In the third [Walgreen Lecture, given in 1951] I talked about our relations, respectively with China and Japan over the half century from 1900 to 1950. My conclusion was that these relations had reflected a curious but deeply-rooted sentimentality on our part towards China, arising evidently from the pleasure it gave us to view ourselves as high-minded patrons, benefactors, and teachers of a people seen as less fortunate, and less advanced, than ourselves. And I could not help seeing in this self-indulgence a form of national narcissism--of collective self-admiration--to which it seemed to me, many Americans were prone. This tendency, I thought, could only conceal deep subconscious feelings of insecurity--a need for reassurance about outselves--something that contrasted very sharply with our pretentious external behavior.
I then turned, in that same lecture, to our negative and critical attitudes towards Japan, which were of course the mirror image of the patronizing and protective attitudes we adopted towards China. Our grievances against Japan seemed to be centered largely on the positions Japan then occupied on the mainland of northeastern Asia--predominantly in Korea and Manchuria. We saw these positions as legally and morally wrong, because in the formal sense these were not Japanese territories the Japanese were occupying. I took issue with this view, charging that we were trying to apply our own legalistic and moralistic standards to a situation to which they were in reality very little relevant, and argued that instead of setting ourselves up as judges over the morality of others, we would have done better to search for a stable balance of power among the various nationalistic forces active in that region--the Russians, the Chinese, and the Japanese--among whom there was really very little to choose from the standpoint of moral quality. In trying to dig the Japanese out of the positions they occupied on the Asian mainland, we were ignoring, I thought, the strong possibility that if we succeeded in doing this, what filled the resulting vacuums might well be some form of power even less to our liking than the Japanese we had removed. This proved actually to be the case.
It is worth recalling, in that connection, that the lectures I am talking about were delivered during the Korean war; and I could not help but see, in the unhappy position in which we then found ourselves on the Korean peninsula, a form of ironic punishment for our earlier lack of understanding for Japanese interests and for our insistence on removing the Japanese from their position there when we had no hopeful alternatives to suggest. I tried to point out, on the strength of this example, that our choices in foreign policy were not always between good and evil, but more often the greater and the lesser of two evils.
For over a year, tension had been mounting in the Far East. The Japanese war lords, meeting unexpected resistance in China, now planned to swing south and gobble up the Philippines, Malaya, and Indonesia. In order to realize this 'Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere,' as they called it, Japan had to risk fighting Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, and the United States, which between them controlled the coveted territories. In the summer of 1940 Japan wrested permission to build airfields in Indochina from the helpless Vichy government of France. The United States struck back with a small loan to China and a partial embargo on exports to Japan. Congress, in July 1940, gave the President power to restrict export of war materials needed for American defense, or to license their export to friendly nations. In the same month, Congress passed the Two-Ocean Navy Act. Very cautiously, Roosevelt began imposing embargoes on various strategic materials, including scrap iron; and a Gallup poll indicated 96 per cent popular approval.
In July 1941 events began moving toward a crisis. On the 25th, Japan announced that she had assumed a protectorate over the whole of French Indochina. Next day, President Roosevelt took three momentous steps. He received the armed forces of the Philippine Commonwealth into the United States Army, appointed General Douglas MacArthur to command all army forces in the Far East, and issued an executive order freezing Japanese financial assets in the United States. Great Britain and the Netherlands followed suit, cutting off Japan's source of credit and imports of rubber, scrap iron, and fuel oil. The Japanese war lords decided to make war on these three countries within three or four months, unless the flow of oil and other strategic supplies was restored. For Japan was 'eating her own tail' in the matter of oil; her armies must have fuel or evacuate the mainland, a loss of face that the military would not contemplate. This embargo on oil and credit brought Japan to the point of war.
The final negotiations were a mere sparring for time by two governments that considered war all but inevitable. The Japanese wanted time to strengthen their military and naval push to the south; the United States wanted time to prepare the defense of the Philippines and strengthen the navy. Through the summer and fall of 1941 Secretary Hull made it clear that Japan could have all the goods and credits she wanted, if she would begin a military evacuation of China and Indochina. Prince Konoye, the Japanese premier, on 14 October asked General Tojo, the war minister, to begin at least a token withdrawal. Tojo refused, confident that Japan could beat America, Britain, and any other country that stood in her way; and a few days later Tojo became prime minister. On 20 November he presented Japan's ultimatum. He promised to occupy no more Asiatic territory if the United States would stop reinforcing the Philippines; he would evacuate southern Indochina only if the United States would cut off aid to Chiang Kai-Shek and 'unfreeze' Japanese assets in the United States, leaving Japan free to complete her subjugation of China. Tojo did not expect that the United States would accept such terms, which were appropriate only for a defeated nation, and his plans for further aggression were already hardened. On 26 November 1941 the Japanese striking force of six big carriers carrying 423 planes, two battleships, two heavy cruisers, and eleven destroyers, sortied from its rendezvous in the Kurile Islands for the fatal destination of Pearl Harbor.