In the Cauldron
Terror, Tension, and the American Ambassador’s Struggle to Avoid Pearl Harbor
Lew Paper, Robertson Dean
This is not just another book about Pearl Harbor. It is the story of Joseph Grew, America’s ambassador to Japan, and his frantic effort in the months before the Pearl Harbor attack to orchestrate an agreement between Japan and the United States to avoid the war he saw coming. It is a story filled with hope and heartache, with complex and fascinating characters, and with a drama befitting the momentous decisions at stake.
And more than that, it is a story that has never been told.
In those months before the Pearl Harbor attack, Japan and the United States were locked in a battle of wills. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s economic sanctions were crippling Japan. America’s noose was tightening around Japan’s neck—but the country’s leaders refused to yield to American demands.
In this cauldron of boiling tensions, Joseph Grew offered many recommendations to break the deadlock. Having resided and worked in Tokyo for almost ten years, Grew understood what Roosevelt and his administration back home did not: that the Japanese would rather face annihilation than endure the humiliation of surrendering to American pressure.
The President and his administration saw little need to accept their ambassador’s recommendations. The administration’s policies, they believed, were sure to succeed. And so, with increasing urgency, Grew tried to explain to the President and his administration that Japan’s mindset could not be gauged by Western standards of logic and that the administration’s policies could lead Japan to embark on a suicidal war with the United States “with dangerous and dramatic suddenness.”
Relying on Grew’s diaries, letters and memos, interviews with members of the families of Grew and his staff, and an abundance of other primary source materials, Lew Paper presents the gripping story of Grew’s effort to halt the downward spiral of Japan’s relations with the United States. Grew had to wrestle with an American government that would not listen to him—and simultaneously confront an increasingly hostile environment in Japan, where pervasive surveillance, arbitrary arrest, and even unspeakable torture by Japan’s secret police were constant threats.
In the Cauldron reads like a novel, but it is based on fact. And it is sure to raise questions whether the Pearl Harbor attack could have been avoided.