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Pearl Harbor and all that (partly off topic)

Quite a few libertarians of my acquaintance have trouble thinking straight about World War II in the Pacific. The recent anniversary of Pearl Harbor brings them out with their arguments that U.S. government provoked the Japanese government into starting the war. Let’s review the facts, with a complementary glance at Japanese colonial monetary arrangements.

Japan emerged as an international power with the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-5. The Korean monarchy appealed to the Chinese and Japanese governments to help it suppress a revolt. Both sent troops. Japan’s troops seized the royal family and installed a new government that repudiated all Korean treaties with China. War followed, and Japan won. China ceded Taiwan and the Pescadores Islands. In 1904-5 Japan fought Russia after breaking off talks over spheres of influence in Korea and Manchuria. Japan started the war by sinking Russian warships at Inchon. Russia ceded part of Sakhalin island to Japan and recognized a Japanese sphere of influence in Korea. Japan annexed Korea in 1910. Early in World War I, Japanese forces occupied German colonies in the Pacific. In 1915 Japan presented the “Twenty-One Demands” to China, which would have reduced China to a Japanese protectorate, but withdrew them in the face of pressure from foreign governments.  During the Russian civil war, Japanese forces occupied Vladivostok and nominally controlled a huge territory in eastern Siberia, though they had to retreat after the Red Army defeated anti-Bolshevik forces.  In 1919-1920 Japanese forces violently suppressed the Samil independence movement in Korea. In the interwar period the former German colonies in the Pacific became a League of Nations mandate under Japanese administration. In violation of the mandate agreement, Japan established substantial military bases on the islands.

In 1931 Japanese military forces staged an explosion near a Japanese-owned railroad in Manchuria as a pretext to launch an invasion of the region. In 1932 the Japanese army invaded neighboring Jehol province. In 1935 Japan turned eastern Hebein and Chahar provinces into a puppet state. In 1937 a Japanese army unit, conducting unannounced nighttime maneuvers near  Peking, came under fire from a Chinese unit fearing an invasion. After a series of further incidents Japan launched another war on China, conquering large areas near the coast. In 1939 the Japanese army attempted to occupy a disputed territory in Mongolia. A large-scale though undeclared war soon resulted in which Japanese forces were defeated by Mongolian and Soviet troops (the Nomonhan Incident). To end the conflict Japan signed a cease-fire pact with the Soviet  Union on September 15, 1939. (The Soviet Union under Stalin then proceeded to invade Poland two days later.) In September 1940 Japanese forces invaded French Indochina.

That is the background to Pearl Harbor. For more than 40 years Japan had pursued a policy of aggression and conquest. In each case it was the aggressor. As an island nation with a modern military it was in no real danger of invasion from neighboring countries. In the territories it invaded, Japanese forces murdered civilian opponents of its rule by the thousands and suppressed them by the millions.

The 1940 U.S embargo of certain materials frequently used for military purposes was intended to pressure Japan to stop its campaign of invasion and murder in China. The embargo was a peaceful response to violent actions. Japan could have stopped; it would have been the libertarian thing to do. For libertarians to claim that the embargo was a provocation is like saying that it is a provocation to refuse to sell bullets to a killer.

Then, in December 1941, came not just the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, but an attack on the whole of Southeast Asia: Hong Kong, Singapore, what is now Malaysia (British colonies), Indonesia (a Dutch colony), the Philippines (scheduled under American law to become independent in 1945), Thailand (independent). In 1942 there followed the invasion of Burma, a bit of India, and a few of the Aleutian Islands, plus the bombing of Darwin, Australia.

With that history in mind, how can anybody think that the United States could have made a durable peace with Japan? It would have lasted as long as would have been to Japan’s military advantage, no longer. Japan was hell-bent on conquest. Nothing since its emergence as a major international power suggested a limit to its ambitions. It only ceded in the face of superior force. Even as Allied forces retook territory, Japanese fanaticism was such that the government did not surrender until after the U.S. military dropped two atomic bombs. To ignore the long pattern of Japanese aggression as quite a few libertarians are wont to do is not just historically ignorant but dangerous, because it closes its eyes to the hard truth that some enemies are so implacable that the only choice is between fighting them and being subjugated by them. It took a prolonged U.S. military occupation to turn Japan from the aggressor it was to the peaceful country it has become.

Now for some words on Japanese colonial monetary arrangements. In Taiwan, Korea, and Manchuria Japan established local banks combining central and commercial banking functions, whose currencies were tied to the yen. The former German colonies of the Pacific simply used the yen directly. In China, Japan established multiple note issuing authorities but then largely consolidated them into two, the Federal Reserve Bank of China(!) in the north and the Central Reserve Bank of China in the south. During World War II, Japanese occupation forces in some Southeast Asian countries issued paper currency derided as "banana money" for the pictures of bananas that some notes had and their lack of credibility. Elsewhere, as in French Indochina and Thailand, the Japanese hijacked the previously existing local note issuers. In all cases the wartime policy was to use the currency as a means of extracting resources. Where Japanese forces issued banana  money they established exchange rates with local currency that overvalued the banana money. Later the Japanese established a kind of regional central bank, the Southern Development Bank, with headquarters in Singapore, to issue currency for what are now Malaysia, Indonesia, Burma, the Philipines, Brunei, and Singapore. There is probably an interesting book to be written about it. There may even be one  in Japanese, for all I know, but there is not one in English. Being unable to read Japanese, the two best sources I have found are Money and Banking in China and Southeast Asia During the Japanese Military Occupation 1937-1945 by Richard Bányai (1974) and “Japanese Military Currency (1937-1945): Quantities Printed and Issued” in the I.B.N.S. Journal of the International Bank Note Society, v. 42, no. 3: 1-24, 2003, by Kazuya Fujita. The Philippines prior to Japanese occupation were the only territory with a kind of free banking: two commercial banks issued notes alongside the government, whose issue was a type of currency board.

The territories Japanese forces conquered by 1931 were part of what can be considered an inner yen zone, where monetary policy was basically a mirror image of policy in Japan itself and was intended to promote long-term economic development in line with Japanese interests. In what might be termed the outer yen zone, the territories conquered after 1931, the policy was frankly extractive. The populace continued to prefer the currency it had previously used, and the currency board notes of Hong Kong and Malaya were particularly valued and continued to be held despite penalties for doing so. They were backed by sterling reserves held in London, and after the war they again became convertible into sterling at the prewar exchange rate. (The notes were printed in England, so the Japanese could not obtain the paper and design expertise to produce plausible imitations.) As the war continued, banana money became worth increasingly less on the black market, and by the end of the war it was almost worthless in all the countries where it had been issued. Japan's monetary policy in the outer yen zone was the monetary counterpart of its brutal military and political policies.


  1. " The 1940 U.S embargo of certain materials frequently used for military purposes was intended to pressure Japan to stop its campaign of invasion and murder in China. The embargo was a peaceful response to violent actions."

    Actually, embargos like that have always been considered an act of war. The embargo of scrap metal and oil was a serious threat to the economic health of Japan at the time, just as the oil embargo against the US by Arabs in the early 70's was. The Japanese clearly saw these acts as acts of war and a prelude to actual war.

    " the government did not surrender until after the U.S. military dropped two atomic bombs."

    We didn't have to insist on unconditional surrender and total war. Japan offered to negotiate a settlement several times.

    Everyone knows how evil the Japanese were. That's not in dispute. The question is did our entry into the world make the world a better place? No, it didn't, because it allowed communism to explode worldwide. Communism was far worse than the Japanese and German atrocities. The important lesson is humility. In no war did either side achieve its stated goals. And try a cost/benefit analysis of the US entering WWII on any side. I can't possibly see how the benefits outweighed the costs.

    The US should tried incentive to persuade Japan to leave other nations alone instead of an act of war in the embargoes. If that failed, humility in international relations should dominate, as the great historian of international relations, Butterfield recommended.

    The US government should not see itself as the policeman to the world. It's first responsibility is to protect the life, liberty and property of its own citizens. Sacrificing those for the benefit of other nations is not part of its legit activity.

    1. I think you need to look into the history of war. I'm pretty sure trade embargos have always been considered an act of war. You may not want to define it that way, but throughout history people have felt differently.

    2. "We didn't have to insist on unconditional surrender and total war. Japan offered to negotiate a settlement several times."

      The Japanese offers were ludicrous – as late as the day after the first atomic bomb dropped (but before the second), the Japanese leadership's proposal were essentially a return to status quo ante. A return to pre-war borders, with no loss of Japan's colonies, or pre-1937 holdings in China. There would be no limits placed on Japan's military, or any war repatriation payments. Japanese leadership would be untouched, and Japan would try its own war-criminals. Leaving aside the fact that Japan's long history of broken peace agreements in continental Asia meant their word was worthless, the specifics would not have been in any way acceptable. That they thought this was a realistic proposal only goes to show just how detached from reality the Japanese leadership had become.

      1. That's the self-righteous attitude that the great historian of foreign policy, Herbert Butterfield wrote about. He said that until WWI, European states had very limited goals in war because they had the wisdom to understand that the directions war takes are unpredictable and their knowledge of what the best outcome should be was limited. The 20th century inflamed Western hubris and led to unlimited war and the mass slaughters of WWI and WWII.

        Destroying the Japanese the way the US did accomplished nothing but paving the way for the communist takeover of SE Asia. Brilliant! Asia would have been far better off had the US accepted Japanese terms for ending the war. Of course, FDR was a devout socialist, so he probably would have welcomed Mao.

        As Butterfield wrote, we need to get back to the old European way of looking at war in which we don't portray our side as snow white in motives and the enemy as irredeemably evil and worthy only of being annihilated.

        1. What? As I said before, Japanese peace treaties weren't worth the paper they were written on – they'd only have used peace to rebuild for the next go-around. And after what Germany had pulled, no one was in the mood to give Japan another chance.

          Regarding China? By 1944, Communist victory in China was pretty-much assured. If the Japanese hadn't invaded in '37, destroyed the bulk of the KMT's professional army, forcing them to cut worse and worse deals with corrupt warlords for soldiers, yeah, the KMT might have had a good chance at winning a war against the Communists. By the time the peace proposals you're talking about came up, the KMT was finished. The only way to stop the commies would have been to send the US army in to help them, and judging from your comments, I doubt that you would be supportive of that.

          Also, glorifying the "old, European way of war"? You see it as limited wars with limited political objectives. I see it as a never-ending grind of wars of succession, vying dynasties, and border disputes breaking out every decade. Better to settle affairs once and for all than to live in uncertainty and ceaseless conflict.

    3. Am I the only one kind of unnerved at how blithely McKinney downplayed the atrocities of Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany? I'm not at all interested in defending communist subjugation or Stalinism, but the effect of asserting that communism was "far worse" seems to me to be a pretty wild whitewashing of what were extraordinary crimes against humanity. The Rape of Nanking, comfort women, the Holocaust for Pete's sake–these are not acts that can be neatly measured against anything else and determined the lesser of evils, I don't think. Whether or not the embargo is an act of war, it's important to remember who the United States was dealing with.

  2. War is invading territory and killing people. Refusing to export oil and scrap metal is not war. The confusion you display is unfortunately typical of libertarians in this matter and others related to foreign policy.

    1. I think you need to look into the history of war. I'm pretty sure trade embargos have always been considered an act of war. You may not want to define it that way, but throughout history people have felt differently.

      1. Since you offer nothing more substantial than being "pretty sure," allow me to offer a citation, to an old treatise called The Principles of International Law (1911) by Thomas Joseph Lawrence, available online. See in particular page 337, where the author remarks that embargoes belong to a class of acts that are not war because they do not rupture diplomatic relations and abrogate treaties. Moreover, the kind of embargo Lawrence is discussing is the old sense of the term, meaning detention of ships in port. The 1940 U.S. embargo on Japan, an embargo in the more commonly used sense of the term nowadays, did not to my knowledge detain ships in port. It merely stopped the export of certain goods that Japan was using in its armed campaigns, which were killing many people. Japan was free to try to buy those goods elsewhere. By your logic, it would be an act of war to refuse to sell poison gas to a government that was using it.

        1. Bastiat: "If goods don't cross borders, armies will". free trade (banking?) is the surest way to peace and prosperity.

        2. Do you think the Japanese read Lawrence's book and agreed with it? The question is not what is the technical definition of war, but what do others consider an act of war?

          Did the Japanese consider it an act of war? Did FDR understand that the Japanese would consider it an act of war? Knowing that, did FDR try to provoke the Japanese into attacking? About 90% of the American people opposed getting involved in the wars in Europe and the Pacific until Dec 7, 1941. Yet FDR desperately wanted to go to war. He knew that the enemy would have to attack first in order to change the minds of the people, so just as every war-monger president before him, he did all he could to provoke an attack.

          Being so opposed to war, would the American people have voted for the embargoes against Japan if they understood that Japan would see the embargo as at least a prelude to war if not an act of war?

          If the US had been selling poison gas to Japan and stopped selling it because it disagreed with Japan's foreign policy, I would guess that the Japanese would consider that an act of war. I might not define it as such, but they probably would. What I think the definition of war is doesn't matter. I'm not trying to define war but looking at how people have seen war throughout history and especially outside of the West.

          As for the Japanese finding other sources of oil and steel, the US was the world's dominant supplier. The British were second and they controlled the Middle Eastern oil. That left Japan without a source of oil. Do you really think FDR didn't understand any of that?

          Aside from definitions of war, you argue that the US has the right to dictate to other nations their foreign policies. The state has a right to police its own people and defend itself from invasion, but where does it get the right to dictate to other nations?

          I'm not trying to justify what the Japanese did. By Western standards and my own they were evil. But we're arguing from a very recent, Western attitude toward war. War in Europe before the Dutch revolt against Spain was brutal by today's standards. Civilians were raped and plundered at will. Soldiers were paid with the booty they could steal. The Dutch changed that and created the modern Western attitude toward war. But only the West adopted that attitude. No one else did or has. Of course, the US and UK abandoned those high principles in WWII by attacking civilians on purpose.

          What made WWI and WWII so brutal and devastating was the loss of what the historian Herbert Butterfield emphasized in his histories of international diplomacy – humility. Leonard Liggio wrote that Butterfield opposed "official history". " "Official history has its roots in 'the arrogance of the modern pagan mythology of righteousness.' The modern state and its historians have reverted to the legalism and Pharisaism which assumes 'the primeval thesis: ‘We are the righteous ones and the enemy are wicked’.' Official history imagines that masses of men on the one side have freely opted for wickedness, while on the other side there is a completely righteous party, whose virtue is superior to conditioning circumstances. The reasons for suspecting such a diagram of the situation are greatly multiplied if the ethical judgment is entangled with a political one—if, for example, the wickedness is charged against a rival political party, or imputed to another nation just at the moment when, for reasons of power politics, that nation is due to stand as the potential enemy in any case.”

          Butterfield argued for 1) putting oneself in the shoes of the "enemy" people and truly understanding them and 2) humility in international relations. Humility is demonstrated in limited goals in war, not the open ended total war and demand for unconditional surrender. Humility helps us understand that the outcome of war may be vastly different from what we intended. In the case of WWII, we prevented one monster and unleashed a far worse one, but only after massive destruction and death like the world had never seen.

          1. Ceasing to export goods is a nonviolent act. Dropping bombs on people is a violent act. If the difference between them is not obvious there can be no libertarian approach to foreign policy, which is what I take you to advocate.

        3. I do not propose any definition of violent acts. I have merely shown that through history and in many other nations recently, such as Japan, embargos have been considered an act of war and we should consider those when making foreign policy. Acting as if all the world adheres to a recent Western concept of war is arrogant and foolish.

          It’s one thing for private companies to quit selling to another country. That’s their right. It’s quite another thing for a state to make that decision. I’m surprised you can’t see the difference. When the state decides, other states have to consider the reasons for the decision and the implications. Such decisions don’t happen in a vacuum and the context helps with interpreting the act. It’s no wonder that through most of history nations have considered embargoes acts of war.

          As a consistent libertarian, I have no problem with individuals choosing to not sell to another nation. I have a lot of problems with a state making those decisions.

          1. This will be my last comment since the remarks I made in my post "World's biggest bar room" obviously apply here.
            I cited a book (there are others) by somebody who was an authority in the field a century ago, expressing what he took to be a consensus that had developed over a couple of centuries of practice among nations. You appealed to your feelings and to the (merely hypothesized, not demonstrated) feelings of others. Libertarianism is a rationalistic ideology whose foundation is the idea that initiating the use of force is reprehensible. If it is not possible to define what constitutes a violent act and all we have is feelings, the whole ideology falls to the ground.
            Your reasoning about private companies is an example of libertarian rationalism run amok: I assume that you abhor killing people, but you are unwilling to stop those who supply the killers with the tools of their trade.

          2. No, Kurt. You referred to a book that gave a recent Western European consensus on war. It was not a world consensus. And I did not write my feelings. I wrote about what I have read in history over several decades. I'm confident you would agree if you broadened you reading of history.

            Your irrational hatred of libertarianism is clouding your ability to even understand what others are trying to say.

  3. Fascinating stuff. I think we're following the same train of thought, see my The three lives of Japanese military pesos.

    Have you read Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson? One of the subtexts is money and banking during the Japanese occupation of China and Philippines.

    "There is probably an interesting book to be written about it."

    Popular non-fiction or a book for academics?

    "The populace continued to prefer the currency it had previously used, and the currency board notes of Hong Kong and Malaya were particularly valued and continued to be held despite penalties for doing so. They were backed by sterling reserves held in London, and after the war they again became convertible into sterling at the prewar exchange rate. (The notes were printed in England, so the Japanese could not obtain the paper and design expertise to produce plausible imitations.)"

    This makes me think of your recent exchange with Mike Sproul on the backing vs quantity theory. A backed, albeit non-convertible currency, held its value throughout the war.

  4. "The United States was in strict opposition to Japan's plans, and began their reaction with an embargo on the shipment of oil to Japan. Oil was necessary to keep Japan's technology and military progressing. Without it, Japan's industrial and military forces would come to a stop in only a short time. Japan's government viewed the embargo as an act of war."

    "Pearl Harbor" edited by Ray Merriam, p. 10.

    The following is from "JAPAN’S DECISION FOR WAR IN 1941:SOME ENDURING LESSONS" by Jeffrey Record, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College.

    "U.S. attempts to deter Japanese expansion into the Southwestern Pacific via the imposition of harsh economic sanctions, redeployment of the U.S. Fleet from southern California to Pearl Harbor, and the dispatch of B-17 long-range bombers to the Philippines all failed because the United States insisted that Japan evacuate both Indochina and China as the price for a restoration of U.S. trade. The United States demanded, in effect,that Japan abandon its empire, and by extension its aspiration to become a great power, and submit to the economic dominion of the United States—something no self-respecting Japanese leader could accept." page viii

    "Economic sanctioning can be tantamount to an act of war." page ix

    "The embargo abruptly deprived Japan of 80 percent of its oil requirements, confronting Tokyo with the choice of either submitting to U.S. demands that it give up its empire in China and resume its economic dependency on the United States or, alternatively, advancing into
    resource-rich Southeast Asia and placing its expanded empire on an economically independent foundation. The embargo thus provoked rather than cowed Japan." page 8

    David Kahn has observed that:
    American racism and rationalism kept the United States from thinking that Japan would attack it. . . . Japan was not only more distant [than Germany]; since she had no more than half America’s population and only one-ninth of America’s industrial output, rationality seemed to preclude her attacking the United States. And disbelief in a Japanese attack was reinforced by belief in the
    superiority of the white race. Americans looked upon Japanese as bucktoothed, bespectacled little yellow men,forever photographing things with their omnipresent cameras so they could copy them. Such opinions were held not only by common bigots but by opinion makers as well." Page 8

    "It presumed realism and rationality on the part of the Japanese and failed to understand that sanctions it imposed upon Japan in the summer of 1941 were tantamount to an act of war." page 11

    "The result, in conjunction with the seizure of Japanese assets by Great Britain and the Netherlands, was a complete suspension of Japanese economic access to the United States and the destruction of between 50 and 75 percent of Japan’s foreign trade. In early November 1941, Joseph Grew, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, cabled Secretary of State Hull that “the greater part of Japanese commerce has been lost, Japanese industrial production has been drastically curtailed, and Japan’s national resources have been depleted.” page 17

    "…though the “danger of provoking Japan to seize . . . the Dutch East Indies . . . or move against us” was recognized, the feeling was that “no rational Japanese could believe that an attack on us could result in anything but disaster for his country." page 18

    "Roosevelt wanted the bargaining leverage of a limited embargo because he believed that
    an abrupt shut down of U.S. trade with Japan would likely provoke a Japanese advance into Southeast Asia, which would probably mean war." page 19

    "Yet the price the Americans demanded for lifting the embargo and restoring U.S.-Japanese trade to some semblance of normality was no more acceptable: abandonment of empire." page 20

    "The possibility that the Americans might supply Japan with just enough oil, steel, and other materials to maintain a starveling existence was intolerable to any Japanese statesman.” page 20

    "If the United States had been faced with a similar boycott which equally endangered its future, few Americans would have questioned the propriety of waging a major war to restore the prerequisites of American survival. . . .A body blow of this caliber could have driven multitudes
    beyond even caring about “winability.” National self- respect and even the quest for naked vengeance . . .would have reinforced necessity and swept aside any objections. If the United States would have launched a preemptive war under such circumstances, why is it so surprising that the Japanese did so?" page 21

    As far as I can tell, these authors are not libertarians.

    1. "The American campaign of economic warfare culminating in the total embargo of U.S. trade with
      Japan in the late summer of 1941 made sense only as a defense measure—i.e., as a means of weakening Japan in anticipation of inevitable war. It could never have succeeded as a deterrent to war because the Japanese,with considerable reason, regarded the embargo as an
      act of war mandating a response in kind." Page 22

  5. "Hopkins then recalled Roosevelt’s subsequent “relief” that the Japanese had attacked U.S. territory. “In spite of the disaster at Pearl Harbor and the blitz warfare with the Japanese during the first few weeks,it completely solidified the American people and made the war upon Japan inevitable.”

    A Japanese attack on American territory somewhere in the Pacific was the only event that could elicit a congressional declaration of war, and Roosevelt,unlike later presidents, respected the Congress’s constitutional prerogative to declare war. It was also necessary that the attack appear unprovoked to the American people." page 44

  6. "Unluckily for the administration, war with Japan might well have been avoided but for an unwillingness—in an age of Western territorial empires—to accept the legitimacy of any Japanese imperial ambitions in East Asia (outside Korea), and but for a failure to appreciate Tokyo’s probable response to economic sanctions that threatened to eliminate Japan as a respectable industrial and military power. A refusal to accept some measure of Japanese hegemony in
    Manchuria and North China (as the Japanese accepted America’s self-proclaimed hegemony in the Western Hemisphere) precluded a negotiated settlement that might have enabled the Roosevelt administration to concentrate U.S. attention and resources on the Nazi German threat in Europe…" page 45

    In other words, the US had no problem with US, Dutch and British aggression, imperialism and colonies in SE Asia, but Japan had not right to the same.

  7. Citing secondary sources where people use words you like isn't really how you prove an argument.

    Embargoes — as opposed to blockades — have never really been considered acts of war in and of themselves. Sovereign states have had explicit control of their borders and what goes through them since the 17th century. That has, in fact, been the defining trait of what makes a state sovereign. Imposing an embargo on a nation (as opposing to blockading their trade) may severely poison the well as far as relations go but you would be hard pressed to find diplomatic correspondence between two parties were an embargoed nation called the embargo warfare to the embargoer without it being simple rhetorical flair. Everyone knows what war means and you don't tell a rival nation that you're at war unless you're absolutely sure you want to be at war.

    'Economic warfare' has never really followed any strict set of international rules and is extremely difficult to define in the first place. You could make a pretty solid argument that the US spent most of the 19th century engaged in 'economic warfare' against most of Europe but you would never say the US spent most of the 19th century 'at war' with most of Europe.

    1. All you're saying is that the authors I quoted were lying. But you need to provide some evidence. If you read their works, you'll find the quotes were just summaries of what the Japanese had been saying for a long time.

      I think if you'll read history before the 19th century you'll find that embargoes were considered acts of war in Europe and that they were considered so by most nations outside of Europe until recently. The evidence that the Japanese considered the embargoes acts of war is pretty much overwhelming to open minded people.

      Of course the nation implementing the embargo doesn't consider it an act of war. Those nations use embargoes because they are rich and powerful enough that they hope the smaller nation will submit to their will without war. That was the arrogance of the US toward the Japanese. But the nation being embargoed understands that if they don't submit to the embargo, the next step is war.

    2. PS, the Iranians have declared that the recent sanctions by the West are an act of war. Are they lying, too, since no one else considers them to be acts of war?

      1. Yes. Your credulity regarding statements by a dictatorial regime is unfortunately a widespread libertarian characteristic. The United States had had embargoes imposed on it, such as the Arab oil embargo in 1973, and neither it nor the countries imposing the embargoes have considered them acts of war.

        1. if you can't draw the connection between central banking and war, and therefore not be against war at all cost, then you really aren't for free banking.

  8. Kurt,

    A cessation of trade is consistent with a free market, if such cessation is done voluntarily by market participants–firms and individuals.
    However, an embargo is hardly a voluntary cessation of trade, since it is by definition imposed by the criminal entity known as the State. In the case you refer to, it was imposed by America's only Native criminal class a k a
    The attack on Pearl Harbor was a justifiable act of war by one criminal entity against another one. (It saved American libertarians from having to do the work.) In a classical liberal or libertarian society, the U.S. Navy would not have been stationed beyond a three mile limit off the California coast, as Hawaii was not a state. It would not have been U.S. territory either. The U.S. state's annexation of Hawaii was itself an act of violence against the Hawaiians and the American tax payers.

    1. Your comment illustrates the difference between the world as it is and the world as it looked to Murray Rothbard from his living room window.

  9. Winston Churchill reminded us that “history is written by the victors”. Even as far back as 75 C.E., Josephus (a Roman collaborator) wrote an account of history that completely absolved the Romans of any blame for what happened in Judea in 66-70 C.E. Josephus made the Romans out to be paragons of governance & stalwart keepers of the peace, while he portrayed the Jewish Zealots as unreasonable war mongers.

    So, here is an account of WWII history from one of the ancestors of the vanquished that is somewhat different from that described by the author.

    America taught Japan gunboat diplomacy when Commodore Perry sailed warships into Tokyo Bay & delivered American demands to Japanese leaders. Following the American model given to them by Commodore Perry, Japan increased its military strength.

    Even so, by 1885 Japan was no match for Russia, who forced Japan out of Port Arthur (Dalian) and the Liaotung Peninsula in northeast China, seized the territory for itself, and occupied Manchuria.

    But weakened by decades of foreign colonialism, China was no match for Japan in 1894, and Japan required her to cede control over Korea to the Japanese in 1895.

    On July 29, 1904, Secretary of War (later President) William Howard Taft gave free hand in Korea to Japan (abrogating prior treaties America had with Korea) in exchange for Japan agreeing to do the same with respect to the U.S.’s presence in Hawaii, Guam, & the Philippines (booty America ceased following the Spanish-American War). Everything Japan did in Korea, the U.S. did in the Philippines.

    President Theodore Roosevelt concurred with Taft’s actions in a telegram on July 31 1905: "Your conversation with Count Katsura was absolutely correct in every respect. Wish you would state to Katsura that I confirm every word you have said…"

    The Taft Katsura agreement quoted above and Roosevelt’s telegram were found in the Archives of the Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan, V38 , part 1 . Copy in the Washington University Far East Library

    The Taft Katsura agreement signaled US acceptance of Japanese control of Korea.

    When an emissary of the former Korean government protested Japan’s annexation of Korea in 1910 to American officials, they told him he did not have credentials from the existing government of Korea, i.e. the government imposed by Japan.

    After the Russo-Japanese war ended in 1905, Russia ceded Korean influence to Japan & agreed to evacuate Manchuria. (But Russia never abandoned her desires to someday take Manchuria back.)

    Plus, the English, Dutch, & French were all actively colonizing Asian lands.

    Japan invested a fortune in Korea & Manchuria, but communists & others were trying to subvert both areas & wrest control of them from Japan. Toward this end, the communists incited neighboring Chinese warlords & dissidents to attack & plunder Japanese living in Manchuria & Korea, until Japan felt it needed to subdue the areas surrounding its territories in order to protect its interests there.

    Japan's interests in the area were attacked by Chinese warlords, communist insurgents, & Chinese dissidents unhappy with treaty China signed with Japan in 1895 & Japan’s victory over Russian in 1905, granting the Japanese control over Korea.

    Japan, on the other hand, felt that having another power with strong military presence on the Korean peninsula would be highly detrimental to Japanese national security interests. Because of its proximity to Japan, the Japanese felt that Korea was "a dagger pointed straight at the heart of Japan." Japan (like Germany) especially feared the communists that threatened to spread communism to every country in the world, either through overt revolution or covert subversion. And Stalin had shown keen interest in Manchuria.

    Japan put more & more military troops in the region. But those troops became focal points & targets for the Chinese warlords, communist insurgents, & Chinese dissidents, who attacked them like the dissidents in Iraq & Afghanistan attacked American troops within their borders.

    Finally, a frustrated Japan felt it had to secure even broader swaths of China (many of these areas were controlled by Chinese warlords, who were themselves no more than Chinese bandits & exceedingly cruel tyrants) in order to secure its interests in Korea. Besides, Japan felt that European & American colonialists had their sights on China, & believed Asia should be ruled by Asians. Please read, “Asia for the Asians,” by Paula Harrell.

    Furthermore, Japan believed it was benefiting the regions under its control, which were far less advanced in culture, technology & development. Japan thought it was bringing backwards people into the modern world (in the same way Commodore Perry brought Japan into the modern world) by bringing them new technologies & modern conveniences. In other words, Japan was trying to alleviate some of the white man’s burden. (See Harrell book, supra.)

    Moreover, there was extreme prejudice, bigotry, & racial hatred for the Japanese in America. The U.S. limited Japanese immigration to 100 persons per year, & FDR frequently referred to them as “Japs.” He also interred innocent, patriotic Japanese Americans in concentration camps during WWII. With so little regard for the Japanese , it’s little wonder FDR authorized napalm fueled immolations of entire Japanese cities during WWII, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in those arson fires.

    Please read "The Unnecessary War," by Pat Buchanan (scintillating reading for true antiwar advocates) & "Stalin's Secret Agents," by Stan Evans & Herbert Romerstein (that points to how & why we got manipulated into participating in that War & helping Stalin to achieve goals that otherwise might have been unobtainable by the Soviets.

    Recall that we helped reduce Stalin's greatest rivals (Germany & Japan) to rubble, & then focused our efforts & treasure on rebuilding them, while Stalin conquered much of Europe & the Soviets spread their tentacles into other parts of the world.

    At the Yalta Conference on 4 February 1945, the Stalin demanded Allied air attacks on German cities like Dresden. The allied response was hot & heavy.

    And for those that want better understandings of Stalin’s & Beria’s amazing Machiavellian tactics, they should read, "Day of Deceit," by Robert Stinnett & "White Snow," by John Koster that recount how America was manipulated into war with Japan, and "The Chief Culprit," by Viktor Suvorov, former officer in Soviet Military Intelligence (GRU), who recounts how Stalin baited & sprung the Bear trap as part of his strategy to conquer Eastern & parts of Central Europe.

    Despite all the Hollywood hype, WWII was a no-contest from the get-go. The allies mopped up the European Axis (as their oil supplies, manufacturing capability, munitions, & other resources either ran out or were destroyed). Then, America with little to no help from Stalin imposed complete naval & air blockades over Japan (nothing could get in & nothing could get out) & bled her with a 1,000 cuts (including napalm fueled fire bombings of unimaginable magnitude & cruelty, island hopping massacres, & two atomic annihilations) until she could stand no more & begged for mercy.

    What we did to Japan was like repeatedly kicking a prostrate man in the head as he lay unconscious on the ground.

    After the blockades were in force, the end was inevitable. All we had to do was wait them out.

  10. The Japanese envisioned a Co-Prosperity Sphere that would be an Asian bloc of nations (reminiscent of the American colonies joining together to form the United States or the European nations uniting to form the European Union), free from the dominance of Western powers.

    The Western imperialist countries also subjected Japan to a series of coercive acts, insults, and provocations, which caused great anger to fester among the Japanese people. For example, the 1921-22 Washington Conference naval treaties forced on Japan an unfavorable battleship ratio of 5:5:3 for the US, Britain, and Japan respectively. In 1919 at the Paris Peace Conference, Western countries rejected the simple Japanese request to have a racial equality clause included in the League of Nations Covenant. In 1924, America passed the Japanese Exclusion Act to shut off Japanese immigration into the US. This series of international affronts to Japanese pride and status provided fuel to Japanese militaristic sentiments and eventually led to Japan attacking the Western powers to establish the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

    "Asia for Asians," was a movement to liberate Asian countries from Western imperialist powers, and create economic co-prosperity for member nations of the Asian bloc. As Japan occupied new Asian territories, they set up governments with local leaders who proclaimed independence from the Western powers, but tensions & struggles sometimes arose because the Japanese emphasized Japanese culture, customs, & traditions over local culture, customs, & traditions.

    But Western colonial powers experienced the same types of tensions & struggles in the territories that they sought to control, as well. And Western colonial powers employed many of the same or similar techniques as Japan may have done in trying to achieve its goals. For example, Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, and Italy were incredibly brutal in their colonial conquests of Africa.

  11. Japan had a role in Teddy Roosevelt's vision for the Pacific.
    "As long as Japan kept Russia in check, did its part to pry open China to Washington's corporate clients, and didn't make a play for America's overseas colony in the Philippines, it could claim dominion over Korea and Manchuria under the terms of a 'Monroe Doctrine for Asia,'" Roosevelt privately told Harvard-educated Kentaro Kaneko, Tokyo's emissary to the United States.

    "Japan is the only nation in Asia that understands the principles and methods of Western civilization," Roosevelt wrote to Kaneko on July 8, 1905. "She has proved that she can assimilate Western civilization, yet hold onto her own heritage. All the Asiatic nations are now faced with the urgent necessity of adjusting themselves to the present age. Japan should be their natural leader in that process, and their protector during the transition stage, much as the United States assumed the leadership of the American continent many years ago, and by means of the Monroe Doctrine preserved Latin American nations from European interference, while they were maturing their independence."

    Under McKinley and Roosevelt, the U.S. government offered a detailed tutorial in the ruthless acquisition of territory through aggression, and the pitiless exercise of power to suppress uprisings against imperial rule. The Philippines provided the classroom, and the Japanese would prove to be eager and observant students. Americans water boarded Filipino dissidents, but hung Japanese following WWII for what they had learned from their American friends as part of their Western training (i.e., water boarding).

    After the U.S. wrested the Philippines from Spain, Teddy Roosevelt — an aficionado of imposing Anglo-American "authority" by force—imposed America's will on the Philippines, hoping to make it an outpost for the projection of military power into Asia.

    “We do not want the Filipinos,” declared the San Francisco Argonaut in 1898. “We want the Philippines. The islands are enormously rich, but unfortunately they are infested with Filipinos. There are many millions there and, it is to be feared, their extinction will be slow.”

    America lost as many men in WWII as the Filipinos did at the hands of its American civilizers.

    1. Here's the difference between the United States and Japan: the United States in the 1930s committed by law to granting independence to the Philippines after a ten-year transition period. I believe it was the first time that any modern colonizing power willingly granted independence to a population that was neither mainly European (as in Canada or Australia) nor dominated by Europeans (as in South Africa). Japan clearly intended no such freedom for Korea, Taiwan, Manchuria, or its World War II conquests. Japan invaded four *independent* countries (Korea, China, Mongolia, and Thailand) and one soon slated for independence (the Philippines), belying the notion that its wars had any purpose other than Japanese aggrandizement.

      1. Yes, societies usually evolve over time, provided they adopt the right economic system, & follow the right examples.

        Japan's teacher & mentor, America, outgrew its colonial tendencies. Perhaps Japan would done the same, just as Europe eventually did.

        Today, only China & Russia seem to have colonial aspirations.

        But please read Robert Stinnett's well researched book, "Day of Deceit." It's available on audio cassette at

        Myths are being exposed as truth refuses to stay buried.

      2. You have to give pause & thought to war conquests. Once Japan was provoked into war, it needed to secure the resources with which to fight that war. So it may have been forced to take over certain places for existential reasons. Germany did the same. Germany had been starved into surrender & humiliation in WWI.

        Just like Germany, Japan eventually ran out of fuel supplies, food, raw materials, manufacturing capability, munitions, etc. with which to fight the War. And things get kind of scary when that happens. Imagine the Soviets advancing with murderous intent on the Germans, & the Germans had no bullets to shoot back with. I imagine German soldiers with empty rifles & no fuel for their cars, planes, trucks, & tanks trying to sprint back to Berlin, to no avail. They were slaughtered in hoards as they tried, some of the as young as 14.

        LeMay was able to fly American planes in at can't miss levels to fire bomb Japan back to the stone ages, because Japan had little left to defend herself with.

        1. Thanks for the interesting history. But you're casting pearls before swine in the US. For most Americans whatever the US does is righteous simply because the US did it. It's part of the American exceptionalism myth. US citizens think that because the US is a democracy, and democracies are the voice of God, then the US can do no wrong. If it weren't so sad it would be funny how outrages the US and Europe was over Japanese colonialism after the US took the all the land of the tribes and tried to take Canada from the British then took half of Mexico and finally the Philippines and Puerto Rico. Then we worked with the Brits to conquer China and Japan. After the West had taken by force all it wanted it declared the age of colonialism to be over and no one else could do it. The hypocrisy is astounding but few Americans can see it.

          One of Japan's problems in WWII was the sharp turn in favor of socialism and communism in the US during the 1930's. Roosevelt would have remade the US in the image of the USSR if Congress had let him. That's why the US sided with the USSR at the beginning of WWII. That alone made Japan an enemy of the US.

          Today US citizens see themselves as the moral center of the universe with the mission of dictating government, culture, morality and foreign policy to the most remote corners of the planet. The arrogance is unbelievable. For example, not the attitude toward Russia over homosexuality. US citizens have decided that homosexuality is the most virtuous lifestyle imaginable and judged Russia as evil for not agreeing. No one on the planet is allowed to deviate even slightly from US determined morality.

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