This is an extremely important book for any student of the Pacific War and Japanese-American relations leading to it.
The major contribution of BarnharThis is an extremely important book for any student of the Pacific War and Japanese-American relations leading to it.
The major contribution of Barnhart is to have very carefully waded through a true maze of archives on both sides of the Pacific. This is especially valuable with respect to Japan. Barnhart reveals how Japan's policy makers sought to make Japan self-sufficient in resources and materials so it would be able to win a protracted (future) war. Japan's predicament in being resource-poor and the lessons it drew from observing Germany's defeat in World War I, appeared to call for remedying this problem by expanding production capacity and acquiring resources, especially in Manchuria. Eventually, conflict withing Japan's military (army vs navy) as well as an ongoing and expanding war in China, subverted and ultimately upended these goals. In pursuing self-sufficiency, Japan became less and less self-sufficient in the course of the 1930s, imposing increasingly painful restrictions on civilian consumption, while never really resolving the constant fight for supremacy between army and navy in allocation of scarce and diminishing resources. Japan's increasing belligerence during the 1930s was a product of that inter-service rivalry as well as a siege mentality that never really allowed for questioning of basic assumptions and re-examination of priorities.
With respect to policy in the US, Barnhart demonstrates a remarkable (and regrettable) lack of clarity in policy objectives. Different groups of officials within the State Department (esp. Cordell Hull and Stanley Hornbeck), within Treasury (Morgenthau) as well as FDR himself, did not clearly articulate objectives to US policy with respect to Japan. While WW II unfolded in Europe, it seems that the only consensus within the US government was a distaste and a repudiation for Japan's behavior in East Asia, and especially in China. But there was never an attempt to foresee Japan's ultimate goals, never a serious effort to clarify American goals with respect to Japan. For a while, there was hope that economic problems would discourage Japan from further aggression. When that did not happen, many steps were taken that seemed to send contradictory signals to the Japanese government. On one hand, FDR determined to keep MOST of the Pacific Fleet at Hawaii (as opposed to sending a substantial part of it to the Atlantic), perhaps in the hope that its mere presence would serve as a deterrent to further Japanese aggression. On the other hand, for most of the 1930s the US continued to supply Japan with oil and other vital materials which were immediately applied in the ongoing Japanese war in China -- as if the US did not really mind what Japan was doing there. The US continued to act in the misguided hope that a civilian (and peaceful) group of Japanese politicians, temporarily evicted from power, were about to come back and introduce dramatic, peaceful changes to Japanese policies.
Ultimately, Barnhart's greatest achievement here is to highlight the fundamental misunderstanding that persisted between Japan and the United States for most of the 1930s. Japan, continually seeing in the US a model for itself, but also a dangerous rival in the Far East. Japan, moreover, which continually misread American policies -- seeing support in continued trade relations, or outright hostility in American demands to evacuate China. America, on the other hand, appears as lacking well-considered policy objectives. Both Joseph Grew, American Ambassador to Tokyo, and a group within the State Department, continued to hold out hope that a pacifist political elite was just below the surface of Japanese politics and that America's objective was to not make its return to power more difficult. Americans at a fundamental level did not have an understanding about the rivalry between Army and Navy in Japan. And, American policy makers never managed to perceive how different policies affected Japanese perceptions or Japanese intentions.
Barnhart offers a rather pessimistic view. He argues that the conflict between Japan and the United States was virtually impossible to prevent once certain conditions obtained. Certainly, after 1937, and especially after the German attack on the Soviet Union, he believes the Pacific War could not have been prevented. This is both because Japan and the United States held very different visions about the future of East Asia, and also because there were fundamental flaws in how the two sides viewed each other and (mis)interepreted each other's actions. This study is, indeed, an eye-opener with respect to how nations approach their vital interests and how an inability to understand the other side leads directly to missteps, and, ultimately, war. Very highly recommended....more