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“Last Secrets of the Outbreak of War between Japan and the United States: DevelopingRoosevelt’s Final Telegram to the Emperor of Japan”

By SUGIHARA Seishiro,

Last Secrets of the Outbreak
of War betweenJ apan and the
United States:
Culpability: Assessing the Diplomacy of
Japan’s Foreign Ministry from Pearl
Harbor to Potsdam, and it was my
intention to provide a Western readership
with the clearest and most accurate
description, from a Japanese perspective,
of the circumstances of the outbreak of
war between Japan and the United States.
This article “Last Secrets” is essentially
a sequel to that publication, and I have
brought together my thoughts on the
issue of the telegram to the emperor to
enlighten both Japanese and Western
readers on new discoveries, materials and
references that have come to light
concerning the opinions of the American
government leaders of the time.
Developing Roosevelt’s Final
Telegram to the Emperor of Japan
By Seishiro Sugihara
Translated by Norman Hu
On December 6, 1941, U.S. President
Franklin D. Roosevelt instructed his
secretary of state, Cordell Hull, to send a
personal telegram to the emperor of
Japan. Attached to the text of the message
was a handwritten note which said:
“Shoot this to Grew. I think it can go in
gray code—saves time—I don’t mind if it
gets picked up.”1 Joseph Grew was the
American ambassador to Japan, and had
the right of direct access to the emperor.
By sending the message through Grew, it
would not be tossed aside or held up as
might happen if it was sent through
Japan’s Foreign Ministry; in other words,
it would be promptly delivered to the
emperor. Furthermore, “gray code” was
the least secure level of encryption,
implying he didn’t mind if the message
was intercepted and decoded.
I have asked Mr. Norman Hu, translator
of Between Incompetence and Culpability,
to translate this article into English. In
both that book and this article, there were
many facts and issues concerning the war
between Japan and the United States
which, although familiar to a Japanese
audience, may have presented difficulties
for a Western reader. In other words,
notions which could be abbreviated for
publication in Japan were expanded for
the benefit of a foreign audience. Mr. Hu
made helpful suggestions regarding the
original draft which have been
incorporated into the English language
version. My thanks go to him for his
This personal telegram from President
Roosevelt to Emperor Hirohito, in
historical terms, has been seen as
Roosevelt’s final attempt to evade war
between Japan and the United States, and
that Roosevelt to the very end aimed for
peace. However it should be obvious, after
cursory examination, that this personal
telegram to the emperor was not the
simple message it appeared to be.
Ambassador Saburo Kurusu’s
Written Submission to the Foreign
It is clear that the Japanese side actively
contributed towards the creation of the
final telegram sent by Roosevelt to the
emperor on December 6th, 1941, and
which became part of the historical
record. It should be noted that the person
at the center of these efforts was
Ambassador Plenipotentiary Saburo
This article will expose and outline the
as-yet unexplored circumstances
surrounding President Roosevelt’s
telegram to the emperor, and the general
ill-will towards Japan held by leaders in
the American government of the time,
including Roosevelt. My previous
publication about the war between Japan
and United States was published by UPA
in 1997 in an English language version
titled Between Incompetence and
As will be discussed in more detail later,
Roosevelt exhibited a certain pattern of
behavior when it seemed war was
imminent and could no longer be avoided.
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Roosevelt had a habit of sending a
personal telegram to the leader of the
opposing side. Even without Kurusu’s
efforts, it is likely that a telegram would
have been sent to the emperor anyway.
this suggestion for the president to send a
personal message to the emperor.3
In his memoirs Homatsu no 35-nen:
gaiko hisshi [35 years of vain endeavor: a
secret diplomatic history] (1948), Kurusu
makes the following observations
regarding the idea of the president
sending a personal message to the
Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939,
but just before this, Roosevelt sent a
personal telegram to Hitler urging him to
abort his military attack. Mussolini
entered the war on Germany’s side in
June 1940, and Roosevelt then too sent a
number of telegrams to persuade him to
“I had already heard talk on the American
side, around the time of the dissolution of
the third Konoe cabinet, of getting the
president to send a message to His
Majesty to prevent the resignation of the
cabinet. Even after I arrived in
Washington, I heard from the embassy’s
first secretary Terasaki [Hidenari] that a
man with some influence in American
Christian circles, Reverend Stanley Jones,
had proposed that the president send a
telegram to His Majesty to break the
deadlock in negotiations between Japan
and the United States, and that he had
been tirelessly working towards this end.
I had also heard from other sources that
some American senators shared this view.
However, as the deadline loomed closer,
there seemed to be no prospect that the
United States would accept our Proposal
B, and our government was saying that if
Proposal B was not accepted, ‘Nothing
could be done about the breakdown of
negotiations.’ Putting together all this
information, I believed there was no way
to resolve this deadlock except for an
exchange of messages between the two
heads of state, so on November 26 I [sent
Tokyo] a “written submission regarding
a personal message to the emperor’.”
Therefore, it seems very likely that
Roosevelt himself would have come up
with the idea of sending a personal
message to the emperor when war with
Japan seemed imminent, so Kurusu’s
efforts shouldn’t be overstated.
Nevertheless, it still may be useful to
examine the timeline of events as they
actually unfolded, starting with efforts
made by Kurusu.
Kurusu assumed his post at the Japanese
embassy in Washington on November 15,
1941, to assist the serving ambassador,
Kichisaburo Nomura. The Japanese side
felt cornered, and on November 20th
delivered to Secretary of State Cordell
Hull Proposal B, a Japanese modus
vivendi to put off the imminent outbreak
of hostilities. No favorable response
though was received from the American
side. On November 26th, Japan was
presented with the so-called Hull Note. It
was on this date that Kurusu sent a
written submission to Japan’s foreign
minister Shigenori Togo, suggesting that
the only way to resolve the deadlock in
the Japan-U.S. negotiations was if
President Roosevelt was asked to send a
personal message to the emperor. From
notations on Kurusu’s cable, we can
surmise that it was prepared before
receiving the Hull Note. Kurusu’s written
submission was sent under Ambassador
Nomura’s name, but this was because
Nomura wanted to share the
responsibility for any adverse
consequences that might have arisen from
Despite some minor errors regarding the
timeline, Kurusu’s memoirs are largely
When we examine materials on the
American side we see that, officially, some
consideration went into sending a
personal message to the emperor as early
as October 16th that year, at the time of
the fall of the third Konoe cabinet in
Japan. However closer inspection reveals
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that, because of actions to make it only
seem as though a message would be sent,
Roosevelt probably from the start had no
intention of sending any such message.
So it would be a mistake to view these
efforts by the U.S. government as the true
origins of the message actually sent to the
Japanese emperor on December 6th.
between Japan and United States.
Naturally, the Japanese side thought the
summit meeting had been agreed to, and
began to organize travel arrangements and
personnel on the Japanese side; but
Roosevelt made no preparations
whatsoever. Even though extensive
arrangements would have been necessary
if this summit meeting between Japan and
the United States was actually to take
place, Roosevelt gave no instructions at all
for any preparations. Whether or not
Roosevelt actually said he would “baby”
Japan along at the Atlantic Conference, in
reality that is precisely what he did.7
The third Konoe cabinet collapsed when
the possibility of realizing a Japan-U.S.
summit meeting—a meeting which
Roosevelt had given every appearance of
accepting—was withdrawn due to an
apparent change of heart on the American
In fact, no personal message to the
emperor would have been realized at this
particular time, if there had been the
slightest of intentions to hold a summit
meeting between Japan and the United
States. There are a number of early drafts
for such a message which date from
around this time, including one written by
the president himself, where he claimed:
“I personally would have been happy
even to travel thousands of miles to meet
with your Prime Minister, if in advance
one or two basic accords could have been
realized so that the success of such a
conference would have been assured.”8
In other words, Roosevelt had no
intention of following through with a
message to the emperor at this time, but
only used the idea of sending a message
to show that his agreement to Konoe’s
proposal was not a ploy, and to leave a
good record for the American
government. If his agreement had been
made in good faith, the idea of sending a
personal message to the emperor would
have been deliberately leaked to the
American press, and subsequently picked
up by the Japanese news agencies and
promulgated throughout Japan. It was in
Roosevelt’s interests to have the idea of a
message to the emperor made known in
Japan, and remove any suspicion from the
start that he lacked the serious intent to
participate in the summit. Furthermore,
before Kurusu arrived to take up his post
at the Japanese embassy, he would
probably have heard extensively about the
However, in my book Between
Incompetence and Culpability, I have
argued that Roosevelt from the start never
had any intention of participating in this
summit. In August 1941, Roosevelt met in
secret with British prime minister
Winston Churchill at an Atlantic
conference, and made a promise to send
“a warning to Japan.”5 Nevertheless,
why did Roosevelt go through the
motions of considering Konoe’s
suggestion for a Japan-U.S. summit?6
The main reason was as follows.
Roosevelt returned from his secret
Atlantic meeting with Churchill on August
17th. He was returning from a clandestine
meeting with the leader of a nation
(Britain) who was already at war with
Germany. American public opinion at that
time was strongly isolationist. Therefore,
it was certain that serious questions would
be raised in the U.S. as to whether a
secret agreement had been made
regarding the war. Roosevelt had already
learned of Konoe’s suggestion for a
Japan-U.S. summit meeting while still at
sea, and decided to make use of this.
Although July 17th was a Sunday,
Roosevelt sent for Nomura and accepted
the Konoe proposal. This was to
demonstrate he had certainly not made
any secret deal with Churchill at his
conference on the Atlantic, but rather to
make it appear as though he was taking
active steps towards a peaceful settlement
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idea for a personal message to the
emperor while still in Japan. Therefore
when Kurusu had the opportunity after
arriving in the U.S. to pursue the idea of a
personal message to the emperor,
Roosevelt’s toying with the idea at the
time of the collapse of the Konoe cabinet
in essence gave rise to the actual message
arranged through Kurusu which remains
in the historical record.
However, Kurusu was at the Japanese
embassy in Washington conducting
negotiations with the United States. He
was completely unaware of the military’s
activities in Japan, and believed that war
would break out if the negotiations failed,
and that this war would ruin Japan.
Kurusu felt he could spare no effort in
avoiding the outbreak of war between
Japan and the U.S., even if this meant
clutching at straws. Coincidentally,
Kurusu had been Japan’s ambassador to
Germany around the time when Roosevelt
had sent his personal messages to both
Hitler and Mussolini, so he probably
thought that, if asked, Roosevelt might
also send a message to the emperor too,
and perhaps achieve something
significant. In particular, Roosevelt’s
messages to Mussolini seemed quite
earnest in trying to persuade Italy not to
enter the war, so if similar earnestness
could be mustered at this time perhaps the
foundering negotiations between Japan
and the United States could be saved in
one fell swoop. Moreover, perhaps
Kurusu had no choice now but to
embrace the notion of Roosevelt sending
a personal message to the emperor. He
was unaware that the Japanese navy’s
Task Force was already headed towards
Hawaii to carry out the attack on Pearl
Harbor and launch the war between Japan
and United States, nor was he able to
divine what was on Roosevelt’s mind. For
Kurusu, even this impossible suggestion
seemed somehow possible, and was
something which had to be tried.
Let us examine Kurusu’s written
submission to Foreign Minister Togo to
have the president send a personal
message to the emperor. Signed with
Nomura’s name, Kurusu cabled the
following: “In this telegram we are
expressing the last personal opinions we
will have to express, so will your
excellency please be good enough at least
to show it to the Minister of the Interior
Kido, and we hope you’ll wire us back
immediately.”9 However Togo expressed
no interest at all. One can only imagine
how much effort he had taken to prepare
the so-called Proposals A and B for
presenting to the United States. In his
memoirs, Togo explained his frustration:
“It should have been clear to our
Ambassadors in Washington that the
proposing of an impracticable plan which
took no account of the determination of
the other party, and which disregarded the
extremity to which we were reduced,
would serve no purpose.” He despaired
that they were like mummy hunters who
returned mummified themselves.10
The military had not briefed Togo about
any details regarding the strategy to attack
Pearl Harbor, the starting point for war
between Japan and the United States.
However, although negotiations with the
United States continued throughout the
military’s preparations for war, it was
perhaps inevitable that the notion of a
personal message to the emperor would
be ruled out. On November 28th, Togo
sent a telegram refusing their request. “I
contacted the person you referred to
previously, however his reply was your
suggestions at this time are entirely
Action by Langdon Warner and
Kan’ichi Asakawa
In my book Between Incompetence and
Culpability, I touched briefly on the
activities of Stanley Jones and his
involvement in Roosevelt’s personal
telegram to the emperor.
Although I will examine Jones’s
contributions to this message later in this
article, there was another American whose
activities preceded those of Jones. This
figure was based elsewhere, and was the
first to embrace the notion of a personal
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message to the emperor. He devised an
early draft for the telegram, and used his
influence on those around Roosevelt. This
person was Langdon Warner, curator of
the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard
response to Hitler’s invasion of Poland.
But even at this early stage Asakawa
wondered whether Hitler would ultimately
destroy himself, thereby foretelling
Hitler’s suicide.13
Langdon Warner was good friends with
Asakawa. He urged Asakawa to devise a
draft for a personal message to the
emperor, to break the deadlock in the
negotiations between Japan and the
United States. On November 23rd,
Asakawa finished writing a draft of the
message. Although the negotiations had
reached a standoff, it was still before the
so-called Hull Note had been thrust upon
Japan. His draft was to have an influence
on succeeding drafts, and elements of it
would remain in the final version which
Roosevelt actually sent. In a sense,
Asakawa’s draft was a starting point for
the final version, and therefore warrants
our examination. This draft can be found
in Yoshio Abe’s Saigo no Nihonjin [The
Last Japanese] (1983) (See Chapter 9:
Attempts to Persuade the President to
send a Message to the Emperor).14
Let us introduce another figure here: a
Japanese national, Kan’ichi Asakawa.
Asakawa was born into a samurai family
in Fukushima prefecture in 1873. In
1894, at the age of 21, he studied abroad
at Dartmouth College, and went on to
complete a degree in history at Yale
University. Later, he was employed at
both Yale and Dartmouth, and earned a
solid reputation as a historian in the
United States. In 1905, he participated at
the Russo-Japanese peace conference as
an observer for the Japanese side, and did
his utmost to secure a favorable outcome
for Japan. Asakawa became an extremely
vocal critic of Japan, which quickly lost its
timidity after defeating Russia. In his
book Nihon no Kaki [Japan’s
Misfortune] (1909), he protested Japan’s
betrayal of its diplomatic ideals, which
was surely an accurate warning for the
future. Let us examine a passage from the
book, to demonstrate Asakawa’s
insight.12 “Now that the grave crisis confronting
your great country, despite the continuous
effort of Your Majesty’s successive
governments, has not been resolved in any
essential respect, but is, on the contrary,
becoming daily more menacing to the
welfare of our two peoples and to the
peace between nations, I deem that the
time has come that I, as head of the nation
that has maintained with your country for
well-nigh a century relations unparalleled
in history for their sincere cordiality,
should address myself directly to Your
Majesty, in order to convey to you and
your people the earnest wishes that lie
close to the hearts of the American nation
and its government.
“Because China is arrogant,
preposterous, and obstinate, it obviously
offends our sensibilities, but if we
respond with violence, a consensus will
form whereby China garners sympathy
and powerful Japan is roundly criticized;
China will use this opportunity to be even
more unreasonable. To counter this, we
should use patience and persuasion, and
see the benefits without expecting favor,
or seeking obsolete concessions. If China
is as unreasonable as a spoiled child or
behaves as wily as a fox, we should
respond with fairness and honesty, and
only protest when we believe this can help
In doing so, I am following the
precedents, also unique in character, set
by past Presidents of the United States. I
may cite two, among others. In 1905, my
predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt, offered
Asakawa had an uncanny insight into
events that followed. In 1939, Hitler
proposed a temporary peace to Britain
and France, who had just declared war in
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his good offices to bring about the
successful conclusion of an honorable
treaty of peace between Japan and Russia,
after your armed forces had achieved a
brilliant series of victories on land and
sea. A half century earlier, in 1852–3,
another predecessor, Millard Fillmore,
sent Commodore M. C. Perry with a
personal message of goodwill addressed
to Your Majesty’s illustrious forefather,
His Majesty, Emperor Komei. It is for us
a constant source of gratification to recall
that it was the auspicious issue of that
mission that heralded the beginning of the
happy relations between our two nations,
and of the glorious career of your own in
the new era.
by your honored predecessors; and the
energetic common effort by which they,
each time, brought these policies to
successful fruition, and so turned a
calamity into a glorious good fortune.
Such happy union of catholicity and
idealistic devotion, we should infer, must
indeed be the ancient spirit and genius of
your great nation and the secret of its
unique history.
What the American nation observes in the
Japan of today is, Your Majesty, a crisis
of like magnitude to those of the past
ages, fraught with even greater perils
besetting her way; and what our nation
with one accord prays is that Japan would
again of her free will recoil to her noble
self, and again spring forward with quick
and sure leaps into the broad common
life, this time, of the liberal world whose
horizon is bound to widen immensely as
soon as the present war is cleared. This
should be easy of accomplishment for a
nation so highly endowed by God as is
yours with candor and perspicacity; and
perhaps this time all the easier, in view of
the plain fact that, on the one hand, the
crisis is of but a recent origin, and
consequently its roots are far shallower
than those of the crisis either of the last
century or of twelve hundred years
before; and that, on the other, the general
course of conduct was nobly and clearly
indicated by your grandfather of blessed
memory, His Majesty, Emperor Meiji, and
wisely followed by your statesmen till
only a decade ago.
Without the least desire on my part to
interfere in any manner with your internal
affairs, I may perhaps be permitted to
remind Your Majesty how the advent of
Commodore Perry just alluded to was
followed by unexpected events that finally
led to a serious crisis similar in many
ways to the present one; and how your
leaders surmounted it with undaunted
courage and stupendous energy, enabling
them in the ensuing years to carry your
country, to the amazement of the world, in
the broad path of enlightenment. During
the still remoter past, also, your statesmen
again and again, especially from the
middle of the seventh century,
demonstrated at critical moments a
capacity frankly to recognize their past
errors, and to institute in their place and to
execute, swiftly and surely, exhaustive
measures of needed reform which were at
once idealistic and eminently practical.
Few nations past or present placed in a
similar position could have displayed a
power so quickly and so completely to
return to their consciences, to make so
clean a sweep of the men and the policies
that had brought them to an impasse, and
to discover and carry out so clear-sighted,
yet so practical principles of government
that should promote their true interest and
their historic missions in the world. Nay
more, what is particularly moving is the
candor and the whole-hearted loyalty with
which your multitudes understood and
supported the reformed policies initiated
I beg Your Majesty to understand that the
measures that our government has taken
in the last two years and the policy it has
steadily followed, in regard to your
country, are but natural expressions of
our responsibility to our own political
conscience, even as the noble policy
pursued by your government during the
sixty years after 1868 had been dictated
by the conscience and moral convictions
of your illustrious nation. We, the people
and government of the United States, on
our part, while being obliged to follow our
policies seemingly unfavorable to your
country, have never at any moment
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renounced our traditional friendship with
her, and have never ceased to pray for her
resumption of the honorable career which
had been the object of universal
admiration and sympathy.
perspective, it clearly addressed all the
right issues.
Let us look at certain portions of the text.
Asakawa writes: “The measures that our
government has taken in the last two years
and the policy it has steadily followed, in
regard to your country, are but natural
expressions of our responsibility to our
own political conscience.” Although from
a Japanese perspective such sentiments
might naturally appear in any suggestion
to an American president to send the
emperor a personal message, it is clear to
observers nowadays that these sentiments
may not necessarily reflect reality. To
protest the advance of Japanese troops
into southern French Indochina in July
1941, Roosevelt implemented a total
embargo on oil exports to Japan.
Beforehand though, the United States and
Britain used their direct influence to form
a so-called ABCD encirclement of Japan,
by America, Britain, China, and the Dutch.
They made it impossible for Japan to
successfully conclude negotiations over
oil with the Dutch East Indies, and this led
directly to the Japanese military’s
occupation of southern French Indochina.
Also, while Roosevelt was taking issue
with Japan over its occupation of southern
French Indochina, in the Atlantic the U.S.
stationed troops in Iceland in July despite
not being a party to the war, and in
November established a protectorate over
Dutch Guinea in South America (presentday
Surinam) to secure supplies of
aluminum ore. Furthermore, in November
Asakawa was unaware that Japan had
presented its Proposals A and B during
pressing negotiations, so in this respect
his draft message was abstract and did not
tackle the substantive issues.
Nevertheless, he did point out that
Japan’s crisis with the United States was
“of recent origin” and “shallow-rooted”
which demonstrated his insight as an
historian, and should have prompted some
soul-searching amongst the participants.
Believe me, Your Majesty, as I repeat that
it is this prayer of our nation, added to my
personal solicitude for your anxiety
concerning the future of your beloved
nation and precious heritage, that prompts
me to take this unusual step of addressing
myself to you.
On the other hand, we, Your Majesty,
cannot help visualizing to ourselves what
miraculous change of general atmosphere
would result from Japan’s return to the
happy comity of nations. Your loyal
people would be relieved of the crushing
burden weighing upon their mind and
body, for which they have hardly been
responsible; and all the nations near and
far would find themselves freed from the
fears of continued and fresh calamities
caused by what they cannot regard but as
an unfortunate error. Every one would
immediately comprehend and applaud so
noble an act of complete self-conquest. It
would be no vain prophecy to predict that
many a foreign nation, the American not
the least, would come to feel that it could
hardly do too much to cooperate with the
courageous Japan in her work of
rehabilitation. And, in years to come, one
and all would welcome and rejoice in her
growing prosperity and her increasing
contributions to the progress of the
common civilization of mankind,
achievements of which she by nature and
talent is eminently capable.
Your Majesty, I am taking the liberty to
publish this message at once, from my
sincere wish that this public expression
may resound to your people as a united
voice of sympathy of the American
What happened to Asakawa’s draft?
According to the book by Abe, cited
previously, Langdon Warner showed this
draft to officials all around Washington
This rather long text, as a political
message, is verbose and unusable in this
format. However from a historical
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from November 27th through 28th.
Although Warner did not meet directly
with Roosevelt or Hull, he did see many
important figures in various government
departments and showed them Asakawa’s
draft. Among them was Senator Elbert
Thomas, referred to in the aforementioned
Kurusu memoir.15 And there is a clear
record that he showed the draft to Joseph
F. Ballantine, a senior official in the State
Department’s Far East division and a
Japan specialist, on November 27th.16
Japanese side to improve Japan’s
relations with the United States. While it
is tempting to point out Asakawa’s
shortcomings, conversely one should take
great issue with the Japanese embassy in
Washington for not making use of a
brilliant man like Asakawa in its
organization, a man with such breadth of
knowledge and such a broad base of
contacts within the United States.
Actions Inside the U.S.
Government On The Message to
Warner also asked Frederick Moore, a the Emperor
Foreign Ministry employee who worked
at the Washington embassy, about the
pros and cons of the president sending a
personal message to the emperor. While
this meeting may have occurred before
Asakawa wrote his draft, Moore recalled
in his memoirs that Warner had posed
this question to him in writing. Moore felt
that matters had already gone too far, and
he gave a pessimistic response. It is
probably natural that Moore would
respond in this way, because he had
observed the actual developments in the
negotiations between Japan and the
United States at close range. Undaunted,
Warner continued to go around
Washington with the Asakawa draft
clutched in his hands. When he
approached Senator Thomas, the senator
sent for Moore and requested that he
sound out Ambassador Nomura as to the
viability of sending a message to the
emperor. Nomura, together with Kurusu,
had already sent a submission to Foreign
Minister Togo on the matter, so of course
he was delighted to respond in the
What sort of actions did key officials
within the American government take
regarding Roosevelt’s personal message
to the emperor? As a matter of historical
record, the November 28th war council
was directly connected to the development
of the message sent on December 6th.
This council comprised of President
Roosevelt, and other key officials
including Secretary of State Cordell Hull,
War Secretary Henry Stimson, Army
Chief of Staff George Marshall, Navy
Secretary Frank Knox, and Chief of
Naval Operations Harold Stark; they met
regularly to discuss fundamental
diplomatic and military policies for the
United States. In practical terms, this
council discussed the nation’s most
important policies. On November 26th the
so-called Hull Note was presented to
Japan, and the next day Roosevelt and
Hull met with an anxious Nomura and
Kurusu. It was decided Roosevelt would
leave for Warm Springs, Georgia, a resort
area, the following evening, the 28th. It
was at noon on the 28th that this war
council was convened.
And so it was that, on November 27th and
28th, Warner showed Asakawa’s draft to
a number of important officials in the
U.S. government; the draft was later to
influence subsequent versions, and parts
of it even remained in the final version
sent by Roosevelt. Asakawa had a definite
influence on the message to the emperor,
now part of the historical record, but
despite his talents he never directly
approached relevant parties on the
Roosevelt abruptly advanced the idea of
perhaps sending a personal telegram to
the Japanese emperor. On the surface,
such a telegram appeared to be a clear
attempt to bring about peace with Japan,
so naturally War Secretary Stimson and
Secretary of State Hull adamantly
opposed it. When Roosevelt proposed
this idea, Hull must have recalled the
events of May 1940 when a personal
message was sent to the Italian leader
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Mussolini. At this time war between
Germany and the Soviet Union had yet to
break out, and it was unknown exactly
how much of a threat the German military
posed. There were also grave concerns for
what might happen if Italy joined forces
with Germany, so Roosevelt’s personal
telegrams to Mussolini to try to keep him
out of the war were sent in earnest. For
Hull, it was clearly unacceptable to send a
message to the Japanese emperor if it was
meant seriously. And Stimson was of the
same mind. Members of the war council,
including Roosevelt, had only three days
earlier at their November 25th meeting
argued that the American side should not
expose itself to excessive danger, and
should allow the Japanese to fire the first
shot, so they would have still held that
position. Thus there was a definite
contradiction between the U.S.’s
fundamental policies and the idea of a
personal message to the emperor.18
Nevertheless, in the end, Hull, Stimson
and Knox between them drafted the
personal message to the emperor, along
with an address to Congress, at the
president’s direction.19
approaching when war with Japan was
inevitable, and that Japan would make the
first move. Therefore as the final stages of
an impending war with Japan approached,
Roosevelt reconsidered the political
benefits of sending a personal telegram to
the emperor, and made preparations to
that end.
Let’s take a closer look at the draft for the
message to the emperor, which was
produced on November 29th within the
State Department at Roosevelt’s
“Almost a century ago the President of
the United States addressed to the
Emperor of Japan a message extending an
offer of friendship of the people of the
United States to the people of Japan. That
offer was accepted, and in the long period
of unbroken peace and friendship which
has followed, our respective nations,
through the virtues of their peoples, the
sound character of their respective and
national structures, and the wisdom of
their leaders and rulers—especially in
Japan your illustrious grandfather the
Emperor Meiji—have prospered and risen
to a position of being able substantially to
influence humanity.
Why did Roosevelt suddenly, at this
moment, put forward this idea of sending
a personal telegram to the emperor? As
previously mentioned, Roosevelt would
send a personal message to the leader of a
hostile nation when war seemed
inevitable. And it appeared that the
moment had now arrived. Ambassadors
Kurusu and Nomura had already sent a
submission regarding the message to
Foreign Minister Togo on November
26th. This telegram was intercepted and
decoded by the Americans on November
28th.20 It is conceivable that Langdon
Warner’s efforts had also been reported
to Roosevelt. It is possible that either, or
both, of these sources of information
reminded him that the time to send his
personal telegram to the emperor was
approaching. Roosevelt, for whom
steering Japan into starting the war was an
immovable policy, was both confident and
expectant after the Hull Note was
presented that the time was fast
Only in situations of extraordinary
importance to our two countries need I
address to Your Majesty messages on
matters of state. I feel I should now so
address you because of the deep and farreaching
emergency which appears to be
in formation.
Developments are occurring in the Pacific
area which threaten to deprive each of our
nations and all humanity of the beneficial
influence of the long peace between our
two countries. These developments
contain tragic possibilities.
The history of both our countries affords
brilliant examples in which your and my
predecessors have, at other times of great
crisis, by their enlightened decisions and
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acts, arrested trends and directed national
policies along new and better courses—
thereby bringing blessings to the peoples
of both countries and to the peoples of
other lands.
say it was a summary of the Asakawa
This was how the initial State Department
draft of the message came into existence,
but it spares almost no thought to
bringing about peace between Japan and
the United States. Indeed, for Roosevelt
who wanted to be drawn into war by
provoking Japan into firing the first shot,
it wasn’t even worth reading. It was, as
Hull had observed, little more than
something which would “leave a record.”
Moreover, the right moment to send such
a message still hadn’t arrived. As far as
Roosevelt was concerned, for this sort of
message to have the desired effect it had
to be sent at the last possible moment, and
the actual contents of the message would
reflect the final circumstances. At this
time, Hull’s draft message was barely
worthy of Roosevelt’s attention.
Feeling deeply concerned over the present
trend of events, I address myself to Your
Majesty at this moment in the fervent
hope that Your Majesty may, as I am
doing, give thought to ways of dispelling
the dark clouds which loom over the
relations between our two countries and
of restoring and maintaining the
traditional state of amity wherein both our
peoples may contribute to lasting peace
and security throughout the Pacific area.”
Hull gave this draft to Roosevelt, with the
added remarks that sending this message
would have “doubtful efficacy, except for
the purpose of making a record.” And if
it was to be sent at all, he proposed it be
done through Ambassador Grew.22 It was
only natural that Hull would not accord
this message any more significance than
merely to leave a record.
Stanley Jones’s Efforts
Let us turn our attention to Stanley Jones
who worked tirelessly on the proposed
message to the emperor. Jones was a
senior cleric in the American Methodist
Church, and had a close association with
Roosevelt. He was also a friend of Japan
and even had personal contacts with
Toyohiko Kagawa, a well-known
Japanese Christian. Jones believed that
war between Japan and the United States
should not be allowed to happen, that it
would be a pointless war, and that even
peace between Japan and China was
possible. He was in China during the
Manchurian Incident and the China
Incident, and was well-versed in Chinese
It is abundantly clear that the Asakawa
draft examined previously had an
influence on this version. State
Department officials would have
considered the circumstances at that time
and, unaware of what Roosevelt really had
in mind, would have taken the request to
draft a personal message to the emperor at
face value, and in their haste would have
devised a message of this nature. It was
probably correct that the key reference to
the standoff between Japan and United
States being “shallow-rooted” was
dropped, however the introduction
regarding the American offer of
friendship to the Japanese emperor a
century ago clearly demonstrates the
influence of the Asakawa draft. These
phrases certainly didn’t appear in the
spurious draft prepared at the time of the
fall of the Konoe cabinet.23 This
November 29th version contained no
concrete proposals, and one might even
In June 1941, Jones met up with Kagawa
in Wisconsin. Both were concerned about
a possible conflict between Japan and the
United States, and Kagawa suggested that
Jones go to Washington and meet with
Ambassador Nomura, a man of peace. So
Jones visited the Japanese embassy in
July, and spoke with Nomura. When
Kurusu arrived to take up his post on
November 15th, Jones spoke with him
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Hidenari Terasaki, first secretary at the
Japanese embassy, was in charge of
information, propaganda, and espionage.
He arrived for duty at the embassy in
Washington on March 29th, 1941, and
worked under Nomura and Kurusu.24
Jones met with Terasaki before the
delivery of the Hull Note. Terasaki had
this to say to Jones.25
During their meeting, the U.S. presented
the Hull Note to Japan. Years later, Jones
noted that a subsequent investigation
would describe this as “the button that
started the war.”26
On November 27th, Terasaki went to see
Jones around noon. He asked Jones to
visit the president before 2:30 p.m. that
day, and talk to him about the psychology
of the Japanese people. Jones telephoned
the president’s secretary Mr. McIntyre,
who told Jones that the president’s
schedule was completely full and a
meeting would not be possible. However
if he had a message, McIntyre could write
it down and have it shown to the president
before 2:30.27
“You see, we haven’t an unlimited
amount of time to try for peace. Our war
party is saying to us, ‘You see what is
happening. We are bleeding to death with
this oil embargo. America is getting
stronger day by day. She is stringing out
the negotiations. Time is playing into her
hands. If we are going to strike, the
sooner we strike the better.’ ”
With Terasaki’s verification, Jones wrote
out a memo paraphrasing Terasaki’s
Jones may not have been fully aware of
how desperate the situation was in Japan,
but he understood how seriously Nomura
and Kurusu were working towards peace.
He knew that the Japanese embassy was
not involved in a double bluff to stall for
time while preparations were made to
attack the United States.
“The Japanese say that since they have
been fighting for four years they are in a
war mentality. When one is in a war
mentality he cannot think straight. The
allies were in a war mentality when they
made the peace at the close of the last war
and they made a bad peace. You help us
from a war mentality to a peace mentality.
Don’t compel us to do things but make it
possible for us to do them. If you treat us
in this way we will reciprocate doubly. If
you stretch out one hand we will stretch
out two. And we can not only be friends,
we can be Allies.”
Terasaki continued to explain the
psychological difficulty created for the
Japanese by the oil embargo measures.
Without oil their trucks, taxis and fishing
boats could not operate. “This is our
greatest wound. Bind it up first, and we
will be in a frame of mind to talk peace.”
Jones posed the following question to
Terasaki: “Suppose America would lift
the oil embargo sufficiently to support
your peace-time needs—enough for
transportation but not enough to pile up.
Suppose this were done with the
understanding that you would go straight
into a peace conference, with America
offering her good offices to China and
Japan to bring them together. Would
Japan agree?”
When Terasaki asked the Americans not
to “compel” but to “make it possible
for” the Japanese to do things, he was
asking them to negotiate in a way that
Japan would not lose face. The message
was indeed seen by President Roosevelt,
and apparently had some effect upon the
2:30 p.m. meeting which the president
and Secretary Hull had with Nomura and
Kurusu. According to the memoirs of
Terasaki’s wife, Gwen, the main topic of
conversation at this meeting was “The
Japanese psychology in the crisis.”29
Even Nomura recalled in his memoirs
what the president said: “During the last
Terasaki replied wholeheartedly: “Yes, we
would accept it at once.”
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war Japan and the United States were on
the same side, and Germany then was
unable to grasp the psychology of other
countries. It is very pleasing that Japan
today has people who are working hard in
many ways for the love of peace.”30
In summary, he ardently explained it was
a grave mistake on the part of certain
elements in the United States who
believed that, even when faced with
economic pressure, Japan could not be
driven to commit an act of war.31
If we casually examine this November
27th meeting Roosevelt and Hull had with
Nomura and Kurusu, there would be
sufficient grounds to assert that, by taking
up the issue of Japan’s psychology,
Roosevelt was being as cordial as ever,
and was a friend to Japan. But if we
examine this meeting from the perspective
that, hour by hour, war between Japan and
the United States was drawing nearer,
what significance does this meeting take
Conversely though, Roosevelt made good
use of his grasp of Japan’s psychology,
to bring about war between Japan and the
United States. Roosevelt had developed
an understanding of Japan’s psychology
from the many reports sent by
Ambassador Grew, and he turned this
knowledge against Japan. He forced the
Hull Note on Japan and pressed the
button for war.
However, his meeting with the Japanese
ambassadors was held the day after he
had forced the Hull Note on Japan. How
should he receive these two flustered
men? He knew that, as president, he had
to be cordial and friendly. If he treated
them coldly or ignored them, Nomura,
Kurusu, and the Japanese embassy would
fall into despair. If Nomura and Kurusu
felt there was no hope, it would be
difficult to predict how they or the
Japanese embassy would behave. Better
to adopt a friendly and cordial attitude,
and leave them with some prospect that
the president could still be accommodated,
and a peaceful resolution was still
possible. The president even stressed: “I
still have great hope that we can reach a
peaceful compromise between Japan and
United States.” The Japanese side would
be somewhat relieved and remain hopeful,
and waste time relying on the president’s
good will. Roosevelt grasped this
immediately, but what could they possibly
talk about? While pondering the issue,
Jones turned up with the subject of
“Japan’s psychology.” It was perfect
timing. If the president took up this topic
of conversation, Nomura and Kurusu
would be pleased, and a congenial
atmosphere would be created; but above
all he could waste more of Japan’s
precious time on mere talk.32
On November 25th, the war council
discussed how to entice Japan into firing
the first shot, without exposing the
American side to too much danger. It was
under these circumstances that the
president, in a display of anger,
confronted Japan with the Hull Note on
the 26th. So if we look at the president’s
meeting with the Japanese ambassadors
on the 27th, the American government had
already made its official position clear by
presenting the Hull Note, therefore a
discussion of Japan’s psychology was
now clearly irrelevant. There was no point
discussing it at this late stage.
The U.S. ambassador to Japan, Joseph
Grew, had frequently advised his
government on the subject of Japan’s
psychology. In particular, on November
3rd he produced what would become a
very important report if, sadly, war broke
out between Japan and United States: it
was a summary of the psychology of the
Japanese people. Grew explained
forcefully that Japan was the sort of
country which, under pressure, would be
unable to back down. He also suggested
that, under such pressure, Japan was
likely to commit hara-kiri in a do-or-die
effort. He emphasized that, if Japan lost
face, Japanese sanity could not be
measured by American standards of logic.
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Nomura and Kurusu were completely
unaware of the activities of the Japanese
military. That is why they raised the
abstract subject of “Japan’s
psychology” at such a pressing time. The
president had access to decrypted
intercepts of Japanese cables, a firm grasp
of Japan’s diplomatic intentions, and a
fairly detailed awareness of Japan’s troop
movements. Even without foreknowledge
of the Japanese navy’s plans to attack
Pearl Harbor, he had far more detailed
knowledge of Japanese troop movements
than Nomura and Kurusu. He sent a
challenge to the Japanese by forcing the
Hull Note on them. On top of this, he had
to discuss the psychology of the Japanese
with them. Roosevelt also clearly
understood the circumstances Nomura
and Kurusu found themselves in, and
what was going on in their minds: they
were in the dark about Japan’s military’s
plans, and were more than happy to
discuss “Japan’s psychology.” Indeed,
Roosevelt probably found discussing
“Japan’s psychology” with Nomura and
Kurusu a pleasant review of the reports
on that subject sent by Ambassador
reservation at the Purple Iris Tearoom for
1:00 p.m. where he met Jones and his
colleague Dr. Robinson. Terasaki asked
Jones to follow Roosevelt down to Warm
Springs and ask the president, by word of
mouth, if he would send a personal
telegram to the emperor.
Jones, who had struggled to bring about
peace between Japan and United States,
immediately telephoned the president’s
secretary to ask if he could fly down to
Warm Springs and meet with the
president. The secretary said this was not
possible, but Dr. Robinson could bring
over a written message which would be
sealed, and delivered to the president.
Jones wrote out a letter for the president
outlining the idea for a personal telegram
to the emperor, and asked Robinson to
deliver it to the president’s secretary.
However, the president hurriedly returned
to Washington on December 1st, so this
letter was handed to the president at
Washington’s Union Station, and he read
it on the way to the White House.34
The president’s secretary telephoned
Jones with the president’s response on
December 3rd. The president had been
happy to receive the letter. Jones then said
he had an urgent message which could
only be delivered verbally, so with
Roosevelt’s approval, he met secretly with
the president on condition that no written
record would be left.35
The Japanese Embassy’s
Approach to the Message to the
Kurusu returned to the embassy after
meeting with the president. While Kurusu
had the impression that the president had
been cordial and friendly, he may also
have been confident that anything was
now possible. Kurusu sent for Terasaki
and revealed his idea about the message to
the emperor; he asked Terasaki to start
working on it. When Kurusu and
Nomura had sent a written submission on
the matter on November 26th, he had
probably yet to receive a reply from
Foreign Minister Togo.33 Terasaki may
have seen the benefits of using Jones, so
he quickly decided to ask Jones to assist
with getting it done.
At the meeting, Jones told the president
that he wished to pass on a request from
Ambassadors Nomura and Kurusu—their
last attempt to maintain peace—for the
president to send a personal message to
the emperor.36
Jones explained that this request had been
transmitted to him by Hidenari Terasaki, a
member of the embassy staff. Roosevelt
said that he had himself been thinking
about sending a message to the emperor,
but had been hesitant to do so because he
might have caused the ambassadors some
embarrassment if he had gone over their
The next day, Sunday November 28th,
Terasaki asked his wife Gwen to make a
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To which Jones replied: “But I’ve come
to tell you that the Japanese have asked
me to request you to send it.”
Ultimately, Roosevelt made good use of
Jones. Earlier, when Nomura had just
arrived to take up his post as ambassador,
Roosevelt made it plain that he disliked
negotiating with people who did not
officially represent the Japanese
government, and complained to Nomura
that he would only negotiate directly with
the ambassador.39 However he was more
than happy to make an exception in
Jones’s case. For the American president
to send a personal message to avoid war
to the emperor of Japan, the head of state
of a hostile nation, at a time when war was
about to break out between their two
countries, was quite unlike those
messages he sent as a third party to Hitler
and Mussolini. While he had innumerable
substantive options available to him to
evade war, he had to be especially careful
because he was trying to achieve that goal
by sending a personal telegram. He would
make it appear quite natural that he was
adopting a suggestion from the Japanese
ambassadors to send that message.
Jones’s suggestion to send a personal
telegram to the emperor couldn’t have
come at a more opportune moment.
“Then that wipes my slate clean,” said
Roosevelt, “I can send it.”
Jones stressed that if the message was
sent via the Japanese Foreign Ministry it
might be held up, so it had to be delivered
directly to the emperor. Roosevelt said he
could send it through Ambassador Grew,
who would be able to hand it directly to
the emperor because ambassadors had the
right of direct access. And he added:
“If I don’t get an answer in 24 hours I
will give it to the newspapers and force a
According to Gwen Terasaki’s memoirs,
at the conclusion of the meeting Jones
asked Roosevelt not to disclose
Terasaki’s name. Roosevelt replied: “You
tell that young Japanese he is a brave
man. No one will ever learn of his part in
this from me. His secret is safe.”38
Roosevelt knew he could make a direct
appeal for avoiding war to the Japanese
emperor in his message, but could not,
under any circumstances, actually produce
the peaceful outcome that would be
spelled out in that message. He could,
however, hope for a favorable political
outcome, namely to give the impression
that Roosevelt had worked until the last
moment to avoid hostilities, even while
manipulating the Japanese into launching
war. Furthermore, if it seemed clear Japan
was going to fire the first shot, he had to
ensure that his message would not prevent
the outbreak of war. So his talk about
releasing the message to the press to force
the situation if no response was received
within 24 hours was clearly a bluff.
Nevertheless, this comment would appear
to be a gesture that the president was still
working towards peace. It would also give
the impression that he was unaware that
war was imminent.
Roosevelt’s description of Terasaki as a
“brave” young man was also clearly part
of the deception. Terasaki might not have
wanted his name revealed because the
message was not sanctioned by the
Japanese government; but it may also
have been because of a sense of honor
peculiar to Japanese people of the time,
who detested having their names revealed
in any unofficial situation. If war with the
United States had been avoided and Japan
had been saved, he may not have minded
if no-one ever learned of his involvement.
This is the Terasaki of whom Roosevelt
said “His secret is safe.”
FBI Wiretap Jones and Terasaki
The FBI monitored calls between
Terasaki and Jones regarding their
activities on the message to the emperor,
which the two were doing at Kurusu’s
behest. As Terasaki was in charge of
intelligence at the embassy, he had been
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under strict FBI surveillance since his
arrival for duty in March. These
surveillance logs, for the most part, have
since been declassified in the United
States. According to these materials, the
FBI intercepted a phone conversation at
9:02 a.m. on November 28th, when Jones
telephoned Terasaki at home.40
perhaps during those conversations they
supposed the Japanese government might
approve the message to the emperor.
However the reply to the ambassadors’
written submission had yet to arrive, and it
was still unclear whether the Japanese
government had given its approval.
When Terasaki returned to the embassy
from his meeting with Jones at the Purple
Iris, he found that the reply from Foreign
Minister Togo had arrived, but failed to
provide any support for the message to
the emperor. Any hope that the Japanese
government might give its approval was
completely dashed. With this option ruled
out, and if the message was to be sent at
all, Jones’s role would have to change
from being a mediator delivering
communications to Roosevelt about the
message to the emperor, to that of a third
party who would actively pursue the idea
as his own. This is what Jones may have
meant when he asked Terasaki whether it
would be “mediation” rather than
offering “good offices.”
Terasaki: Can we see each other at one
Jones: Yes. Any word you can tell me
before then?
Terasaki: No. I’ll tell you everything at
one o’clock. Think you can find the
Jones: Yes, I think we’ll find the place.
Terasaki: Thank you for calling. I’ll see
you at 1:00 p.m.
Terasaki and Jones talked for about an
hour at the Purple Iris Tearoom, and later
spoke again on the phone at around 4:00
Terasaki: What I have told you was 100%
correct and the other was a mistake.
Jones: [Did that mean] that it would be
offering good offices but would be
practically mediation.
The expression “good offices” has a
specific meaning in diplomacy: one
should merely act as a go-between and
facilitate proceedings, rather than
intervene in a dispute between two
countries. Mediation on the other hand
means to intervene in that dispute, and be
a third party to any proposal for
Terasaki : Not exactly.
They continued to talk about the message
to the emperor in vague terms, but it is
possible to surmise what they were
discussing. Kurusu and Nomura had sent
a written submission to Foreign Minister
Togo in Tokyo on November 26th asking
permission to proceed with the idea for a
message to the emperor. Immediately
thereafter the Hull Note was presented,
and a meeting was then arranged with the
president for November 27th. Before this
meeting though, Jones was asked to brief
the president on Japan’s wartime
psychology, and this seemed to have had
an impact: there was a softening of the
president’s attitude. Kurusu soon began
to believe that a personal message to the
emperor was possible, and instructed
Terasaki to follow this up.
The Japanese embassy failed to get
permission from its government, and
could no longer be party to this message
to the emperor, so if the idea was to be
suggested to the president at all, Jones
would formally have to appear to be
acting on his own. However Terasaki and
the others at the Japanese embassy,
including Kurusu and Nomura, could not
appear to give such instructions to Jones,
so they had to impress upon Jones that
everything was off the record and he
would have to keep pushing the matter
forward on his own. From this angle, the
vague conversation overheard by the FBI
alluded to above somehow makes more
After receiving his instructions, Terasaki
spoke with Jones on November 28th, and
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It is worth noting here that the Asakawa
draft contains the expression “good
offices” in the second paragraph. In the
actual prosecution of diplomacy it is
usually difficult to distinguish between
“good offices” and “mediation,” but the
legal distinction between them is quite
Only in situations of extraordinary
importance to our two countries need I
address to Your Majesty messages on
matters of state. I feel I should now so
address you because of the deep and farreaching
emergency which appears to be
in formation.
Developments are occurring in the Pacific
area which threaten to deprive each of our
nations and all humanity of the beneficial
influence of the long peace between our
two countries. These developments
contain tragic possibilities.
The Message Actually Sent to the
Let us now turn our attention to the actual
message which was sent to the emperor
on December 6th, 1941, at 9:00 p.m. and
which remains in the historical record. The people of the United States, believing
in peace and in the right of nations to live
and let live, have eagerly watched the
conversations between our two
Governments during these past months.
We have hoped for a termination of the
present conflict between Japan and China.
We have hoped that a peace of the Pacific
could be consummated in such a way that
nationalities of many diverse peoples
could exist side by side without fear of
invasion; that unbearable burdens of
armaments could be lifted for them all;
and that all peoples would resume
commerce without discrimination against
or in favor of any nation.
According to Hull’s memoirs, the draft
version he had prepared on November
29th came back with some changes and
additions, so Hull and his assistants made
a few technical corrections, and returned it
to the president. The president made no
further changes and returned it to Hull
with the well-known handwritten
instructions to send it immediately using
“gray code.”41
Although there are certain problems with
how events are portrayed in Hull’s
memoirs, let us first go methodically
through the actual version that was sent to
the emperor and which remains in the
historical record.42
I am certain that it will be clear to Your
Majesty, as it is to me, that in seeking
these great objectives both Japan and the
United States should agree to eliminate
any form of military threat. This seemed
essential to the attainment of the high
President Roosevelt to Emperor Hirohito
of Japan
More than a year ago Your Majesty’s
Government concluded an agreement with
the Vichy Government by which five or
six thousand Japanese troops were
permitted to enter into Northern French
Indo-china for the protection of Japanese
troops which were operating against
China further north. And this Spring and
Summer the Vichy Government permitted
further Japanese military forces to enter
into Southern French Indochina for the
common defense of French Indochina. I
think I am correct in saying that no attack
[WASHINGTON,] December 6, 1941
Almost a century ago the President of the
United States addressed to the Emperor
of Japan a message extending an offer of
friendship of the people of the United
States to the people of Japan. That offer
was accepted, and in the long period of
unbroken peace and friendship which has
followed, our respective nations, through
the virtues of their peoples and the
wisdom of their rulers have prospered and
have substantially helped humanity.
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has been made upon Indochina, nor that
any has been contemplated.
of China. Thus a withdrawal of the
Japanese forces from Indo-China would
result in the assurance of peace
throughout the whole of the South Pacific
During the past few weeks it has become
clear to the world that Japanese military,
naval and air forces have been sent to
Southern Indo-China in such large
numbers as to create a reasonable doubt
on the part of other nations that this
continuing concentration in Indo-china is
not defensive in its character.
I address myself to Your Majesty at this
moment in the fervent hope that Your
Majesty may, as I am doing, give thought
in this definite emergency to ways of
dispelling the dark clouds. I am confident
that both of us, for the sake of the peoples
not only of our own great countries but
for the sake of humanity in neighboring
territories, have a sacred duty to restore
traditional amity and prevent further death
and destruction in the world.
Because these continuing concentrations
in Indo-China have reached such large
proportions and because they extend now
to the southeast and the southwest corners
of that Peninsula, it is only reasonable that
the people of the Philippines, of the
hundreds of Islands of the East Indies, of
Malaya and of Thailand itself are asking
themselves whether these forces of Japan
are preparing or intending to make attack
in one or more of these many directions.
How should we assess the content of this
message to the emperor which remains in
the historical record?
I am sure that Your Majesty will
understand that the fear of all these
peoples is a legitimate fear in as much as
it involves their peace and their national
existence. I am sure that Your Majesty
will understand why the people of the
United States in such large numbers look
askance at the establishment of military,
naval and air bases manned and equipped
so greatly as to constitute armed forces
capable of measures of offense.
The first paragraph has clearly been
influenced by the Asakawa draft. As
noted previously, the November 29th draft
put together largely by the State
Department, was greatly influenced by
Asakawa’s version; and it is only natural
that the Asakawa draft would continue to
exert some influence.
However in the middle of the message,
attention is focused on the activities of the
Japanese military in the vicinity of French
Indochina, which appears in neither the
Asakawa draft nor the November 29th
draft. It was certainly true that these
Japanese troops movements presented an
enormous problem within the American
government. It was widely reported in the
American press on November 30th that
Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo had
given a vengeful speech, calling for the
expulsion of American and British forces
from Asia. Although this report was
mistaken, and Tojo had not made any
such speech, Roosevelt was apprised of it
and hurriedly returned to Washington
from Warm Springs, ahead of schedule.
Roosevelt lodged a formal inquiry to the
Japanese embassy on December 2nd,
through Assistant Secretary of State
It is clear that a continuance of such a
situation is unthinkable.
None of the peoples whom I have spoken
of above can sit either indefinitely or
permanently on a keg of dynamite.
There is absolutely no thought on the part
of the United States of invading Indo-
China if every Japanese soldier or sailor
were to be withdrawn therefrom.
I think that we can obtain the same
assurance from the Governments of the
East Indies, the Governments of Malaya
and the Government of Thailand. I would
even undertake to ask for the same
assurance on the part of the Government
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Sumner Welles, asking about Japanese
troop movements in the vicinity of French
Indochina. It was quite true the American
government was rather concerned about
this issue. However what we should focus
on in Roosevelt’s actual message to the
emperor is that there were no concrete
proposals for alleviating the current crisis.
Although he proposed peace with the
countries neighboring French Indochina,
including China, there were no emergency
measures to halt Japanese troop
movements and stave off the outbreak of
war. This is immediately apparent upon
closer inspection.
number of other options that would have
successfully avoided war, rather than
sending a message like those he sent
Hitler and Mussolini. If the Hull Note
had been presented in anger, it could have
been withdrawn. Or the modus vivendi
prepared by the State Department could
have been presented. Or any number of
proposals containing emergency
compromise measures could have been
made to temporarily halt Japanese troop
movements in the vicinity of French
This author (Sugihara) believes that
leaders in the American government,
including Roosevelt, had foreknowledge
of the Japanese navy’s surprise attack on
Pearl Harbor. The first governor of
Hawaii, John Barnes, then a policeman in
Honolulu who headed an intelligence
office set up jointly with the FBI, claimed
before he passed away he had been told
by an FBI official sent to observe the
movements of Japanese-Americans in
Hawaii, that he had heard a week before
the assault that the Japanese military
would attack Pearl Harbor within a
week.44 Then-Labor Secretary Frances
Perkins claimed that, at a December 5th
cabinet meeting, Roosevelt stated he knew
where the Japanese fleet was located.45
No records were kept for the Joint Chiefs
of Staff meeting held on the night of
December 6th, and the strange behavior of
those military leaders on the morning of
December 7th reveals without a doubt
these government leaders had
foreknowledge of the Japanese navy’s
attack on Pearl Harbor. From this
perspective, the content of Roosevelt’s
message to the emperor becomes more
insidious. By lecturing at length about the
Japanese troop movements in the vicinity
of French Indochina, he sent a false signal
to the Japanese side that he was
completely unaware of the imminent
attack on Pearl Harbor.
The Asakawa draft had very few concrete
proposals regarding the actual
negotiations between Japan and the
United States, because Asakawa was not
aware of the details of those negotiations.
However, he made a critical observation:
the present conflict could be easily
resolved because, in the context of the
long history of amity between Japan and
the United States, it was “shallowrooted.”
In conclusion, he included a
practical request for the emperor to make
this message publicly known and turn
Japanese public opinion around.
At the aforementioned war council of
November 25th, Roosevelt and the others
considered how to somehow entice Japan
to fire the first shot without exposing the
United States to excessive danger.43 It is
also clear that the November 28th
proposed message to the emperor was, for
Roosevelt, not intended for bringing about
peace between Japan and the United
States. The message was ostensibly meant
to bring about peace, so naturally
Secretary of State Hull and War Secretary
Stimson opposed it. But Roosevelt took a
loftier perspective: he had other uses for
this message to emperor, and felt it was
the right time to prepare a message draft.
As noted previously, if his message to the
emperor was actually meant to bring
about peace, Roosevelt as the leader of
one the nations which would be involved
in that war, should have considered a
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The Message to the Emperor with
the Modus Vivendi
In these circumstances, where continuance
of present trends imperil the now tenuous
threads which still hold our two countries
in amicable relationship, I feel that no
possibility should be overlooked which
might serve to relieve the immediate
situation and thus enable our two
Governments to work out in a calmer
atmosphere a more permanent solution. I
am sure Your Majesty will share my
feelings in this regard.
If the president had intended his message
to the emperor to bring about peace
between Japan and the United States, he
could have presented the modus vivendi
prepared at the same time as the Hull
Note. If this had been shown to the
Japanese side sometime before the
outbreak of hostilities, the war between
Japan and United States could certainly
have been avoided. In fact there is another
message draft prepared by the State
Department on December 6th on Hull’s
instructions, which contained in substance
a modus vivendi. And Roosevelt even
indicated he was prepared to seriously
consider this draft.
The history of both our countries affords
brilliant examples in which your and my
predecessors have, at other times of great
crisis, by wise decisions and enlightened
acts, arrested harmful trends and directed
national policies along new and farsighted
courses—thereby bringing blessings to
the peoples of both countries and to the
Let us examine this alternative draft of the peoples of other nations.
message to the emperor.46
With the foregoing considerations in
mind I propose now the conclusion of a
temporary arrangement which would
envisage cessation of hostilities for a
period of ninety days between Japan and
China and an undertaking by each of the
Governments most concerned in the
Pacific area to refrain from any movement
or use of armed force against any of the
other parties during the period of the
temporary arrangement. If the Japanese
Government is favorably disposed toward
conclusion of such an arrangement I
would be glad promptly to approach the
other Governments concerned with a view
to obtaining their assent and commitment.
Message from the president to the
emperor of Japan
December 6th, 1941
I feel I should address Your Majesty
because of the deep and far-reaching
emergency which appears to be in
formation in relations between our two
countries. Conversations have been in
progress between representatives of our
two governments for many months for the
purpose of preventing any extension of
armed conflict in the Pacific area. It has
been my sincere hope that this would be
achieved and I am sure that it has equally
been the sincere hope of Your Majesty.
In order to give those governments an
incentive to enter into this arrangement, I
further propose that, toward relieving
existing apprehensions, Japan reduce her
armed forces in French Indochina to the
number which Japan had there on July 26,
1941, and that Japan agree not to send
new contingents of armed forces or
material to that area during the ninety-day
period of the temporary arrangement.
Developments are now occurring in the
Pacific area which threaten to deprive each
of our nations and humanity of the
beneficial influence of the long and
unbroken peace which has been
maintained between our two countries for
almost a century. Those developments are
suggestive of tragic possibilities. If the commitments above envisaged can
be obtained, I would undertake as a
further part of the general arrangement to
suggest to the Government of Japan and
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to the Government of China that those
Governments enter into direct
negotiations looking to a peaceful
settlement of the difficulties which exist
between them. Such negotiations might
take place in the Philippine Islands should
the Japanese and Chinese Governments
so desire.
It is very clear this message draft
proposed a practical ninety-day cease-fire
and a possible modus vivendi. It made
provision for a modus vivendi which
would stop the “bleeding to death”
Terasaki mentioned to Jones in
connection with the American oil
embargo, and it also included the idea of
mediation towards a peaceful settlement
with China. On November 26th, when the
Hull Note was presented to the Japanese
government—perhaps not entirely at
Hull’s instigation—a modus vivendi of
this sort had already been scrapped. So
why was the idea for a modus vivendi so
clearly revived now in this manner? It
certainly wasn’t because a State
Department official or even Hull himself
had independently decided albeit
reluctantly to present this to the president,
to comply with the purported intent of
preventing war. Even if formally it was an
actual emergency proposal to avoid war,
no State Department official could present
this without the approval of the president
who, on November 26th, had already
scrapped the modus vivendi. In the memo
Hull attached to this draft message, he
proposed that the Chinese be informed of
its outline beforehand because it included
peace talks between themselves and Japan,
but that they not be shown the actual draft
at preliminary talks. The Chinese
ambassador should also be instructed to
use his “most secret code” when
contacting his government. His memo
shows that, when this draft was written,
Hull fully intended to transmit this draft
In as much as the Chinese Government
has been cut off from its principal
industrial areas, I believe it equitable that
during the temporary period of the
proposed arrangement the United States
should continue sending material aid to
China. I may add that the amount of
material which China is able under
present conditions to obtain is small in
comparison with the amount of material
that Japan would save through
discontinuance of operations for a period
of three months.
It is my thought that while this temporary
arrangement would be in effect our two
Governments could continue their
conversations looking to a peaceful
settlement of the entire Pacific area. The
kind of solution I have had and continue
to have in mind is one in which Japan, on
the basis of application of the principle of
equality, would be provided through
constructive and peaceful methods
opportunity for the freer access to raw
materials and markets and general
exchange of goods, for the interchange of
ideas, and for the development of the
talents of her people, and would thus be
enabled to achieve those national
aspirations which Japan’s leaders have
often proclaimed. In fact, Roosevelt had already
demonstrated a particular interest in the
Pearl Harbor issue after becoming
president in 1933.48 In 1936 he ordered
then-Navy Chief of Staff William H.
Stanley to look into a possible attack on
Hawaii by the Japanese military; and that
same year, he established a branch of the
FBI in Hawaii.49 On October 8, 1940,
then-Commander in Chief of the Pacific
Fleet (CINCPAC) Admiral James O.
Richardson advised Roosevelt of the
disadvantages of retaining the Pacific
In making this proposal, I express to Your
Majesty the fervent hope that our two
Governments may find ways of dispelling
the dark clouds which loom over the
relations between our two countries and
of restoring and maintaining the
traditional condition of amity wherein
both our peoples may contribute to lasting
peace and security throughout the Pacific
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Fleet in Hawaii, but Roosevelt believed it
would have a restraining effect upon
Japan and rejected Richardson’s advice.
Roosevelt told Richardson that Japan was
in a protracted war with China, and if its
field of operations broadened, sooner or
later it would make a mistake and start a
war with the U.S.50 Roosevelt didn’t see
eye-to-eye with Richardson, and replaced
him as CINCPAC in January 1941 with
Husband E. Kimmell. From May 10th
through July 8, 1941, he authorized
official (but covert) plans to use Chinese
troops to attack Japan. However, material
aid was urgently needed at the European
front, so these plans were not executed,
but they do demonstrate his consistent
antipathy towards Japan.51
order to mislead the Japanese, Roosevelt
consistently remained cordial towards
those in the Japanese embassy, and made
efforts to show even those Americans
around him that he felt no malice towards
Japan, so that this too would get back to
the Japanese. In the end, he successfully
provoked Japan to fire the first shot and
brought the United States into the war.
Why then at the last moment did he
prepare a message to the emperor which
may actually have helped prevent war?
Roosevelt could read all Japan’s
diplomatic cables thanks to the codebreaking
“Magic”—despite occasional
errors in their translation—and he had
lavish access to sources of Japanese
military intelligence. One might even say
that, qualitatively, he had as firm a grasp
of Japan’s political and military situation
as Prime Minister Tojo. With all this
intelligence at his fingertips, the president
had to appear to be pushing for peace up
until the last moment, while also covertly
enticing the Japanese to fire the first shot.
It took Roosevelt, with the American
people and the Japanese government
being none the wiser, more than a year
after his meeting with Richardson to
finally succeed in provoking Japan to fire
the first shot. So why, at the last moment,
did he prepare this message draft which
apparently contradicted his intentions?
I examined extensively the reasons for
presenting the Hull Note on November
26th in my book Between Incompetence
and Culpability. The Japanese side had
presented their so-called Proposals A and
B, and it appeared as though Proposal B
in particular might have convinced the
cabinet to agree to a compromise solution
to avoid war; so to gain time, the State
Department was directed to produce two
drafts: one for a permanent agreement and
the other for a modus vivendi. Then, in a
false show of rage Roosevelt ordered Hull
to present only the permanent agreement,
the so-called Hull Note, without its
companion modus vivendi. Although two
days earlier the State Department draft of
the permanent agreement had called for
the withdrawal of Japanese troops from
China, this line in the agreement had been
footnoted “with the exception of
Manchuria” to prevent any
misunderstanding on the Japanese side;
but the footnote was later deleted to cause
confusion as to whether Manchuria was
included or not.52
To answer this question, we must examine
the situation Roosevelt and those around
the president found themselves in a few
days before the message was cabled to the
emperor on December 6th. As mentioned
in my book Between Incompetence and
Culpability, the Chicago Daily Tribune
published an exposé on Roosevelt’s “war
plans” on December 4th. AEF refers to
the American Expeditionary Forces.
FDR’S War Plans
Why did Roosevelt, who maintained a Goal Is 10 Million Armed Men;
steady antipathy towards Japan, prepare
this modus vivendi moments before war
between Japan and the United States
broke out, and why did he prepare a
version of a message to the emperor
which might actually have avoided war? In
Half To Fight In AEF
Proposes Land Drive By July 1, 1943, To
Smash Nazis…..
The next day, December 5th, it was the
turn of the Washington Times Herald to
publish a follow-up report.
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War Plan Exposé Rocks Capital, merely to chance. Failure would fill
Roosevelt with regret. Roosevelt had his
own way of making all kinds of
compromises when compromises were
clearly needed.
Perils Army Appropriation Bill;
London Hails Prospect of AEF
Quite frankly, this secret war plan broke
the pledge Roosevelt made to renounce
war, during the fall 1940 presidential
campaign when he sought reelection to an
unprecedented third term. He had made
the following anti-war promise to win that
third term: “I have said this before, but I
shall say it again and again and again.
Your boys are not going to be sent into
any foreign wars.”53 These “war plans”
clearly violated this pledge. They dealt a
crushing blow to Roosevelt and
government leaders around him. It could
have brought down his administration.
Since the American public was
overwhelmingly against war, without this
promise Roosevelt would not have won
reelection for a third term. Secretary of
War Stimson phoned the president on the
morning of December 5th, and Roosevelt
said he intended to “not answer any
questions about it” at a press conference
at ten o’clock that morning. He dodged
the issue by announcing that he had
“nothing to say but that the Secretary of
War probably did.”54
According to Roosevelt’s biographer,
James MacGregor Burns: “Roosevelt
was a practical man who proceeded now
boldly, now cautiously,” and his faith was
more a set of attitudes than a firmly
grounded moral code; he could easily
clinch a compromise at a decisive
moment.55 The creation of the message to
the emperor is surely a case in point.
The Pearl Harbor Connection
The draft of the message to the emperor
which included a modus vivendi, is
closely connected to the fact that the
Japanese navy’s attack on Pearl Harbor
became a “sneak attack” due to the
“final memorandum”—which was to
serve as a declaration of war—being
delivered late.
This author (Sugihara) shares the view of
journalist Tsutomu Konno who believes
that American military leaders, including
Roosevelt, knew in advance about the
attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese
Navy. In 1991 on the 50th anniversary of
the attack on Pearl Harbor, Konno
examined the issue in great detail and
found that intelligence the Japanese
navy’s Task Force was en route to Pearl
Harbor, had reached Roosevelt sometime
between the evening of December 2nd
and noon the next day.56 It was
undoubtedly strange that Roosevelt, who
had been interested in Pearl Harbor even
before becoming president, failed to urge
local Hawaiian naval and military
commanders to reinforce their defenses.
At the November 25th war council,
Roosevelt argued that Japan was
notorious for launching attacks without
warning.57 This was in fact what was
going to happen at Pearl Harbor. If
Roosevelt was to leave Pearl Harbor as an
easy target, Japan would lay plans for an
attack there. Pearl Harbor would become
This was the greatest crisis Roosevelt had
faced since the beginning of his
administration, and the only way out was
to get a peaceful settlement between Japan
and United States. Moreover, it had to be
presented to the public on a grand scale.
Until then, the negotiations in principle
had been conducted “under the radar”
and had been overly discreet. With
China’s involvement, the United States
would try to negotiate a peaceful
settlement between Japan and China. The
Philippines would be a practical venue to
hold these negotiations. Had this been
announced, Japan would clearly have
accepted it. It was a masterful
performance to cover-up the media’s
leaking of the war plans. But how to do
this, yet still manipulate the Japanese side
to fire the first shot which, as Richardson
observed, would take about a year. The
fruits of those labors could not be left
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the target of a warning-less assault. For
Roosevelt, knowledge of this would have
been quite gratifying and immensely
military leaders, including Roosevelt, were
likely to have been of one mind.
Japan’s Foreign Ministry notified its
embassy in Washington by cable on
December 2nd to destroy its code
machines, and the decrypted intercept of
this message was delivered to Roosevelt
on December 3rd. Here finally was proof
that Japan had begun preparations to
launch a war. Meanwhile, Hitler’s assault
on the Soviet Union had failed, and on
learning this Japan might have aborted its
attack on the United States. Without some
turn of events, the war plans leak might
have led to the downfall of the Roosevelt
administration. Had Japan been more
discerning, it would have considered the
benefits of postponing war with United
Meanwhile, Roosevelt’s secret war plans
were leaked on December 4th. Until that
moment the Japanese navy’s attack on
Pearl Harbor could only be, at best, a
matter for speculation. But after the war
plans were leaked, that attack became vital
to ensure the continued existence of the
administration. Would the Japanese Navy
actually attack Pearl Harbor? What if the
attack was suspended? Leaking of
Roosevelt’s war plans might have led to
the suspension of operations. Indeed,
War Secretary Stimson pointed out that
Soviet troops had commenced a new
assault against Germany in Rostov on
December 1st, and feared that Japan, with
concerns over Germany, might decide
against going to war.58
At 3:00 p.m. on December 6th, Roosevelt
learned from the decrypted intercept of
the important pilot message for the “final
memorandum” that Japan was about to
send a final message to the American
government.60 This was a clear indication
of Japan’s decision to go to war. It was
no longer likely Japan would suspend its
war launch.
However, since intelligence about the
Japanese navy’s plan to attack Pearl
Harbor was top-secret, he could not allow
his concerns to show. In public, he would
have to direct all his energy, from
December 4th through 5th, to dealing with
the secret war plans leak. In this awkward
climate, the cabinet was convened as
scheduled on the afternoon of December
5th. High on the agenda was, naturally,
the leaking of the war plans. There was an
uneasy atmosphere. In an attempt to
lighten the mood, Secretary Hull used
some “very large and impressive
blasphemy” to describe the Japanese. At
that precise moment, Navy Secretary
Knox revealed that they knew where the
Japanese fleet was. The president nodded
his head as if in agreement.59
Roosevelt had been well briefed on the
processes behind Japan’s policy
decisions by Ambassador Nomura.61 A
conference would be convened in the
emperor’s presence when determining
important policies, and these policies
would be sanctioned with the emperor’s
approval. During these imperial
conferences, the emperor would remain
silent and rely entirely upon his ministers.
Ministers could then be held responsible
should any particular decision fail. This
system meant important matters of state
would take a long time to decide, and once
a decision was made it was hard to amend
that decision. Roosevelt would not have
known the exact details of specific
conferences, but the decision to launch a
war against the United States was taken
after proceedings at the Imperial
Conference of December 1st. While the
emperor hoped for peace, he remained
completely silent. The Japanese navy’s
Covering up one secret soon led to the
uncovering of another. The war plans had
also been hidden from members of the
cabinet. When this secret of secrets was
revealed, some explanation had to be
given. To smooth things over at this
critical moment, Roosevelt casually
dropped another bombshell. On this, the
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Task Force had already left its staging
point, Hitokappu Bay, on November 26th,
and was en route to Pearl Harbor.
Without the decision to go to war the
Task Force would turn back, but if the
decision was in the affirmative it would
continue on its way.
In any case, Roosevelt clearly did his
utmost to the very end to carry out his
original intentions. Thirty minutes after
dispatching the final version of the
message to the emperor, he read through
decrypted intercepts of the first 13 of 14
parts for the “final memorandum” from
Japan to the American government, and
Even if Roosevelt had no foreknowledge declared “this means war!”
of the Japanese navy’s attack on Pearl
Harbor, it was still possible to conclude
that Japan intended to launch a war, based
on known Japanese troop movements, and
intercepted decrypts of the pilot message
which advised that a “final
memorandum” would be sent. It was
inevitable that Japan would launch a war.
By this stage no one, not even on the
Japanese side, could have stopped it.
The outbreak of war between Japan and
United States which culminated in the
dropping of the atomic bomb, was
completely in Roosevelt’s hands;
Roosevelt was unconcerned from the start
who knew it. In other words, it was up to
Roosevelt whether there was to be war
between Japan and the United States.
With all manner of information at his
fingertips, Roosevelt could freely decide
whether or not to prosecute a war with
Japan. This means that not only was the
war not inevitable, it was also
unnecessary. The existence of the
message draft with the modus vivendi
proves this. For example, it could be
argued that, even if America’s priority
was to become a belligerent in the war so
as to defeat Germany, the United States
could have resolved the situation by
simply providing war materiel aid to
Britain and her allies, and did not need to
entice Japan into firing the first shot at the
That being the case, it was completely
unnecessary to transmit the State
Department draft of the message to the
emperor with the vexing modus vivendi.
Everything would be resolved after Japan
launched the war.
Roosevelt probably made some hurried
amendments to the State Department
message draft. And if he had
foreknowledge of the attack on Pearl
Harbor, he would focus on Japanese
troop movements in the vicinity of French
Indochina, an established bone of
contention between Japan and the United
States, to make it appear he was
completely unaware of the imminent
In Between Incompetence and
Culpability, I examine the near-criminal
incompetence of Japanese diplomacy
which failed to see through Roosevelt’s
ulterior motives for the outbreak of war
between Japan and United States. The war
was, it could be argued, even a
consequence of this incompetence.
It is unknown whether this amended
message draft was returned to Hull for
further review. It seems likely there was
no time for appropriate State Department
officials to review the draft. This means
that the draft he and his subordinates had
made three or four technical corrections to
before returning it to the president, and
which Hull referred to in his memoirs,
must have been the one with the modus
vivendi. And this calls into question the
veracity of Hull’s statement that
Roosevelt passed the draft back with
instructions to make no further revisions
and simply send it.
Even from a military perspective, Japan’s
diplomatic efforts were feeble. CINCPAC
Admiral Husband Kimmell, who was
based in Hawaii, claimed in a radio
interview on December 6th—the day
before the attack on Pearl Harbor—that
Japan would not launch a war because
Germany’s assault on the Soviet Union
had failed.62 Although Japan had based
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the decision on the date to launch war on
a number of factors, such as the overall
strategy for the Pacific theater, and
weather conditions for the southern
advance campaign,63 they had not taken
into account the changing status of
hostilities between Germany and the
Soviet Union. Putting aside all military
considerations and considering purely
diplomatic areas of responsibility, the
Foreign Ministry never realized until the
outbreak of war that all its cables were
being intercepted, decoded, and read by
the other side, and it also had no inkling
of Roosevelt’s ulterior motives. It was
unable to take advantage of the serious
crisis which unfolded when Roosevelt’s
war plans were leaked. In the greater
scheme of things, Japanese diplomacy
should seriously reflect upon all the
mistakes that were made regarding the
message to the emperor.
embassy in Washington, went to the
embassy on the afternoon of December
6th. When Moore learned that the allimportant
message to the emperor was
about to be sent, Ambassador Nomura
wearily shook his head as if to say: “No,
it has come too late.” Nomura naturally
realized that, after Japan had sent its
“final memorandum,” the message to the
emperor would be ineffective.64
What about Hidenari Terasaki, who had
worked so hard to produce the message to
the emperor? Terasaki was responsible
for the flow of information at the
embassy, in other words he was the
intelligence officer. This explains why the
FBI had maintained a continuous wiretap
on his phone. Like his bosses Nomura
and Kurusu, Terasaki didn’t see through
Roosevelt’s ulterior motives, but he
should probably be given due credit for
his tireless efforts towards producing the
message to the emperor. Terasaki received
transfer orders around this time, either
because he was a valued intelligence
officer, or to give the appearance of
routine peace-time operations at the
embassy. A farewell dinner was therefore
held for Terasaki at the Chinese Lantern
Restaurant on the evening of December
6th. Terasaki arrived late, and announced
that “something really important had
happened,” namely that Roosevelt had
sent a message to the emperor. First
Secretary Koto Matsudaira said: “Then it
means war.” Roosevelt had sent a
personal telegram to Hitler before
Germany invaded Poland, and to
Mussolini before Italy entered the war,
Matsudaira explained, so these personal
telegrams were an indication of imminent
Conversely, Roosevelt was a gifted
politician. He kept his deeply-held
hostility towards Japan completely hidden
from the Japanese side to the very end.
He masterfully realized his deep-rooted
plan to have Japan fire the first shot
without putting the American side in too
much danger, even though the sacrifice at
Pearl Harbor was greater than anticipated.
However if war was in fact not inevitable,
Roosevelt may have plunged the
American people into an unnecessary war.
Indeed, if he had advance warning of the
Japanese navy’s attack on Pearl Harbor,
the American public would surely
condemn him as a criminal who sacrificed
troops’ lives in Hawaii, by allowing Japan
to carry out the Pearl Harbor attack and
thereby launch the war between Japan and
United States.
Final Moves on the Japanese Side It is unclear whether Terasaki made his
announcement out of excitement because
he thought Roosevelt’s message would
prevent the outbreak of war; or if, like
Ambassador Nomura, he believed it had
come too late and would be sent in vain.
However Terasaki must certainly have felt
that Roosevelt had been extremely
gracious and had shown much
Let us conclude this discussion of the
message to the emperor by examining the
Japanese side’s involvement in the
version that was actually sent.
Frederick Moore, the Foreign Ministry
employee who worked at the Japanese
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understanding. Hadn’t Roosevelt praised
him for his “bravery”? Wouldn’t the
message from Roosevelt actually turn
things around for the better? However, it
was too late. Matsudaira’s comment that
the president’s personal messages
signaled war was worrying. In any case,
Terasaki’s actions the following morning
show that, even if he believed war would
break out, he didn’t think it would be so
soon. He had just received his transfer
orders, and December 7th, a Sunday, was
his day off so he took his family for a
drive. However a nagging concern made
him abandon the drive, and return to the
embassy. He witnessed the panic in the
embassy while the “final memorandum”
was being prepared, and learned that
afternoon from radio broadcasts that the
Japanese navy had attacked Pearl
Roosevelt’s concerns, there was nothing
in it which required an immediate
response from the Japanese side.
However the emperor, ever scrupulous,
ensured that a brief message was later
conveyed verbally to Ambassador Grew,
thanking the president for his personal
message, and addressing the contentious
issue of troop concentrations in French
In any case, the army’s deliberate delay of
the cable’s delivery to the American
embassy did not cause any direct harm.
Why did the army take such seemingly
foolish and anomalous behavior to delay
the cable’s delivery? There was an
explanation for this. Every precaution had
to be taken, if war was imminent, to
prevent intelligence about war
preparations leaking abroad. Therefore
even if foreign spies obtained important
intelligence and tried to transmit it abroad,
it was better to delay the cable’s arrival
and thereby lower its intelligence value.
This was why foreign cables were
routinely delayed by several hours, and
those addressed to Ambassador Grew
were delayed for approximately ten hours,
much longer than ordinary telegrams.70
Meanwhile, in Japan the Foreign Ministry
learned from American radio broadcasts
that Roosevelt was to send a personal
message to the emperor. Where was
Roosevelt’s message? Arrangements had
been made for Ambassador Grew’s
audience with the emperor where he
would personally hand over the message
to His Majesty, but the cable did not show
up at the American embassy. The cable
itself had arrived in Japan around noon on
December 7th (local time), but its delivery
to the American embassy was deliberately
delayed in accordance with the Japanese
army’s standing policy. It was not
delivered to Grew until half past ten that
evening. By the time it was hurriedly
decoded and arrived at Foreign Minister
Togo’s official residence, it was already a
quarter past midnight on December 8th.67
It was 3:00 a.m. before it was finally
delivered directly to Emperor Hirohito.
Although the attack on Pearl Harbor had
yet to begin, by coincidence a Japanese
submarine which was part of the attack
had been detected and sunk by the U.S.
navy.68 The emperor was informed of
this, but upon advice from Togo it was
decided not to send an official reply to
Roosevelt’s message. Although the
contents of the message laid out
For the sake of argument, what would
have happened if the message sent by
Roosevelt had indeed been the alternative
version with the modus vivendi? Although
Japan would have eagerly accepted this
modus vivendi, it was not in fact sent to
the Japanese government and the tragic
war between Japan and the United States
was allowed to unfold. Dwelling on
historical “what if’s” is frowned upon,
but matters may have escalated
ridiculously out of hand if the Japanese
navy had carried out its attack and
precipitated the war, despite Roosevelt
sending a message which could
potentially have brought about peace.
It is conceivable though that, in
Roosevelt’s capable hands, such a thing
would never have happened. If Japan was
unwilling to reverse its decision to launch
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war, the Japanese military would of
course behave as it did. As a skillful
tactician, Roosevelt would never have sent
a message to the emperor containing a
modus vivendi, without first confirming
Japan’s troop movements.
Japan’s Foreign Ministry From Pearl Harbor to
Potsdam (trans. Norman Hu) (Lanham:
University Press of America, 1997), pp. 28-34
(hereafter cited as BI&C).
8. FRUS, 1941, vol. 4, pp. 513-4.
Roosevelt bided his time, and waited until
the very last moment before the outbreak
of war to send his message to the
emperor, when he was confident that war
was inevitable, and that he would not
jeopardize its timing. He successfully
deceived people all over the world that he
had struggled until the last moment for
9. Japan Foreign Ministry, Gaiko shiryo: Nichi-
Bei kosho kiroku no bu [Source materials on
Japanese foreign relations: Negotiations between
Japan and the United States, documents volume]
(Tokyo: Hara Shobo, 1946), pp. 842-3 (hereafter
cited as NBKK); PHA, part 12, exhibit no. 1,
pp. 180-1. (Cable no. 1180.)
10. Togo, Shigenori, The Cause of Japan (trans.
Fumihiko Togo and Ben Bruce Blakeney) (New
York: Simon and Schuster, 1956), p. 166.
11. NBKK, pp. 505-6; PHA, part 12, exhibit
Footnotes: no. 1, p. 195. (Cable no. 844.)
12. Asakawa, Kan’ichi, Nihon no Kaki [Japan’s
Misfortune] (Tokyo: Kodansha, 1987), p. 139.
Originally published by Jitsugyo no Nihonsha in
1. U.S. Congress, Joint Committee on the
Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack, Pearl
Harbor Attack: Hearings before the Joint
Committee on the Investigation of the Pearl
Harbor Attack, 79th Cong., 1st sess., 39 parts
(Washington, D.C.: G.P.O., 1946), part 14,
exhibit no. 20, p. 1238 (hereafter cited as PHA).
13. Abe, Yoshio, Saigo no Nihonjin [The Last
Japanese] (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 2004),
p. 192. First edition published by Iwanami
2. U.S. Department of State, Peace and War: Shoten in 1983.
United States Foreign Policy, 1931-1941
(Washington D.C.: U.S. G.P.O., 1943),
pp. 476-7, 536-8.
14. Asakawa Kan’ichi Shokan Henshu Iinkai,
Maboroshi no Beikoku Daitoryo Shinsho
[Editorial committee for the Asakawa Kan’ichi
materials, “Illusory message from the American
president”] (Tokyo: Hokuju Shuppan, 1989),
pp. 40-3.
3. Kurusu, Saburo, Homatsu no sanjugo-nen:
gaiko hisshi [Thirty-five years of vain endeavor:
A secret diplomatic history] (Tokyo: Bunka
Shoin, 1948), p. 117. 15. Abe, Saigo no Nihonjin, pp. 222-37.
4. ibid., p. 116. 16. ibid., p. 237.
5. U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations
of the United States: Diplomatic Papers
(Washington, D.C.: G.P.O.) (hereafter cited as
FRUS), 1941, vol. 1, p. 359.
17. Moore, Frederick, With Japan’s Leaders
(New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1942),
p. 269.
18. Stimson, Henry, The Diaries of Henry
Lewis Stimson (Yale University Library, New
Haven, 1973), November 25, 1941.
6. Sugihara, Seishiro, Between Incompetence
And Culpability: Assessing the Diplomacy Of
Japan’s Foreign Ministry From Pearl Harbor to
Potsdam (trans. Norman Hu) (Lanham:
University Press of America, 1997), pp. 28-34
(hereafter cited as BI&C).
19. Stimson, Diaries, November 28, 1941.
20. PHA, part 12, exhibit no. 1, pp. 180-1.
(Cable no. 1180.) Although there are some
7. Sugihara, Seishiro, Between Incompetence well-known mistranslations in this decoded
And Culpability: Assessing the Diplomacy Of
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intercept, the ambassadors’ submission for a
message to the emperor is accurately recorded.
34. Jones, “Adventure,” p. 614.
35. ibid.
21. PHA, part 14, exhibit no. 19, pp. 1224-5.
36. ibid.
22. ibid., pp. 1202-3.
37. ibid.
23. PHA, part 15, exhibit no. 73, pp. 1727-34.
38. Terasaki, Bridge, p. 68.
24. Saito, Michinori, Kaisen tsukoku wa naze
okureta ka [Why was the declaration of war
delayed] (Tokyo: Shinchosha, 2004), pp. 100-5.
39. Nomura, Beikoku ni tsukaishite, p. 45.
40. U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation
Archives, “Hidenari Terasaki,” “File 65-37232-
48,” surveillance log “X9.”
25. Jones, Stanley E., “An Adventure in
Failure,” Asia and the Americas (December
1945), p. 613.
41. Hull, Cordell, The Memoirs of Cordell Hull,
2 vols., (N.Y.: Macmillan, 1948), vol. 1,
pp. 1093-4.
26. ibid.
27. ibid. Jones incorrectly recalls the date of
Terasaki’s visit as November 28th. The
2:30 p.m. deadline refers to Roosevelt’s meeting
with the two Japanese ambassadors held on
November 27th.
42. FRUS, Japan: 1931-1941, vol. 2,
pp. 284-6.
43. Stimson, Diaries, November 25, 1941.
28. ibid., p. 614. 44. Konno, Tsutomu, Shinjuwan kishu:
Ruzuberuto wa shitte ita ka [The surprise attack
on Pearl Harbor: Did Roosevelt know?] (Tokyo:
Yomiuri Shimbunsha, 1991), pp. 200-5. Konno
produced a television program on this subject,
and used materials from Burns’s oral history
archive at the University of Hawaii. See
Sugihara, Seishiro, Japanese Perspectives on
Pearl Harbor: A Critical Review of Japanese
Reports on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Pearl
Harbor Attack (trans. Theodore McNelly) (H.K.:
Asian Research Service, 1995), p. 75 (hereafter
cited as Sugihara/McNelly).
29. Terasaki, Gwen, Bridge To The Sun (Chapel
Hill: U. North Carolina Press, 1957), p. 66.
30. Nomura, Kichisaburo, Beikoku ni
tsukaishite: Nichi-Bei kosho no kaiko [On a
mission to the United States: Reflections on
negotiations between Japan and the United
States] (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1946), p. 159.
31. FRUS, Japan: 1931-1941, vol. 2,
pp. 701-4.
32. NBKK, pp. 502-4; PHA, part 12, exhibit
no. 1, pp. 192-4. (Cable no. 1206.)
45. Konno, Shinjuwan kishu, pp. 341-5.
Perkins’s testimony was part of the Columbia
University Oral History Project, see
33. Terasaki, Bridge, p. 66. According to Gwen Sugihara/McNelly, pp. 78-9.
Terasaki, when Kurusu revealed his idea to
Hidenari Terasaki for the president to send a
personal message to the emperor, he purportedly
said the Japanese prime minister, Hideki Tojo,
had already rejected it. However, it is probably
right to assume that Foreign Minister Togo’s
telegram rejecting the idea had not yet actually
arrived, since it was sent two days later on
November 28th, and also in light of further
developments. It should be noted that Gwen’s
memoirs may occasionally contain inaccuracies,
since they are her recollections and not her
46. PHA, part 14, exhibit no. 20, pp. 1232-5.
47. ibid., p. 1231.
48. Konno, Shinjuwan kishu, pp. 240-2.
49. ibid., pp. 242-3.
50. PHA, part 1, pp. 264-6.
51. Sankei Shimbun, July 15, 1999. On
Nov. 24, 1991, Yomiuri Shimbun reported that
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the American television network ABC had aired
an episode of “20/20” on this subject on
Nov. 22, 1991. The secret bombing plans bore
the designation JB 355. See Sugihara/McNelly,
p. 21.
64. Moore, With Japan’s Leaders, p. 284.
65. Fujiyama, Naraichi, “Nichi-Bei kaisen zen’ya
no Washinton taishikan” [The Washington
embassy on the night before the outbreak of the
Japanese-American war], in Shinjuwan moeru
(jo) [Pearl Harbor is burning, vol. 1] (ed. Hata
Ikuhiko) (Tokyo: Hara Shobo, 1991),
pp. 159-60; Sugihara/McNelly, p. 137.
52. FRUS, 1941, vol. 4, pp. 637-40 (Nov. 22
draft); pp. 637-8, 645-6, 664-5 (Nov. 25);
FRUS, Japan: 1931-1941, vol. 2, pp. 768-70
(Nov. 26).
66. Yanagida, Kunio, Mariko (Tokyo:
53. Roosevelt, Franklin D., “Campaign Address Shinchosha, 1983), pp. 104-9.
at Boston, Massachusetts: We Are Going Full
Speed Ahead!” (October 30, 1940), in Public
Papers and Addresses, vol. 9 (New York:
Macmillan, 1941), p. 517.
67. Grew, Joseph, Ten Years in Japan (New
York: Simon & Schuster, 1944), pp. 486-93;
Togo, The Cause of Japan, p. 219-20. Togo
states that Grew called on him at 12:30 a.m.,
54. Stimson, Diaries, December 5, 1941. December 8th.
55. Burns, James MacGregor, Roosevelt: The
Soldier of Freedom, 1940–1945 (New York:
Harcourt Brace Yovanovich, 1970), pp. 549-50.
68. Japan National Defense Agency, Hawai
sakusen, p. 400.
69. Terasaki, Hidenari and Mariko Terasaki-
Miller, eds., Showa Tenno Dokuhaku-roku:
Terasaki Hidenari, goyogakari nikki [The
Showa emperor monologues: Diaries of his
chamberlain Hidenari Terasaki] (Tokyo: Bungei
Shunju, 1991), pp. 77-9; Togo, The Cause of
Japan, pp. 221-2; NBKK, pp. 557-8.
56. Konno, Shinjuwan kishu, pp. 330-1.
57. Stimson, Diaries, November 25, 1941.
58. Stimson, Diaries, December 1-2, 1941.
59. Konno, Shinjuwan kishu, pp. 341-5;
Sugihara/McNelly, pp. 78-9. The verbal communication to Grew was, at the
American ambassador’s request, later sent in
written form to the American embassy, and this
document remains in the record under the title
“Shinden ni taisuru oboshimeshi” [Our view on
the president’s message]. However, the Japanese
translation of the original English-language
version deleted the portion containing the
emperor’s expression of thanks.
60. Lash, Joseph P., Roosevelt and Churchill,
1939-1941: The Partnership That Saved the
West (New York: Norton & Co., 1976), p. 486;
Hata, Ikuhiko, Showa-shi no nazo wo ou (jo)
[Solving riddles from the Showa era, vol. 1]
(Tokyo: Bungei Shunju, 1993), p. 252.
61. Nomura, Beikoku ni tsukaishite, p. 45.
According to Nomura: “The president asked a
number of questions about Japan’s cabinet and
system [of government], so I explained to him
that ‘in general, important affairs are a matter of
common responsibility. Important diplomatic
questions are usually subject to collective
responsibility.’ ”
70. Sudo, Shinji, Shinjuwan ‘kishu’ ronso [The
Pearl Harbor ‘attack’ controversy] (Tokyo:
Kodansha, 2004), pp. 214-20.
62. Toland, John, Infamy: Pearl Harbor and Its
Aftermath (New York: Berkley Books, 1983),
p. 313.
63. Japan National Defense Agency, Senshi
sosho: Hawai sakusen [War history series:
Operation Hawaii] (Tokyo: Asagumo
Shimbunsha, 1967), pp. 212-3.
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