Thursday, August 4, 2011
McLachlan Warns of Attack on U.S. by Japan
By ROGER M. GRACE
Thirty one years, six months, and 19 days before that “day of infamy” when Pearl Harbor was bombed, U.S. Rep. James McLachlan, R-Los Angeles, raised a cry as to the vulnerability of the west coast to an attack from Japan, declaring:
“I may go so far as to say that I believe a war possible, the result of which might be that the Pacific coast states will become foreign territory.”
McLachlan’s remarks from the floor of Congress on May 18, 1910, received widespread coverage…and considerable derision. For example, this appears in the Philadelphia Telegraph:
“If the Japanese undertake to effect a landing they will be driven back, if not by [McLachlan’s] fellow [west coast] citizens, then by volunteers from the east and middle west, where the people are inclined to look upon the ‘yellow peril’ as a joke, where the rational spirit feels strong in its own conceit, and where the people see no inconsistency in a proper preparation for emergencies and a calm repose that refuses to flinch, at least until the firing begins. As a matter of cold, hard fact, the Japanese are a little bit arrogant, and it may be necessary to spank them some day, but the chastisement will be administered in the Pacific sea and the Eastern archipelago, not upon the Pacific coast.”
Did McLachlan demonstrate prescience as to an attack? Or did his warning reflect a widespread and then-baseless, if not paranoiac, fear of the unknown orient?
McLachlan followed up with this May 24, 1910, proposed resolution:
“That the Secretary of War be directed, and he is hereby directed to submit to this House with the least practicable delay a report showing in detail.
“1. The condition of the military forces and defenses of the nation, including the organized militia.
“2. The state of readiness of this country for defense in the event of war, with particular reference to its preparedness to repel invasion if attempted: (a) on the Atlantic or Gulf coast; or (b) on the Pacific coast.
“3. The additional forces, armaments, and equipments necessary, if any, to afford reasonable guaranty against successful invasion of United States territory in time of war.”
The resolution passed—and was to spark a major brouhaha in December over suppression of the response by Secretary of War Jacob M. Dickinson. McLachlan, by then, was a lame duck, having lost the Republican nomination for reelection.
The New York Times’ issue of Dec. 15 contains a report, datelined the previous day, which begins:
Speaker [Joseph Gurney] Cannon and Mr. Dickinson, the Secretary of War, played prominent parts to-day in a comedy of errors, which, while it lasted, was of absorbing interest. The amusement centered around a document which the Secretary sent to the House of Representatives last week in regard to the military weaknesses of the country. The document was in response to a resolution by Representative McLachlan of California. As originally prepared, it embraced over 200 typewritten pages and presented a vast amount of details that would make interesting reading to military attaches at the foreign embassies and legations in Washington and in all the Chancellories of Europe.
After it was sent to the House the Secretary had a talk with President Taft about it and outlined to him the principal arguments that had been set out for strengthening the military defenses of the country and making the mobile army sufficient in size and equipment to meet the demands that would be made upon it in time of war. Mr. Taft, with the discretion he had gained by his experience as War Secretary, instantly realized the effect that such a communication might have on foreign powers. By this time the document had been printed, and copies placed in the hands of the various press associations and arrangements were made to release it for publication on Saturday last. But a hurried effort was made to recall the letter, and the newspaper men were notified not to print it on the day named. The letter, as sent from the War Department, was signed by Secretary Dickinson.
According to the Times account, the report was again transmitted to the House on Dec. 14 but was now marked “confidential” in large letters; reporters were admonished not to divulge the contents; Cannon shot off a letter to Dickinson advising that House rules had no provision for confidentiality of documents and suggesting he snatch back the report and make redactions.
As it turned out, some publication had released the contents and the Times and other newspapers thus felt at liberty to do so, also. In the report, Dickinson confesses:
“It is apparent that we are almost wholly unprepared for war.”
A Dec. 16 wire service report says:
“Representative James McLachlan, California, the author of the resolution which caused the report to be written, is in high glee.
“‘The War Department is tickled to death to have the truth come out,’ he declared.”
There will be more about this episode in the next column.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company