. Hull subsequently testified before a congressional committee investigating the Pearl Harbor attack that they would have rejected it. Instead Hull’s memo of November 26 was substituted calling, inter alia, for withdrawal of Japanese troops from China and Indochina. This memo was considered by the Japanese as an ultimatum and promptly rejected. The Pearl Harbor attack followed 11 days later, on December 7.

America’s allies (except China) remained interested in the proposal, as apparently was Japan based on inquiries made by Japanese officials at the time it was abandoned. This momentous decision was taken by Hull alone, without consultation with anyone, except Roosevelt, who, while apparently approving Hull’s decision, may have been distracted at that time by news of a Japanese naval convoy steaming southward in the South China Sea. No advance notification was provided by Hull to Army Chief of Staff George Marshall, or to Navy Chief of Naval Operations Harold Stark, both of whom had vigorously pushed for the modus vivendi as a means of securing vitally needed additional time to rearm.

However, an important potential bargaining chip in the negotiations, keeping the Burma Road open and free from Japanese assault, was overlooked when the proposal was abandoned. The Burma Road, China’s vital artery for supplies from the West, was of prime importance to China’s Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. His many entreaties to the United States and Great Britain for air support went unheeded. Keeping the Burma Road open was not only essential to China’s ability to hold off the Japanese but was a vitally important consideration to the United States and its allies as well. Its potential loss was not only a major concern for Chiang Kai-shek but, as admitted by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in an early November message to President Roosevelt, would “hugely augment” the danger to both countries’ interests.

Hull’s November 26, 1941 memorandum to the President recommended that, “In view of the opposition of the Chinese Government and either the half-hearted support or actual opposition of the British, the Netherlands and the Australian Governments, and in view of the wide publicity of the opposition and of the additional opposition that will naturally follow through utter lack of an understanding of the vast importance and value otherwise of the modus vivendi…I will withhold the modus vivendi proposal.”   Hull, as he put it, simply washed his hands of the whole affair and informed Secretary of War Henry Stimson that he was turning everything over to the Army and Navy.   Exhaustion and frustration may have played a significant factor in that decision, as well as his overlooking use of the Burma Road as a potential negotiating option.

Hull’s decision however must be balanced against the Netherlands support for the proposal which was expressed to Hull in a meeting with the Netherlands Minister on November 24.   The British also supported the proposal as Ambassador Lord Halifax had advised Hull.  In fact, Halifax was at a loss to understand why Hull was abandoning it.  Hull’s explanation that he only had the half-hearted support of the British was criticized by Halifax, who reminded Hull of the full British support.  He pointed out that Churchill’s comments, questioned by Hull as not supportive, did not signify lack of support but only concern for the Chinese objections.

Halifax reminded Welles that several days previously, Chiang had expressed concern about keeping the Burma Road open so as not to interrupt the continuous flow of critically needed supplies for China. Halifax specifically pointed out that he had reminded the Chinese Ambassador, Dr. Hu Shih, that only ten days ago Chiang was imploring the United States and British for aid to help keep the Burma Road open and that it seemed to him, Halifax, that the course proposed by Hull “gave positive assurances to the Chinese Government that the Burma Road would in fact be kept open if the modus vivendi agreement with Japan could be consummated.”

This significant conversation demonstrated that Halifax, a key member of a close United States ally, believed keeping the Burma Road open was implicit in the modus vivendi proposal.  He was partially right since it was explicitly provided for. Keeping the Burma Road safe from Japanese aggression had been in fact raised in the modus vivendi provision against Japanese aggression into Southeast Asia.  There is no evidence this was pointed out to Chiang, which might have eased his concerns about making concessions to Japan.  Counterbalancing what Hull termed the “chicken feed” concessions to Japan against providing for the potential defense of the Burma Road might have swayed Chiang to agree to the proposal.

Hull’s aborted November, 1941 diplomatic efforts in abandoning and not presenting the modus vivendi proposal to Japan is a lesson in the failure of accountability for all those who aspire to leadership. By not fully exploring all available options, Hull failed to possibly avert war with Japan, undoubtedly the primary responsibility of his office at the time.

This unfortunate chapter in the failure of American diplomacy is pursued in greater detail in my forthcoming book, “The Pearl Harbor Congressional Cover Up.”

Arnold G. Regardie

 

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BE A PRAGMATIC VISIONARY

In this installment of our leadership and success series, we turn to the oft-maligned presidency of Richard M. Nixon, whose reputation as a communist fighter followed him during much of his political life. Despite this reputation, while president, he had the foresight to pursue and then achieve what amounted to a critical turning point in the Cold War, historic goodwill meetings with China’s communist Chairman, Mao Tse-Tung, and Premier Chou Enlai. This February 1972 meeting opened the door to the political and economic recognition of “Red China,” a country which had been largely shunned internationally since the communist takeover of the mainland in 1949. The epic meeting, “the week that changed the world,” to describe Nixon’s final toast, truly changed relations with The People’s Republic of China – the world would never be the same thereafter.

Nixon’s trip to China was a masterstroke in foreign relations. But to describe Nixon as a visionary would be anathema to how most people would remember him. Some have speculated that the trip was motivated by Nixon’s hope to use better relations with China as a balance against the rising power of the Soviet Union. For over two decades America’s relationship with China had been best described as a frigid, even tense standoff with no contact and no trade of any moment. The absence of diplomatic recognition between the two countries was marked by America’s efforts to isolate China on the world stage. Regardless of the motivation, there was a sudden, dramatic change in the relationship between the two countries marking the unfolding of a new chapter in world history. Diplomats in two countries that had been engaged in open warfare against each other 20 years earlier in the Korean War, where General Douglas MacArthur had once threatened to lead his forces across the Yalu River into Chinese territory, were now drinking toasts to each other as personal contact and conversation replaced hostility amid the ebbing of tensions.

The transition in economic relations between the two countries can best be described as momentous, remarkable in scope. While economic information from the 70s is sketchy, it appears that in 1975 trade between the U.S. and China approximated $14 billion. By 2017 it had exploded to the staggering level of roughly $710 billion. This volume of trade is all the more amazing considering that China, with a communist government, had nevertheless pursued, and is still pursuing, a capitalist, free-market economy, an economy presently ranked second in the world only to that of the United States. The ongoing trade negotiations between the U.S. and China bear mute testimony to the growth of the Chinese economy, an economy, it should be added, which has also furthered a menacing growth in Chinese militarism, which is particularly evident in the South China Sea.

Nixon often appeared to be held in the grip of paranoia. The Watergate break-in, apparently motivated by his needless concern over the forthcoming election, is still considered by many political observers to have been a mystery in view of the fact he won reelection in 1972 in a landslide. His relations with the press could best be described as obsessive, sometimes intense and bordering on combative. But despite his personality quirks, he had the inner strength to cast aside his own personal dislike of communism and replace it with the foresight to recognize the potential political, diplomatic, and economic realities of a meaningful relationship with the world’s largest communist country, population wise.

Some pundits have argued that Nixon’s strength as president lay in his grasp of world politics. His rapprochement with the country once distained as “Red China” was a foreign policy triumph and went a long ways to proving that observation to be true. Any aspiring leader could learn from Nixon’s oft-repeated attitude in retirement, i.e., that only today and tomorrow matter; just look forward and have no recriminations over the past. To coin the refrain from an old ‘40s tune by legendary songwriter Johnny Mercer, “…accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative.”

Arnold G. Regardie

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