The Warning Shot

Eight years before the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a Japanese-language publication hit Honolulu like a bombshell, predicting war with the United States and an inevitable Japanese victory.


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The first Japanese bombshell dropped on Hawaii in late 1933. At first glance, it was merely a crate of magazine supplements offloaded from the SS President Taft and addressed to George Kojima’s Honolulu bookstore. A second consignment would be confiscated a few days later. To U.S. Customs agents, the crates contained explosive material: a riveting techno-thriller outlining the future war between Japan and the United States that might seduce Hawaiian nikkei to treason. It was written by a retired Japanese naval officer, endorsed by admirals of the Imperial Navy and distributed by a new Tokyo magazine angling for an expatriate following. It was also a literary bombshell that would reverberate from Honolulu to Washington and Tokyo.

The provocative novelette was Nichibei-sen Miraiki—Account of the Future US-Japan War. It was 119 pages, a pocket-size paperback with a cover showing a United States warship firing broadside as the silhouette of a distant destroyer slipped across an ominous horizon. Distributed by Tokyo publisher Shinchosha, it was a freebie supplement intended to entice readers to shell out 0.60 yen for the January 1934 issue of Hinode magazine. Shinchosha was hoping for sales, not scandal and confiscation. After all, American publishers had cashed in on similar themes.

War fiction and Yellow Peril fear-mongering were big sellers in 1933, on both sides of the Pacific. In the United States, flamboyant radio commentator Floyd Gibbons capitalized on the Japanese challenge to the White-supremacy myth in his 1929 serial in the popular Liberty magazine, imagining an Asian alliance with African-American freedom fighters. In film, resurrection of the Fu Manchu series in the early 1930s exploited Western fears of a diabolical Asian underworld, and Emperor Ming would confront Flash Gordon in 1934. Asian villains reflected American apprehension of a brewing face-off for power in the Pacific.

In Honolulu in December 1933, Japanese-Americans prompted the confiscation of the scandalous novelette. “The first complaint regarding this allegedly seditious literature came from local Japanese merchants who had read copies of the story and were afraid that it would be construed as an unfriendly gesture toward America,” reported the Hawaii Hochi newspaper in a sincere but clumsy attempt to recap the seizure incident. In fact, George Kojima was at the pier to receive the Hinode shipment when the SS President Taft docked. A clerk in the U.S. Customs office, who knew a few Japanese characters, examined the shipment with Kojima, who fretted aloud that the novelette ‘was not so good’ for distribution to the local Japanese.” The clerk took home a copy and, with the help of his Japanese wife, translated it. The next morning he “informally requested” the opinion of U.S. Army authorities at Fort Shafter. They informally replied, “that in its opinion the [Hinode] supplement should be seized.” Unbeknownst to the Customs clerk or the Army, Kojima had already sold 173 copies of Hinode.

Customs officials in Honolulu promptly, perhaps rashly, ordered confiscation of the Hinode shipment, based, apparently, upon the advice of the unnamed nikkei Customs clerk. They cited Section 305 of the Tariff Act of 1930 on the grounds that the novelette advocated treason against the United States. George Kojima obligingly recalled all of the copies he had distributed and turned them in to Customs without complaint. The remainder of the seven cases of Hinode that had been delivered by the President Taft was quietly locked up. The incident escaped public notice until the elegant trans-Pacific passenger liner Chichibu Maru arrived a few days later with 70 cases more. They were consigned to three Honolulu stores, whose representatives soon arrived at Customs to claim them. Customs informed them that their merchandise had been confiscated. On Dec. 14, the Hinode seizure made news in at least four different Honolulu newspapers. The wake of that publicity made waves that were soon felt by the bureaucracy in Washington.

The Hinode confiscation caused controversy even within Customs. J. Walter Doyle, the collector of Customs in Honolulu, took responsibility for the decision. His boss in Washington, James H. Moyle Jr., was the first Mormon appointed as a high federal executive, an agile Democratic Party operator who was careful to point out that the Hinode seizure was “not made on his instructions.” Doyle had to squelch rumors that the U.S. ambassador to Japan, Joseph C. Grew, was behind the confiscation, but he never mentioned the “informal advice” from Fort Shafter that actually spurred the seizure.

 

Customs reiterated to the press that consignees had first called attention to the novelette because it was “detrimental to Japanese-American relations.” Honolulu was a Navy town, and Japanese-Americans were upset that the novelette described U.S. warships in great detail, and seemed designed to stir a patriotic reaction from “the younger generation of Japanese.” Indeed, Japanese-Americans were more indignant about the novelette than their Caucasian neighbors. The day after the Hinode seizure went public, Hawaiian editorials raised eyebrows at the absurdity of impounding a work of fiction. The Army intelligence officer at Fort Shafter marveled, “This is believed to be the first time that such a seizure of Japanese publications has been made here.” So far, only the Customs clerk’s wife, George Kojima and a few dozen of his customers were familiar with the content of the novelette.

Word spread quickly of both the novelette and its seizure. On Dec. 14, 1933, the Tokyo correspondent of the London Morning Post filed a story about the seizure, and the U.S. military attaché made sure Washington was advised. Newspapers around the world picked up the story the next day. Eleven days after the seizure, Los Angeles Congressman Charles Colden gently asked Secretary of War George Dern for information about the novelette. Dern replied that “the War Department has no official information whatever either of this pamphlet or of its seizure.” It was probably no coincidence that Fort Shafter typed up a detailed report for Washington on the day of Colden’s request. That some anonymous Army officer had only informally recommended the book be seized allowed Secretary Dern to quibble about having “no official information”—not yet, at least. No federal executive in his right mind wanted to touch an explosive issue wired to national defense, international relations with Japan and domestic race relations.

On Jan. 15, 1934, a Hearst newspaper, The Washington Herald, splashed Fukunaga’s novelette across the front page alongside a photo of Vice Admiral Suetsugu Nobumasa, chief of the Imperial Navy. The subtitle warned, “Text Shows Intent to Strike First Blows at Our Bases in Philippines and Hawaii.” The warning was no surprise to U.S. Navy strategists. In subsequent days, the Herald published a “comprehensive and exclusive translation” of Fukunaga’s book (probably furnished by U.S. Military Intelligence). “Kitarubeki monoga kita”—the inevitable has come—began the first chapter.

Account of the Future US-Japan War was a cut above other war fiction of the day. It was blessed with two unusual forewords, one written by Adm. Kato Kanji, member of Japan’s Supreme War Council, and another by Vice Adm. Suetsugu. The former claimed to have “read this story through without once laying the book aside,” and praised it for emphasizing the “great importance which control of the air bears to national defense.” Suetsugu recommended the book for “the general public as well as naval specialists” because of the astute glimpses it afforded of future warfare. The author, Fukunaga Kyosuke, was a retired 44-year-old lieutenant commander in the Japanese naval reserve with the expertise to give readers insight into the strategy, tactics and weaponry of modern warfare. His dramatic tale foretold the roles of naval air power, submarines, radio communications, intelligence, civil affairs, propaganda and other elements, as well as their shortcomings. Fukunaga wrote like the Tom Clancy of his day.

One American reader, Maj. Edward F. Witsell, devoured the book. Witsell was a 1911 graduate of the Citadel who had served two tours in Japan at the U.S. Embassy, and was one of the few Japanese linguists in the U.S. Army. He recommended that the Army Chief of Staff read a few choice passages “of military interest” in the novelette, starting with a description of Japan’s rapid thrusts at Guam, the Philippines and Hawaii. To modern-day readers, there is an eerie familiarity to names and places in Fukunaga’s narrative of the Pacific war. The drama is laced with heated dialogue on ships’ bridges and in crews’ quarters about the capabilities of torpedoes, anti-submarine mines, airships, gunnery angles and ranges, and actions with U.S. warships that would go down in history a decade later.
 

 

Fukunaga’s novelette laid bare the fantasies of Japanese militarists. It made no secret of Japan’s designs on China and Russia’s Maritime Provinces. Underdog Japan could outmaneuver and defeat the superior forces of the United States through courage and guile. Meanwhile, the United States would be disoriented by saboteurs, racial strife and isolationists. “It is our country’s duty to stir up and incite the Japanese in Hawaii to attack the Americans there,” declared one Japanese character.

“Japanese spies are everywhere,” mumbled the captain of the USS Oklahoma moments before his ship’s magazine detonated, sabotaged by a rebellious African-American sailor to show solidarity with the progressive Japanese. Fukunaga really believed that downtrodden races looked to Japan to free them from white oppressors, resurrecting false hopes of the 1916 scheme of Mexican and Japanese intelligence that became known as the Plan of San Diego. As enlightening as it was of battlefield innovations, the novelette was equally informative of dangerous misconceptions that predisposed Japanese hawks to the idea of a quick, easy war.

Alas, the greatest irony of Fukunaga’s bombshell could not be realized until 1941, because that first volatile shipment of Account of the Future US-Japan War—dropped upon Honolulu on Dec. 7, 1933. The Japanese intention to attack Pearl Harbor and United States interests throughout the Pacific was hardly any secret, as the 1933 novelette confirmed. The surprise lay merely in the date and execution.

Maryland-based author Jamie Bisher is fascinated with secret history and has just finished writing books about Japanese and other foreign intelligence in Latin America during World War I and the 1920s. His first book, White Terror: Cossack Warlords of the Trans-Siberian, about the Russian Civil War in the Far East, examined the hair-trigger relations between US and Japanese forces in Siberia.
 

 If the editors of Paradise of the Pacific, our predecessor, were aware of the Japanese publication Nichibei-sen Miraiki—Account of the Future US-Japan War, they didn’t mention it in the pages of the magazine. However, by the mid-1930s, Paradise frequently commented on the likelihood of war. Imperial Japan would invade China by July, 1937, while Germany would invade Poland in September, 1939; America did not enter the war until the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor. These excerpts from Paradise, predating some of those turning points, show tensions running high.

Jan.1936: “[N]ewer chatter has arisen as to what might happen in the Pacific, the theorizing chiefly being directed toward … warring between Japan and the United States since the consensus of vagrant opinion seems to be that Japan would start it, if anything were started. … Says one ‘school of guessing:’ The Japanese might get a number of aircraft carriers within a few hundred miles of Honolulu, then swoop over the city (from an ‘unexpected’ angle) and drop bombs on forts, barracks, government buildings … unavoidably smiting, here and there, a hospital, a hotel or two …”

Feb.1937: “Nations prepare for war in peace. A considerable part of this preparation is the securing of information about possible enemies. … It is the duty of every American citizen to take care that anything he innocently says or writes does not serve to injure his country.”

Aug.1937: “When is a war not a war? When Japan attacks Shanghai in 1932; when Japan carves Manchukuo out of Manchuria; when the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente use Spain as a battlefield in 1937; when Japan opens hostilities in Northern China in 1937; and as far as America is concerned—not until the President, under the provisions of the [Neutrality] Act of May 1, 1937, says that it is a war.”

Oct.1937: “Over two thousand miles nearer Asia than any other important integral part of the United States, Hawaii will first feel the pulse of war if it ever throbs eastward from Asia. With aviation, radio, and other reducing factors making a teacup of the Pacific basin, Hawaii must be ready.”

— A. Kam Napier

 

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