The Tanaka Memorial (田中上奏文 Tanaka Jōsōbun?) is an alleged Japanese strategic planning document from 1927, in which Prime Minister Baron Tanaka Giichi laid out for the Emperor Hirohito a strategy to take over the world. Although the authenticity of the document was long accepted and still is quoted in some Chinese textbooks, the historian John Dower concludes that "most scholars now agree that it was a masterful anti-Japanese hoax."
The Tanaka Memorial was first published in the December 1929 edition of the Chinese publication "時事月報" (Current Affairs Monthly) in Nanking, a Nationalist Chinese publication. It was later reproduced in 24 September 1931, pp. 923–34 of China Critic, an English publication in Shanghai. The memorial contains the assertions:
In order to take over the world, you need to take over Asia;
In order to take over Asia, you need to take over China;
In order to take over China, you need to take over Manchuria and Mongolia.
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.
The English translation of this document was in circulation before February 1934, and formed the foundation of the lead article on the front page of the first edition of The Plain Truth magazine published by Herbert W. Armstrong in February of that year, although it had first appeared in the less widely circulated Communist International magazine in 1931.
The Tanaka Memorial was depicted extensively by United States wartime propaganda as a sort of Japanese counterpart of Mein Kampf. Frank Capra's Academy Award-winning movie series Why We Fight, the installments The Battle of China and Prelude to War describe the Tanaka Memorial as the document that was the Japanese plan for war with the United States. As presented in these movie series, the five sequential steps to achieve Japan's goal of conquests are
- Conquest of Manchuria
- Conquest of China
- Conquest of the Soviet Union
- Establishment of bases in the Pacific
- Conquest of the United States
Even though its authenticity is not accepted by scholars today, the Tanaka Memorial was widely accepted as authentic in the 1930s and 40s because Japan's actions corresponded so closely to these plans. The 1931 Mukden Incident, 1937 Second Sino-Japanese War, 1939 Battles of Khalkhin Gol, 1940 Japanese invasion of French Indochina, and the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent Pacific War seemed to confirm this suspicion.
In 1940 Leon Trotsky published an account of how the document allegedly came to light. Soviet intelligence had obtained the document from a high-placed mole in Tokyo, but did not want to compromise their own security by publishing it openly, so had leaked it through contacts they had in the United States.
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The journalist and popular historian Edwin P. Hoyt wrote that the Tanaka Memorial was an accurate representation "of what Prime Minister Tanaka had said and what the supernationalists had been saying for months..." Iris Chang adds that the Japanese government at that time was so faction-ridden that it would have been impossible to carry out such a plan in any case. Historian Meirion Harries wrote that the Tanaka Memorial "...was one of the most successful 'dirty tricks' of the twentieth century – a bogus document so brilliantly conceived that thirty years later Westerns were still being taken in by it". Likewise, historian William G. Beasley states that "...the nature of this document, as published variously in English and Chinese, does not carry conviction as to its authenticity". Dr. Haruo Tohmatsu, Professor of Diplomacy and War History of International Relations at the National Defense Academy of Japan, states that "The 'Tanaka Memorial' never existed, but the Darien conference of that year adopted resolutions that reflected these ideas."
Speculation of forgery
In the summer of 1927 (June 27 – July 7), Tanaka convened a ‘Far East Conference’ with members of the Japanese Foreign Ministry, Army Ministry, Navy Ministry, and Finance Ministry. However, instead of producing a master plan for world domination, the result of the Conference was a rough consensus that Japan should support the Kuomintang government of China against the Chinese communists, as long as the Japanese could convince General Zhang Zuolin to consolidate his base in a virtually autonomous Manchuria, which would serve as a buffer state, and would fall eventually within Japanese domination. It is alleged that the Tanaka Memorial is a secret report of this Conference.
When the Allies searched for incriminating documents to support war crime charges following the surrender of Japan, no drafts or copies of anything corresponding to the Tanaka Memorial appeared among them; a Japanese language "original" has never been produced despite extensive research efforts.
The origin of the Memorial is still in question. Because the initial edition of the Memorial was in Chinese, some Japanese historians have attributed it to Chinese sources, probably either Chinese Nationalists or Chinese Communists.
There have been claims of forgery by the Soviet Union to encourage war between China and Japan, and so to advance Soviet interests. The two theories are not mutually exclusive, as the Chinese Communist Party was a branch of Comintern under control of the Soviet Union, and Soviet policy from the 1930s was to wage a propaganda war against Japanese expansionism. Also, the first translation of the Memorial into English was done by the Communist Party USA and published in the December 1931 issue of Communist International magazine. It was later re-printed in book format.
In 1939, Peter Fleming claimed to have produced an ‘update’ to the Tanaka Memorial, by writing an imaginary report on a secret Allied strategy conference attended by Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-Shek, and having it leaked to the Japanese. This indicates that the Tanaka Memorial was known to be a forgery by the British prior to World War II.
While the Tanaka Memorial has been mentioned in newspapers and school textbooks in China, most Japanese historians contend that the document is a forgery.
In 1995, Vitaliy Pavlov, a retired high-ranking NKVD officer, wrote about the Tanaka Memorial in the Moscow journal Novosti Razvedki I Kontrrazvedki (News of Intelligence and Counterintelligence). Pavlov said the work was a forgery prepared by the Soviet Union in 1931 to sow anti-Japanese feelings in the U.S. and in Europe.
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- Allen S. Whiting, China Eyes Japan, University of California Press, 1989. ISBN 0-520-06511-5
- The Tanaka Memorial – Japan's Dream of World Empire – 1942 English translation, on the Internet Archive
These sources contest the authenticity of the Memorial:
- Japan Speaks about Conspiracy of Japan in 1932 (revealed by Kiyoshi Kawakami)
- Conspiracy of Japan in the Tokyo Trial
These sources advocate the authenticity of the Memorial:
- Profound lessons in past incidents (a mirror of Chinese statement page of 1997)
- Prelude to War download on the Internet Archive
- Leon Trotsky, an opponent of the USSR and CPC vouches for authenticity of the Memorial 1940