On October 7, 1940, Lieutenant Commander Arthur McCollum of the Office of Naval
Intelligence submitted a memo to Navy Captains Walter Anderson and Dudley Knox (whose endorsement is included in the following scans). Captains Anderson and Knox were two of President Roosevelt’s most trusted military advisors.
McCollum wrote that it would be in the interest of the U.S. to go to war with Japan before Japan could provide support to Germany and Italy in their war against England, and before Germany and Italy could take action against the U.S. on behalf of Japan.
However, McCollum realized that it would be politically impractical for Roosevelt to declare war: “It is not believed that in the present state of political opinion the United States government is capable of declaring war against Japan without more ado; and it is barely possible that vigorous action on our part might lead the Japanese to modify their attitude.”
The McCollum memo contained an eight-part plan to counter rising Japanese power over East Asia:
- A. Make an arrangement with Britain for the use of British bases in the Pacific, particularly Singapore
- B. Make an arrangement with the Netherlands for the use of base facilities and acquisition of supplies in the Dutch East Indies
- C. Give all possible aid to the Chinese government of Chiang-Kai-Shek
- D. Send a division of long range heavy cruisers to the Orient, Philippines, or Singapore
- E. Send two divisions of submarines to the Orient
- F. Keep the main strength of the U.S. fleet now in the Pacific[,] in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands
- G. Insist that the Dutch refuse to grant Japanese demands for undue economic concessions, particularly oil
- H. Completely embargo all U.S. trade with Japan, in collaboration with a similar embargo imposed by the British Empire
The memo was read and appended by Captain Knox, who, despite being seemingly reluctant to “precipitate anything in the Orient”, ultimately concurs. Specifically, he wrote (Page 6):
- It is unquestionably to our interest that Britain be not licked – just now she has a stalemate and probably can’t do better. We ought to make certain that she at least gets a stalemate. For this she will probably need from us substantial further destroyers and air-reinforcements to England. We should not precipitate anything in the Orient that would hamper our ability to do this – so long as probability continues. If England remains stable, Japan will be cautious in the Orient. Hence our assistance to England in the Atlantic is also protection to her and us in the Orient. However, I concur in your courses of action. We must be ready on both sides and probably strong enough to care for both.
There is no evidence that Roosevelt ever read or even saw the memo although there are many conspiracy theories about it.
Exactly 14 months later Japan did attack Pearl Harbor which eventually dragged the US into WWII.