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The history of catastrophically murderous and stupid warfare that the United States can memorialize on Memorial Day dates back to Day 1 and earlier, begins with the genocide of the native inhabitants of the land, the invasions of Canada, etc., and from that day to this too many deadly escapades to list.
But one way in which the U.S. government gets itself into major crusades of mass killing is by hearing what it wants to hear. It even goes to the extent of allowing top U.S. government officials, sometimes briefly out the revolving door of public “service,” to work in the pay and service of foreign nations pushing war propaganda on the U.S. public.
James Bradley’s new book is called The China Mirage: The Hidden History of American Disaster in China. It’s well worth a read. For years leading up to World War II, the China Lobby in the United States persuaded the U.S. public, and many top U.S. officials, that the Chinese people all wanted to become Christian, that Chaing Kai-shek was their beloved democratic leader rather than the faltering fascist he was, that Mao Zedong was an insignificant nobody headed nowhere, that the United States could fund Chaing Kai-shek and he would use the funding to fight the Japanese, as opposed to using it to fight Mao, and that the United States could impose a crippling embargo on Japan without any Japanese military response.
For years leading up to at least the brink of World War III, the Israel Lobby in the United States has persuaded the United States that Israel is a democracy rather than an Apartheid state with rights based on religious identity. The United States, which has just derailed plans at the United Nations for a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free Middle East, and done so at the behest of nuclear Israel, has been following Israel’s catastrophic lead in Iraq, Syria, Iran, and the rest of the region, chasing the mirage of a democratic law-abiding Israel that is no more real than that of the Christian-Americanized China that eventually had the U.S. identifying the little island of Taiwan as “the real China.”
The mirage that contributed to the “new Pearl Harbor” of 911, in other words, is not entirely unlike the mirage that contributed to Pearl Harbor itself. The U.S. thinking of China as an extension of the United States, while knowing nothing about China and actually forbidding anyone Chinese from entering the country, did more harm to the world than imagining Israel as the 51st state has yet accomplished. Give it time.
Bradley’s new book, in the early sections, covers more quickly some of the same ground as his remarkable The Imperial Cruise, still very much worth reading — including the U.S. militarization of Japan and Theodore Roosevelt’s encouragement of Japanese imperialism. The new book covers, better than I’ve seen anywhere else, the history of how many of the wealthiest individuals and institutions of the East Coast United States in the 19th century got their money — including Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s grandfather’s money — by illegally selling opium in China. The opium trade led to the opium wars and to the British and U.S. attacks on and occupation of pieces of China, making use of early versions of what the U.S. now calls in most nations on earth “Status of Forces Agreements.”
The U.S. flooded China with drug dealers, traders of other commodities, and Christian missionaries, the latter far less successful than the others, converting very few people. A leading missionary admitted that in 10 years he had converted 10 Chinese people to Christianity. With an eye on Chinese and Southeast Asian trade, the United States built the Panama Canal and took over the Philippines, Guam, Hawaii, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. With an eye on keeping Russia away from profitable Pacific trade, President Theodore Roosevelt supported Japanese expansion into Korea and China, and negotiated “peace” between Japan and Russia while secretly consulting with Japan every step of the way. (Another echo of the Palestinian “peace process” in which the U.S. is on Israel’s side and “neutral.”) T.R. was given a Nobel Peace Prize for the deed, about which award presumably not a single Korean or Chinese person was consulted. When Woodrow Wilson refused to meet with non-white Hoh Chi Minh in Paris, he also took part in handing over to Japan the colonies previously claimed by Germany in China, enraging the Chinese, including Mao. The seeds of future wars are small but perfectly discernable.
The U.S. government slant would soon shift from Japan to China. The image of the noble and Christian Chinese peasant was driven by people like the Trinity (later Duke) and Vanderbilt educated Charlie Soong, his daughters Ailing, Chingling, and Mayling, and son Tse-ven (T.V.), as well as Mayling’s husband Chaing Kai-shek, Henry Luce who started Time magazine after being born in a missionary colony in China, and Pearl Buck who wrote The Good Earth after the same type of childhood. TV Soong hired retired U.S. Army Air Corps colonel John Jouett and by 1932 had access to all the expertise of the U.S. Army Air Corps and had nine instructors, a flight surgeon, four mechanics, and a secretary, all U.S. Air Corps trained but now working for Soong in China. It was just the start of U.S. military assistance to China that made less news in the United States than it did in Japan.
In 1938, with Japan attacking Chinese cities, and Chaing barely fighting back, Chaing instructed his chief propagandist Hollington Tong, a former Columbia University journalism student, to send agents to the United States to recruit U.S. missionaries and give them evidence of Japanese atrocities, to hire Frank Price (Mayling’s favorite missionary), and to recruit U.S. reporters and authors to write favorable articles and books. Frank Price and his brother Harry Price had been born in China, without ever encountering the China of the Chinese. The Price brothers set up shop in New York City, where few had any idea they were working for the Soong-Chaing gang. Mayling and Tong assigned them to persuade Americans that the key to peace in China was an embargo on Japan. They created the American Committee for Non-Participation in Japanese Aggression. “The public never knew,” writes Bradley, “that the Manhattan missionaries diligently working on East Fortieth Street to save the Noble Peasants were paid China Lobby agents engaged in what were possibly illegal and treasonous acts.”
I take Bradley’s point to be not that Chinese peasants are not necessarily noble, and not that Japan wasn’t guilty of aggression, but that the propaganda campaign convinced most Americans that Japan would not attack the United States if the United States cut off oil and metal to Japan — which was false in the view of informed observers and would be proved false in the course of events.
Former Secretary of State and future Secretary of War Henry Stimson became chair of the committee, which quickly added former heads of Harvard, Union Theological Seminary, the Church Peace Union, the World Alliance for International Friendship, the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America, the Associate Boards of Christian Colleges in China, etc. Stimson and gang were paid by China to claim Japan would never attack the United States if embargoed — a claim dismissed by those in the know in the State Department and White House, but a claim made at a time when the United States had virtually no real communication with Japan.
The public’s desire to stop arming Japan’s assaults on China seems admirable to me and resonates with my desire that the U.S. stop arming Saudi Arabia’s assault on Yemen, to take one example of dozens. But talking could have preceded an embargo. Setting aside the racist and religious filters in order to see the reality on the ground in China would have helped. Refraining from the threatening moves of the U.S. Navy, moving ships to Hawaii and building airstrips on Pacific Islands could have helped. The anti-war choices were far wider than economic antagonization of Japan and non-communicative insults to Japanese honor.
But by February 1940, Bradley writes, 75% of Americans supported embargoing Japan. And most Americans, of course, did not want war. They had bought the China Lobby’s propaganda.
FDR and his Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau set up front companies and loans to Chaing, going behind the back of Secretary of State Cordell Hull. FDR, it seems, was not just catering to the China Lobby but truly believed its story — at least up to a point. His own mother, who had lived in a U.S. bit of China as a child with her opium-pushing father, was honorary chairwoman of both the China Aid Council and the American Committee for Chinese War Orphans. FDR’s wife was honorary chairwoman of Pearl Buck’s China Emergency Relief Committee. Two thousand U.S. labor unions backed an embargo on Japan. The first economic advisor to a U.S. president, Lauchlin Currie, worked for both FDR and the Bank of China simultaneously. Syndicated columnist and Roosevelt relative Joe Alsop cashed checks from TV Soong as an “advisor” even while performing his service as “objective journalist.” “No British, Russian, French, or Japanese diplomat,” writes Bradley, “would have believed that Chaing could become a New Deal liberal.” But FDR seems to have believed it. He communicated with Chaing and Mayling secretly, going around his own State Department.
Yet FDR believed that if embargoed, Japan would attack the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) with the possible result of a wider world war. Morgenthau, in Bradley’s telling, repeatedly tried to slip through a total embargo on petroleum to Japan, while FDR resisted. FDR did move the fleet to Pearl Harbor, impose a partial embargo on aviation-fuel and scrap, and loan money to Chaing. The Soong-Chaing syndicate also worked with the FDR White House to create a U.S.-funded, U.S.-trained, and U.S.-staffed air force for China to use in attacking Japanese cities. When FDR asked his advisor Tommy Corcoran to check out the leader of this new air force, former U.S. Air Corps captain Claire Chennault, he may have been unaware that he was asking someone in the pay of TV Soong to advise him on someone else in the pay of TV Soong.
Bradley says that FDR kept his Asian air war scheme secret from the U.S. public. Yet, on May 24, 1941, the New York Times reported on U.S. training of the Chinese air force, and the provision of “numerous fighting and bombing planes” to China by the United States. “Bombing of Japanese Cities is Expected,” read the subheadline. This may have been “kept secret” in the sense in which Obama’s kill list is secret despite appearing in the New York Times. It’s not endlessly discussed because it doesn’t fit well into happy little narratives. The “first draft of history” is always very selectively entered into history books that survive into future decades.
But Bradley is right that this was no secret from Japan. And he includes something I don’t remember knowing before, namely that Chennault admitted that when a ship carrying his pilots left San Francisco for Asia in July 1941, his men heard a Japanese radio broadcast boast, “That ship will never reach China. It will be sunk.” Also in July, FDR approved a Lend-Lease program for China: 269 more fighters and 66 bombers, and froze Japanese assets. All of this was part of longer and wider trends that Bradley could have developed more fully. But he offers some interesting details and a curious interpretation of them, concluding that Assistant Secretary of State Dean Acheson catapulted the United States into World War II by maneuvering to deny any U.S. oil to Japan for a month, beginning while FDR was off conspiring with Winston Churchill on a boat and creating what would be called the Atlantic Charter.
In Bradley’s account Hull learns of the embargo, a month in, on September 4, 1941, and informs FDR that day. But they elect to leave it unchanged as somehow undoing it would somehow be seen as allowing Japan to get “more” oil than before. The embargo had by this point been public news in Japan for a month. FDR had access to reports on Japanese news, as well as to decoded secret Japanese government communications, not to mention that he met with the Japanese ambassador in the interim. Were communications really not advanced in 1941 beyond what they were when Texas took so long to learn that slavery had ended?
In any case, when Japan saw the embargo lasting, it did not move toward moderate democracy as the China Lobby had always said would happen. Instead it became a military dictatorship. Meanwhile Time magazine was publicly hoping that a U.S. and British war on the side of China would persuade the Chinese to convert to Christianity. The parallel in the Israel Lobby is of course the Christian fanatics who believe that Israel is leading the way toward some magically prophesied future of desirable catastrophe.
Mayling Soong’s speech to the U.S. Congress in February 1943 rivaled Bibi Netanyahu’s of 2015 for mass adoration, delusion, and devotion to a fraudulent foreign power. The delusion would continue for generations. The Catholic Vietnam Lobby would get in on the game. The U.S. wouldn’t recognize Mao’s China until it had been reduced to making Richard Nixon its president. For the full account, I recommend Bradley’s book.
Yet I think the book has some gaps. It doesn’t seek to touch on FDR’s desire for war on Germany, nor on the value to him and his administration of a Japanese attack as the key to entering both the Atlantic and the Pacific wars. What follows I have written about before.
What Was FDR’s Game?
On December 7, 1941, FDR drew up a declaration of war on both Japan and Germany, but decided it wouldn’t work and went with Japan alone. Germany, as expected, quickly declared war on the United States.
FDR had tried lying to the American people about U.S. ships including the Greer and the Kerny, which had been helping British planes track German submarines, but which Roosevelt pretended had been innocently attacked.
Roosevelt had also lied that he had in his possession a secret Nazi map planning the conquest of South America, as well as a secret Nazi plan for replacing all religions with Nazism.
As of December 6, 1941, eighty percent of the U.S. public opposed entering a war. But Roosevelt had already instituted the draft, activated the National Guard, created a huge Navy in two oceans, traded old destroyers to England in exchange for the lease of its bases in the Caribbean and Bermuda, and secretly ordered the creation of a list of every Japanese and Japanese-American person in the United States.
On April 28, 1941, Churchill wrote a secret directive to his war cabinet: “It may be taken as almost certain that the entry of Japan into the war would be followed by the immediate entry of the United States on our side.”
On August 18, 1941, Churchill met with his cabinet at 10 Downing Street. The meeting had some similarity to the July 23, 2002, meeting at the same address, the minutes of which became known as the Downing Street Minutes. Both meetings revealed secret U.S. intentions to go to war. In the 1941 meeting, Churchill told his cabinet, according to the minutes: “The President had said he would wage war but not declare it.” In addition, “Everything was to be done to force an incident.”
From the mid-1930s U.S. peace activists — those people so annoyingly right about recent U.S. wars — were marching against U.S. antagonization of Japan and U.S. Navy plans for war on Japan — the March 8, 1939, version of which described “an offensive war of long duration” that would destroy the military and disrupt the economic life of Japan.
In January 1941, the Japan Advertiser expressed its outrage over Pearl Harbor in an editorial, and the U.S. ambassador to Japan wrote in his diary: “There is a lot of talk around town to the effect that the Japanese, in case of a break with the United States, are planning to go all out in a surprise mass attack on Pearl Harbor. Of course I informed my government.”
On February 5, 1941, Rear Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner wrote to Secretary of War Henry Stimson to warn of the possibility of a surprise attack at Pearl Harbor.
As noted, as early as 1932 the United States had been talking with China about providing airplanes, pilots, and training for its war with Japan. In November 1940, Roosevelt loaned China one hundred million dollars for war with Japan, and after consulting with the British, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau made plans to send the Chinese bombers with U.S. crews to use in bombing Tokyo and other Japanese cities.
On December 21, 1940, China’s Minister of Finance T.V. Soong and Colonel Claire Chennault, the retired U.S. Army flier who was working for the Chinese and had been urging them to use American pilots to bomb Tokyo since at least 1937, met in Henry Morgenthau’s dining room to plan the firebombing of Japan. Morgenthau said he could get men released from duty in the U.S. Army Air Corps if the Chinese could pay them $1,000 per month. Soong agreed.
By July, the Joint Army-Navy Board had approved a plan called JB 355 to firebomb Japan. A front corporation would buy American planes to be flown by American volunteers trained by Chennault and paid by another front group. Roosevelt approved, and his China expert Lauchlin Currie, in the words of Nicholson Baker, “wired Madame Chaing Kai-Shek and Claire Chennault a letter that fairly begged for interception by Japanese spies.” Whether or not that was the entire point, this was the letter: “I am very happy to be able to report today the President directed that sixty-six bombers be made available to China this year with twenty-four to be delivered immediately. He also approved a Chinese pilot training program here. Details through normal channels. Warm regards.”
The 1st American Volunteer Group (AVG) of the Chinese Air Force, also known as the Flying Tigers (logo later designed by Walt Disney, as Bradley notes), moved ahead with recruitment and training immediately and were provided to China prior to Pearl Harbor.
On May 31, 1941, at the Keep America Out of War Congress, William Henry Chamberlin gave a dire warning: “A total economic boycott of Japan, the stoppage of oil shipments for instance, would push Japan into the arms of the Axis. Economic war would be a prelude to naval and military war.”
On July 24, 1941, President Roosevelt remarked, “If we cut the oil off , [the Japanese] probably would have gone down to the Dutch East Indies a year ago, and you would have had a war. It was very essential from our own selfish point of view of defense to prevent a war from starting in the South Pacific. So our foreign policy was trying to stop a war from breaking out there.” Reporters noticed that Roosevelt said “was” rather than “is.” The next day, Roosevelt issued an executive order freezing Japanese assets. The United States and Britain cut off oil and scrap metal to Japan, whether Acheson actually sneaked this past Roosevelt or not. Radhabinod Pal, an Indian jurist who served on the war crimes tribunal after the war, called the embargoes a “clear and potent threat to Japan’s very existence,” and concluded the United States had provoked Japan.
On August 7, 1941, the Japan Times Advertiser wrote: “First there was the creation of a superbase at Singapore, heavily reinforced by British and Empire troops. From this hub a great wheel was built up and linked with American bases to form a great ring sweeping in a great area southwards and westwards from the Philippines through Malaya and Burma, with the link broken only in the Thailand peninsula. Now it is proposed to include the narrows in the encirclement, which proceeds to Rangoon.”
By September the Japanese press was outraged that the United States had begun shipping oil right past Japan to reach Russia. Japan, its newspapers said, was dying a slow death from “economic war.”
In late October, U.S. spy Edgar Mower was doing work for Colonel William Donovan who spied for Roosevelt. Mower spoke with a man in Manila named Ernest Johnson, a member of the Maritime Commission, who said he expected “The Japs will take Manila before I can get out.” When Mower expressed surprise, Johnson replied “Didn’t you know the Jap fleet has moved eastward, presumably to attack our fleet at Pearl Harbor?”
On November 3, 1941, the U.S. ambassador sent a lengthy telegram to the State Department warning that the economic sanctions might force Japan to commit “national hara-kiri.” He wrote: “An armed conflict with the United States may come with dangerous and dramatic suddenness.”
On November 15th, U.S. Army Chief of Staff George Marshall briefed the media on something we do not remember as “the Marshall Plan.” In fact we don’t remember it at all. “We are preparing an offensive war against Japan,” Marshall said, asking the journalists to keep it a secret, which as far as I know they dutifully did.
Ten days later Secretary of War Stimson wrote in his diary that he’d met in the Oval Office with Marshall, President Roosevelt, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, Admiral Harold Stark, and Secretary of State Cordell Hull. Roosevelt had told them the Japanese were likely to attack soon, possibly next Monday.
It has been well documented that the United States had broken the Japanese’ codes and that Roosevelt had access to them. It was through intercept of a so-called Purple code message that Roosevelt had discovered Germany’s plans to invade Russia. It was Hull who leaked a Japanese intercept to the press, resulting in the November 30, 1941, headline “Japanese May Strike Over Weekend.”
That next Monday would have been December 1st, six days before the attack actually came. “The question,” Stimson wrote, “was how we should maneuver them into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves. It was a difficult proposition.”
The day after the attack, Congress voted for war. Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin (R., Mont.) stood alone in voting no. One year after the vote, on December 8, 1942, Rankin put extended remarks into the Congressional Record explaining her opposition. She cited the work of a British propagandist who had argued in 1938 for using Japan to bring the United States into the war. She cited Henry Luce’s reference in Life magazine on July 20, 1942, to “the Chinese for whom the U.S. had delivered the ultimatum that brought on Pearl Harbor.” She introduced evidence that at the Atlantic Conference on August 12, 1941, Roosevelt had assured Churchill that the United States would bring economic pressure to bear on Japan. “I cited,” Rankin later wrote, ” the State Department Bulletin of December 20, 1941, which revealed that on September 3 a communication had been sent to Japan demanding that it accept the principle of ‘nondisturbance of the status quo in the Pacific,’ which amounted to demanding guarantees of the inviolateness of the white empires in the Orient.”
Rankin found that the Economic Defense Board had gotten economic sanctions under way less than a week after the Atlantic Conference. On December 2, 1941, the New York Times had reported, in fact, that Japan had been “cut off from about 75 percent of her normal trade by the Allied blockade.” Rankin also cited the statement of Lieutenant Clarence E. Dickinson, U.S.N., in theSaturday Evening Post of October 10, 1942, that on November 28, 1941, nine days before the attack, Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., (he of the catchy slogan “Kill Japs! Kill Japs!” ) had given instructions to him and others to “shoot down anything we saw in the sky and to bomb anything we saw on the sea.”
General George Marshall admitted as much to Congress in 1945: that the codes had been broken, that the United States had initiated Anglo-Dutch-American agreements for unified action against Japan and put them into effect before Pearl Harbor, and that the United States had provided officers of its military to China for combat duty before Pearl Harbor.
An October 1940 memorandum by Lieutenant Commander Arthur H. McCollum was acted on by President Roosevelt and his chief subordinates. It called for eight actions that McCollum predicted would lead the Japanese to attack, including arranging for the use of British bases in Singapore and for the use of Dutch bases in what is now Indonesia, aiding the Chinese government, sending a division of long-range heavy cruisers to the Philippines or Singapore, sending two divisions of submarines to “the Orient,” keeping the main strength of the fleet in Hawaii, insisting that the Dutch deny the Japanese oil, and embargoing all trade with Japan in collaboration with the British Empire.
The day after McCollum’s memo, the State Department told Americans to evacuate far eastern nations, and Roosevelt ordered the fleet kept in Hawaii over the strenuous objection of Admiral James O. Richardson who quoted the President as saying “Sooner or later the Japanese would commit an overt act against the United States and the nation would be willing to enter the war.”
The message that Admiral Harold Stark sent to Admiral Husband Kimmel on November 28, 1941, read, “IF HOSTILITIES CANNOT REPEAT CANNOT BE AVOIDED THE UNITED STATES DESIRES THAT JAPAN COMMIT THE FIRST OVERT ACT.”
Joseph Rochefort, cofounder of the Navy’s communication intelligence section, who was instrumental in failing to communicate to Pearl Harbor what was coming, would later comment: “It was a pretty cheap price to pay for unifying the country.”
The night after the attack, President Roosevelt had CBS News’s Edward R. Murrow and Roosevelt’s Coordinator of Information William Donovan over for dinner at the White House, and all the President wanted to know was whether the American people would now accept war. Donovan and Murrow assured him the people would indeed accept war now. Donovan later told his assistant that Roosevelt’s surprise was not that of others around him, and that he, Roosevelt, welcomed the attack. Murrow was unable to sleep that night and was plagued for the rest of his life by what he called “the biggest story of my life” which he never told.