Did the USSR Provoke War Between USA and Japan in 1941?

Affirmations like that contradicted to real facts

Several Russian newspapers have recently published articles that said that the aggravation of relations between Japan and the United States in the autumn of 1941, which eventually entailed the Pacific war, had been allegedly provoked by the Soviet intelligence. The goal of Moscow's secret operations, newspapers wrote, was to provoke a war between the USA and Japan and to draw aside the danger of Japan's attack on the Far East of the USSR. One of Japanese central newspapers was also implicated in those "sensational" statements. The newspaper entitled its abstract article with a garish headline: "The Trigger of the Japanese and American War." The article set forth a version that Soviet agents in the USA had instigated a note, which demanded the cessation of the Japanese aggression in Asia (it happened before the Pearl Harbor attack).

True facts and genuine documents testify to the fact that Stalin was indeed intended to induce the American administration to show pressure on the Japanese government with a goal to prevent from the Japanese attack on the USSR. However, Stalin acted officially, not secretly, using diplomatic channels.

As it is well known, concluding the neutrality treaty with Japan in April of 1941, Stalin wanted to avoid a war that would simultaneously happen against Germany and Japan. They realized that in the United States too. American ambassador to Moscow Steingart wrote that the USSR had a dangerous neighbor in the West, so it was interested in guaranteeing peace in the East. The ambassador added that he would do the same if he were in Soviet government's shoes. That was a response to those people, who believed that the non-aggression treaty between the USSR and Japan had posed a threat to the United States.

Signing the treaty with Japan, Stalin was definitely aware of contradictions between America and Japan. The Soviet leader knew that the Japanese government had two variants to spread the aggression: a "northern" - against the USSR, and a "southern" variant. Stalin understood that the non-aggression treaty between the USSR and Japan would allow the latter to feel free about its activities in the south, without any pressure from the "north," - i.e. on the part of the Soviet Union. Yet, this did not mean that Moscow was interested in a war between Japan and the USA. It was better for the USSR, if the USA got involved in the war in Europe, against Germany, but not in Asia, against Japan. In this case, Germany would not dare to attack the Soviet Union.

On June 22nd, 1941, fascist Germany traitorously attacked the USSR. The position of American right-wing conservative politicians was expressed by then senator (later - the American president) Truman. Harry S. Truman said: "If we see that Germany is winning the war, we should help Russia, but if Russia is winning, we should help Germany. Let them kill each other as much as they want."

American President Roosevelt did not share such an unprincipled and cynical stance. On the threshold of Germany's attack on the USSR, Roosevelt told British Prime Minister Churchill that if Germans were going to attack Russia, he would publicly support any statements that Churchill might release, welcoming Russia as an ally.

Winston Churchill said that the British government would render Russia all possible help. The fast advance of German troops in the USSR made Washington and London believe that the USSR would not be able to show resistance against Germany for long. Moreover, in the beginning of July, the American administration started receiving certain information from intelligence services, saying that Japan was going to attack the USSR. That information was true. At the end of 1940, the American intelligence managed to decode Japanese diplomatic codes. On July 3rd, the next day after the "imperial session" in Tokyo (the meeting considered an issue regarding an attack on the USSR), a senior American officials released an official statement to a Soviet ambassador. An American official stated that the US government had been informed about the intention of the Japanese government to abolish the non-aggression treaty with the USSR and attack the Soviet Union. Moreover, Moscow received the information of the growing danger from other sources too.

In this situation, the Soviet government was rather interested in USA's certain actions to prevent from Japan's attack on the USSR. On July 8th, 1941, Foreign Commissar of the USSR Molotov wrote to Soviet ambassador Umansky: "It would be interesting for us to find out, which measures the American government could or wanted to take in order to prevent or to complicate Japan's attack on the USSR, and which position it would take in case of an attack."

On July 10th, Soviet ambassador Umansky had a conversation with President Roosevelt. The ambassador asked the president to give Japan to understand that any intrigues against the USSR would make the USA take certain measures to counteract their aggressive actions. However, Roosevelt tried to avoid giving a direct answer. The American administration did not hurry to complicate relations with Japan. In the middle of July, they believed in Washington that the USSR would manage to stand the war with Germany for the maximum of 12 weeks.

The evasive stance of the American administration regarding the issue of direct pressure on Japan did not let the USSR use Far Eastern divisions on the Soviet-German front. The deployment of the Far Eastern army to the west became possible after Stalin received the precise information, which said that as a result of the "imperial session" of September 6th, it had been decided to adjourn the implementation of the Japanese plan to attack the Soviet Union on August 29th, 1941.

On September 30th, Stalin had a meeting with American and British officials in Moscow. During the talks, the Soviet leader did not raise a question of help from the USA in case of a Japanese aggression. On the contrary, Stalin talked about an opportunity to neutralize Japan, to take it off Germany. Stalin's aspiration not to let Japan participate in WWII proved that a war between Japan and America was not good for the USSR.

Having decided to wage war, at first with the USA and Great Britain in the south, Japan did it best to make Washington and London think that it was going to attack the Soviet Union first. One may say that this misinformation was successful. Both Roosevelt and Churchill thought Japan was going to strike in the north.

The story of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor is known very well. It is worth mentioning here, though, that the note, which had been provoked by the Soviet intelligence, is not to be considered as a "trigger" of the war. When the Japanese government received the note, the Japanese aviation was already heading to Pearl Harbor. The war would have started either way.

The objective analysis of international relations between the USSR, Japan and USA in 1941-1942 shows that the version about the Soviet Union's implication in "provoking" the Pacific war is baseless. Affirmations like "Stalin pushed Japan and the USA against each other" contradict to real facts. Moreover, such publications in media outlets represent the then American and Japanese leaders as naive executors of Moscow's will. In fact, they were sophisticated and experienced politicians, who conducted their own political game in the interests of their states.

Anatoly Koshkin 


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Author`s name Olga Savka