Monday, July 3, 2017

We Stand Pat With Japan . . . Just Four Months Before Pearl Harbor, 1941

Beasley’s Farm and Home Weekly, Charlotte, N.C., July 31, 1941. Knowing that the Japanese would attack Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, it’s interesting to read this article on U.S. relations with Japan four months earlier.

Why We Stand Pat With Japan…Her Threat Is Not Theoretical But Involves Material Things Already in Our Possession

Notes, reprimands and warnings have been going to Japan for some time. The last went Wednesday of this week in consequence of the narrow escape of a United States gunboat, the Tutuilla, on the Yangtze River, from Japanese bombs. The boat was where it had a right to be and if the bomb had not missed, the boat would have been blown up. “So sorry,” is the usual Japanese reply. This will not go any longer.

The meaning of all this is perfectly clear. The United States means business, and for a reason which Japan may have overlooked. There is a significant difference between the Far East and Europe. In the Far East the United States has actual possessions and existing, established, recognized territorial rights and responsibilities. The ban on use of “selectees” does not apply to the Philippines. The Philippines are a dependency of the United States which Washington is bound by treaty to protect and defend with its military forces.

Threat to Philippines

President Roosevelt is criticized for sending United States Marines and naval forces to Greenland on the ground that it is getting too far away from the United States. The Philippines are much farther. But they belong to America to defend, and the army and navy are already there. When Japan went into French Indo-China it was an immediate threat to the Philippines comparable with the threat which a German invasion of Canada would be to the United States itself.

Up until this latest Japanese move every effort has been made to leave a friendly path open for Japan to reconsider its ways and abandon its Axis alignment. But the moment it went into Indo-China everything changed here. It was the move advocates of firm action had been waiting for. It made the whole pattern of Japanese aggression too plain for any doubting. The countermeasures and counterpolicy were all ready and in order.

Japan has chosen to make the last threat and the last advance which can be made into the East Indies without war. Washington has been busy ever since making sure of two things:

A.      That if war comes American forces will have the Allies and strategic positions necessary to assure quick and certain victory.

B.      That Japan is under no illusions.

There is also a powerful positive retaliatory side of the matter. Even if Japan heeds the warning and stops where it is in Indo-China, the pressure of the American economic blockade, implemented by Britain and the Netherlands, will put an increasing strain on the existence of Japan itself.
The assumption in the background is, actually, that the economic blockade is going to force Japan to choose between war and retirement. The best estimates of the blockade’s effect on Japan are that it will be impossible for the Islands to maintain their present extended positions with all trade to the outside world shut off. They must break it by abandoning Indo-China and withdrawing from China itself. Or they can attempt to break it by war.

Washington is watching and waiting, prepared if Japan chooses to attack and confident that if Japan is so foolish as to decide on the course of war the outcome will be quick and disastrous for Japan. The Axis may have the big armies in Europe. But in the Far East, Japan is alone, surrounded now, by its own folly, with powerful Nations all thoroughly out of patience.

License System

Meanwhile there is still much uncertainty here as to what proportion of the Japanese trade with the United States will be permitted to continue. The technical effect of the order freezing Japanese assets is not to stop trade, but to put trade under complete government control. A licensing system has already been set up. What licenses are granted and how much trade is licenses becomes a matter of administrative policy.

It is perfectly possible for the government here to grant licenses today for the export to Japan of aviation gasoline or fighting planes. Imports are equally controlled under the licensing system. There will be no trade if no licenses are granted. As yet there has been no announcement of official policy on licensing. It is assumed that trade will be permitted to continue for the time being in commodities which because of character or limited value can give Japan no appreciable military strength.

It may also be matter of policy to let Japan continue to purchase some gasoline and oil. Official quarters have not committed themselves on these points. Mr. Welles, when asked at his last press conference about oil policy, replied only that every request for an export license would be weighed and decided on its own merits. How each request will be decided will be largely a matter of circumstances of the moment. The government here is now in a position to close or open the oil faucet, and all the other trade faucets, in whatever matter will be most helpful to foreign policy.
If at any moment they think Japan shows signs of improving its international manners, they may be generous with licenses as a reward. If Japan’s behavior goes from bad to worse, each new misstep is certain to be followed by an extra squeeze on the movement to Japan of things Japan wants, or the movement to the United States of things Japan is particularly anxious to sell here.

Incidentally, it is obvious now why Japanese ships were barred from the Panama Canal during the two-weeks period preceding the move into Indo-China. And while no one has officially said so, it can be taken for granted that no Japanese ships are likely to be going through the Canal for some time to come.

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