Road to Pearl Harbor: The Coming of the War Between the United States and Japan

Road to Pearl Harbor: The Coming of the War Between the United States and Japan

by Herbert Feis


View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Monday, October 28


This is a probing narrative of the history which came to its climax at Pearl harbor; an account of the attitudes and actions, of the purposes and persons which brought about the war between the United States and Japan.

It is full and impartial. Though written as an independent and private study, records and information of an exceptional range and kind were used in its making. These give it authority. They include all the pertinent State Department papers; the American official military records in preparation; selections from the Roosevelt papers at Hyde Park; the full private diaries of Stimons, Morgenthau, and Grew; the file of the intercepted "Magic" cables; and equivalent collections of official and private Japanese records. The author was at the time in the State Department (as Adviser on International Economic Affairs) and thus in close touch with the men and matters of which he writes.

In telling how this war came about, this book tells much of how other wars happen. For it is a close study of the ways in which officials, diplomats, and soldiers think and act; of the environment of decision, of the ambitions of nations, of the clash of their ideas, of the way sin which fear and mistrust affect events, and of the struggle for time and advantage.

The narrative follows events in a double mirror of which one side is Washington and the other Tokyo, and synchronizes the images. Thus it traces the ways in which the acts and decisions of this country influenced Japan and vice versa.

Originally published in 1950.

The Princeton Legacy Library uses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback and hardcover editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691620619
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 03/08/2015
Series: Princeton Legacy Library , #1772
Pages: 370
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 2.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Road to Pearl Harbor

The Coming of the War Between the United States and Japan

By Herbert Feis


Copyright © 1950 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-05632-6


The Arc of Opposition

Japan, from its seat on the small island of Honshu, wanted to be arbiter of Asia and the Western Pacific. The wish throve in poverty and pride, finding company in thoughts which made it seem just. The Japanese people came to believe that the extension of their control over this vast region was both natural and destined; that the other people living there needed the guardianship of Japan as much as Japan needed them. The Japanese armies sailed across the China seas under a banner which proclaimed peace, justice, and partnership for all. The bayonets were merely to expel the devil who would not understand their "true intentions."

By 1937 the banner had been carried far. Large and populous areas of the mainland of Asia (Korea, Kwantung peninsula, Manchuria) were compelled to submit to the Japanese rule. But the wish for a greater realm did not come to rest.

Inner strains, felt in all parts of the toiling land, kept it alive. The home islands were getting more crowded; all usable land was being farmed; the extra young men and women from the rural districts were being forced to seek a living in the workshop or factory. An anxious attempt was under way to expand both old and new industries. But capital was short and progress depended on being able to get the needed raw materials from foreign lands. Still the country was intent on having an army and navy equal to those of far wealthier powers. The sum of its needs and ambitions, in short, was beyond its scanty means.

And in the mid-thirties these means came in hazard. Japan was finding it hard to sell its own goods abroad. The worldwide depression was reducing foreign demand. Worse still, many foreign lands were raising their import barriers, making them higher, more rigid, and more pointed against Japanese products. The country still had ample reserves of gold — almost half a billion dollars — to take care of even a sustained deficiency of income. But if and when these ran out, Japan would have to drop back to a poorer standard of life, and a lesser rating among the powers. The Army and excitedly patriotic youth preferred another solution; to extend the realm of Japan's Empire.

The situation abroad made it seem possible for Japan to do so; not only possible but urgent. Two movements were under way in China which not only upset Japanese activities in that country, but threatened its control over Manchukuo and Korea. Chinese nationalism was coming alive, and being rude and demanding. Japan was being nagged, as were the Western Powers, to give up all privileged positions in China and to dwell therein only by leave. Many thought that before long this would result in virtual expulsion of all Japanese interests from China. At the same time, Communism was spreading among the masses in the north. Serving this doctrine, and served by it, was the old enemy, Russia. The view formed, particularly in the Army, that it was essential that Japan make its will felt toughly and quickly in China.

Simultaneously, the situation in Europe seemed to favor a bold attempt to make Japan strong and self-sufficient. Germany and Italy were challenging Britain and France. This seemed to offer a chance to make them pay for the safety of their colonies in Asia; to cause them to share the gains derived from them, perhaps the control. The United States had so neglected its Navy and Army that it could not fight a war in the Western Pacific. Besides, the American people would not, it was judged, go to war to rescue China or protect European colonies.

Japan felt entitled to take from the western countries all it could. Had they not — particularly the United States — always begrudged Japan its progress? Were they not forcing her back to a meager life by harsh bans upon trade, access to resources, and immigration? Had they not refused to join in efforts to prevent China from being unruly and hostile? If it came to war, would not the real fault be theirs? Feelings of this kind, a disciplined resentment, made foreign protests seem only another proof of selfishness.

So conditions lured Japan onward, and so ran the justifying thoughts.

But how was the advance to be managed? By strategy or by force; or, in the sanctioned language of Japanese officialdom, "by diplomacy or defense"? If the old tales are a true record, the Japanese take even more pride in their strategies than in their arms. The first resort of those with ends to gain — whether good or bad — was ruse and cunning: the talented man, by these means, leading the stronger enemy into foolish defeat. Only when himself surprised and at bay did the warrior use arms.

In the situation which Japan wished to master there was great need for maneuver. For there were at least two countries both stronger than itself and free to oppose it — the United States and the Soviet Union. And there was one respect in which Japan was most vulnerable to the stratagems of others. It lacked the basic means for a long struggle. Through bent back and patient scheming it had drawn from the outside world crucial elements of its present strength. These might be denied at any time.

Hence the call upon the gifts of persuasion and deceit by which the admired figures of the past had so well served Japan. The problem was to achieve passage to a position where Japan need not fear the power of others either to deprive it of vital supplies or face it with overbearing force. It could be solved, the strategists reckoned, by disguising Japan's aims, by moving step by step, by choosing weak spots first, by using favorable turns of event, by keeping opponents divided.

This was the design that failed. Rather than yield to those whom it had tried to outwit, Japan threw herself against them.

Against the bent of Japanese policy, the American government strove day in, day out — during the dreary years of the mid-thirties. It condemned Japan's breaches of treaties and resort to arms. It protested the harm done to Americans. It abetted Chinese resistance and would not recognize the legitimacy of Manchukuo (taken over by Japan in 1931). It repelled pleas of need and avowals that Japan was seeking only to guard peace and order in the Far East. If such was its real purpose, the American answer always was, why did Japan ignore the treaty system created for that very end; and instead create war and disorder?

And all the while, the American government proclaimed the rules of good conduct in a peaceful and prosperous society of nations. Sometimes there were four, sometimes five, sometimes seven, sometimes more. They were a retaining wall against Japanese claims; a way of trying to protect China; and a guide to the route along which Japan might redeem itself.

These measures summed up to a rigid opposition. But this was an attitude rather than a program. Most Americans were, during this period, anxiously resolved not to take part again in the quarrels between foreign countries. They had little hope that we could settle them and much fear that we would be caught in them. Thus a line came into being which the men in office feared to cross. They could speak up in defense of traditional national interests. They could comment, plead and protest against the angry tide of outside events. But they could not take, or thought they could not, any action that might carry us towards or into war.

Under this imposed restraint the government nurtured patient hope. Before the Manchurian venture (1931) Japanese diplomacy had been calm, and seemingly in rhythm with western ideals. Some of the leaders who made it so had lost position. Some had died. Some had been killed because of their beliefs. But a chance remained that, if not deeply hurt or offended, Japan might, after others had brought distress, turn again to men of the same kind.

There were elements in Japan, influential elements, who were known to have great doubts about and dislike for what their country was doing. A few revered elder statesmen were spreading caution. There was open worry among those bankers, traders, and industrialists who foresaw the opposition Japan would meet. Senior naval officers were talking informed sense. They had seen much of the outside world and knew how large were the seas which the advocates of expansion wished to bring under Japanese rule.

The continued resistance of China was counted on. The Japanese armies were failing to bring that "incident" to an end, or even to bring the end into sight. Sometime, the American authorities hoped, the Japanese people would grow weary of the effort and cost; the Navy would grow impatient at the drain upon Japan's strength; resistance to Army domination would spread. Then a more temperate group could regain control of Japanese affairs. With them a just ending of the quarrels in the Pacific might be arranged. Threats or pressure, it was feared, would spoil the chance.

One other thought figured in the guidance of American policy. Decisive success in the use of compulsion might have some undesired results. If Japan were brought to sudden collapse it might no longer be an effective opponent of Communism in Asia. Unless the retreat from Manchukuo were well managed, the Communists might win control of the land, not China. This gave cause for wishing a settlement by consent, rather than by coercion.

Such were, in brief, the shaping ideas behind American dealings with Japan until the course of the war in Europe made us feel that we also were in danger. Up to then (1940) we refrained from threats and coercion, either alone or in concert with other countries. All the traits of this period of isolation became most visible when Japan invaded China in July, 1937, and the injured signatories of the Nine-Power Treaty met in Brussels to decide what to do. A short account of this episode may serve as prelude — somewhat separated as it must be — to the later events of which this narrative will tell.


The Last, Lost Good Chance: 1937

When, in July 1937, the Japanese Army marched into China, we were trying to make foreign policy out of morality and neutrality alone. These neither prevented the advent of trouble nor provided effective ways of dealing with trouble.

As instance of our attitude at this time, take the exchange between the British government and ourselves, not long before Japan entered China. Neville Chamberlain, on succeeding Stanley Baldwin as Prime Minister, found himself heir to a stack of notes in which the American government set forth a creed for all the world. After brief study he sent comment quizzical. No matter how much, he said, the British might wish to observe this creed, it could not do so because of the German threat. It was in the grace of the United States, he added, to lessen this fear by amending the Neutrality Act to distinguish between the aggressor and victim. Britain, he said, because it was unaided, wished to avoid trouble in Europe and the Far East at one and the same time. Therefore, his cold communication asked, should not an effort be made to reach an accord with Japan?

There was starch in both pleats of our answer. The idea that the United States should openly and in advance take sides in the European situation Was regarded as out of the question. In the Congressional contest over the neutrality law, just ended, quite the other opinion had prevailed. As for the idea of seeking an accord with Japan — that was against both our grain and our wishes. Our answer (of June 1,1937) hid our refusal to do anything in a discourse upon the way in which we believed something might be done: "It is the traditional policy of this country not to enter into those types of agreement which constitute or which suggest alliance. We feel that the governments principally interested in the Far East should endeavor constantly to exercise a wholesome and restraining influence toward conserving and safeguarding the rights and interests of all concerned, and toward preventing friction and development of tensions. We believe that consultation between and among the powers most interested, followed by procedure on parallel lines and concurrently, tends to promote the effectiveness of such efforts."

Such prose was not chosen, as the reader may think, for this occasion. It was regulation, "general issue," for our diplomatic notes; a uniform of ponderous precision.

The war between Japan and China started on the night of July 7, 1937, at the Marco Polo Bridge, ten miles west of Peiping. At first it seemed as if it might be only a local conflict between military units. But soon it became clear that the Japanese Army had other plans. The Prime Minister, Prince Konoye, despite his avowals of regret, did not prevent the Army from marching on. Again and again in this narrative we shall meet him, so behaving. Before long the Japanese troops were in Peiping and Tientsin, in control of the railways going south, and advancing on Shanghai.

The assault upon China was a threat to the position of every one of the Western Powers in the Pacific. It smashed what was left of the Nine-Power Treaty on which hopes for peace in the Pacific had been based. The disturber, Japan, was weak compared to the injured countries. It was, as well, dependent upon them for the means of keeping its armies in the field. They could have obliged Japan and China to settle their dispute peaceably. To have done so, the compelling powers would have had to endure some strain, cost, and danger. Japan would almost certainly have defied them at first. It might even — though this is most doubtful — have entered into war with them all. But the resistance would soon have crumpled. While it lasted, however, the United States would have had to occupy the front line, and many of the rear lines as well.

Not too trying a test, it might be thought, of what could be done by parallel and concurrent action. But it turned out (as will be seen) that the only concurrent action taken was to do nothing. The only parallel action was an attempt by each to place the blame for doing nothing on the others.

Minds were ransacked in a search for effective ways of causing Japan to desist, while staying uninvolved. Unhappily none was found. The American government issued (July 16, 1937) a formal statement of the principles which it implored all countries in the Far East to observe. These were the same as those which Hull had been propounding ever since he took office. To him they were, as he wrote later, "solid, living, all-essential rules. If the world followed them, the world could live at peace forever. If the world ignored them, war would be eternal." We were to repeat them like a litany to the very hour of war.

The Japanese government had one answer for the outside world, another for its own people. That which was addressed to the United States made a show of agreeing with Hull's principles, while disputing his grasp of the facts. That made at home disposed of the matter pertly: "The sole measure for the Japanese Empire to adopt," Prince Konoye said to the Japanese Diet, "is to administer a thoroughgoing blow to the Chinese Army so that it may lose completely its will to fight."


Excerpted from The Road to Pearl Harbor by Herbert Feis. Copyright © 1950 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

  • Frontmatter, pg. i
  • Preface, pg. vi
  • Contents, pg. xii
  • 1. The Arc of Opposition, pg. 3
  • 2. The Last, Lost Good Chance: 1937, pg. 8
  • 3. 1937-39: Japan Goes Deeper into the Stubble, pg. 17
  • 4. The Dismay of the Japanese Strategists: August, 1939, pg. 25
  • 5. Separation but Still not Enmity: the Winter of 1939-40, pg. 38
  • 6. The First Waves of German Victory Reach the Southwest Pacific: April, 1940, pg. 49
  • 7. The Grave Dilemma before the United States: May, 1940, pg. 56
  • 8. Japan Starts on the Road South: June, 1940, pg. 66
  • 9. The American Government Forbears, pg. 72
  • 10. Japan Selects a New Government, pg. 76
  • 11. Japan Stencils Its Policy in Indelible Ink: July, 1940, pg. 84
  • 12. Our First Firm Counteraction, pg. 88
  • 13. Maneuver and Resistance, pg. 95
  • 14. We Stop the Shipment of Scrap Iron, pg. 101
  • 15. The Making of the Alliance with the Axis: September, 1940, pg. 110
  • 16. We Draw Closer to Britain, pg. 122
  • 17. After Our Elections: Steps towards a Concerted Program, pg. 133
  • 18. Matsuoka Pursues the Great Combination, pg. 145
  • 19. At the Same Time Japan Continues to Seek the Best Road South, pg. 150
  • 20. Diplomacy by Gesture and Signal: American Policy in the Winter of 1940-41, pg. 153
  • 21. We Reach a World-Wide Strategic Accord with Britain: March, 1941, pg. 165
  • 22. Hull and Nomura Begin the Search for Formulas of Peace, pg. 171
  • 23. Matsuoka Goes to Berlin and Moscow, and Returns with a Neutrality Pact, pg. 180
  • 24. The Two Faces of Japanese Diplomacy Glare at One Another: April, 1941, pg. 188
  • 25. Would Japan Stand Still While We Extended Ourselves in the Atlantic? The Spring of 1941, pg. 196
  • 26. Japan Chafes and Germany Invades the Soviet Union: May- June, 1941, pg. 202
  • 27. Japan Makes the Crucial Decision: July 2, 1941, pg. 209
  • 28. The Konoye Cabinet Resigns—to Get Rid of Matsuoka, pg. 219
  • 29. The United States and Britain Prepare to Impose Sanctions, pg. 227
  • 30. We Freeze Japan's Funds, pg. 236
  • 31. Was Japan to Have Any More Oil?, pg. 242
  • 32. The Choice before Japan Is Defined; and Konoye Seeks a Meeting with Roosevelt, pg. 251
  • 33. Roosevelt Meets Churchill; Argentia and After: August 1941, pg. 255
  • 34. The Japanese High Command Demands That the Issue with the United States Be Faced and Forced, pg. 261
  • 35. The Idea of a Roosevelt-Konoye Meeting Dies; the Deadlock Is Complete: October, 1941, pg. 271
  • 36. The Army Insists on a Decision for War; Konoye Quits; Tojo Takes Over, pg. 282
  • 37. The Last Offers to the United States Are Formulated: November 5, 1941, pg. 291
  • 38. November: The American Government Stands Fast and Hurries Its Preparations, pg. 298
  • 39. Japan's Final Proposal for a Truce Is Weighed and Found Wanting, pg. 307
  • 40. As Stubborn as Ever: the American Answer, November 26, 1941, pg. 320
  • 41. The Last Arrangements and Formalities for War, pg. 326
  • 42. The Clasp of War Is Closed, pg. 333
  • Index, pg. 343

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews