Jonathan Tobin does a fantastic job of dissecting James Bradley’s ludicrous attempt to blame Theodore Roosevelt, of all people, for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. I had read Bradley’s New York Times op-ed and thought of responding as well, but held off because, frankly, I was so baffled by the author’s convoluted reasoning. Not the least of Tobin’s services is to lay out Bradley’s argument more clearly than Bradley himself does, before going on to show why the argument holds no water. I have only a few points to add.
If I understand correctly (and I admit to not having read the book in question, The Imperial Cruise), Bradley wants to blame TR for holding racist, imperialist views — for being a staunch supporter of our acquisition of Asian colonies, namely Hawaii and the Philippines. Since those territories were subsequently attacked by Japan, presumably Bradley thinks acquiring them in the first place was a bad idea, that they were somehow an affront to Japan’s desire to exercise hegemony in the Pacific. A more logical conclusion to draw would be that those territories should have been more strongly defended in the 1930s so as to dissuade Japanese aggression.
But then Bradley heads off in a different and somewhat self-contradictory direction in his Times article, blaming Roosevelt for implicitly ceding Korea to Japan’s sphere of influence in 1905 after the Russo-Japanese War. TR certainly was misguided in thinking that Japan could be a liberal, responsible stakeholder in the international system, as Britain and the U.S. were, but it is hard to know what he could have done differently. Does Bradley think that Roosevelt should have gone to war in 1905 to champion Korean independence? In fact, if Roosevelt had done more to oppose Japanese imperialism, Bradley could simply bash him for his racist lack of sympathy for the Empire of Japan. In Bradley’s worldview, TR must be guilty of either stirring up the Japanese or appeasing them — maybe both. His argument is the height of unfairness.
Actually if he is looking for unfair scapegoats for the events of December 7, 1941 — and his father’s subsequent rendezvous with destiny on Iwo Jima — he would be better advised to skip TR and go straight for Winston Churchill. Winston Churchill? Yup. As I noted in my book War Made New, Japanese naval aviation got its start in 1920, when Britain sent an advisory mission to Japan, “complete with over 100 demonstration aircraft in a bid to boost the British aviation industry.” I went on to write:
British pilots formed the first faculty of the newly established Japanese naval aviation school at Lake Kasumigaura. British naval architects helped Japan complete its first aircraft carrier, the Hosho, in 1922. British aircraft designers helped Mitsubishi design its initial carrier aircraft. Winston Churchill, Secretary of State for both War and Air, was confident Britain and Japan would never go to war—“I do not believe there is the slightest chance of it in our lifetime,” he exclaimed in 1924. So what was the harm?
There you have it: Winston Churchill was responsible for the raid on Pearl Harbor.
Simply to lay out this line of reasoning is to show, of course, how absurd it is — only slightly less absurd than Bradley’s attempts to blame Theodore Roosevelt for events that occurred 22 years after his death. Let’s place blame where it really belongs: in the ruling circles of the Japanese Empire, where the decision to fight America was made. And if we want to find culprits on the American side, look at the “America Firsters” and other isolationists who made it impossible to undertake the kind of American military buildup prior to December 7 that might have deterred Japanese aggression.