Forrestal Ignored:  China Lost to Reds, Korean War Fought

The following account is from the anonymous author, “Cornell Simpson,” published in his little-known and little-read 1966 book, The Death of James Forrestal.  I had previously reported—upon what I thought was good authority—that “Simpson” was Medford Evans.  I have since been informed, as one can read in “News from the Mail Bag,” that he was probably someone else.  Whoever he was, the more I have learned since encountering his book some years ago the more appreciation I have gained for his perspicacity and for the general accuracy of his observations.  Here we let him speak for himself from pp. 54-56, supplying our own links as deemed appropriate:

As secretary of the navy, Forrestal had originated a plan to end the war with Japan five and a half months before V-J Day finally dawned.  He had mapped this plan on the basis of massive intelligence information obtained on and prior to March 1, 1945, to the effect that the Japanese were already desperately anxious to surrender and the fact that the Japanese emperor had even asked the pope to act as peace mediator.  If Roosevelt had acted on Forrestal’s plan, the war would have ground to a halt in a few days.  A-bombs would never have incinerated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, thousands of Americans would not have died in the unnecessary battle of Okinawa and later bloody encounters, and the Russians would not have had a chance to muscle into the Pacific war for the last six of its 1,347 days, thus giving Washington the pretext for handing them the key to the conquest of all Asia.

The last point, of course, is why the fellow travelers hurriedly persuaded FDR to reject Forrestal’s plan, and why they saw to it that the American people heard nothing about this chance to save untold numbers of American lives.  (These facts have since been corroborated by Rear Admiral Ellis M. Zacharias, deputy director of U.S. naval intelligence during World War II, and by top Japanese political leaders.)

In May, another move to end the Pacific war was similarly scuttled.  The very same month that Germany surrendered, Truman approved a peace ultimatum to Japan, subject to endorsement by the military.  But on May 29 General [George C.] Marshall rejected it as “premature.”

Significantly, on the day before, Harry Hopkins had conferred with Stalin in Moscow and urgently cabled Washington that the Red army would not be “properly deployed on the Manchurian positions” until August 8.  This meant that since Russia had to make the gesture of entering the war in order to receive the territories promised her at Yalta, Stalin did not want the United States to make peace with Japan until after August 8.  There was no other reason for prolonging the war.

Had it not been for Marshall’s veto of the peace ultimatum (eventually given Japan on July 27), the war probably would have ended by mid-June instead of mid-August; and the U.S. and Chinese Nationalist troops, instead of the Red army, would have accepted the surrender of Japan’s Kwantung army.  In that case the Yenan Reds would not have gotten the Mukden arsenal and Manchuria’s industries and railroads, which enormously helped them to conquer all of China; our War Department (Marshall) would not have had occasion to partition Korea with the Communists at the thirty-eighth parallel; and there would have been no Korean War.

By delaying our “peace offensive” against Japan, Marshall prolonged the Pacific war two months until the Red army could be wheeled into position to reap the spoils of victory!*

At the end of July Forrestal once more tried to halt the Pacific slaughter.  This time he considered the situation so critical that he made an eleventh-hour flight to the Potsdam conference in Berlin.  He was determined to warn Truman that it would be a calamity to bribe Russia to enter the Pacific war, and that insisting on a harsh and needless unconditional surrender would merely prolong the carnage.  His dramatic flight had been inspired by a talk on July 6 with Undersecretary of State Joseph C. Grew, Forrestal noted in The Forrestal Diaries (pp. 73-74),

…expressed satisfaction that we had finally whipped into shape the draft of the proposed message to the Japanese by the President, the aim of which is to make more specific what we mean by the phrase “unconditional surrender.”  He said, however, he was afraid it would be ditched on the way over [to the Potsdam Conference] by people who accompany the President—[Charles] Bohlen among others—who reflect the view that we cannot afford to hold out any clarification of terms to Japan which could be construed as a desire to get the Japanese war over with before Russia has an opportunity to enter.

Evidently Grew’s suspicions were well founded.  Forrestal reached Berlin too late; the Potsdam ultimatum had been given to Japan as his plane was leaving Washington.

Many of Simpson’s observations look better and better with the passage of time and the accumulation of more information.  His take on J. Robert Oppenheimer and, of course, on Forrestal’s death and the likely laundering of his diaries by the White House are particularly good cases in point.  I think I’ll have to do a bit more digging into this rare little 186-page book.

David Martin

May 30, 2011




James Forrestal eventually did manage to save untold numbers of lives when he later gave advice to President Truman that was not ignored.  That came in the wake of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


The common belief is that the dropping of the bombs themselves ended the war.  It did not.  The bomb on Hiroshima on August 5, 1945, produced no response from the Japanese.  The second bomb was then dropped on Nagasaki on August 9.


The following passages are from Mr. Truman’s War by J. Robert Moskin (1996) pp. 311-313:


At 7:33 A.M. the next day, August 10, in Washington, U.S. monitors picked up a shortwave message from Radio Tokyo addressed to the Swiss and Swedish governments for transmission to the United States, Great Britain, China, and the Soviet Union.  The message said that at the command of His Majesty the Emperor and in the cause of peace, the Japanese government was ready to accept the terms of the joint declaration of July 26 (Potsdam Declaration – ed.) “with the understanding that said declaration does not comprise any demand which prejudices the prerogatives of His Majesty as a sovereign ruler.”


In short, the old sticking point remained.  The Japanese still did not surrender unconditionally and therefore they did not accept the Potsdam Declaration in its entirety.  To be sure there were important advisers within the administration who wanted to take this offer, but they were mainly the same ones who had argued against the “unconditional surrender” demand before the bombs were dropped.


[And] strong voices…spoke against acceptance.  Not only many leaders but the vast majority of the American people wanted retribution and vengeance after the long, bloody, brutal war, and these voters had the power, if they wished, to make politicians who permitted the Emperor to stay pay a high political price at home.


[Secretary of State James F.] Byrnes strongly opposed [acceptance].  He held out for strict unconditional surrender.  Why, he asked, accept less than we had demanded at Potsdam before we had the atomic bomb and before the Soviet Union was in the war?  “I do not see why we should retreat from our demand for unconditional surrender,” he said, “If any conditions are to be accepted, I want the United States and not Japan to state the conditions.”


Navy Secretary Forrestal came up with a shrewd and simple solution:  Accept the offer and declare that it accomplishes what the Potsdam Declaration demanded.  Say that the Emperor and the Japanese government will rule subject to the orders of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers.  This would imply recognition of the Emperor while tending to neutralize American public passions against the Emperor.  Truman liked this.  It would be close enough to “unconditional.”


And so it was done, and smoothly sold to the war-weary American people.  Moskin would not dare utter the thought, but this was essentially the same course that Forrestal had been urging all along, and what was “close enough to unconditional” after the dropping of the bombs and after the bloody battle of Okinawa should have been close enough to unconditional before those tragic events.  At least Truman did finally see the light, and unimaginable additional carnage—The dropping of more A-bombs? The invasion of the main Japanese islands?—was averted.


David Martin

March 5, 2012


*Concerning Marshall, on page 85, Simpson presents an important indicator that Forrestal’s diaries, which were confiscated by the Truman White House, were severely edited before being released:

Perhaps the most important single omission from the published diaries concerned Forrestal's perpetual antagonist General George Catlett Marshall. It should be remembered that Marshall opposed virtually every anti-Communist measure preposed [sic] by Forrestal or anyone else, and that Marshall's own record was that of a long series of acts consistently beneficial to Soviet Russia and harmful to the United States. Yet Forrestal's published diaries contained no criticism of Marshall. In fact, [diary editor Walter] Millis claimed in the part of the book he himself wrote that though Forrestal had "occasional" differences with the general, "he greatly admired and respected" Marshall.

There is considerable evidence that Forrestal's original diaries contained a great deal of caustic criticism and highly derogatory information on Marshall—information which would have dealt a real setback to both Marshall and his pro-Communist friends if it had reached the American people.




Home Page    Column    Column 5 Archive    Contact