Book Review: In the Cauldron: Terror, Tension, and the American Ambassador’s Struggle to Avoid Pearl Harbor

Regnery History

Editor’s Book Review

In the Cauldron: Terror, Tension, and the American Ambassador’s Struggle to Avoid Pearl Harbor, Lew Paper.  Regnery History

While reading In the Cauldron you will feel as though you are reading another novel, but this book is based on fact.  This is the story of America’s ambassador to Japan, Joseph Grew, and how he spent months in a desperate effort to arrange an agreement between the United States and Japan to avoid a war that ended up being precipitated by the attack on Pearl Harbor. This story has never been told, till now.

Before the actual Pearl Harbor attack, the U.S. and Japan had been involved in a clash of wills. FDR’s economic sanctions were crippling Japan. The ambassador could see a deadlock coming and feared for where that would lead. Grew had been in Tokyo for 10 years and knew that Japan would not yield to U.S. demands, but would instead defend itself even unto annihilation. Japan would not submit to U.S. pressure and demands.

The ambassador presented many recommendations to break the impasse.  FDR and his administration did not recognize their need to listen to the ambassador’s recommendations. Hubris  and western misguided logic was in the house and the U.S. did not see a failure on the horizon. Surely Japan would give in. Japan was going to enter into a suicidal war and would do so when and where the U.S. least expected.

The author had a large selection of primary source materials, and uses Grew’s diaries, memos, detailed accounts of correspondence between Grew and other state department officials, letters, as well as interviews with members of the families of Grew and his staff and not to be discounted, the rapidly depreciating lives of the Japanese people and their cultural creed. The information used reflects the immense effort Grew went to in order to get the U.S. to see that it was on a path of folly.

The reader will be challenged to question whether the incident, the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, could have been avoided…..Carol

Excerpt: The Noose Tightens Around Japan’s Neck-Page 200

     It was not on its face the total and unqualified embargo that some Cabinet members wanted. But the freezing of Japan’s assets would (and ultimately did) represent a far more stringent sanction than any that had previously been applied. Welles did not explain exactly how the freeze would work, but, at a minimum, it would give the United States the flexibility to decide whether to allow Japan to withdraw funds from America banks to pay for oil and other exports. As Roosevelt later told the Cabinet, he wanted “to slip the noose around Japan’s neck and give it a jerk now and then.

The proposed imposition to the freeze order against Japan flew in the face of Grew’s earlier comments in his “Green Light” telegram of September 12, 1940, and his letter to Roosevelt in December 1940.  The Ambassador had explained in those communications that economic sanctions were unlikely to alter Japan’s policy unless it was made clear to Japan that the United States was prepared to go to war.

About the author: Lew Paper is the author of five previous books including John F. Kennedy: The Promise and the Performance, Brandeis: An Intimate Biography, and Empire: William S. Parley and the Making of CBS. His articles and book reviews has appeared in a variety of newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Republic, and the America Scholar. He is a former adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center and former Teaching Fellow in Government at Harvard College.

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