The Charlotte News

Monday, December 1, 1941


Site Ed. Note: "Surrealism" fills us in on the fact of the President's special train having whistled its way through Charlotte on Saturday morning along the way to Warm Springs, from which the President had now quickly returned to resume talks, as the front page tells us, with Nomura and Kurusu, those talks lasting virtually the whole day this day, but getting precisely nowhere. Indeed, the expectation was that they would not succeed; the purpose, though not conveyed to the press, appeared limited now to trying to ferret out from Kurusu and Nomura the plan of attack.

"Peace Formula" tells of the unnamed columnist's suggestion over the weekend that China should receive the same treatment as Czechoslovakia at Munich in September, 1938, that is being sold down the river into the clutches of the Axis, in order to avert war with Japan. As the piece opines, such would have been as equally short-sighted, and even more lacking in astuteness for its not learning the lesson of recent history--that Munich did precisely nothing other than to delay the inevitable.

One can argue that the year before the putsch into Poland provided the Allies an opportunity to build its defenses, especially in a tumultuous economic year as 1938 was in the United States. But that advantage, as plainly it was to some degree, was largely offset by the counterweight of Nazi Germany being able to do likewise, and in the process exploit the material wealth of Czech territory, gradually coming under the "protective" wing of the Nazi eagle during 1938-39, especially the prized nugget, the Skoda munitions works. Thus, the commentary by the columnist was sheer poppycock.

As the front page points out, however, there had been some discussion of trading off only a withdrawal from Indochina by the Japanese in exchange for resumption of normalization in trade, while leaving the question of China open. But, as we pointed out a few days ago, when the President first proposed that notion the previous week, Chiang Kai-Shek and Churchill bitterly opposed it. Thus, it was quickly tabled. To have given in on China and Indochina of course likely would have bought only at best a few months of time in which the Navy and air defenses could have been built up in preparation for war with Japan in the Pacific, while dividing its resources in the Atlantic for convoy.

Whether that would have shortened the war or lengthened it, assuming, as we must assume, that acquiescing to Tojo's demands would have ended "Operation Hawaii"--and probably without resumption of the same attack plan at a later time both for fear that the earlier operation had been secretly discovered and the difficulty in recreating the same favorable conditions twice--is anyone's case to argue without defined results:

Japan would have had the renewed availability of oil and tin to carry on its Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere expansionist designs, which included all of East Asia, not just China and Indochina. Indeed, Tojo had been quoted in the press, as reported on today's front page, that Japan's goal was to eliminate all U.S. and British interests in East Asia, that quite consistent with the policies and wishes of Hitler, as Dorothy Thompson's piece today elucidates--all for the eventual feast of Der Fuehrer to rid the world likewise of the "Yellow Peril" to make way for his pluperfect Aryan purity. (This was so, even if Kurusu played the role of hearing no evil, requesting a transcript before he would believe that the Premier had not been "badly misquoted".)

But given time not fully preoccupied as yet with active warfare on two oceans to build the Navy--assuming ideal conditions which were not extant on the domestic labor front, now even with the threatened railway strike of the following Sunday--the U.S. could have built its Navy and air resources to superior numbers, especially when combined in the Mediterranean with the British Navy, supplied that much more aid to both Britain and Russia, the latter now, as the front page again suggests, making its first real inroads against the Nazi juggernaut in the critical Caucasus region, full of its precious oil reserves, by cutting off the Nazis at Rostov. And by so doing, the Russians and British would have fought alone and paid the heavy penalties of war in lives, in defense of their own territory, as the U.S. sat it out this time, remaining only the "arsenal of democracy" as Roosevelt had dubbed the U.S. in May?

The rosy latter scenario is unlikely, of course, as the Japanese were going to act for the Axis to cut off aid to Russia from the east, while Hitler waged battles to cut off British aid from the west. Whether Stalin could have held out another spring and summer without receiving Allied aid is questionable, especially with Japan then having a free hand to attack at Vladivostok, less protected after the necessity in the fall of moving large numbers of divisions to the west to replace the badly depleted western lines after the slaughter. Meanwhile, the British, along with the Gaullist Free French, were being increasingly tied down in Libya and other hot spots in North Africa to draw off the RAF bombers from German cities--still heavily at it, 150 tons of bombs having been dropped on Hamburg the night before, as reported on the front page.

As the war dragged on in Russia, Hitler needed desperately to alleviate these homeland raids by distracting British forces to another theater besides central Europe, first North Africa, now East Asia. Thus, whatever time would have been bought by appeasement of the Munich variety was likely negligible at best, precisely because of the need of Hitler to control his East Asian partner to draw heat off the German people in the Fatherland.

While the American planes were now going far to support the British RAF squadrons to bring firepower against the panzer divisions in North Africa, as Hitler's Stukas were preoccupied in Russia, if Russia fell, that temporary position of status quo head to head with the Nazi in the Mediterranean and in western Europe would have reverted quickly to heavily fortified Nazi advantage with the oil acquired in the Caucasus and the bread stores from the wheat fields of the Ukraine, together with the way then lying open, with a well supplied force, to forge a line through Turkey to Iran, Iraq and Syria and the crucial Suez Canal and Persian Gulf areas, opening up the sea lanes to supply oil not only to the Reich but to Japan in order for Japan to finish the job in East Asia the other way about, all while shoring up through continued Fifth Column activity the ABC countries in South America, gradually regaining the lost footholds there, potentially then up again into Mexico, leaving the U.S. finally in a stranglehold to succumb without a whimper?

One can make the rather perverse argument that the attack on Pearl Harbor actually unified America and, by bringing it fully into the war, adding naturally to the production force and national spirit the incentive of protecting the fighting men being sent abroad, saved the day for the world; that the Japanese, not unlike Jonah, were, quite deliberately, being caught between two powerful forces, the Allies and Nazi Germany, entering the belly of the great fish as the supreme sacrifice to stop the storm, the drang nach osten--much as Dorothy Thompson warns of the inevitable peril of going to war with the United States. And, had there been no other way practically for the Japanese to survive, one might, ignorant of the history of the time, come to that conclusion with a great deal of compassion for their plight as an isolated island nation merely trying to fend off a hostile world.

But such assumes that the big, bad United States was offering no olive branch, much as the Japanese domestic propaganda was spewing, educated in the premises by their friendly Herr Doktor Goebbels. And, of course, nothing of the kind was the case. Right up until the zero hour, Hull and Roosevelt offered the Japanese a full resumption in trade for simply agreeing to respect henceforth the territorial sovereignty of Indochina and China and not to expand further in East Asia--an entirely reasonable proposition. Japan had absolutely no right to be stomping into China and Indochina, any more than the United States would have had the right to invade Canada, or, more to the point, Britain would have had the right ab initio to invade Germany or France, in complaint about the unpaid war reparation debts from World War I.

As again Ms. Thompson points out, indeed the balance of trade being offered, for Japan's natural proximity to China and Indochina, as well as for the rest of East Asia, greatly favored the Land of the Rising Sun.

Instead of accepting this olive branch, Japan, as a spoiled child wanting to rewrite the history books of the previous two centuries, much as Hitler and Mussolini were desiring to do in the West, wished to play the Samurai warrior and show off for madam, the "poet", back home. Drink sake, take off in plane, dive into history, hope to die for honorable sacrifice to gods and empire. Remove all complication from life by simply dying.

It should be noted also from "One Way Out" and the front page, that Hitler, or someone of prominence in the Reich, was about to meet with Marshal Petain, head of Vichy, in occupied France. The presumption was that the conference concerned primarily turning over the French naval fleet to the Nazis for use against the British and Free French in the Mediterranean.

But, given the parallel meeting with former Premier Darlan by Hitler in May at Berchtesgaden before the Russian invasion, and the meeting between German Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop and Japanese Ambassador Oshima on Saturday, it is altogether probable that Hitler was confiding in Petain the inevitable prospect of immediate war between Japan and the United States, to plan a unified effort in Europe and North Africa in its wake, with the prospect of divided American and British navies. Whether that included an express indication of the target and precise date of course is less likely. Indeed, whether the Nazis knew of the precise tactical plan is questionable as well.

What the meeting likely trumpeted, however, was at least the fact that Tojo was on board with the Reich solidly, supporting the Triplice and, with aid having been going to Britain and Russia from the U.S. for over a year, beginning with the 50-destroyer trade with Great Britain of September, 1940, thus supplying plentiful evidence of threat to the Triplice from a neutral country, was armed with his excuse to wage honorable war against it. That effort at self-rationalization had been aided considerably by Hitler and Goebbels in their propaganda efforts over sinking of ships in the Atlantic sailing under U.S. colors, claiming that German U-boats had first been fired upon. (Of course, lending credence to such claims, the Navy itself had admitted in mid-October, before the sinking of the Reuben James, that, at least in one instance in September, a U.S. destroyer convoying aid to Great Britain, the Greer, had been trailing a U-boat and, in response to being fired on, dropped depth charges against it, before being torpedoed.)

What this meeting with Petain likely trumpeted therefore was that Hitler was aware, and so informed Petain, that their friend Tojo intended to strike somewhere soon in the Pacific, regardless of efforts at negotiation, short at least of the sought full appeasement, which Hitler, as Tojo, knew by now was not going to occur. The Americans were not going to be sucker-punched twice in three years.

Whatever its purpose, as this meeting was in preparation, Nomura and Kurusu continued the pretense of negotiations. American intelligence sources understood by now that there was no more hope of resolution of the issue by Japan and that therefore these talks were only to hide Japanese war preparations. Nevertheless, Hull and Roosevelt continued to talk, hoping not so much for a resolution but for some sounding of Nomura and Kurusu of where and when the war might begin.

In Hawaii, however, Admiral Kimmel knew no more than that which he read in the press, that after talks appeared at an abrupt end with Hull's Ten Points the previous week, talks were now being renewed in Washington. Kimmel took this renewal as further sign, along with the critical period of the last five days having passed without any sabotage or attack anywhere, that the war alert he had received on Thursday from Washington had been for the time attenuated.

Intelligence reports on this date continued to find that all of the carriers in the Japanese Fleet were in home waters. They continued to track the Southern Expeditionary Force, headed ultimately for Malaysia, but only after getting the word that the attack had taken place in Hawaii. Despite the fact that virtually the entire Combined Fleet was now at sea, between the changing of call signs on December 1 for all ships and the absence of radio traffic, American intelligence was sufficiently fooled into believing that the entire threat was to the south, with a large part of the Fleet still in home waters.

Yet, there were concerns: the sudden drop in radio traffic was a significant change from recent months; the change in call signs, usually made only every six months, had occurred now twice in succession within thirty days. Both of these changes, however, were attributable to the war warning for the south and the apparent attack coming to that area, and so could be dismissed as indicative of no more than confirmation of that which was already being assumed.

Four carriers of the Japanese First Air Fleet, four of the six carriers headed to Hawaii, however, were missing from intelligence reports, much to Kimmel's consternation. Intelligence nevertheless comfortably asserted that they were believed still to be in home waters, as losing track of them had been fairly routine in the previous several months. The other two carriers sailing to Hawaii, because of false call signals, were associated with the southward moving fleet.

The main Task Force meanwhile was now halfway to Hawaii, some 2,250 miles along its course, just past the 180 longitudinal axis, now entering that which Nagumo considered the critical part of the journey where his fleet was most susceptible to being detected by Russian or U.S. ships. Still, their position was some 900 miles north of Midway and beyond the arc of surveillance from that point or from Halsey's Task Force sent there and to Wake Island to deliver reconnaissance planes. Moreover, a dense fog was now covering the Japanese force, adding to the confidence of the commanders that the gods had blessed their enterprise.

Meanwhile, the Guam invasion force had left Japan's Inland Sea on November 29, set to rendezvous in the Bonin Islands and then depart for Guam on December 4. Another fleet departed the Inland Sea on the same day for the Pescadores, set to arrive on December 2 and also head south December 4. This fleet had as a goal to destroy the enemy in the Philippines, Malaysia, the Dutch East Indies, and Thailand, to support landing of troops in each of these locations, and to prepare the way for the invasion of Timor and Burma.

Another fleet of 100 ships was already headed for the Philippines, having parked itself in the Pescadores on November 25, with intention to depart for Luzon immediately after the strike was made on Hawaii. Yet another fleet was bound for Malaysia, the Southern Expeditionary Force which had left Japan November 20 and was being tracked regularly by American intelligence, the primary decoy.

Only six battleships, two light cruisers, and thirteen destroyers remained in home waters for defense of Japan. A small contingent was maintained at Shanghai to assist in Chinese operations and the capture of Hong Kong. Otherwise, the entire Combined Fleet was now at sea by this day for its date with destiny, now just six dawns away.

The last of the pre-war Imperial conferences was held this day in Tokyo, this time the Emperor remaining silent, as Tojo enjoined his military commanders to be at the ready for war at word of the Emperor. The tone had shifted from the last such conference on September 6 when Hirohito counseled diplomatic patience and peace, even if this notion belied the bellicose tone of the July 2 conference in which Hirohito also actively participated, signing off on the plan to expand south, ushering in the plan laid during the previous fall for "Operation Hawaii". The following day, in the wee hours Washington time, the Emperor met with Admiral Yamamoto in Tokyo and provided his final decision. As relayed to the commanders, the message delivered was "Climb Mount Niitaka", meaning proceed to Pearl Harbor, proceed with the ensuing Task Forces to the south.

East wind rain was afoot and impelled now inexorably to its target. There would be no turning back; there would be no diplomatic solution. What was transpiring in Washington, as American intelligence fully understood, was but a charade on both sides.

For the Americans, however, the questions still remained: precisely when and where?

We note finally that Duke University would eventually see a Polish name in its activities program, outside visiting football teams and the Polish Ambassador, Jan Ciechanowski, the guest speaker discussed in "Federation". The piece waxes prophetic in its last paragraph: "If the same mistakes are made again [in the post-war treaties], the oceans of blood now being shed, the billions now being spent in the war effort, will have gone for naught and another generation will have the same sorry job to do again." Unfortunately, with regard to Eastern Europe, this statement would prove itself true of the post-war world yet to come. Because of mutually assured destruction stalking the world after the war, cooler heads would prevail than to bring on another world war. Nevertheless, countries such as Poland, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and the Baltic states, having suffered mightily already in World War II, would not find relief from oppression for another 45 years. Of those mentioned in the piece as being proposed by the Ambassador to form a post-war union, only Greece would find its way into the protective sphere of NATO after 1945. The remainder would endure as Soviet satellites.

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