The Strange Mission of the Lanikai


The Pearl Harbor attack force assembled at Hitokappu Bay, Kuriles. November 22 . Roosevelt suggested a modus vivendi with Japan to last six months, having already been sounded out by Ambassador Nomura on the subject on the tenth. This was to include among other things the resumption of economic relations between the two countries; a suspension of Japanese troop movements to Indochina, Malaya, and the Netherlands East Indies; and American encouragement of nonhostile conversations between Japan and China. Reactions to these suggestions from the Chinese, the British, the Australians, and the Dutch varied from bitter opposition to nervous skepticism.

An intercepted message to the Japanese envoys in Washington revealed that the previous deadline for meeting Japan’s demands, November a5, had been extended to midnight of the agth, after which there would be no possibility of an extension and “things are automatically going to happen.” November 24 . United States forces occupied Dutch Guiana. All top U.S. military commands were alerted that a “surprise aggressive movement in any direction including attack on the Philippines and Guam is a possibility.” November 25 The War Council—Roosevelt, Hull, Secretaries of War and the Navy Stimson and Knox, Marshall, and Stark—met for a long discussion. Stimson, the meticulous diarist, noted that Roosevelt felt the attack might come as soon as December 1, “for the Japanese are notorious for making an attack without warning, and the question was what we should do. The question was how we should maneuver them into the position oj firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves” [italics supplied]. Nevertheless the modus vivendi’s final terms were smoothed out. The whole show left Stark up in the air. Somewhat distractedly he wrote to commander in chief U.S. Fleet Admiral Husband E. Kimmel at Pearl Harbor: “I won’t go into the pros and cons of what the United States may do. I will be damned if I know. I wish I did. The only thing I know is that we may do most anything and that’s the only thing I’m prepared for; or we may do nothing—I think it is more likely to be ‘anything.’ ”

A very large Japanese expedition was sighted at sea below Taiwan, moving south. November 26 . An intercept from Hanoi to Tokyo, dated the twenty-fifth, ominously noted that “no doubt the Cabinet will make a decision between peace and war within the next day or two.” There was a parade of worried diplomats in and out of the State Department and White House. The Chinese ambassador, along with Chiang Kai-shek’s influential, rich trouble-shooter, T. V. Soong (Chiang’s brother-in-law), called on Roosevelt, bitterly protesting the proposed modus vivendi and threatening that it would wreck the Chinese will to continue resistance. Ignoring all normal protocol and lines of diplomatic communication, the Chinese had been soliciting senators, bankers, and private citizens in their campaign to promote support of Chiang.

Secretary Stimson telephoned Roosevelt the news of the big Japanese force headed south and was nearly blasted loose from his handset. The President “fairly blew up,” Stimson recorded. “Utter lack of good faith. It changes the whole situation!” F.D.R. angrily shouted.

Kurusu and Nomura, invited over at teatime by Hull, no doubt happily anticipated good news on the modus vivendi. But the tea was bitter. Hull handed them what variously has been called a peace proposal, a modified modus vivendi, and an ultimatum. Far from acceding to Japan’s demands of November 20, it called for Japan to get out of China and Indochina and respect the status quo in the Pacific. There was a heated two-hour discussion during which the Japanese envoys said it would be useless to send such a thing to Tokyo. In their message doing just that, they expressed the view that negotiations were a closed issue and that the United States could be expected to occupy the Netherlands East Indies as they recently had Iceland and Dutch Guiana.


The Japanese carriers of the Pearl Harbor attack force were on their way from the Kuriles toward Hawaii. November 27 . Stimson had got wind of something big going on, so during the forenoon he telephoned Hull to find out what it was. “I have washed my hands of it!” said Hull testily. “It is now in the hands of you and Knox—the Army and the Navy.”

That same morning the war warnings that have been the subject of so much dispute went out to the major field commanders. The Army message contained a sentence missing from the Navy warning: “ IF HOSTILITIES CANNOT, REPEAT CANNOT, BE AVOIDED, THE UNITED STATES DESIRES THAT JAPAN COMMIT THE FIRST OVERT ACT. ” This was inserted on direct order to Stimson by the President, whose sensitive political nerve ends reminded him that even after the recent destroyer incidents in the Atlantic, the American public was stone cold to the idea of going to war with anybody. November 28 . Having been handed the baton by Hull, Stimson was itching to crack somebody over the head with it and suggested to Roosevelt that MacArthur’s planes bomb the Japanese task forces passing by the Philippines. Stimson never had forgiven the Japanese for humiliating him in 1931, when as Hoover’s Secretary of State he had tried unsuccessfully to fling the Japanese out of Manchuria without the force to turn the trick.