Mansfield on Pearl Harbor: 'Reminders of the Past We Would Like to Forget'

December 01, 1991

Mike Mansfield, an 8th grade dropout, became interested in Asia during Marine duty in the Philippines, with visits to Japan and China, in 1921 and 1922. He returned to his home state of Montana and was admitted to Montana School of Mines as a special student, required to earn high school credits while he took college courses. Eventually, he became a professor of history and political science at University of Montana. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1942 and to the Senate in 1952, where he eventually became majority leader. He was the U.S. ambassador to Japan from 1977 to 1988. He was interviewed about his thoughts on the Pearl Harbor anniversary by Joseph R. L. Sterne, editor of The Sun's editorial pages. An edited transcript follows.

Question: There's a school of thinking, particularly in Japan, -- that charges that President Franklin Roosevelt almost deliberately provoked the Japanese in order to have some kind of an incident which would enable him to bring the U.S. into World War II, and I'm sure that you've heard of this. What's your response to that?

Answer: I've heard it. I have grave doubts about such an allegation. I just happened to be in the Congress with a fellow congressman by the name of John Murphy from Scranton, Pennslyvania. He headed or was a member of a commission which looked into that allegation and on the basis of that commission's findings, I would say no, it was not a deliberate come-on or lead-on. It was something which the Japanese felt that they had to do because of the dominance of the militarists. Some of the chief leaders like Admiral Yamamoto were against the idea, knew that it meant defeat, but the combined leadership controlled the actions taken.

And now we approach the 50th anniversary. My feelings today on that are as follows: Five decades later, Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima and Nagasaki are reminders of the past we would like to forget, but we will always remember because we do not want them to happen again. They are inextricably bound together by aggression on the one hand and retaliation on the other. They serve as examples of what has been done and what should not be done.

After these three catastrophes, all of us should have learned the futility of war, and that no one really wins and everyone loses. The misfortunes of war have brought the united States and Japan closer together. The fortunes of peace have brought us many blessings. As we draw even and ever closer as friends, let us appreciate each other more, let us understand each other better and let us realize that each needs the other. It is a time to pray and a time to heal. Pearl Harbor, Nagasaki and Hiroshima -- never again.

Q: How do you think the shock of Pearl Harbor affected the American people over the long run? Was this the climactic event that brought us from an isolationist country to a nationalist country?

A: Yes, I think that's what drew us all together. Much of the U.S. was isolationist-inclined, but that was the factor which drew us all together and created a unity which was remarkable. Because of the act of aggression, probably because of a recognition that this was something which we could not avoid and it called for a coming together of all peoples of all classes, of all colors, and all types. And it held. And it worked.

And out of that war, while we did demobilize as usual, we realized that something had to be done for the countries of the world which had been ravaged by the war. So we developed the Marshall Program, we developed foreign aid programs. I estimate it cost us at the very least in the hundreds of billions of dollars, if not a trillion dollars or more since the end of the war.

We find that many of these countries which we aided through foreign assistance have now become stiff competitors. We have to recognize that these states are sovereign, that they came up quite rapidly, that in the process we become pretty complacent and a little too self-satisfied, and conditions have changed and -- the old days are gone.

We have to face up to the new realities and get away from scapegoating, finger-pointing, look in the mirror, do the things we have to do. We created our deficit, we have to got to find a solution. We've allowed school system to degenerate, our infrastructure begin to disintegrate, factors such as drugs are becoming a situation that you can't see to control. We have a deficit which amounted to about $850 billion at the end of Carter's term and at the preset time I think it amounts to around $3 trillion plus and seems to be on the way up.

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