The Charlotte News

Tuesday, December 2, 1941


Site Ed. Note: The Bible quote of the day had appeared in one of the earlier pieces, "In Armor", December 19, 1939, perhaps by Cash, perhaps by Dowd, re Jim Massey, the proverbial "Black Daniel" who in October, 1939 bid "au revoir" and walked away from justice, as he had done many times with regard to the vagaries of the law associated with his putative bootlegging ring.

"Good Example" tells of the settlement of the railroad strike in advance of its scheduled start date on Sunday. Perhaps, the President was aiding that process by riding the train on Saturday some 800 miles from Washington to Warm Springs and then returning sometime Sunday to arrive in time Monday morning to resume talks with Ambassador Nomura and special envoy Kurusu. Too bad for the Japanese and for history that the talks with these two were not equally successful; but they were not members of the brotherhood of railroad men.

We have yet, candidly, to understand just what the President was in fact doing with that long train ride down and the long train ride back in such short order. (Or, perhaps he caught a plane back?) In any event, the southbound train passed through Charlotte. Whether that was its usual track to take, we don't know. It had, however, never before been mentioned, at least since the fall of 1937 from which we have taken our daily tour of The News editorial column. Was the President making a symbolic statement, meaning for it to make the press, for the benefit of Mr. Kurusu and his friend? If so, what was that statement? Did it concern the "southern" matter?

Raymond Clapper today presents quite cogently the thinking of the government as well as the military and the more informed public of the time--that the strike to come in East Asia was assuredly aimed in the south and toward the Philippines. Mr. Clapper instructs, and quite accurately, as to how the movements of the Japanese forces, were encircling the Philippines, from bases in Saigon on the west and the Mandates (former German islands awarded Japan after World War I), which were Palau and the Caroline Islands, from the east, as well as from the south. And, of course the attack on the Philippines would ensue immediately after the attack in Hawaii. They only were awaiting the word to put the control into effect, to climb the remainder of Mount Niitaka.

Mr. Clapper, as everyone else, however, was deluded into thinking that the Japanese would not deliberately start a war with the United States. He never conceives of any possibility of attack on Pearl Harbor. Thus, the piece provides an historic reference point for perfectly summarizing the thinking of the moment, the very thinking, albeit reasonable and understandable, which allowed the Japanese to succeed in the attack.

The piece also points up the reason for concern of the government in the late 1950's and through the 1960's and into the early 1970's regarding the strategic significance of Vietnam, and the fear that should South Vietnam of that time fall to the Communists, there would be afforded a similar launching platform for threatening first the Philippines, and then the rest of East Asia. But whether that proposition really made much sense in a world where, by 1964, the Red Chinese had nuclear weapons and the Soviets had the capability, as did the United States, of destroying one another many times over with ICBM's, is quite debatable in hindsight.

Meanwhile, press speculation brewed over whether there was an attack on Thailand imminent, as the Marines were evacuated from Shanghai, and Washington awaited word from Tokyo in reply to Hull's Ten Points, while Tokyo sought "clarification" of some of the points, necessitating at least another three days of delay before Japan would announce itself. There was, in truth, no great suspense as the press portrayed it. The reply never came until after the attack on Sunday began, underscoring the abandonment of international law and mutual respect between nations which now characterized the Tokyo regime.

Today, the President, through the Navy Department and Chief of Operations, Admiral Harold Stark, would send the following message to Admiral Thomas C. Hart, Commander in Chief of the Asiatic Fleet:

President directs that the following be done as soon as possible and within two days if possible after receipt of this despatch [sic]. Charter 3 small vessels to form a 'defensive information patrol'. Minimum requirements to establish identity as are command by a naval officer and to mount a small gun and 1 machine gun would suffice. Filipino crews may be employed with minimum number naval ratings to accomplish purpose which is to observe and report by radio Japanese movements in west China Sea and Gulf of Siam. One vessel to be stationed between Hainan and Hue one vessel off the Indo-China Coast between Camranh Bay and Cape St. Jacques and one vessel off Pointe de Camau. Use of Isabel authorized by president as one of the three but not other naval vessels. Report measures taken to carry out presidents views. At same time inform me what reconnaissance measures are being regularly performed at sea by both army and navy whether by air surface vessels or submarines and your opinion as to the effectiveness of these latter measures.

Admiral Hart was not enthusiastic about the order. Because air reconnaissance was already at work and the Isabel was one of the few fast ships available, he felt its loss would be serious; he also felt it unlikely that two unchartered craft could be dispatched within two days as the directive indicated, and that in any event, as the Japanese would already have had the vessels' locations "marked down", they would be unable to see anything of use as pickets. Too, because of rain squalls in the area, physically accomplishing the order was also of concern. In the end, Hart thought the order an unnecessary eccentricity of Roosevelt and gave it low priority. Nevertheless, he ordered the Isabel to depart on December 3 toward its indicated destination between Hainan and Hue. As soon as it reached within view of the Indochina coast on December 5, however, it was ordered to turn about and head back to Manila. The second ship identified to participate, the Lanikai, disembarked for Camranh Bay, but the attack on Pearl intervened before it could get past Corregidor. The third ship was never commissioned.

Lanikai, we note, is a small village and beach on Oahu, the other side of the island from Pearl Harbor.

This rather inexplicable use of small craft by Roosevelt when air reconnaissance was already in use to scout the movements of the Japanese Fleet in the waters heading south has been explained by historians as either simply Roosevelt's idle fascination with the utility of small naval craft from his days as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under Josephus Daniels in the Wilson Administration or, by revisionist historians, as an indication that Roosevelt was trying to use the little ships to draw fire from the Japanese, an incident of provocation to bring the U.S. into the war. Some of these revisionists opine that had Hart complied implicitly with the directive, war might have been averted as the ships may have drawn fire from the southward moving Task Force which would have then pre-empted the Pearl Harbor strike. Others cite the order as proof that Roosevelt was aware of the imminence of the attack on Pearl Harbor and deliberately withheld forewarning so that no further isolationist pressure would be brought to bear to forestall U.S. involvement in the war.

Each of the revisionist theories, however, lack reason when examined in light of the events we know about the times. As we have pointed out, Roosevelt had plenty of opportunity from the Panay incident in December, 1937, right up through several recent sinkings of ships, both by the Germans and the Japanese since April, 1941, to use one or the repeated number of them as a casus belli. Indeed, the October 31 sinking of the Reuben James off Iceland while on convoy duty and its consequent loss of 112 men certainly presented an opportune moment to enter the war against the Nazis. So, the fact of firing on a small craft at sea would hardly have been any reasonable basis for going to war, given all that had been overlooked. The later revisionists obviously view that possibility through the prism of the 1960's and the Gulf of Tonkin incidents, not the times extant in 1941.

As to the order being the result of Roosevelt's preoccupation with the importance of small craft, that seems a little flimsy. Why did he wish them to identify themselves as men-of-war if their only role was reconnaissance? If the likelihood of spotting Japanese positions or movement south of the Task Force was slim to none, then why send them out at all?

Another explanation exists: that Roosevelt was attempting at the eleventh hour, with negotiations in Washington with Nomura and Kurusu proving futile, having been abandoned on Thursday and renewed on Monday, to communicate directly with the Japanese military personnel in Indochina, through the sign language of these three ships. Roosevelt's directive specified the use of one particular vessel, the Isabel. The locations to which each of the three would be sent were also designated--a point between Hainan and Hue, a point between Camranh Bay and Cape St. Jacques, and a location off Pointe de Camau. These locations are north, middle, and south areas of the South China Sea, immediately off the coast of Indochina. Pointe de Camau is at the southern tip of Indochina, that which Navy and army intelligence believed was the likely target for the southward moving Task Force, placing it in position to take Singapore.

The Mind of the South states in Book III, Chapter 3, section 9, pp. 373-374 the following:

In Raleigh Jonathan Daniels made the News and Observer equally liberal, at least on the economic and political side--sometimes waxing almost too uncritical in his eagerness to champion the underdog: surely a curious charge to bring against a Southern editor.
At Charlotte J. E. Dowd, one of the owners of the Charlotte News, took over the editorial reigns of that once stodgy journal and made of it one of the most lively, intelligent, and enterprising in Dixie. In 1937 this paper, through a member of its staff, Cameron Shipp, carried out the most uncompromising and thorough surveys of local slum conditions ever carried out in a Southern town.
The Richmond News-Leader, the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, and the Montgomery Advertiser--all already distinguished for intelligence--added steadily to their reputation for liberality in the decade. In Birmingham John Temple Graves II and Osborne Zuber made the Age-Herald and the News consistently tolerant. And in Atlanta the Constitution and the Journal at least acquired a more open-minded attitude than had formerly been theirs.
Just as important was the fact that many of the smaller newspapers were now getting more liberal and intelligent editing. One of the happy results of the depression, from the standpoint of the welfare of the old South, was that it had gone a long way toward halting the old exodus to the North of the talented young men with journalistic ambitions. The development of standardized daily journalism helped to that end, also. Unable to secure jobs in the East or Middle West, they were perforce driven into service at home, and carried their brains with them. They were far from free, even where they owned their own papers, and had to proceed against the prevailing prejudices with great caution; but in the course of time they gradually enlarged their latitude.

Add to that the fact that Cash had written a piece, "Three Little Ships", on September 28, 1939, regarding the sinkings by German U-boat of three neutral freighters from Finland and Sweden carrying wood pulp, the Gertrude Blatt, the Walma, and the Martti Ragnar. The pretext for the sinkings was that wood pulp could be used to obtain cellulose from which gunpowder is made and therefore verboten. And it so happened that the same day's page carried another piece by Cash titled "Pearl Harbor", remarking on the move of the Fleet from San Pedro to Pearl Harbor, 2,000 miles closer to Japan and Russia, that being in light of the Russo-Japanese mutual non-aggression pact formed at the beginning of the war. That pact was formed at the behest of Hitler to enable the invasion of Poland: since Germany had made a non-aggression pact with Russia to insure that the putsch would take place unimpeded, the Russo-Japanese agreement was necessary to alleviate worries of the Japanese that Russia, freed from concerns over aggression on its western border, might turn on Japan to the east.

Thus, was the order to deploy the three little ships not consistent with the strange train trip over the weekend to Warm Springs passing through Charlotte? Was the President not trying desperately to send a message, not of war but of hope for increased amity between two nations, formerly allies, now desperately locked in a struggle to avert war brought on by the worst elements in Japan?

We shall return to this topic, but for now you may read a little of Cam Shipp's series on the slums of Charlotte from February, 1937. We suggest as a start the February 11 piece, which begins in a darkly poetic cobweb dream, that which would be foreign and unintelligible to most Americans even of 1937, but perhaps all too familiar as life in commonplace to the peasants of Southeast Asia tending their rice paddies as the militarist invader insures against sabotage to his supply lines:

Strike a match in this hut to see a black child dying of tuberculosis. Although it is broad daylight, you need the match to see inside this shotgun house in the 1100 block of East Seventh street. This is the street the negroes call the place to die. They laugh. Old people may creep there in the dark and die at 75 cents a week.
Scuff the fish heads from along your path on the creek banks of Black Bottom and 'Skeeter Hollow. Mark the tenements of these untouchables--three-room houses sprawling along Sugaw's soupy stream of excrement and purple chemicals, and unstable apartment houses squatting in the mire.

Regard Blue Heaven, on the streets of Congo, Vance, Ridge, Pearl, Cobbyway, and the extension of East Hill street East off South McDowell. Spider-legged houses teeter aside the creek, jampacked with negroes living four to ten persons in three rooms using--sometimes--outdoor toilets on the other side of the creek. Blue Heaven nurtures the most vicious criminals of the city, the police will tell you. It's within sight of the law building.

Finally, "Bowl Bid" tells briefly the story of the Rose Bowl invitation to Duke to play Oregon State. No one then knew that everything would be so changed in the country by New Year's Day that it would not be considered safe to hold the bowl in Pasadena and so the location would be moved to Durham, the stadium today known as Wallace Wade, after the coach who then guided the Blue Devils. The Atlantic side of the country, with all its problems of sabotage potential from Nazis, was considered safer than the West Coast. Perhaps the fact that Durham is sufficiently inland to avoid the possibility of an attack by sea gave greater assurance of insularity than the suburb of Los Angeles.

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