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I was wondering if I could comment on a couple of points Warren Kimball made in his April 13 post? Warren was responding to my review of the John Schuessler article which just came out in _International Security_. That article and my review dealt largely with American policy in the run-up to the Pacific War in late 1941. Both Schuessler and I think that President Roosevelt “deliberately opted for a policy which he knew would in all probability lead to war with Japan” and that he probably pursued that policy because it was the only way to bring the United States into the European war fast enough. The two of us, in other words, accept a version of the famous (or infamous) “back door to war” argument. As Schuessler puts it (building on an argument I had made in a book I had written on historical method): “a plausible reading of the evidence suggests that if there was a strategy underpinning Roosevelt’s actions in the latter half of 1941, it was almost certainly that of the ‘back door’.” But that line of argument Warren finds hard to accept. In particular, he rejects the notion that FDR opted for a policy which he knew would probably lead to war, and that’s the issue I want to focus on here. I wonder, first of all, whether Warren thinks that we can pretty much rule out the idea that FDR deliberately put the United States on a collision course with Japan? His April 13 post suggested to me that that’s his view, but in his September 1999 post (the same post I cited in my review of the Schuessler article) he took what struck me as a rather different line. In that post, he made a point of distinguishing between two very different issues: (a) the question of whether the Roosevelt administration knew that the Japanese were about to attack Pearl Harbor and “chose to feign ignorance so as to drag the United States into the war”; and (b) the much more general issue of what the U.S. government was up to in the period. He and I and practically every serious scholar I know of thinks that the claim that the president knew about the attack in advance and decided to let it happen so he could pull a unified and vengeful country into the war is totally baseless. So by making this distinction and by dismissing the Pearl Harbor conspiracy argument out of hand, he was suggesting that the whole question of what Roosevelt was doing in the pre-Pearl Harbor period was still very much an open issue. “The debate” on that latter issue, he wrote, “continues as well it should.” So if it is an open issue I think he’d agree that we should be able to argue it out on the basis of the evidence. And I’m sure he’d also agree that we shouldn’t be deterred from doing so by the fact that version (a) of the back door theory -- the Pearl Harbor conspiracy version -- has been so thoroughly discredited. But if we’re to argue it out, what are the key specific questions that we should focus on? We should be interested first and foremost in the issue of why the oil embargo was imposed in late July 1941. The problem here, it seems to me, has to be broken down into two parts. Did the president, first of all, understand what the embargo meant? Did he believe that if Japan was not able to work out an agreement with the United States that would allow oil deliveries to be resumed, that that country would seize the oil producing areas in the Dutch East Indies, and that that for a variety of reasons would probably mean war with America? The second issue has to do with whether Roosevelt was in fact in control of U.S. policy at the time. A number of scholars have argued that policy had, in effect, been hijacked by mid-level bureaucrats like Dean Acheson, and that FDR cannot be held responsible for what happened. Many other scholars have accepted those arguments, but are those arguments correct? These two issues are fundamental, because if FDR was calling the shots -- that is, if it is true that he _had_ authorized the embargo -- and if he understood at the time that that the embargo _would_ probably lead to war with Japan, then the policy the U.S. government pursued in this period would have to be seen as deliberate. If FDR was in charge and understood what he was doing, that would mean that the president had decided on the embargo knowing full well that this would put the United States on a collision course with Japan. So if you want to argue that the policy was not deliberate, you have to argue either Roosevelt did not understand the implications of the embargo, or he had lost control over what the U.S. government was doing. So we can look at each of those two arguments in the light of the evidence. To take the second argument first: it’s quite clear to me, thanks largely to Waldo Heinrichs’s work, that Roosevelt never lost control. As for the other argument -- the claim that FDR understood what the embargo meant – there’s a lot of evidence that shows that he did understand its implications, and indeed prior to the Japanese move into southern Indochina in late July had opposed it for that very reason. So if you accept these two points, I don’t see how you can escape the conclusion that FDR was deliberately putting the country on a collision course with Japan. How does Warren handle this issue? His argument, it seems to me, can be broken down into two parts. He believes that when the embargo was imposed, Roosevelt did not think it would lead to war with Japan. He thinks the prevailing assumption within the U.S. government, even at that point, was that “Japan was too smart to attack the U.S., a much stronger and more powerful nation.” But he goes on to note that FDR eventually did come to recognize that the “Japanese would not back down,” but by the time the change took place (in the fall of 1941), “it was too late.” So let’s look at those arguments one by one. Take first that idea that when the embargo was imposed in July, Roosevelt did not think it would lead to war, because the Japanese would not dare to go to war with America. What evidence supports the view that this was FDR’s assumption at the time? A number of people make this claim, but when I looked into the issue, I came to the conclusion that the evidence supporting that view is very thin, and that the most compelling evidence bearing on this question points in the opposite direction. As early as July 9, for example, Sumner Welles, Roosevelt’s closest advisor, said that tough economic sanctions would “provoke Japan to war” with America “before long.” And the president himself, on July 18, a mere week before the embargo was imposed, said an oil embargo “would simply drive the Japanese down to the Dutch East Indies, and it would mean war in the Pacific.” What about Warren’s second argument, the idea that by the time Roosevelt finally understood what the situation was, “it was too late” to do anything about it? But why exactly was it too late in the fall of 1941 for the Roosevelt administration to change course? The Japanese during this period, as John Pritchard pointed out in an H-Diplo post in October 1999, were trying hard to come to terms with the Americans, but the U.S. government was not particularly eager for a negotiated settlement. There was, Pritchard wrote, “far more of a determination (nay, desperation) on the Japanese side for the negotiations to succeed (and thus avert the prospect of war for what was then the foreseeeable future) than there was on the side of the United States and their Allies.” The Americans, in fact, effectively turned down the Japanese proposal for a leaders’ conference in Alaska between Prince Konoye, the Japanese prime minister, and President Roosevelt, in spite of what Ambassador Grew was saying about how far the Japanese were willing to go in the talks. And Roosevelt also turned down the Japanese proposal for a modus Vivendi -- essentially a plan to return to the situation that had prevailed prior to the move into southern Indochina -- a decision on Roosevelt’s part, incidentally, which enraged Secretary of State Hull. I just can’t see why by this point it was “too late” to work out a negotiated settlement. A government that really wanted to avoid war with Japan would have had little trouble negotiating a satisfactory agreement. It’s sometimes said that Roosevelt couldn’t accept the modus vivendi plan because to do so would have come across as an act of appeasement, but to my mind that argument doesn’t stand up. If a deal had been worked out on the basis of that plan, the Japanese would have been accommodating to American power. In proposing that plan, they were, after all, expressing their willingness to actually withdraw from southern Indochina--that is, their willingness not just to be contained but to pull back from one of the areas they had occupied. From the U.S. point of view, this was not just containment, it was “containment plus.” The real obstacle here was that the American government was interested in a lot more than the “containment” of Japan. As Welles noted in November 1941, the nub of the problem was that the Japanese needed to provide “some justification to their own people after four years of national effort and sacrifice in China”; it was therefore hard to believe that they would “agree to evacuate China completely.” “But nothing less,” Welles pointed out, would “satisfy [the] United States.” Why then did the Americans opt for such a hard line? Before July 1941, the U.S. government had not been willing in effect to threaten war with Japan in order to force that country of China. Why had U.S. policy shifted so dramatically at this particular point in time? Why, in particular, did Roosevelt take that line at a time when his own military advisors (as Warren suggests) were urging him to soften his policy, to at least postpone the war? “With hostilities in progress and escalating in the Atlantic,” Mark Stoler writes, “from a military perspective the president and the State Department seemed to be insanely willing to provoke a second war in the Pacific.” Don’t we have to try to grapple with the issue of why the president willing to pursue what U.S. military leaders viewed as an almost “insane” policy? This is not my main field, but over the years I’ve had to deal with the origins of the Pacific War in my lecture course, and I found a lot of these questions profoundly puzzling. When I was working on my methods book, I thought it would make sense to show how you can go about getting to the bottom of a specific historical problem by discussing a particular case in some detail, and, given what I was trying to do, I thought it would make sense to choose a case that lay somewhat outside my own area of expertise. In the course of doing that exercise, I reached certain conclusions, and anyone who would like to see the thought process, and the evidence, that led to those conclusions should just take a look at the chapter in the methods book in which I laid all of this out. (The full text is available online; for the URL see n. 2.) But for now the only point I really want to make is that conventional views about 1941 are a lot less solid than we’ve been led to believe. There are real puzzles here that still need to be sorted out. And as we sort them out, I think it’s important to keep an open mind and argue these issues out on the basis of the evidence. For that reason -- but also because I love reading everything he writes — I’m very much looking forward to seeing what Warren has to say on these issues. Marc Trachtenberg firstname.lastname@example.org NOTES  My comment is available at http://www.h-net.org/~diplo/ISSF/reviews/AR3.html  Marc Trachtenberg, _The Craft of International History: A Guide to Method_ (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), chapter 4. The full text of this chapter is available online at http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s4_8200.pdf  Warren Kimball H-Diplo post, September 22, 1999 ( http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=vx&list=h-diplo&month=9909&week=d&msg=8wGK%2bKQpihHECtJW364%2bZg&user=&pw= ).  Waldo Heinrichs, _Threshold of War: Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Entry into World War II_ (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), pp. 141-142. For some very important British evidence bearing on this issue, see also Trachtenberg, _Craft of International History_, pp. 99-100.  See Trachtenberg, _Craft of International History_, p. 96. (6) Ibid.  Ibid.  John Pritchard H-Diplo post, October 19, 1999 ( http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=vx&list=h-diplo&month=9910&week=c&msg=DlF99CrdC2SjPpyFXrAcrw&user=&pw =). This was a reply to a message which Warren had posted a couple of days earlier ( http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=vx&list=h-diplo&month=9910&week=c&msg=7bRcB2WMx230%2b2Cu7bP0Hg&user=&pw =).  On these points, see Trachtenberg, _Craft of International History_, pp. 104-115, 117. For Grew?s arguments, see also various despatches of his in _Foreign Relations of the United States_, 1941, 4:382-383, 468-469, 488, 492. Grew was convinced that Konoye, if he was able to meet Roosevelt, was prepared “to accept the American terms whatever they might be.” See _Craft of International History_, p. 105.  Australian Minister to the United States R.G. Casey to Australian Department of External Affairs, November 14, 1941, Australian Department of Foreign Affairs, _Documents on Australian Foreign Policy, 1937-49_, 5: 197. Compare the Welles comment with the way the problem at this point is summed up in Warren Kimball and Lloyd Gardner, “The United States: Democratic Diplomacy,” in David Reynolds, Warren Kimball, and A.O. Chubarian, eds., _Allies at War: The Soviet, American, and British Experience, 1939-1945_ (New York: St. Martin’s, 1994), p. 393: “The United States would not accept a Japanese dominated East Asia. Japan would not accept anything less.”  Mark Stoler, _Allies and Adversaries: The Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Grand Alliance, and U.S. Strategy in World War II_ (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000), p. 58