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Chapter 2

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Prelude to Pearl Harbor

Gerald E. Wheeler

published by
University of Missouri Press,
Columbia, Missouri

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 4
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p47  3

The United States Navy and the Japanese "Enemy"

In the years between the Spanish-American War and the Washington Conference on the Limitation of Armament, 1921‑22, those charged with the creation and implementation of United States naval policy gradually accepted the premise that Japan was America's national enemy.​1 This was a critical assumption, for it controlled the Navy's outlook on a number of questions concerned with national defense: Where should the United States Fleet normally be based? What, if any, new naval bases needed to be constructed? What types of naval vessels deserved first priority in construction planning? what war plans needed to be developed or revised? What positions should the Navy take when naval limitation questions were discussed? Should the nation withdraw from any of its commitments abroad, particularly in the Far East? These were not easy questions; fortunately the Navy did not have to meet them all at once. Yet as each problem was studied, the President, or the Secretary of the Navy, or Navy's General Board, or possibly a delegation to a naval conference had to approach it with another question even more basic: Will this solution strengthen or weaken American naval power in the Pacific? Or, put another way, could the Navy meet its hypothetical enemy in the Far East with reasonable assurance of victory at sea?

The United States Navy's responsibilities in the Far East began with the organization of the East India Squadron in the 1830's. In  p48 subsequent years, with certain major actions excepted, such as Perry's mission to Japan, the Navy displayed little more than sporadic interest in the island kingdom. The results of the Sino-Japanese War of 1894‑95 ended this passiveness. The relative ease with which Japan defeated China was surprising; the dispatch with which Admirals Tsuboi and Ito decimated the Chinese navy in the battle at the Yalu was an eye‑opener for naval strategists. Very obviously a new sea power had been born at the close of the nineteenth century.2

A steady growth in Japan's political ambitions paralleled the development of her naval might. The Sino-Japanese War saw China displaced as Korea's suzerain. Japanese designs on the Liaotung Peninsula and the Manchurian hinterland were frustrated only through active intervention by Germany, France, and Russia. But Japan's objectives were clear: She intended to share in the predicted partition of China; she would soon rid herself of the encumbering unequal treaties; and she would assume control over Korea despite Russia's interests there and in Manchuria to the north. In 1895 none of these ambitions directly affected the United States, though the threatening break‑up of China was soon to absorb this country's attention.

In 1897 the Japanese Government did intrude itself into a matter of some moment to America. On June 19, 1897, Japan officially protested the newly signed treaty of annexation between the Republic of Hawaii and the United States. A few weeks of tension ensued, but Hawaiian and American assurances that Japanese immigration rights into the Hawaiian Islands would be respected led to a dissipation of the crisis. The Japanese withdrew their protest on December 22, 1897.3

During those summer months of excitement the Navy and its new assistant secretary, Theodore Roosevelt, actively studied the question of whether the United States could defend its interests in  p49 Hawaii. The answer was yes, but it would be difficult. This brief tempest concerning Hawaii demonstrated to those who were inclined to study the question that the nation needed more battle­ships, drydocks, and better-equipped navy yards. Of necessity the United States was deeply concerned about events in the Hawaiian Islands in 1897, but it was also definitely committed to upholding the Monroe Doctrine in the Caribbean against any challenges. Germany, with a growing navy, was a problem there. Thus, while the American Navy had been alerted to the potential menace of Japan, it had more important interests to protect nearby.

The settlements of the Spanish-American War and the crushing of the Boxer Rebellion in China further enlarged the responsibilities of the United States Navy. The Philippine Islands and the newly proclaimed Open Door policy had to be defended in a period when relations with Germany had deteriorated noticeably. Fortunately for America, balance of power politics among the Great Powers provided the necessary protection for this country's interests. Japan, with Great Britain as an ally, was readying herself to check Russian ambitions in northeast Asia. Great Britain and France were steadily moving toward an entente that would hold Germany at bay. Behind this screen of diplomatic intrigue and concomitant developing hostilities among the Great Powers, the United States suppressed the Filipino insurrection and began a policy of positive control in the Caribbean based on the Roosevelt Corollary to Monroe Doctrine. The Navy was given time to acquire more modern battle­ships and to begin the development of naval bases at Pearl Harbor and in the Philippine Islands.

On February 8, 1904, Japan opened war on Russia with a naval attack on the Russian fleet at Port Arthur. Though resisting bitterly on land, the Russians were no match for the Japanese at sea. The disastrous defeat of Admiral Rojdestvensky's Baltic Fleet at Tsushima Straits in May, 1905, led directly to the Treaty of Portsmouth and Russia's capitulation. The combination of "Nogi by land and Togo by sea" convincingly demonstrated that Japan had learned well from the writings of Clausewitz and Mahan.

The conclusion of the Russo-Japanese War ushered in a new period of uneasiness within the American Navy — a general suspicion of  p50 the Japanese and their battle-tested navy. The war scare of 1907‑9 and the world cruise of the battle­ship fleet were to some extent results of this clouded relation­ship.​4 Superimposed upon this foundation of distrust at the opening of the World War was a feeling of apprehension caused by Japan's seizure of the German islands in the north Pacific. Evidently Japan's control of those islets would endanger any conjectural American advance to the defense of the Philippines.​5 By the close of the World War the Navy recommended that the islands in question be internationalized, but not under Japanese control, and warned most emphatically against permitting any Power, unless it be the United States, to have possession of the other Mariana Islands:

Their position within the immediate vicinity of Guam is capable of development into submarine bases within supporting distance of Japan, and, in the event of war, this would make their continued possession by that country a perpetual menace to Guam, and to any fleet operation undertaken for the relief of the Philippines.​6

Nevertheless the Paris Peace Conference resulted in Japanese retention of the German islands under a mandate from the League of Nations.​7 Navy Department realists could do little more than accept the situation, but they did suggest that the United States try to offset  p51 the Japanese gains. Admiral Albert Gleaves, Commander-in‑Chief of the Asiatic Fleet, believed France, in payment of her war debt, could be persuaded to cede the United States certain islands south of the equator. With these a line might be established from Panama to the Philippines by way of Samoa. "The greatest weakness in this line is from Panama to Samoa. The only way to strengthen it will be by developing bases at the Galapagos Islands, Tahiti, the Marquesas and Tuamotu Islands."​8 Here might have been a suitable remedy for the Navy's problem, but nothing came of it. By the time the Washington Naval Conference convened in November, 1921, the Japanese were firmly ensconced in their Pacific mandate.

The months from the close of the World War to the opening of the Washington Conference on the Limitation of Armament on November 12, 1921, may definitely be called a "war scare" period. The presence of the Japanese in the Pacific islands straddling the route between the Hawaiians and the Philippines worried American naval planners; there was a resurgence of anti-Japanese land legislation in the Western states; and the furious race in naval construction between Japan and America boded evil.​9 The files of the State Department further testify to considerable study both in the department and in the field to determine whether conflict was imminent. By war's end, the Director of the War Trade Board Intelligence Office had reported, on the basis of mail intercepted in Seattle and San Francisco:

As much correspondence, originating both in Japan and in the United States, from both Japanese and Americans, continually refers to the possibility of war between the two countries, it seems probable that the subject is being widely discussed in Japan. These letters come from all classes of society. . . . Practically all of these express the opinion that Japan will some day be forced to wage a defensive war  p52 against the United States, because of the racial animosity shown by the latter against Oriental peoples, intensified by the restrictions against necessary territorial and industrial expansion which it endeavors to impose upon Japan in an arrogant manner.​10

A State Department concerned about Japanese public opinion also took an interest in Japanese activities throughout the world. Japanese purchases of arms, nitrates, or war materials were dutifully reported by American consuls from Berlin to Iquique, Chile. The Japanese, according to persistent rumor, were hiring German naval officers — submariners — and British naval aviators expert in aircraft carrier techniques.​11 What becomes quite evident is that the Secretary of the Navy, as well as the Secretary of State, was concerned with the drift in Japanese-American relations.

Statesmen in the United States, Great Britain, and Japan recognized that the international tensions should not be allowed to continue unabated. If the naval and arms race among the European Powers had produced a war in 1914, there was always the possibility that history might repeat itself. Besides, the taxation required to support the new navalism was hampering economic recovery in all three nations and could easily lead to a revolt from the left in Japan. Within the British  p53 Empire there was restiveness over a possible renewal of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, a move that would be most embarrassing to Canada were war to occur between Japan and America. And in the United States, Senator William E. Borah was pressing for action to terminate the naval race to which the country was a party. On December 14, 1920, the senator from Idaho introduced a concurrent resolution requesting the President to call a conference that would end naval competition. The resolution failed, but Borah was just beginning. When the new, Sixty-seventh Congress convened in April, 1921, Borah again pressed his resolution. Though Harding briefly blocked the Borah resolution, it was evident that the nation stood behind the doughty Idahoan. Really having no choice, President Harding did make sure that the credit for calling the Washington Conference on the Limitation of Armament was attributed to his administration.12

On July 8, 1921, Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes informed Great Britain that the United States was interested in arranging an international conference to study the question of arms limitation. The British were agreeable; in fact they had actually taken the initiative, but their own invitation had been delayed by the American ambassador in London.

In preparation for the naval conference, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., in a precept to the General Board dated July 27, 1921, ordered its members to begin a study of American naval policy. He wanted to know what would be the naval strength necessary to support the nation's current diplomatic policies. As a guide he listed five general principles upon which American diplomatic practice was based:

 p54  1.

The United States will not consent to the limitation of its sovereign power.


The United States will continue to maintain the Monroe Doctrine.


The United States will not consent to any limitations of its Navy that might imperil any part of its territory or the citizens thereof.


The United States must have at all times a sufficient force to insure unimpeded lanes of communication for its commerce.


The United States must be in a position to maintain its policies and the rights of its citizens in any country where they may be jeopardized.​13

The report of the General Board in response to the Secretary's order, published under the date of September 12, 1921, is an interesting exposition of all aspects of American foreign policy and naval power. The board examined the foreign policies of the five principal naval powers invited to the conference, particularly the policy of Japan. And in addition to its foreign policy, the naval board analyzed Japan's institutions (social and political) and the uses to which the Japanese put the imperial navy. The sources for General Board information were naval attaché reports, personal experiences of the board members, and extensive closed hearings.

In considering the goals of Japanese foreign policy the board concluded that Japan was aiming for eventual commercial and political domination of the Far East, to be accomplished by territorial expansion, supported by naval preponderance in the "Yellow Sea, China Sea, Japan Sea, and the waters of the western and southern Pacific with the islands lying therein." This hegemony in the Far East would be further promoted, the board predicted, by regional understandings, an attempt to continue the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, and active propaganda through control of home newspapers and subsidization of Japanese newspapers in foreign countries.14

The General Board took a studied look at Japan's institutional structure. In view of Japan's monarchical government, the board believed the "Japanese governing classes [were] militaristic with feudal traditions; consequently the Japanese Government [was] aggressive."  p55 These characteristics were of extreme importance in governing relations between Japan and America because

In controversies arising between Governments of dissimilar foundations, as between constitutional governments and monarchies, the differences are far more difficult of solution as they involve questions of national character as expressed in forms of government. . . . On the one side will be a government representing free individuals controlled by constitutional law; on the other a government dominated by a centralized class control, and looking at world problems with different eyes from ours. The permanent adjustment of controversial problems with governmental planes so wide apart is difficult, can not be permanent, and will be maintained only by force. . . .

Any trouble with Japan would necessarily take place in the Far East, and mere equality in sea power with Japan would render the United States incapable of action in Oriental waters. Thus "Great Britain's former ratio of 2 to 1 is the only safe ratio for the United States to maintain now as toward Japan until such time as she adopts a government similar to ours and is actuated by ideals in harmony with our own."15

In accord with its stated views, a skeptical General Board recommended several plans concerning relative naval strengths for Japan and America, each one insuring the United States 40 to 50 per cent superiority over the Japanese Navy. The "Basic Plan" of October 8, 1921, calling for the completion of all ships whose keels had been laid,​16 envisioned an estimated ratio of 10 to 6 for the United States and Japan, with approximately 1,000,000 tons of capital ships for the American Navy. The General Board modified this plan a week later, reducing American tonnage to 820,000 tons of mostly post-Jutland  p56 capital ships and cutting Japan to a 50 per cent ratio. Below this tonnage the General Board refused to go. When pushed by Secretary Hughes to compute the ratios on a "stop now" basis, the board returned the figures on October 26 with the warning that such a course of action was "fraught with probable dangerous results."


The proposition [Stop now plan] would probably be acceptable to Japan, as it reduces our Navy to a point where she would feel that the United States would be impotent to resist her aggressive plans in the Far East. These fifteen capital ships (building) brought Japan to the Conference. Scrap them and she will return home free to pursue untrammeled her aggressive program.


The General Board believes that the peace of the Far East and the safety of China is absolutely dependent upon the ability of America to place a force of unquestioned preponderance in the Western Pacific. If these fifteen ships be stricken from the Navy list, our task may not be hopeless; but the temptation to Japan to take a chance becomes very great.​17

Despite the General Board's unequivocal stand, the American delegation helped negotiate and then signed the Five-Power Treaty of February 6, 1922. From the naval viewpoint the most significant parts of this treaty were Articles IV, VII, and XIX. Articles IV and VII established a ratio of 5‑5‑3 among the United States, Great Britain, and Japan, respectively, in battle­ships and aircraft carriers. The treaty reduced capital ship strength (battle­ships and battle cruisers) for the United States to 525,000 tons, plus 135,000 tons of aircraft carriers. While there was a 5‑to‑3 ratio with Japan in the limited classes, the same was not true in the unlimited classes. Here the United  p57 States was greatly superior to Japan in submarines and destroyers but decidedly inferior in modern postwar cruisers.18

But ships were not the whole story. Article XIX declared that naval bases in the western Pacific would be kept in statu quo. For the United States it meant no further base construction at Guam, the Philippines, the Aleutians, or any small islands held west of Hawaii. Of the three provisions enumerated, the Navy found Article XIX the most odious, basically because it felt it had been unnecessary, but more importantly because it weakened the Navy's ability to defend American interests in the Pacific.

Though the Five-Power Treaty was drawn with Navy Department advice and later defended by the men who participated in the conference,​19 perceptive attacks upon the treaty, particularly Article XIX, were made by retired officers, principally, and by such unofficial naval agencies as the Naval Institute, the Navy League, and the Army and Navy Journal. Soon after the conference ended, Captain Dudley W. Knox, a retired naval officer and naval adviser to the Army and Navy Journal, charged into print with his Eclipse of American Sea Power. In summarizing the losses to the United States from the Five-Power Treaty Captain Knox concluded:

 p58  Of even greater importance than the loss to us in tonnage strength is the sacrifice we have made respecting Western Pacific Bases. . . . The difficulties of the long journey for our fleet to the Orient and of maintaining a large naval force there operating actively, under the conditions imposed by the treaty, will effectively reduce our initial strength at home to a decided inferiority in the Western Pacific. . . . Both Great Britain and Japan are assured of ample base facilities in the Orient while we are denied them, and in consequence we no longer possess the power to defend the Philippines or to support any other American Far Eastern Policy.​20

The United States Naval Institute in its Proceedings followed Captain Knox's line and in many articles castigated the Five-Power Treaty and Article XIX — Japan had gained at America's expense. Typical was Captain (later Rear Admiral) Frank Schofield's acid

Had I been a [Japanese] naval strategist, I would have done all I could do to keep America from fortifying further her naval positions in the Philippines and Guam, and of operating her naval forces there. I would have tried to consolidate and strengthen Japan's hold in the Far East through making it difficult for America to interfere. I would have seen that America's weakness in the Far East was Japan's strength. . . .​21

At the instigation of the Navy League's vice-president, the institute reprinted from the Atlantic Monthly Hector Bywater's disturbing essay, "Japan: A Sequel to the Washington Conference," which baldly accused the Japanese of rushing their Bonin Island fortifications to completion on the eve of the Washington Conference. The pessimistic comment on this piece in later issues was considerable, and repercussions were felt throughout the fleet, especially since Naval Institute policy of that day kept member­ship practically limited to active duty  p59 and retired armed forces officers.22

At the Naval War College similar pessimism was expressed. The Class of 1923, graduating in September, 1922, submitted papers on "Policy — In Its Relation to War: with Special Reference to U. S. Policy in the Pacific." The unanimity of viewpoint on Article XIX expressed in these studies reflected fleet attitudes. "By this the possibility to exert the naval strength [of the United States] promptly and effectively in the Western Pacific was given up, in fact almost insurmountable difficulties were placed in the way of conducting a naval campaign in the Western Pacific." Japan, these senior officers wrote, had gained so much that the United States would have to keep the Philippines in perpetuity in order to checkmate Japan in the western Pacific.23

By the spring of 1923 the Navy had arrived at this position: Japanese naval policy as it applied to the Far East was basically aggressive; the United States was on the verge of exchanging ratifications limiting the ability of the American Navy to operate in the Far East to check aggression; the Administration had decided to continue holding the Philippines as an American possession; and the naval service at large, because it had identified Japan as the national enemy, was convinced of great evil inherent in the Five-Power Treaty. The only possible solution was to push a campaign of education designed to bring the Navy up to full treaty strength, maintained in perfect condition  p60 and supported by the people and Congress. The Navy Department undoubtedly hoped that American people would heed the warning of the defense-conscious Charleston News and Courier:

The American people are not jingoes, but they know instinctively that someday there will be war between this country and Japan unless the Japanese understand that their prospects of success would be slender. An efficient Navy is therefore our best guaranty of peace with Japan and our only guaranty of peace.​24

During the balance of the 1920's the Navy stood by its identification of Japan as the national enemy of the United States. A brief glance at the background papers prepared for the naval delegation to the Geneva Naval Conference of 1927 displays this rigidity of attitude. In a later chapter, where the London Naval Conference of 1930 is discussed, the same naval viewpoint is observable.

By the spring of 1927 pressure in the United States and from the world at large had resulted in the calling of another naval conference, but convened in June at Geneva to consider limitation and possibly reduction in those classes of naval vessels not limited by the Washington Five-Power Treaty. Again the General Board studied American naval needs in the light of the foreign policies of the United States, Great Britain, and Japan. As we have seen, the relations between Japan and the United States had been strained by the Immigration Act of 1924 and the naval maneuvers of 1925, and these incidents undoubtedly influenced the conclusions of the General Board.

Examining the national policies of Japan and the United States, the board rather clearly showed no change in its opinion of Japanese aggressiveness. Japan's goal, the "political, commercial, and military domination of the Western Pacific," involved subordinate policies:


To render the military position of all other powers in the Western Pacific relatively weak.


To exploit China.


To extend Japanese political control over areas that are essential or desirable to supplement Japanese deficiencies in raw materials.


To maintain a navy strong enough successfully to combat in the Western Pacific the Navy of any other power.

 p61  These subordinate Japanese policies ran counter to one of America's principal national policies — the Open Door.25

Turning to the subject of the naval policies of the three Powers, the General Board noted that at Geneva the Japanese were likely to ask for further limitations on Pacific Ocean naval bases and for a more favorable ratio than 5 to 3 for cruisers, destroyers, and submarines. Anticipating a demand for possibly a 5‑5‑3.5 ratio (70 per cent of the U. S. naval strength) in cruisers, the General Board commented, "The desire of Japan for security to her sea lines of communication is in conflict with the American desire for security of sea lines of communication to China and the Philippines, and the protection of the Philippines." The board believed the United States position in the Pacific was greatly weakened by the 1922 treaty with its 5‑to‑3 ratio; to "further weaken our position, . . . by changes in ratios unfavorable to us . . . would not conduce to peace but would have the opposite effect by giving greater security to Japan in the furthering of her policies and plans adversely affecting the United States."​26 On further limiting naval bases the General Board was most obdurate. Hawaiian fortifications could be restricted only if Japan were to reduce her fleet to a point of relative impotence against the Philippines. As matters stood, Japanese control of quondam German islands in the central Pacific and Japanese bases at Formosa and the Bonins made it simple for her  p62 to menace the routes from Hawaii to the Far East. Further reductions of American base strength could not be considered.27

General Board views were colored by the thought that the United States would have to carry a Japanese war into Far Eastern waters, and therefore the Navy needed the strongest possible shore establishment in the Pacific.​28 American bases west of Hawaii were limited to their pre‑1922 condition; hence the board paid some attention to the British base at Singapore, which was under construction and was completely unlimited by the naval treaties. Any move to limit the completion of the Singapore base was a matter for the British and Japanese alone, but United States should consider certain facts:

In its consideration of British-American relations, in connection with the general situation in the Far East, the General Board has given serious weight to the fact that the two nations are in accord on most of the great problems of that area. Their interests there march together. The methods used by Great Britain to obtain her objectives are irritating to us at times, and even from time to time cause frictions between the two governments. The General Board believes, however, that the probability of any great differences arising between the two countries in the near future, that cannot be settled through diplomatic channels, is very remote, provided an equality in naval strength between the two countries is maintained. It considers, therefore, that British bases in the above region should not be brought into discussion by us. The very existence of certain British bases in this region may well serve our interests there at some future time.29

This statement found support at the Naval War College in the Class of 1927 project, in which student officers undertook a logistics study of an Orange-Blue (Japanese-American) war. "It is probable that England would be driven into active opposition against Japan  p63 through Australia. This would surely happen if Japan should show a policy of expansion. Australia is very friendly to the United States and she could be counted on to assist in every way even to the extent of entering the war as an ally."​30 This view of British-American relations, despite frequent Congressional twisting of the lion's tail in the period, was not unique to 1927 but can be found in the papers and writings of many naval officers throughout the 1920's. As one English writer described it, the United States and Great Britain had a community of interests in the western Pacific particularly since Japan was the hypothetical enemy of both in that area.31

The 1927 study of American naval policies by the General Board is significant for several reasons. The many individual reports that made up the General Board guide for the naval delegates spelled out rather carefully that Japan was still the primary worry of the American Navy. The basic clash of interests still existed, with Japan attempting political and economic control in eastern Asia and the United States advocating the Open Door. Noteworthy are the General Board's exposition of the parallel existing between American and British policies in the Far East and the subtle suggestion that these policies were complimentary where Japanese matters were concerned.

In its efforts to awaken Congress and America to the Navy's needs and to alert them to the menace of Japan, the department used several propaganda devices as the situation demanded. Hampered most of the time by the lack of a favorable press, the Navy did receive consistent support from the Hearst chain and several strong metropolitan papers such as the New York Herald-Tribune and the San Francisco Chronicle. Of all the newspapers sympathetic with the naval viewpoint, the Herald-Tribune was the most important. In the early 1920's it featured a column on service affairs written by "Quarterdeck," Rear Admiral (Retired) William F. Fullam, one of the most  p64 tempestuous of the Navy's controversialists.​32 The Navy, however, had worse problems than an unsympathetic press — a hostile Congress and an indifferent public. To Admiral Hilary Pollard Jones, Commander-in‑Chief of the United States Fleet, Congressional animosity toward the Navy was "utterly incomprehensible," and he wondered "why individuals or Congress should assume the attitude of personal hostility to any man because he wears a uniform. . . ."​33 The Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes summed up the preconference attitude of the nation, ". . . the revolt against navalism was running stronger here than in any of the other major powers. Many newspapers took up the cause, and the big‑navy men encountered a veritable cyclone of opposition in Congress."34

Naval tactics through the years have a military consistency. The naval secretaries, their assistants, and the naval bureau chiefs appeared year after year before the House and the Senate subcommittees of the Appropriations committees or before the Naval Affairs committees to state their requests, and in the 1920's they consistently met the same legislators in the committee rooms. On the whole the Navy, perhaps unwittingly, fared better than the Army, but the relatively better naval position hardly reduced the apprehensiveness of the naval leaders.​35 The Secretary of the Navy generally set the pace at the hearings by reading statements on the condition of the Navy and then answering questions. The secretary's statements, and those of the men who followed, were often loaded with comparative data to show how the Navy was falling behind Japan's or Great Britain's navy. Almost  p65 always the statistics of the country furthest ahead of the United States were used — for aircraft carriers Great Britain, for cruisers Japan or Great Britain, for submarines Japan, for naval bases the Japanese in Formosa and the southwest Pacific mandate. Occasionally a chairman would protest the use of the comparative method because of the effect it would have on relations with other countries. Representative Thomas S. Butler once interrupted a speaker with the terse comment, "You appreciate that what we say in this public hearing will be known rather widely outside and if we ourselves should read about the Japanese or the English comparing their fleets with ours and talking about getting ready for battle in a couple of years, we would become nervous, therefore, I think we ought to lay this talk aside. . . ."36

The Office of Naval Intelligence through these years was the principal source of statistical data for the department. An insight into the Navy's methods can be obtained by noting a letter from the Director of Naval Intelligence to the naval attaché in Tokyo. "We are preparing now for the shock of the next Congress, and you cannot send in too much information about the Japanese Navy."​37 The hearings of the winter of 1924 show Naval Intelligence at its best in presenting the danger of Japan and Great Britain to the United States. The hearings opened with a barrage of data presented orally and in printed tables for the convenience of the congressmen. Several construction bills were at stake, and the Navy was very much interested in gaining authorization to modernize and modify battle­ships and their guns. The British Navy was shown to be overwhelmingly power­ful in cruisers, and thus the United States did not actually have parity. Japanese foreign policy was described as having as its purpose the domination of the East; therefore, the United States needed a larger and more modern navy to protect its interests.​38 These hearings had a  p66 little more than average interest because of the strident protests the Japanese press had been making since the passage of the Immigration Act of 1924 with its exclusion clause.

Throughout these years men speaking independently, as well as the officers of the Navy Department and the General Board, spoke out against the Washington settlements, attempts to extend the treaties, and what they considered dangerous pacifistic trends. They too were opportunistic, seizing upon the issue that suited their needs and using for comparative purposes the country that illustrated their problems best. Some were naval officers like Bradley A. Fiske, William L. Rodgers, Dudley W. Knox, or Charles P. Plunkett, and generally those naval officers who spoke out were on the retired list. However, officers were not alone in their criticisms and were joined, aided, and at times outshouted by writers like Hector C. Bywater, William Howard Gardiner, or William B. Shearer, who provided reams of arguments for big‑Navy proponents regardless of their reasons for desiring a larger fleet.

Of the professional writers Hector C. Bywater appears to have been the most influential and most widely read. He published broadly in every vehicle of communication from the Atlantic Monthly to the Naval Institute Proceedings, besides being a correspondent for the Baltimore Sun. As a prelude to the Washington Conference his Sea Power in the Pacific created widespread interest and drew attention to the strategical problems of the Pacific as they might relate to an American-Japanese war. On the heels of the 1924 Japanese exclusion act he published The Great Pacific War, a study of the problems involved in a war between the two nations. His newspaper articles showed his intense interest in Japanese naval developments, and their reprinting in the "Professional Notes" section of the Naval Institute Proceedings made them available to the American Navy at large. Bywater had little faith in the ability of the Japanese to control their political system and often predicted that Japan's leaders would precipitate a war as a means of preserving national unity.39

 p67  William Howard Gardiner, like Bywater, was a professional writer and publicist. Throughout the 1920's he was closely connected with the Navy League of the United States as either vice-president or president, and through his enthusiasm for naval matters had access into the inner circles of Navy officialdom. He traveled widely and lectured constantly on the same theme: America was not a self-contained continent, had to paddle in the stream of international politics, and therefore needed a power­ful navy as its representative. He was often invited to speak before the General Board, the Naval War College, and the Foreign Service School of the State Department. Because of his close connections with the Navy, Gardiner was frequently called upon to supply interpretations or accumulate technical data to be presented to Congress by the Navy. Probably his greatest tour de force was a 1924 study made from the General Board records of 1921, showing that the Navy, after the Washington Conference, was not adequate to meet Japan in combat. This study was used as background to brief officers appearing before Congressional committees in the winter of 1924‑25. Gardiner's propaganda line seldom changed in reference to Japan — a showdown by force was in the offing, he insisted.40

Although Bywater and Gardiner were fairly subtle in their publicizing of American naval problems, others were not. In a series of public speeches in 1924 Rear Admiral Bradley A. Fiske spoke of potential Japanese aggression in the Far East; Rear Admiral William L. Rodgers told the Institute of Politics at Williamstown, Massachusetts, that Japan was bent on war with America; and Secretary of the Navy Curtis D. Wilbur warned in San Francisco that Japanese wrath was no menace for "There is nothing so cooling to a hot temper as a piece of cool steel."​41 In 1928 Rear Admiral Charles P. Plunkett joined President Coolidge's "Papa Spank Club" by publicly predicting inevitable war with England or some nation due to international trade  p68 conflicts. Secretary Wilbur's assistant secretary, T. Douglas Robinson, had to endure a Coolidge lecture for criticizing naval economies in the face of world unsteadiness.​42 Yet Congress maintained its equanimity, refused to be stampeded into heavy naval appropriations, and on the whole probably agreed with Senator Thomas J. Walsh, Democrat of Montana, in his views to a constituent:

I am not only against a navy greater than is essential for the defense of the United States against the attack of a foreign foe, but I am not disturbed by the idea that we are going to be attacked next week or next year. . . .

Twenty years ago, I was a delegate to the National Convention at Denver and listened as a member of the Committee on Resolutions to a two hours' harangue by Capt. Richmond Pearson Hobson, urging an appropriation for a big navy to meet impending war with Japan.

That war is as remote today as it was then; indeed, since a visit to that country some five years ago, I am convinced that a war with Japan is about as likely as a war with Mars.​43

To a certain extent the decade represents a study in frustration for the Navy. The General Board, with years of experience represented by its member­ship, as early as 1921 decided upon Japan as the future naval enemy and calculated that it needed a fleet twice the seize of Japan's if called upon to defend American interests in the Far East — the Philippines and the Open Door in China. Yet in the end only Guam, with the most primitive defenses, and the Philippines, incapable of handling the attenuated battle­ship fleet, remained west of Hawaii. And so, in necessarily sounding the call to general quarters, the board was aided by propagandists within and outside the naval service. Japan was seldom emphasized as the hypothetical enemy (especially to the public), except by the careless or the reckless, because diplomatic relations between Japan and America had been anything but placid. Indeed, Great Britain was portrayed as the bête noire, and  p69 hyphenate-vote-conscious congressmen seldom missed an opportunity to accuse the British of perfidy in their adherence to the Washington treaties. But the careful paralleling of British and American naval interests cannot go unnoticed even in the face of occasional Anglophobic blasts by highly placed officers. The 1927 analysis by Hector Bywater demands consideration, for he drew attention to what was probably unconsciously felt throughout the American Navy.

America's chief concern is to possess a fleet which shall be capable of neutralizing Japanese naval power and so ensuring the integrity of her Pacific possessions. There are, no doubt, people in the United States who sincerely believe in the possibility of war with Great Britain, and are therefore anxious that their navy should be in all respects equal, if not superior, to our own [Britain's]. . . . This belief is shared even by certain American naval officers, but it is certainly not reflected in the policy of the Washington administration. On the whole, it seems more probable that the American demand for naval equality is prompted mainly by a desire to uphold the status quo in the Pacific; in other words, although the British navy is officially represented as the standard of power which must be achieved, America's true object is to maintain a two‑fifths superiority over Japan, because Japan is regarded as the most probable antagonist of the future. . . .44

The Author's Notes:

1 See the author's "The United States Navy and the Japanese 'Enemy': 1919‑1931," Military Affairs, XXI (Summer, 1957), 61‑74.

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2 The best general history of the development of Japanese and American sea power can be found in E. B. Potter and Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Sea Power: A Naval History (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1960), 932pp.

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3 Hilary Conroy, The Japanese Frontier in Hawaii, 1868‑1898 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1953), pp131‑38; William R. Braisted, The United States Navy in the Pacific, 1897‑1909 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1958), pp11‑16.

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4 Ibid., chap. V; George T. Davis, A Navy Second to None: The Development of American Naval Policy (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, Inc., 1940), pp131‑34. The war scare of 1907‑9 is fully treated in Thomas A. Bailey, Theodore Roosevelt and the Japanese-American Crises (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1934), chaps. XI and XII; Louis Morton, "Military and Naval Preparations for the Defense of the Philippines during the War Scare of 1907," Military Affairs, XII (Summer, 1949), 95‑104.

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5 Earl S. Pomeroy, Pacific Outpost: American Strategy in Guam and Micronesia (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1951), pp51‑53.

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6 "Findings of the General Board, 1/24/1918," quoted in U. S., State Department (Confidential) Papers Relating to Pacific and Far Eastern Affairs Prepared for the Use of the American Delegation to the Conference on the Limitation of Armament, Washington, 1921‑22 (Washington, 1922), p1074. Hereafter, D/S, Papers Relating to Pacific and Far Eastern Affairs. Also U. S., Navy Department, Report of the General Board on Limitation of Armaments — Confidential (Washington, 1921), letter of December 2, 1918.

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7 Russell H. Fifield, "Disposal of the Carolines, Marshalls, and Marianas at the Paris Peace Conference," American Historical Review (April, 1946), 472‑79.

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8 "Admiral Albert Gleaves to the Secretary of the Navy, October 16, 1919, quoted in D/S, Papers Relating to Pacific and Far Eastern Affairs, pp1074‑75.

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9 A. Whitney Griswold, The Far Eastern Policy of the United States (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, Inc., 1938), pp368‑70; Rodman W. Paul, The Abrogation of the Gentlemen's Agreement (Cambridge, Mass.: Phi Beta Kappa Society, 1936), pp10‑15; Harold and Margaret Sprout, Toward a New Order of Sea Power: American Naval Policy and the World Scene (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1943), pp88‑121.

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10 War Trade Board to Secretary of State, December 11, 1918, U. S. Department of State, File 894.00/149, Archives. The files of the State Department, particularly the 711.94P81 File, fairly bulge with the clippings sent by worried people, appalled at sensationalism in the daily press. From San Francisco, ironically, the President of the Chamber of Commerce sent in several clippings depicting the anti-Japanese trend in the reporting of the local Bulletin. Commenting on the serious problem involved in so insulting the Japanese, he concluded, "This occurs to us to be a most serious and flagrant case. . . . We are, of course, powerless to stop such sensational propaganda, but surely there must be some federal method of dealing with such matters if it is clear that our national interest is imperiled thereby." A. McBean to the Secretary of State, San Francisco, April 29, 1921, D/S File 711.94/389, Archives. Particularly offensive to Mr. McBean were the red‑ink headlines "Annihilate Americans!" (April 23, 1921), and "Crush U. S.!" (April 22, 1921). The headlines called attention to an English-language translation of Major General Kajiro Sato's book, America and Japan Fight.

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11 See D/S, File 894.24, particularly serials /5 to /28 for information on raw materials and arms purchases. Concerning German aid to Japan see D/S, File 894.22/2,4,5. For information on British aid in the field of naval aviation see particularly D/S, File 894.24/21, London, April 6, 1921, Archives.

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12 Many studies have been made of the Washington Conference, the most important being: Sprout and Sprout, Toward a New Order of Sea Power; Merlo J. Pusey, Charles Evans Hughes (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1951), II, 445‑522; Pomeroy, Pacific Outpost, pp75‑115; Capt. Dudley W. Knox, The Eclipse of American Sea Power (New York: The Army and Navy Journal, 1922); Yamato Ichihashi, The Washington Conference and After (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1928), pp3‑152; Raymond L. Buell, The Washington Conference (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1922); John Chalmers Vinson, The Parchment Peace (Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 1955), and William E. Borah and the Outlawry of War (Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 1957), pp31‑47.

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13 The Secretary of the Navy to the General Board, July 27, 1921, U. S., Navy Department, Report of the General Board on Limitation of Armaments (Washington, 1921), pp4‑5.

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14 Ibid., pp8‑9.

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15 Ibid., pp8, 14 (my italics).

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16 Fifteen capital ships were under construction in October, 1921. They included the battle­ships Colorado (BB45), Indiana (BB50), Iowa (BB53), Massachusetts (BB54), Montana (BB51), North Carolina (BB52), South Dakota (BB49), Washington (BB47), West Virginia (BB48), and the battle cruisers Constellation (CC2), Constitution (CC5), Lexington (CC1), Ranger (CC4), Saratoga (CC3), United States (CC6). After the Washington Conference, Colorado and West Virginia were completed, and Lexington and Saratoga were converted to aircraft carriers. The remaining eleven vessels were scrapped.

Thayer's Note: An interesting sidelight on the Lexington and Saratoga is given by Admiral Halsey in his autobiography, p61.
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17 Memorandum on Naval Matters Connected with the Washington Conference on the Limitation of Armament 1921‑22, compiled by William Howard Gardiner, New York, October 25, 1924, Hilary P. Jones Papers, Box 1, LCMD. This remarkable paper was written from the confidential records of the General Board by Gardiner, who later became a president of the Navy League. It quotes at length from the many General Board reports concerning the Washington Conference and is all the more unusual because those same records were closely restricted for private researchers until very recent years. The paper was used by Admiral Jones and others to present the Navy's case for more cruisers in 1924‑25, and as background for the various naval conferences through the years.

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Auxiliary Vessels in Captain Afloat, January 1923

Country Modern
Destroyers Submarines
United States 0*/0  11*/11 295 126
Great Britain 2*/29 0*/11 193 65
Japan 2*/15 5*/5  98 57

* Heavy cruisers (8‑inch guns)/Light Cruisers (less than 8‑inch guns)

Source: Oscar Parks and Francis E. McMurtrie (eds.), Jane's Fighting Ships, 1923 (London, 1923), 401pp.

The Five-Power Treaty of 1922 is in U. S., Statutes at Large, Vol. XXXXIII,º 1655‑85.

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19 Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., wrote a defense of the treaties for the Ladies Home Journal of April, 1922; T. Roosevelt to Hughes, Washington, March 29, 1922, Charles E. Hughes Papers, Box 4B, LCMD. Admiral W. V. Pratt published several articles in the United States Naval Institute Proceedings defending the treaty, the principal one being "Some Considerations Affecting Naval Policy," in November, 1922. Pratt also defended the treaty in popular magazines such as Current History (April, 1923), and North American Review (May, 1922).

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20 Knox, The Eclipse of American Sea Power, pp135‑36.

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21 Captain Frank H. Schofield, "Incidents and Present Day Aspects of Naval Strategy," United States Naval Institute Proceedings (May, 1923), p782. Articles printed in the Proceedings go through a screening board consisting of six or so naval officers. The policy for publication is informal, but the general rule is that no article will appear that the Department of the Navy does not approve. From the formal viewpoint the institute is separate from the Navy, but the president of the institute is always a senior admiral on the active duty list, usually the Chief of Naval Operations.

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22 Hector C. Bywater, "Japan: A Sequel to the Washington Conference," United States Naval Institute Proceedings (May, 1923), pp819‑20.

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23 "Class of 1923 Thesis: Policy — In Its Relation to War: With Special Reference to U. S. Policy in the Pacific" (manuscript, Naval War College, September, 1922). In deference to the wishes of the War College Library, the authors of the theses cited are not directly identified in the body of the book. William Howard Gardiner published an article, "The Philippines and Sea Power," North American Review (August, 1922). He argued that with Article XIX limiting the Navy in the western Pacific, the United States would have to keep the Philippines to block Japanese expansionism to the south. Gardiner wrote to the chief of the Bureau of Insular Affairs in the War Department and offered to send as many reprints of the article to the bureau as it felt it would need. He noted, "in confidence," that he had been asked to send the Navy Department several hundred. William Howard Gardiner to Major General Frank McIntyre, New York, July 23, 1922, U. S., Interior Department, File 6144, Archives.

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24 "Navy Plans Sunk by the Senate," The Literary Digest, June 21, 1924, pp15‑16.

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25 U. S., Navy Department, General Board No. 438, Serial 1347‑1 (a), dated April 21, 1927. This report is one of twelve compiled between March 11 and June 1, 1927. A file of these reports may be found in State Department File 500.A15A1/684 at the National Archives. Hereafter, "General Board 1927." In the April 21, 1927, report the General Board determined that the national policies of the United States were:

1. No alliances.

2. The Monroe Doctrine.

3. The Open Door.

4. Maintenance and strengthening of American merchant marine.

5. Exclusion of Asiatics.

6. Limitation of other immigrants by quotas.

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26 Ibid.

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27 "General Board 1927," study 11(j), dated May 7, 1927; study 3(h), dated April 22, 1927.

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28 "General Board 1927," study 10(d), undated. The General Board wrote: "In case of war with Japan, our strategical situation is very bad. In order to bring the war to a success­ful conclusion it would be necessary to carry the war to the Western Pacific and to bring such pressure on Japan as to make it intolerable to her nationals. Before extensive operations in that area could be undertaken by us it would be necessary to establish our fleet in that area."

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29 "General Board 1927," study 3(h), dated April 22, 1927 (my italics).

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30 Class of 1927, "Class of 1927 Report of Committee on: A Logistic Study of the Pacific Area as a Theatre of Operations in an Orange-Blue War" (mimeographed, Naval War College, April, 1927).

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31 Sir Herbert Russell, "The Pacific Zone: British View of American Naval Policy," United States Naval Institute Proceedings (August, 1925), pp1480‑88.

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32 The papers of Admiral W. F. Fullam at the Library of Congress Manuscripts Division contain several boxes of clippings and scrapbooks of his published writing.

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33 Admiral Jones to Rear Admiral M. L. Bristol, New York, March 9, 1922, Hilary P. Jones Papers, Box 1, LCMD.

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34 Pusey, Charles Evans Hughes, II, 454.

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35 Robert Greenhalgh Albion, "The Naval Affairs Committees, 1816‑1947," United States Naval Institute Proceedings (November, 1952), pp1227‑37. An interesting and valuable study devoted in part to Congressional legislation in military and naval affairs can be found in George A. Grassmuck, Sectional Biases in Congress on Foreign Policy. The Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science, Series LXVIII, No. 3 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1951), 181pp., especially pp32‑52.

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36 U. S., Congress, House, Committee on Naval Affairs, Hearings on Sundry Legislation Affecting the Naval Establishment, 1922‑23, 67th Cong., 2d, 3d, 4th Sess., February 16, 1922, p300.

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37 Captain Luke McNamee to Captain Cotten, Washington, May 21, 1923, Lyman A. Cotten Papers, Box 10, Folder 153, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina.

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38 U. S., Congress, House, Naval Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations, Hearings on Navy Department Appropriations Bill for 1926, 68th Cong., 2d Sess., November 17‑19, 1924, H. R. 10724, pp1‑127.

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39 Hector C. Bywater, Sea‑Power in the Pacific: A Study of the American-Japanese Naval Problem (2d ed.; Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1934), pp316‑18; The Great Pacific War: A History of the American-Japanese Campaign of 1931‑33 (London: Constable & Company, Ltd., 1925), pp1‑14.

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40 William Howard Gardiner to Rear Admiral Gleaves, New York, November 23, 1923, Albert Gleaves Papers, Box 16, LCMD. Two lectures to the Foreign Service School can be found in mimeographed form in D/S LNC Gardiner/3, 4, Box 23, Archives; Memorandum on Naval Matters, compiled by Gardiner, Hilary P. Jones Papers, Box 1, LCMD.

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41 Miriam Beard, "Our War‑Advertising Campaign," The Nation, March 25, 1925, pp322‑23.

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42 "Admiral Plunkett's War With England," The Literary Digest, February 11, 1928, pp7‑9; Everett Sanders to T. Douglas Robinson, Washington, November 20, 1926, Calvin Coolidge Papers, Group 18, Box 58, LCMD; Robinson to Sanders, Washington, November 22, 1926, ibid. Sanders was Coolidge's secretary.

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43 Walsh to Reverend W. P. Jinnett, Washington, February 23, 1928, Thomas J. Walsh Papers, Box 295, LCMD.

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44 Hector C. Bywater, Navies and Nations: A Review of Naval Developments Since the Great War (London: Constable & Company, Ltd., 1927), p267 (my italics).

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