The Hull note or officially Outline of Proposed Basis for Agreement Between the United States and Japan was the final proposal delivered to the Empire of Japan by the United States before the attack on Pearl Harbor and the declaration of war between the two nations. The note was delivered on November 26, 1941; it is named for Secretary of State Cordell Hull.
The United States objected to the Second Sino-Japanese War and the occupation of part of China by Japanese troops. In protest, the United States sent support to the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek. In July 1941, Japanese military units occupied southern French Indochina, violating a gentlemen's agreement. Japanese bombers quickly moved into bases in Saigon and Cambodia, from where they could attack British Malaya. As a result, immediately after the Japanese military occupation, the US government imposed trade sanctions on Japan, including the freezing of Japanese assets in the United States, and an embargo of oil exports to Japan.
On 5 November 1941, Emperor Hirohito approved, in Imperial Conference, the plan for the attack on Pearl Harbor. At the same time, his government made a last effort to arrive at a diplomatic solution of their differences with the United States. Ambassador Kichisaburō Nomura presented two proposals to the American government.
The first, proposal A, he presented on November 6, 1941. It proposed making a final settlement of the Sino-Japanese War with a partial withdrawal of Japanese troops. United States military intelligence had deciphered some of Japan's diplomatic codes, so they knew that there was a second, follow-up proposal in case proposal A failed. The United States government stalled and then rejected proposal A on November 14, 1941.
On November 20, 1941, Nomura presented proposal B, which offered to withdraw Japanese forces from southern Indochina if the United States agreed to end aid to the Nationalists Chinese, freeze military deployments in Southeast Asia (except for Japan's reinforcement of northern Indochina), provide Japan with "a required quantity of oil," and assist Japan in acquiring materials from the Dutch East Indies. The United States was about to make a counteroffer to this plan which included a monthly supply of fuel for civilian use. However, President Franklin D. Roosevelt received a leak of Japan's war plan and news that Japanese troopships were on their way to Indochina. He decided the Japanese were not being sincere in their negotiations and instructed Secretary Hull to drop the counter-proposal.
On November 25 Henry L. Stimson, United States Secretary of War noted in his diary that he had discussed with US President Franklin D. Roosevelt the severe likelihood that Japan was about to launch a surprise attack, and that the question had been "how we should maneuver them [the Japanese] into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves.'"
On the following day, November 26, 1941, Hull presented the Japanese ambassador with the Hull note, which as one of its conditions demanded the complete withdrawal of all Japanese troops from French Indochina and China. It did not refer to Manchukuo, in which hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians were already living. At the time, the United States did not officially approve of the Japanese occupation of and claim to Manchukuo, so Japan assumed that "China" included Manchukuo. Japanese Prime Minister Tojo Hideki said to his cabinet, "this is an ultimatum." However, as the Note did leave Japan an alternative to war, namely concession to American demands, and did not even express an intention to cease negotiations, it cannot be seen as an ultimatum from the perspective of international law. While the Japanese may have felt that they could not accede to such demands and thus were provoked into war, the Hull Note cannot be considered to be a first act of war or even as sufficient provocation to relieve Japan of the responsibility for initiating the use of force in this conflict.
The strike force which attacked Pearl Harbor had set sail the day before, on the morning of November 26, 1941, Japan time. It could have been recalled along the way, but no further diplomatic progress was made and on 1 December, Emperor Hirohito approved, in Imperial Conference, the war against United States, Britain, and the Netherlands, which began by the attack on Pearl Harbor, Malaya, and the Philippines.
Jonathan Daniels, President Roosevelt's administrative assistant at the time, noted Roosevelt's subsequent reaction to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor - "The blow was heavier than he had hoped it would necessarily be. ... But the risks paid off; even the loss was worth the price. ..."
Some modern Japanese commentators say the note was designed to draw Japan into war and thus claim Japan was not the aggressor nation in the Pacific War. Toshio Tamogami, who was the Japan Air Self-Defense Force chief of staff, was sacked by the Japanese government in 2008 for taking this position.
- Peter Wetzler, Hirohito and War, 1998, p.39
- "Draft Proposal Handed by the Japanese Ambassador (Nomura) To the Secretary o f State," November 20, 1941
- Henry Stimson diary, November 26, 1941
- Cumings, Bruce: "Parallax Visions: Making Sense of American-East Asian Relations" Duke 1999 p. 47
- "National Affairs: PEARL HARBOR: HENRY STIMSON'S VIEW". Time. April 1, 1946.
- Hull, Cordell. "OUTLINE OF PROPOSED BASIS FOR AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES AND JAPAN". PEACE AND WAR, UNITED STATES FOREIGN POLICY 1931-1941. UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE WASHINGTON. Retrieved 2013-01-31.
- PEARL HARBOUR ATTACK - 7 December 1941, solarnavigator.net
- Myres S. McDougal & Florentino P. Feliciano, Law and Minimum World Public Order pg. 231-41 (1961)
- Wetzler, ibid, p.39.
- 1941: Pearl Harbor Sunday: The End of an Era, in "The Aspirin Age - 1919-1941," edited by Isabel Leighton, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1949, page 490.
- Tamogami's controversial essay
- Costello, John, The Pacific War 1941-1945 (New York: William Morrow, 1982) ISBN 0-688-01620-0
- Hamilton Fish, Tragic Deception: FDR and America's Involvement in World War II (Devin-Adair Pub, 1983) ISBN 0-8159-6917-1
- Robert A. Theobald, Final Secret of Pearl Harbor (Devin-Adair Pub, 1954) ISBN 0-8159-5503-0 ISBN 0-317-65928-6 Foreword by Fleet Admiral William Frederick Halsey, Jr.
- Albert C. Wedemeyer, Wedemeyer Reports! (Henry Holt Co, 1958) ISBN 0-89275-011-1 ISBN 0-8159-7216-4
- Peter Wetzler, Hirohito and War, University of Hawaii press, 1998 ISBN 0-8248-1925-X
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