Fourteen-Part Message from Japan to the United States and Secretary Hull’s Response Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In 1941, the governments of the United States and Japan exchanged a series of messages that contained proposals for the cessation of hostilities in China, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific region. On December 7, 1941, Japan's ambassador Kichisaburo Nomura delivered this message to Secretary of State Cordell Hull. In the communication, Japan accused the United States of fueling conflict in the region by supporting Japan's enemies (specifically, the government of Chiang Kai-shek in China) and of intransigence in American policy. Furthermore, the Japanese accused the United States and its allies (particularly Great Britain) of conspiring against Japan. Therefore, the document concluded, the United States and Japan could no longer settle their differences through peaceful negotiations. At nearly the same time that Hull was entertaining the Japanese ambassador, Japanese fighter planes attacked the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, drawing the United States into World War II.

Summary Overview

In 1941, the governments of the United States and Japan exchanged a series of messages that contained proposals for the cessation of hostilities in China, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific region. On December 7, 1941, Japan's ambassador Kichisaburo Nomura delivered this message to Secretary of State Cordell Hull. In the communication, Japan accused the United States of fueling conflict in the region by supporting Japan's enemies (specifically, the government of Chiang Kai-shek in China) and of intransigence in American policy. Furthermore, the Japanese accused the United States and its allies (particularly Great Britain) of conspiring against Japan. Therefore, the document concluded, the United States and Japan could no longer settle their differences through peaceful negotiations. At nearly the same time that Hull was entertaining the Japanese ambassador, Japanese fighter planes attacked the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, drawing the United States into World War II.

Defining Moment

The 1930s and early 1940s was a period of great global tumult. The Great Depression devastated the economies of the United States and Europe. In Germany, a new regime emerged under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, while Italy under Prime Minister Benito Mussolini invaded and occupied Ethiopia. Hitler's forces spread across Europe, while neither Russia nor the United States acted to prevent them.

In East Asia, a fully industrialized and militarized Japan took aim at China, its longtime rival. Although geographically expansive and filled with a wide range of natural resources, China was led by the polarizing Chiang Kai-shek and his Kuomintang regime. In 1931, Japanese forces invaded Manchuria—citing the political disorder there as a threat to Japan's security interests—and set up a puppet government called Manchukuo. From this region, Japan expanded westward. Chiang had to battle two enemies—the Japanese and the growing Communist insurgency in China led by Mao Zedong. As China under the Kuomintang fractured, Japan moved inland, engaging the Kuomintang forces in a series of increasingly brutal battles.

Japan's expansion in East Asia was not confined to China. In 1940, Japanese troops attacked and occupied Dutch Indochina, increasing Emperor Hirohito's sphere of influence. Japan's moves in Southeast Asia changed the US government's approach from mostly rhetorical to geopolitically active, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt imposed a ban on oil exports to Japan. Without American petroleum, Japan could not continue its expansion. In September 1940, Japan entered into the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy. Hirohito and General Hideki Tojo (who had become prime minister), prepared Japan's forces for war against the United States.

Meanwhile, US and Japanese diplomats hurried back and forth in a fruitless attempt to negotiate a settlement in the conflict. Consistent throughout the diplomatic exchange, the US position was that Japan must withdraw from China and halt its hostilities. According to many historians, the Japanese leadership (including Ambassador Nomura) was expecting some sort of compromise that would allow for Japan to maintain some presence in the territory it had acquired. Meanwhile, Roosevelt, along with Secretary of State Hull, was concerned that any compromise in negotiations would amount to appeasement. Eventually, special envoy Saburo Kurusu joined Nomura in an effort to earn a US compromise, but the US government rebuffed them when Japan refused to comply with US demands. On December 7, 1941, Nomura and Kurusu returned to Hull with a fourteen-point statement that essentially served as an ultimatum to the United States.

Historical Document

Message delivered by Ambassador Nomura to Secretary of State Hull

1420, 7 Dec 1941

Memorandum

1. The government of Japan, prompted by a genuine desire to come to an amicable understanding with the Government of the United States in order that the two countries by their joint efforts may secure the peace of the Pacific Area and thereby contribute toward the realization of world peace, has continued negotiations with the utmost sincerity since April last with the Government of the United States regarding the adjustment and advancement of Japanese-American relations and the stabilization of the Pacific Area.

The Japanese Government has the honor to state frankly its views concerning the claims the American Government has persistently maintained as well as the measure the United States and Great Britain have taken toward Japan during these eight months.

2. It is the immutable policy of the Japanese Government to insure the stability of East Asia and to promote world peace and thereby to enable all nations to find each its proper place in the world.

Ever since China Affair broke out owing to the failure on the part of China to comprehend Japan's true intentions, the Japanese Government has striven for the restoration of peace and it has consistently exerted its best efforts to prevent the extension of war-like disturbances. It was also to that end that in September last year Japan concluded the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy.

However, both the United States and Great Britain have resorted to every possible measure to assist the Chungking regime so as to obstruct the establishment of a general peace between Japan and China, interfering with Japan's constructive endeavours toward the stabilization of East Asia. Exerting pressure on the Netherlands East Indies, or menacing French Indo-China, they have attempted to frustrate Japan's aspiration to the ideal of common prosperity in cooperation with these regimes. Furthermore, when Japan in accordance with its protocol with France took measures of joint defense of French Indo-China, both American and British Governments, willfully misinterpreting it as a threat to their own possessions, and inducing the Netherlands Government to follow suit, they enforced the assets freezing order, thus severing economic relations with Japan. While manifesting thus an obviously hostile attitude, these countries have strengthened their military preparations perfecting an encirclement of Japan, and have brought about a situation which endangers the very existence of the Empire.

Nevertheless, to facilitate a speedy settlement, the Premier of Japan proposed, in August last, to meet the President of the United States for a discussion of important problems between the two countries covering the entire Pacific area. However, the American Government, while accepting in principle the Japanese proposal, insisted that the meeting should take place after an agreement of view had been reached on fundamental and essential questions.

3. Subsequently, on September 25th the Japanese Government submitted a proposal based on the formula proposed by the American Government, taking fully into consideration past American claims and also incorporating Japanese views. Repeated discussions proved of no avail in producing readily an agreement of view. The present cabinet, therefore, submitted a revised proposal, moderating still further the Japanese claims regarding the principal points of difficulty in the negotiation and endeavoured strenuously to reach a settlement. But the American Government, adhering steadfastly to its original assertions, failed to display in the slightest degree a spirit of conciliation. The negotiation made no progress.

Therefore, the Japanese Government, with a view to doing its utmost for averting a crisis in Japanese-American relations, submitted on November 20th still another proposal in order to arrive at an equitable solution of the more essential and urgent questions which, simplifying its previous proposal, stipulated the following points:

1. The Government of Japan and the United States undertake not to dispatch armed forces into any of the regions, excepting French Indo-China, in the Southeastern Asia and the Southern Pacific area.

2. Both Governments shall cooperate with the view to securing the acquisition in the Netherlands East Indies of those goods and commodities of which the two countries are in need.

3. Both Governments mutually undertake to restore commercial relations to those prevailing prior to the freezing of assets.

The Government of the United States shall supply Japan the required quantity of oil.

4. The Government of the United States undertakes not to resort to measures and actions prejudicial to the endeavours for the restoration of general peace between Japan and China.

5. The Japanese Government undertakes to withdraw troops now stationed in French Indo-China upon either the restoration of peace between Japan and China or establishment of an equitable peace in the Pacific Area; and it is prepared to remove the Japanese troops in the southern part of French Indo-China to the northern part upon the conclusion of the present agreement.

As regards China, the Japanese Government, while expressing its readiness to accept the offer of the President of the United States to act as ‘introducer’ of peace between Japan and China as was previously suggested, asked for an undertaking on the part of the United States to do nothing prejudicial to the restoration of Sino-Japanese peace when the two parties have commenced direct negotiations.

The American Government not only rejected the above-mentioned new proposal, but made known its intention to continue its aid to Chiang Kai-shek; and in spite of its suggestion mentioned above, withdrew the offer of the President to act as so-called ‘introducer’ of peace between Japan and China, pleading that time was not yet ripe for it. Finally on November 26th, in an attitude to impose upon the Japanese Government those principles it has persistently maintained, the American Government made a proposal totally ignoring Japanese claims, which is a source of profound regret to the Japanese Government.

4. From the beginning of the present negotiation the Japanese Government has always maintained an attitude of fairness and moderation, and did its best to reach a settlement, for which it made all possible concessions often in spite of great difficulties. As for the China question which constitutes an important subject of the negotiation, the Japanese Government showed a most conciliatory attitude. As for the principle of non-discrimination in international commerce, advocated by the American Government, the Japanese Government expressed its desire to see the said principle applied throughout the world, and declared that along with the actual practice of this principle in the world, the Japanese Government would endeavour to apply the same in the Pacific area including China, and made it clear that Japan had no intention of excluding from China economic activities of third powers pursued on an equitable basis. Furthermore, as regards the question of withdrawing troops from French Indo-China, the Japanese Government even volunteered, as mentioned above, to carry out an immediate evacuation of troops from Southern French Indo-China as a measure of easing the situation.

It is presumed that the spirit of conciliation exhibited to the utmost degree by the Japanese Government in all these matters is fully appreciated by the American Government.

On the other hand, the American Government, always holding fast to theories in disregard of realities, and refusing to yield an inch on its impractical principles, cause undue delay in the negotiation. It is difficult to understand this attitude of the American Government and the Japanese Government desires to call the attention of the American Government especially to the following points:

1. The American Government advocates in the name of world peace those principles favorable to it and urges upon the Japanese Government the acceptance thereof. The peace of the world may be brought about only by discovering a mutually acceptable formula through recognition of the reality of the situation and mutual appreciation of one another's position. An attitude such as ignores realities and impose (sic) one's selfish views upon others will scarcely serve the purpose of facilitating the consummation of negotiations.

Of the various principles put forward by the American Government as a basis of the Japanese-American Agreement, there are some which the Japanese Government is ready to accept in principle, but in view of the world's actual condition it seems only a utopian ideal on the part of the American Government to attempt to force their immediate adoption.

Again, the proposal to conclude a multilateral non-aggression pact between Japan, United States, Great Britain, China, the Soviet Union, the Netherlands and Thailand, which is patterned after the old concept of collective security, is far removed from the realities of East Asia.

2. The American proposal contained a stipulation which states - ‘Both Governments will agree that no agreement, which either has concluded with any third power or powers, shall be interpreted by it in such a way as to conflict with the fundamental purpose of this agreement, the establishment and preservation of peace throughout the Pacific area.’ It is presumed that the above provision has been proposed with a view to restrain Japan from fulfilling its obligations under the Tripartite Pact when the United States participates in the war in Europe, and, as such, it cannot be accepted by the Japanese Government.

The American Government, obsessed with its own views and opinions, may be said to be scheming for the extension of the war. While it seeks, on the one hand, to secure its rear by stabilizing the Pacific Area, it is engaged, on the other hand, in aiding Great Britain and preparing to attack, in the name of self-defense, Germany and Italy, two Powers that are striving to establish a new order in Europe. Such a policy is totally at variance with the many principles upon which the American Government proposes to found the stability of the Pacific Area through peaceful means.

3. Whereas the American Government, under the principles it rigidly upholds, objects to settle international issues through military pressure, it is exercising in conjunction with Great Britain and other nations pressure by economic power. Recourse to such pressure as a means of dealing with international relations should be condemned as it is at times more inhumane that military pressure.

4. It is impossible not to reach the conclusion that the American Government desires to maintain and strengthen, in coalition with Great Britain and other Powers, its dominant position in has hitherto occupied not only in China but in other areas of East Asia. It is a fact of history that the countries of East Asia have for the past two hundred years or more have been compelled to observe the status quo under the Anglo- American policy of imperialistic exploitation and to sacrifice themselves to the prosperity of the two nations. The Japanese Government cannot tolerate the perpetuation of such a situation since it directly runs counter to Japan's fundamental policy to enable all nations to enjoy each its proper place in the world.

The stipulation proposed by the American Government relative to French Indo-China is a good exemplification of the above- mentioned American policy. Thus the six countries, - Japan, the United States, Great Britain, the Netherlands, China,, and Thailand, - excepting France, should undertake among themselves to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of French Indo-China and equality of treatment in trade and commerce would be tantamount to placing that territory under the joint guarantee of the Governments of those six countries. Apart from the fact that such a proposal totally ignores the position of France, it is unacceptable to the Japanese Government in that such an arrangement cannot but be considered as an extension to French Indo-China of a system similar to the Nine Power Treaty structure which is the chief factor responsible for the present predicament of East Asia.

5. All the items demanded of Japan by the American Government regarding China such as wholesale evacuation of troops or unconditional application of the principle of non-discrimination in international commerce ignored the actual conditions of China, and are calculated to destroy Japan's position as the stabilizing factor of East Asia. The attitude of the American Government in demanding Japan not to support militarily, politically or economically any regime other than the regime at Chungking, disregarding thereby the existence of the Nanking Government, shatters the very basis of the present negotiations. This demand of the American Government falling, as it does, in line with its above-mentioned refusal to cease from aiding the Chungking regime, demonstrates clearly the intention of the American Government to obstruct the restoration of normal relations between Japan and China and the return of peace to East Asia.

*(sic) In brief, the American proposal contains certain acceptable items such as those concerning commerce, including the conclusion of a trade agreement, mutual removal of the freezing restrictions, and stabilization of yen and dollar exchange, or the abolition of extra-territorial rights in China. On the other hand, however, the proposal in question ignores Japan's sacrifices in the four years of the China Affair, menaces the Empire's existence itself and disparages its honour and prestige. Therefore, viewed in its entirety, the Japanese Government regrets it cannot accept the proposal as a basis of negotiation.

6. The Japanese Government, in its desire for an early conclusion of the negotiation, proposed simultaneous ly with the conclusion of the Japanese-American negotiation, agreements to be signed with Great Britain and other interested countries. The proposal was accepted by the American Government. However, since the American Government has made the proposal of November 26th as a result of frequent consultation with Great Britain, Australia, the Netherlands and Chungking, and presumably by catering to the wishes of the Chungking regime in the questions of China, it must be concluded that all these countries are at one with the United States in ignoring Japan's position.

7. Obviously it is the intention of the American Government to conspire with Great Britain and other countries to obstruct Japan's effort toward the establishment of peace through the creation of a new order in East Asia, and especially to preserve Anglo-American rights and interest by keeping Japan and China at war. This intention has been revealed clearly during the course of the present negotiation.

Thus, the earnest hope of the Japanese Government to adjust Japanese-American relations and to preserve and promote the peace of the Pacific through cooperation with the American Government has finally been lost.

The Japanese Government regrets to have to notify hereby the American Government that in view of the attitude of the American Government it cannot but consider that it is impossible to reach an agreement through further negotiations.

December 7, 1941

Oral Response by Secretary of State Hull to Ambassador Nomura

I must say that in all my conversations with you [the Japanese Ambassador] during the last nine months I have never uttered one word of untruth. This is borne out absolutely by the record. In all my 50 years of public service I have never seen a document that was more crowded with infamous falsehoods and distortions -- infamous falsehoods and distortions on a scale so huge that I never imagined until today that any Government on this planet was capable of uttering them.

Glossary

multilateral: having several sides; participated in by more than two nations, parties, etc.

Nine Power Treaty: a 1922 treaty, part of the Open Door Policy, which confirms China's sovereignty and territories; signed on February 6, 1922 by the United States, Belgium, the British Empire, the Republic of China, France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, and Portugal.

Document Analysis

The message delivered by the Japanese ambassador to Secretary of State Hull made it clear that Japan considered the United States and Great Britain to be its enemies. The message accuses the United States of being inflexible and intransigent with regard to negotiations with Japan. The message also asserts that the United States has conspired against Japan with Chiang Kai-shek's government in China. Thus, the message states, Japan could no longer peaceably negotiate with the United States regarding the ongoing conflict in East Asia and the Pacific—comments that suggest Japan's intent to pursue its interests in Asia through military means. Meanwhile, Hull's brief response dismisses Japan's message as filled with “infamous falsehoods and distortions.”

Commonly referenced as the “Fourteen-Part Message,” the Japanese correspondence represents the final attempt by the Japanese to negotiate the cessation of hostilities and tensions in Asia. The memorandum begins by stating Japan's desire to work with the US government to ensure peace in the region. The document identifies Japan as a key figure in ensuring the stability of East Asia and promotes itself as an advocate for regional peace.

However, the document continues, the “China Affair”—which Japan argued was the fault of Chiang's government—has been exacerbated by the Chinese government and influenced by the US and British governments. The message acknowledges that Japan had signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy, implying that the three countries collectively opposed the United States and its allies.

The message further states that the United States is engaged in a conspiracy (with Great Britain) to undermine Japan's efforts to “insure the stability of East Asia” and to interfere politically in China and the former Dutch and French West Indies. The Japanese argue that the United States and Great Britain have frozen exports to Japan in order to influence the region.

Despite such barriers to good will and peace, the Japanese letter reads, Japan still wants to negotiate. To this end, the memorandum states, Japan has put forth a series of mutually beneficial proposals. The latter of the proposal packages promises that Japan would remove its troops from French Indochina if the United States agrees to resume petroleum exports. However, the Japanese allege, every proposal offered to the United States has been rejected. The letter also argues that the United States has incited the world community by attempting to keep Japan out of the Tripartite Pact. With the United States both unwilling to negotiate with Japan and acting in direct opposition to Japan's interests, the document says, Japan can no longer proceed toward a diplomatic settlement.

Shortly after receiving this memorandum, Secretary of State Hull offered a brief and scathing oral response. He expresses dismay at the Japanese position. During the nine months of negotiations, Hull insists, he and other representatives of the US government have been transparent and honest. He decries the document as fraught with “infamous falsehoods and distortions on a scale so huge that I never imagined until today that any Government on this planet was capable of uttering them.” Hull's brief comment brought the diplomacy between the United States and Japan to an abrupt close and immediately preceded the beginning of armed conflict between the two countries.

Essential Themes

The Fourteen-Part Message demonstrates the enormous gulf between Japan and the United States prior to military engagement between the two countries. In fact, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor occurred almost simultaneously with the delivery of the Japanese message and Hull's response. At the time, although some assumed that war with Japan was inevitable, many US leaders assumed that Japan would ultimately acquiesce to American demands, a notion underlined by the fact that, according to the fourteen-part memorandum, the United States simply refused to be flexible in negotiations. Thus, the message positioned Japan as both a proponent of peace in the region and a victim of Chinese and the US ambitions in Asia. Both the Japanese communiqué and Hull's response were indicative of the prevailing sentiment among both American and Japanese officials that diplomacy was not worth pursuing further.

Additionally, the Fourteen-Part Message provides insight into the severity of the situation in the Pacific and its implications for the rest of the world. Japan relied heavily on US petroleum. Absent those resources, the Japanese military's campaign in the Pacific would be forced to halt. Meanwhile, the United States risked having to fight wars in both the Far East and Western Europe. Thus, the Fourteen-Point Message illustrates the desperate situation facing both the United States and Japan as they spiraled toward war.

Bibliography and Additional Reading
  • Friedrich, Otto, and Anne Hopkins. “Down but Not Out.” Time 2 Dec. 1991: 48–57. Print.
  • Iguchi, Takeo. “A Reinvestigation of Japan's Final Memorandum to the United States and the Decoding of Roosevelt's Message to the Emperor, December, 1941.” Journal of American–East Asian Relations 18.2 (2011): 117–41. Print.
  • Minohara, Tosh. “Japanese Black Chamber: The History of Prewar Japanese Cryptanalysis and Its Impact on Policy Decisions.” Conference Papers. Intl. Studies Assn., 2006. Web. 15 Oct. 2014.
  • “The US-Japan War Talks.” Japan Center for Asian Historical Records. Japan Center for Asian Hist. Records, 2005. Web. 15 Oct. 2014.
  • “World War II Time Line.” National Geographic. Natl. Geographic Society, 2001. Web. 15 Oct. 2014.
  • Wu, Lin-Chun. “One Drop of Oil, One Drop of Blood: The United States and the Petroleum Problem in Wartime China, 1937–1945.” Journal of American–East Asian Relations 19.1 (2012): 27–51. Print.
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