The Tanaka Memorial – Real or Imagined?

This story will be done in two parts.

In 1940, Rear Admiral Joseph Taussig was called to testify to Congress about the ship building program and the perceived threats that were emerging in the Far East. This controversial testimony placed him at odds with an old nemesis – the former Assistant Secretary of the Navy who was serving as President in 1940 – Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

It is a story in courage as he accurately predicted the events that would unfold over the next two years.

About the man: Joseph Knefler Taussig (30 August 1877 – 29 October 1947) was a vice admiral in the United States Navy. He served in the Spanish–American War, Philippine–American War, China Relief Expedition, Cuban Pacification, World War I, Second Nicaraguan Campaign, and World War II.

Promoted to captain in September 1918, he was assigned to head the Division of Enlisted Personnel of the Bureau of Navigation. Aware of the inadequacies of manpower from his experience in the fleet during World War I, in 1920, he was embroiled in a publicized dispute with Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt and testified before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Navy Affairs regarding the personnel shortage in the navy, stating that navy department heads had failed “to take adequate steps to provide personnel necessary for the proper conduct of the navy during the war.” For his outspoken views, Taussig earned the lifetime enmity of Roosevelt, who was in a political fight with the Republican Party over his nomination as Vice President, and wrote a sharp letter to the navy subcommittee denying Taussig’s charges.

Taussig candidly maintained that, “the Navy was far from being ready for War… and the enlisted personnel was entirely inadequate for the proper manning of our already completed ships on a peace time basis, and was dangerously inadequate should we suddenly be thrown into war.” Secretary Josephus Daniels was angered by Taussig’s dissent and denied publication of Taussig’s prize-winning essay on naval personnel in the Naval Institute press.

In May 1940, Taussig again locked horns with now-president Franklin D. Roosevelt, when Massachusetts Senator David I. Walsh invited Taussig to testify at Senate hearings on plans to expand the navy. Taussig advocated the building of Iowa-class and Montana-class battleships and offered testimony to the aggressive, imperialistic designs of the Empire of Japan that planned to annex China, the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies. He warned of the superiority of the Japanese Merchant fleet to that of the US, and the need to replenish U.S. bases in the Pacific Ocean and prepare for defense of the Philippines, stating, “I cannot see how we can escape being forced into war based on the present trends of events.” He also claimed that the Tanaka Memorial was genuine. Taussig’s testimony set off a controversy that lasted in the press for weeks and infuriated FDR who wanted Taussig relieved of his command of Norfolk Navy Yard and the Fifth Naval District. However, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Harold R. Stark convinced Roosevelt to reconsider and Roosevelt took no action; however, Stark publicly stated that Taussig’s views were contrary to the Navy Department’s and issued a reprimand that was placed in Taussig’s file.



MONDAY, APRIL 22, 1940

United States Senate, Committee 

on Naval Affairs,

Washington, D. C.

The committee met, pursuant to recess, at 10:30 a. m. in room 212, Senate Office Building, Senator David I. Walsh (chairman), presiding.

Present: Senators Walsh (chairman), Tydings, Gerry, Gillette, Lucas, Ellender, Hale, Johnson, and Gibson.

The Chairman. The committee will come to order, please. Admiral Taussig.



The Chairman. Admiral, will you give us your full name for the record?

Admiral Taussig. Joseph K. Taussig, Rear Admiral, U. S. Navy.

The Chairman. Where you are now stationed?

Admiral Taussig. Commandant Fifth Naval District and the Naval Operating Base.

The Chairman. That is Norfolk?

Admiral Taussig. Norfolk, Va.

The Chairman. What has been your general experience in the Navy, in recent years particularly?

Admiral Taussig. If I may make a statement as to my recent service in regard to this present situation, I would be very glad to.  I have a statement of my qualifications.  I imagine I am being called more or less as an expert witness, so I would like to state my qualifications.

The Chairman. The admiral has been called because of his knowledge of far eastern problems.

Senator Hale. Don’t you think that the admiral ought to put in the record his own personal record? Then he can tell us what he wants to.

The Chairman. Yes; particularly his familiarity with the far- eastern questions.

Admiral Taussig. For 8 of the years since the Great War, I have been on duty at our Naval War College — 1 year as student and the other 7 as a member of the staff (faculty) in various capacities. I have also been chief of staff to the commander in chief of the United States Fleet, and for 3 years the assistant chief of naval operations. During all these years, while studying naval warfare in general, special attention has been given to the far-eastern situation. This is  because I am convinced that unless we establish a sound policy in regard to the future of the Philippines and take action in accordance with that policy we are certain to be involved in war at some future date.

During the past year and a half, while commandant of the Fifth Naval District, I have continued my interest in the far eastern situation, which is evidenced by an article published in the Naval Institute Proceedings on the organization of the United States Fleet. This organization must be based on the situation in the Pacific Ocean; and on an article to be published in the coming May number on the Case for the Big Capital Ship, which case is strengthened by the Far Eastern situation. I have corresponded during the past 2 years with Admiral Yarnell, who until a short time ago was commander in chief of our Asiatic fleet, and this correspondence has influenced my views.

I wish to emphasize that whatever views I may express with respect to preparedness for war, my chief reason for recommending increases in our armed forces is because I am convinced that adequate preparedness is our best safeguard for maintaining the peace.

I would also state, Senator, that whatever views I express here are solely my own and are not those of the Navy Department in any way.

The Chairman. We understand that, Admiral. Will you give us your views with reference to our relationship with the Far East and what knowledge you have of the far-eastern problems?

Admiral Taussig. The area of greatest concern to the United States at the present time is the Far East. For 150 years we have taken a part in the trade and development of this part of the world. In less than a year and a half our interests in this part of the world were and still are threatened with summary expulsion, and treaties and under standings arrived at with other nations have been disregarded and denounced.

We need be under no delusions as to the aims and policies of Japan. The pronouncements of her statesmen in answer to protests against violations of rights of other nations are of course worthless. The real policies of Japan are embodied in the declarations of her militarists during past years, and it is these policies that are being carried out,

From their own viewpoint, Japan and the Japanese people are of divine origin. They are superior to all other people of the world. Their mission is to impose their culture and domination on the world. This is to be done by force. They worship the sword and rely on it to fulfill their destiny. The first step in their plan is the domination of the Far East. This is under way at present with the subjugation of China. The Philippines, Netherlands Indies, French Indo-China, and Malaya are to be taken over in due course of time. Russia is to be driven westward of Lake Baikal.

The above is a very grandiose plan and much may happen to interfere with its accomplishment. The fact remains, however, that it is a plan which is underway in the hands of a determined war-like people, armed with modern weapons, with little or no effective opposition. Past treaties, rights of neutrals, rules of civilized warfare as we under stand them, are brushed aside and ignored in the furtherance of the plan.

On July 25, 1927, Premier Tanaka of Japan presented to the Emperor a memorial outlining the Japanese policy in Manchuria.

Four vears later this memorial was published in the Chinese Critic, volume IV, No. 39. Of September 24, 1931.

While the authenticity of this report has been denied I am convinced, as I believe anyone would be who reads it and who has any knowledge of the Japanese philosophy, and of what is going on at present, that it is authentic.

Following are a few extracts from the memorial:

In order that we may lay plans for the colonization of the Far East and the development of our new continental empire, a special conference was held from June 27 to July 7, lasting in all 11 days. It was attended by all the civilian and military officers connected with Manchuria and Mongolia, whose discussions resulted in the following resolutions. These we respectfully submit to Your Majesty for consideration.

After stating the extent of Manchuria and Mongolia and the effect of building the South Manchurian Railway, he states:

The policies of the successive administrations since Meiji toward this country are all based on is injunction, elaborating and continuously completing the development of a new continental empire in order to further the advance of our national glory and prosperity for countless generations to come.

With respect to the Nine Power Treaty, he states:

The restrictions of the Nine Power Treaty signed at the Washington Conference have reduced our special rights and privileges in Manchuria and Mongolia to such an extent that there is nothing further left for us. The very existence of our country is in danger. Unless these obstacles are removed our national existence will be insecure and our national strength will not increase.

That the policy in regard to the conquest of Manchuria was only the beginning of a policy for further conquest is shown by the following quotation:

The three eastern provinces are politically the imperfect support in the Far East. For the sake of self-protection as well as the protection of others, Japan cannot remove the difficulties in Eastern Asia unless she adopts a policy of “blood and iron.”

But in carrying out this policy we have to face the United States which has been turned against us by China’s policy of fighting poison with poison. In the future, if we want to control China we must first crush the United States just as in the past we had to fight in the Russo-Japanese War.

But in order to conquer China we must first conquer Manchuria and Mongolia. In order to conquer the world, we must first conquer China. If we succeed in conquering China, the rest of the Asiatic countries and the South Sea countries will fear us and surrender to us. Then the world will realize that Eastern Asia is ours and will not dare to violate our rights. This is a plan left to us by Emperor Meiji, the success of which is essential to our national existence.

Then with respect to the Nine Power Treaty, he states:

The Nine Power Treaty is entirely an expression of the spirit of commercial rivalry. It was the intention of England and America to crush our influence in China with their power of wealth. The proposed reduction of armaments is nothing but a means to limit our military strength, making it impossible for us to conquer the vast territory of China.

* * * A more dangerous factor is the fact that the people of China might someday wake up. Even during these years of internal strife they can still toil patiently and try to imitate and displace our goods so as to impair the development of our trade. When we remember that the Chinese are our sole customers, we must beware, lest one day when China becomes unified and her industries become prosperous, * * * Americans and Europeans will compete with us; our trade with China will be ruined. Minseito’s proposal to uphold the Nine Power Treaty and to adopt the policy of trade toward Manchuria is nothing less than a suicidal policy.

After studying the present conditions and possibilities of our country, our best policy lies in the direction of taking positive steps to secure rights and privileges in Manchuria and Mongolia. These will enable us to develop our trade. This will not only forestall China’s own industrial development but also prevent the penetration of European powers. This is the best policy possible.

The way to gain actual rights in Manchuria and Mongolia is to use this region as a base and under the pretense of trade and commerce penetrate the rest of China. Armed by the rights already secured we shall seize the resources all over the country. Having China’s entire resources at our disposal, we shall proceed to conquer India, the Archipelago, Asia Minor, Central Asia, and even Europe.

That is the end of the quotation from the Tanaka memorial.

Senator Ellender. What is the Tanaka memorial?

Admiral Taussig. Senator, the statement I read was the statement of Premier Tanaka of Japan presented on July 25, 1927, to the Emperor, the memorial on the Japanese foreign policy in Manchuria. It is taken from that paper, of which there is a copy in the Navy Department.

Senator Tydings. Is that the so-called Tanaka plan?

Admiral Taussig. Yes; which they are carrying out at present.

Senator Ellender. When was that memorial published?

Admiral Taussig. It was issued in 1927 but it did not get published until 1931, when it was published in a paper published in Shanghai, the Chinese Critic. They deny its authenticity, but I am convinced it is a paper that was written with the idea of being carried out.

Note: The Tanaka Memorial was depicted extensively by United States wartime propaganda as a sort of Japanese counterpart to Mein Kampf. The installments The Battle of China and Prelude to War of Frank Capra’s Academy Award-winning movie series Why We Fight describe the Tanaka Memorial as the document that was the Japanese plan for war with the United States. The Tanaka Memorial was depicted the same way in Know Your Enemy: Japan, also directed by Capra during the war. As presented in these movies, the five sequential steps to achieve Japan’s goal of conquests are:

  • Conquest of Manchuria
  • Conquest of China
  • Conquest of the Soviet Union or Siberia
  • Establishment of bases in the Pacific
  • Conquest of the United States

Its authenticity is not accepted by scholars today, but the Tanaka Memorial was widely accepted as authentic in the 1930s and 1940s because Japan’s actions corresponded so closely to these plans. The authenticity seemed to be confirmed by the 1931 Mukden Incident, 1937 Second Sino-Japanese War, 1939 Battles of Khalkhin Gol, 1940 Japanese invasion of French Indochina, the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, and the subsequent Pacific War. Historian Barak Kushner states:

There were several critical historical mistakes in the Tanaka Memorial that clearly demonstrate it a fake to many historians, but the fact that the message overlapped with Japan’s general aims to militarily subdue China coincided with the belief elsewhere that the Memorial was genuine.

Senator Ellender. According to his prognostication, they have not succeeded so well in China, have they?

Admiral Taussig. Well, they are still going ahead. I do not know how far they are going to get.

Senator Tydings. Admiral, for the record, everything in that plan that has been predicted is proceeding now along the course of his prediction, is it not? In other words, while they deny it as being authentic, what is actually happening is the carrying out of that plan, is that not true?

Admiral Taussig. Yes, Senator. Shall I proceed with my statement? (Continued in part 2)


3 thoughts on “The Tanaka Memorial – Real or Imagined?

  1. Great thinking and research. Very timely also. To repeat the well-used cliché Yogi Berra style “Déjà vu – all over again” as now relates to China. Reminds me of an overview prior CNO Admiral Roughead did here in Venice, FL, a year or so ago, on China’s Maritime Strategic Challenge. Here is the link to his National Review article:
    B Z

    1. Thanks. I added part 2 this morning. It seems like Taussig only had one thing wrong… he still held the belief that battleships would not be nullified by air power. While they still would serve many purposes during the war to come, they were not the ultimate weapon once the full use of the air and undersea forces were understood.

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