OPEN GOVERNMENT — "Sixty-eight years ago tomorrow, Japan attacked the American naval base
at Pearl Harbor," writes historian James Bradley in yesterday's New York Times. "In the brutal Pacific war that would follow, millions
of soldiers and civilians were killed. My father — one of the famous
flag raisers on Iwo Jima — was among the young men who went off to the
Pacific to fight for his country. So the war naturally fascinated me.
But I always wondered, why did we fight in the Pacific? Yes, there was
Pearl Harbor, but why did the Japanese attack us in the first place?

Bradley's new book, The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War, recounts how a secret diplomatic signal sent by Teddy Roosevelt more than a century ago set the stage for Japan's imperial expansion into mainland Asia—and for the tragedies that followed.

In a secret presidential cable to Tokyo, in July 1905, Roosevelt
approved the Japanese annexation of Korea and agreed to an
“understanding or alliance” among Japan, the United States and Britain
“as if the United States were under treaty obligations.” The “as if”
was key: Congress was much less interested in North Asia than Roosevelt
was, so he came to his agreement with Japan in secret, an
unconstitutional act.

To signal his commitment to Tokyo, Roosevelt cut off relations with
Korea, turned the American legation in Seoul over to the Japanese
military and deleted the word “Korea” from the State Department’s
Record of Foreign Relations and placed it under the heading of “Japan.”
Roosevelt had assumed that the Japanese would stop at Korea and
leave the rest of North Asia to the Americans and the British.

But such
a wish clashed with his notion that the Japanese should base their
foreign policy on the American model of expansion across North America
and, with the taking of Hawaii and the Philippines, into the Pacific.
It did not take long for the Japanese to tire of the territorial
restrictions placed upon them by their Anglo-American partners.