It is popularly believed in Japan that the country would have been spared the disgrace of carrying out a “sneak attack” on Pearl Harbor if Tokyo’s final memorandum to U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull in Washington had been delivered prior to its launch as planned. But a former diplomat says he has unearthed Foreign Ministry documents showing it was more than a question of timing. He says the memorandum was meant to cloak Japan’s intention of entering into war.
Takeo Iguchi, a professor at Tokai University and visiting professor at the International Christian University, told The Japan Times the documents suggest that the government colluded to deceive not only the U.S. but even the staff at the Japanese Embassy in Washington.
Iguchi discovered the “Draft Final Memorandum of the Imperial Government Addressed to the U.S. Government,” dated Dec. 3, 1941, and stamped “Top State Secret,” and a subsequent draft memorandum dated Dec. 5, 1941, in a file at the Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Record Office last February.
The documents shed light on the behavior of the Japanese military and the ministry in the few days before the Dec. 7 attack.
The concluding paragraph of the Dec. 3 draft reads: “The government of the United States of America has not shown even the slightest degree of sincerity in the current negotiations, and the Japanese government regrets to have to solemnly notify hereby your government that we are forced to terminate negotiations, recognizing that continuation of talks will in no way contribute to the stability of East Asia, and that you will be held responsible for any and all the consequences that may arise in the future.”
Kumaichi Yamamoto, head of the Foreign Ministry’s American Affairs Bureau at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, told the International Military Tribunal for the Far East after the war that the draft, which he had written, had been lost.
“The important point of this draft,” Iguchi said, “is that Japan made clear to the U.S. its intention of terminating negotiations and entering into war.
The phrase — ‘You will be held responsible for any and all the consequences that may arise in the future’ — is meant in diplomatic language to express the intention of entering into war. “If this document had been delivered to the U.S. in time for the Pearl Harbor attack, it would have been difficult for the U.S. to call it a ‘sneak attack,'” he reckoned.
Notified that the attack would take place Dec. 7, the Foreign Ministry wrote the Dec. 3 draft in line with the Hague Convention, which requires an explicit advance warning for military action, Iguchi explained.
The military, however, did not notify the ministry that the Imperial Japanese Navy’s aircraft carrier task force had already left Etorofu Island’s Hitokappu Bay on Nov. 25.
In the Dec. 5 draft, the sentence that was tantamount to a declaration of war was omitted, along with the sentence that clearly stated Japan’s intention to end negotiations, Iguchi said.
The final paragraph of the Dec. 5 draft reads: “The Japanese government regrets to have to notify the government of the United States of America that so long as the government of the United States of America maintains its present attitude, it cannot but consider that it is impossible to reach an agreement through further negotiations.”
This can be interpreted to mean Japan did not completely rule out reopening negotiations if the U.S. changed its attitude, Iguchi said.
Behind the change from the Dec. 3 to the Dec. 5 draft and the latter’s ambiguous concluding paragraph was pressure from the military, which opposed the inclusion of anything that might lead the U.S. to suspect military action by Japan, Iguchi explained.
“Another document in the file at the Foreign Ministry’s archive shows that Japan was pursuing tightrope-like diplomacy, which consisted of avoiding giving the U.S. the impression that Japan was terminating the negotiations, while the navy was in the last stage of preparing for the Pearl Harbor attack,” Iguchi said.
The last paragraph of the memorandum delivered by Ambassador Kichisaburo Nomura and special envoy Saburo Kurusu to Hull on Dec. 7, 1941, at 2:20 p.m. Washington time — about an hour after the Pearl Harbor attack — is slightly different from the Dec. 5 draft. It states: “The Japanese government regrets to have to notify hereby the American government that in view of the attitude of the American government, it cannot but consider that it is impossible to reach an agreement through further negotiations.”
Iguchi also calls attention to the “Confidential War Diary” written by the Imperial Headquarters’ Army General Staff War Direction Division and published in October 1998.
The entry for Dec. 4, 1941, mentions the Dec. 3 draft. It says: “Foreign Minister (Shigenori Togo) proposed to deliver an ultimatum to the U.S. The Naval General Staff disagreed and the Army General Staff also disagreed.”
It goes on to say that the navy and army would decide when the Foreign Ministry would deliver to its Washington embassy the telegrams of the text for the memorandum to the U.S.
The Dec. 6 entry shows that both the navy and army insisted that an ultimatum be delivered to the U.S. government around 3 p.m. on Dec. 8, one day after the attack.
The entry also says: “A meeting between Nomura, Kurusu and Hull was held. Our deceptive diplomacy is steadily proceeding toward success.”
Although it is clear Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, commander in chief of the Combined Fleet, believed that Japan should deliver to the U.S. an advance warning for military action, the Foreign Ministry documents and the diary clearly show that the general staff of both the army and navy had no intention of delivering such notice.
This, Iguchi said, counters popular theory that the ministry refused a navy proposal to insert a phrase stating Japan had the right to a free hand in its behavior.
Comparison with the Dec. 3 draft makes it even more clear that the final memorandum delivered to the U.S. on Dec. 7 was not intended to communicate an intention to enter into war and therefore not a legally sufficient document to convey such an intention, Iguchi pointed out.
It even fails to communicate the decision to terminate negotiations because it lacks such a clear assertion, Iguchi said.
Iguchi asks why Togo did not deliver the final memorandum to U.S. Ambassador Joseph Grew in Tokyo — the safest and surest way of conveying Japan’s intention to the U.S.
“It can be inferred from the materials that Togo was well aware of the absence of a paragraph declaring an opening of hostilities and that his pride made him reluctant to deceive the U.S. ambassador by saying the break-off of talks did not mean war,” Iguchi said.
“By having Nomura and Kurusu deliver the final memorandum in Washington, the Foreign Ministry tried to shift the responsibility of deceiving the U.S. to the Japanese Embassy in the U.S. capital,” he said.
The materials prove that the military and the ministry kept the embassy in Washington in the dark as to what the Japanese government was plotting, Iguchi pointed out.
“Because the ministry was intent on deceiving the U.S. and protecting the secrecy of the planned Pearl Harbor attack, what it did resulted in deceiving Japanese Embassy officials in Washington,” said Iguchi, whose father, Sadao, was a councilor at the embassy at the time.
In this connection, Iguchi pointed out that the Foreign Ministry did not designate its coded telegram of the text for the final memorandum as “urgent” and did not send the last of the 14-part telegram until around 7:30 a.m. on Dec. 7, Washington time.
Typing of the text was greatly delayed because of missing or garbled words; the embassy had previously destroyed two of its three code-breaking machines on ministry orders; and the embassy was prohibited from using its professional American typist.
It was around 10 a.m. on Dec. 7 when the embassy received a telegram ordering that the memorandum be delivered to the U.S. side at 1 p.m. the same day.
“It is reasonably suspected that the timing for sending the telegram was delayed due to pressure from the military, which insisted on delivering an ultimatum one day after the attack,” Iguchi said.
“I also cannot rule out the possibility that the garbled and missing words were done deliberately,” he added.
According to Magic, the U.S. intelligence operation that deciphered the text, 75 letters were garbled in Part 3, 45 were garbled or missing in Part 10, 50 missing in Part 11 and several garbled in Part 13.
Iguchi calls wartime Japan an abnormal nation in which military officers swayed diplomacy.
“People close to the Emperor (Showa) like the Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal should have made efforts to maintain civilian control by asking the Emperor to intervene even at the risk of their lives,” he said.
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