Tag Archives: Japan

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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President Roosevelt’s Failure to Heed Intelligence Alerts About Pearl Harbor Was Significant

This installment of my leadership and success series is excerpted from my forthcoming book, “The Pearl Harbor Congressional Cover-Up.”  It illustrates the need for effective leadership to timely and accurately evaluate information intercepted from hostile sources.  The book is based in large part on the July 20, 1946 congressional report of a 10-member joint congressional committee, comprised of 6 Democrats and 4 Republicans, which investigated the December 7, 1941 attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii by air and naval forces of Imperial Japan.  The report, by an 8-2 vote (the Majority), exonerated President Roosevelt and other high ranking Washington officials of responsibility for the attack.   The two dissenters (the Minority) argued that, inter alia, President Roosevelt’s failure to heed the “bomb plot” intelligence alerts which forecast Pearl Harbor as a target were largely responsible for the unpreparedness of the United States for the attack.

Beginning September 24, 1941, several intercepted and decoded secret Japanese war plans messages indicated ships in Pearl Harbor were marked for attack; little information was passed on to Hawaiian commanders. The September 24, 1941 “Bomb Plot Message” and other related messages which followed it, revealed detailed information about Japan’s strategic interest in Pearl Harbor. The message was delivered to President Roosevelt and other high Washington officials on October 9, 1941.  The intercepted September and November 1941 “Bomb Plot” messages were of singular importance in revealing Japan’s intentions to target Pearl Harbor for an attack.

One of the Joint Committee members, Representative Frank Keefe (R-WI), described the relevance of the messages clearly and precisely: “The “bomb plot” or “ships in harbor” message, and those messages relating to Pearl Harbor which followed it, meant that the ships of the Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor were marked for a Japanese attack. No other American harbor was divided into sub areas by Japan. In no other area did Japan seek information as to whether two or more vessels were alongside the same wharf. Prior to this message Japanese espionage in Hawaii was directed to ascertain the general hereabouts of the American Fleet, whether at sea or in port. With this message Japan inaugurated a new policy directed to Pearl Harbor and to no other place, in which information was no longer sought merely as to the general whereabouts of the Fleet, but as to the presence of particular ships in particular areas of the harbor. In the period immediately preceding the attack Japan required such reports even when there was no movement of ships in and out of Pearl Harbor. The reports which Japan thus sought and received had a useful purpose only in planning and executing an attack upon the ships in port. These reports were not just the work of enthusiastic local spies gathering meticulous details in an excess of zeal. They were the product of instructions emanating from the government of Japan in Tokyo. Officers of the high command in Washington have admitted before us that this message, if correctly evaluated, meant an attack on ships of the Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor.”

The two dissenting Senators put it quite succinctly:  “The probability that the Pacific Fleet would be attacked at Pearl Harbor was clear from the “bomb plot” available in Washington as early as October 9, 1941, and related Japanese messages…The “bomb plot” message, and those messages relating to Pearl Harbor which followed it, meant that the ships of the Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor were marked for a Japanese attack.  No other American harbor was divided into subareas by Japan.  And no other American harbor had such a large share of the fleet to protect…On October 9th, 1941… Lieutenant Commander Kramer of Naval Intelligence in Washington promptly distributed the “bomb plot” message to the President, the Secretary of the Navy, the Chief of Naval Operations, the Director of Naval Communications, the Director of War Plans, and the Director of Naval Intelligence…”

Interestingly, buried in enumeration No. 10 of Supervisory, Administrative, and Organizational Deficiencies in the Military and Naval Establishments Revealed by the Pearl Harbor Investigation, as reported by the Committee members voting with the Majority, was the following remarkable finding, not only clearly revealing the Majority’s inconsistency but underscoring the highly important intelligence referred to above: “Washington and Hawaii possessed unusually significant and vital intelligence.  Had greater imagination and a keener awareness of the significance of intelligence existed, concentrating and applying it to particular situations, it is proper to suggest that someone should have concluded that Pearl Harbor was a likely point of Japanese attack.”

This was a telling admission by the Majority, that the lack of greater imagination and awareness of the significance of the intelligence in the hands of Washington and Hawaii caused the intercepted messages not to have been interpreted to signify that an attack on Pearl Harbor was being planned.  It was as close as the Majority came to admitting that the attack on Pearl Harbor was foreseeable, as the Minority claimed.  Note that the Majority failed to specify exactly what information was in the hands of Hawaii which led to this conclusion, because the record before the Committee showed that Hawaii had no such information.  That leaves unspecified personnel in Washington as being responsible for the lack of imagination and awareness.

The Minority’s summary of those civil and military authorities failing to perform the responsibilities indispensably essential to the defense of Pearl Harbor lists President Roosevelt at the top.  Undoubtedly, the President’s apparent failure to be alert as to the significance of the “bomb plot” messages was in large part at the heart of this summary.

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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